Romantic Novelists' Association

Love In The Time Of Snobbery

18 December 2021

Following on from our Open Letter to Anthony Holgate of the Sunday Times, we thought it would be interesting to hear from some of our members who have graced the Sunday Times bestseller list to hear their views on why romantic fiction should be respected.

Milly Johnson
Romantic Fiction can be every bit as crafted as a crime novel or a literary one. We take no lesser pride in the construction of our books. This ingrained snobbery has to stop and due respect should be paid to a genre that financially underpins the publishing world and is too massive to be ignored in the way it is being. Our readers love us, we entertain, we often find we have guided and changed lives with our stories and we are a salve on troubled minds in these strange times especially.

To be in the Sunday Times bestseller list feels bloody fabulous – as it should. It is a massive achievement to rise to the top, with all the books out there vying for position at the same time as ours. It is also a true validation of our worth because it is one of the few shining mirrors held up to us. Readers buy us, we are popular. We know our worth already yet it is almost a surprise to the industry when it happens and it’s as if they have no idea how to handle the upstart romantic novelists who take position there, even though people have voted for their popularity with their purses. OURS ARE NOT LESSER BOOKS. Both my recent novels went straight into the top ten within the same month: the hardback The Woman in the Middle, and my paperback I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day which rose to number two.

Milly Johnson is the author of nineteen novels, five novellas and a collection of poetry. She was born and still lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and was the RNA’s recipient of the Outstanding Achievement Award in 2020.

Phillipa Ashley
First of all, it seems strange to even have to answer the question. Why should we need to defend the brilliant novels that are already beloved of many millions of people the world over?

‘Romantic fiction’ encompasses a gloriously broad range of books from steamy reads to sweeping historicals and love stories that embraces families, friends and the wider community.

Our genre celebrates relationships in a myriad of forms and encompasses all human emotions, helping us to make sense of our hopes and fears. It brings joy and consolation while never shying away from tough topics such as loss, jealousy and disappointment. It helps us live other lives and broaden our horizons from the comfort of our armchairs.Like every other form of fiction, it holds a mirror up to life. It does all this while offering the escapism and entertainment we crave more than ever in these strange times.

Hitting the Sunday Times Top 10 best sellers in December 2020 was the thrill of a lifetime, especially as it was my 25th novel! I’d come close the previous summer but to finally see my book in the famous Culture magazine chart was a dream I’d almost given up on – and therefore all the sweeter. I never expected to do it again so to find A Special Cornish Christmas had made it again this year made me literally jump for joy. After a 15-year-career in publishing, I never take anything for granted so I get excited about every little piece of good news!

Phillipa Ashley is a multiple Sunday Times best-selling author of heart-warming romantic fiction. After studying English at Oxford, she worked as a copywriter and journalist before writing her debut novel, Decent Exposure which was made into a Lifetime movie. Her current release, A Special Cornish Christmas, spent four weeks in the UK paperback Top 20 and is an Amazon Top 10 Kindle best seller.

Heidi Swain
There are so many reasons why we should respect Romantic Fiction and as I sat mulling them over and deciding which to highlight here, my phone pinged with a Twitter notification and the answer appeared. Referring to my Christmas book, Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls, author Isabella May said: “…so beautifully written and lots of interesting relationship issues.” Her timely words succinctly hit the nail on the head.

Within the pages of our beautiful books, we tackle more than romance and offer more than an escape. I’ve included issues such as domestic abuse, mental health and grief within my plotlines and I know I’m not the only romance author who refuses to shy away from the less than perfect side of life. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I want a ‘these books could change your life sticker’ plastered across them, but I know from the number of messages I receive, that for some readers they can.

Having successfully graduated from the RNA NWS and secured book deals with Simon and Schuster, making the Sunday Times bestseller list became my next target and I hit it in 2017 with Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells. It peaked at number 5 and I felt so proud. To see my name alongside Stephen King, Peter James and Jojo Moyes was the validation I needed. I felt that my work really meant something and not only to me. To be selling in such numbers, proved my books were in demand and genuinely had something to say.

An RNA NWS graduate, Heidi Swain writes romantic fiction for Simon and Schuster. Her debut novel, The Cherry Tree Café was published in 2015 and she became a Sunday Times Bestseller in 2017. She writes two books a year and is represented by Amanda Preston.

Rowen Coleman
The answer to why we should have more respect for Romantic Fiction and the talented and diverse authors that write it, is a pretty simple one. Romantic fiction commands millions of loyal readers around the world. It brings joy, escape and entertainment and provides a significant percentage of revenue for publishers and booksellers. From serial romance novels to book club love stories romantic fiction showcases the best writers at the top of their game, delivering perfectly crafted gems that speak to the very core of what it is that’s make us human; the desire to fall in love.

I first hit The Sunday Times bestsellers list with my 2014 novel The Memory Book – the story of a wife and mother as she is gradually lost to Early Onset Alzheimer’s. Maybe not what you’d expect from Romantic fiction, but a perfect example of the wide range of love stories available. The Memory Book was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick, and was voted Love Reading’s Book of the Year. Getting into the top ten was the realisation of a long-term ambition, and, yes, I framed the listing. It’s a real privilege when so many readers invest your book.

Rowan Coleman is the Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author of sixteen novels including the Richard and Judy pick The Memory Book and the Zoe Ball bookclub choice, The Summer of Impossible Things. Rowan also writes the Brontë Mysteries under the name Bella Ellis, a series that imagines that before they were world renowned novelists the Bronte sisters were amateur sleuths. These include The Vanished Bride, The Diabolical Bones and The Red Monarch with more on the way in 2022.