Greetings, well met fellow, hail!
I am the wind to fill your sail.
I am the cross to take your nail:
A singer of these ageless times
With kitchen prose and gutter rhymes.
- Jethro Tull, "Songs From the Wood"
Kassia has an interesting post over at Romancing the Blog today. Along with other aspects of the romance industry, she criticizes romance covers, saying, "Of course, we can’t forget the covers... Many of them are tawdry and sleazy... Can publishers honestly say that their covers speak to the education, sophistication, and social needs of readers?"
I won't argue that many covers are a bit on the embarrassing side (go check out the Smart Bitches dissing clinch covers if you want some good laughs). But it's not far from complaints about covers to complaints about content, and in fact Kassia skirts that issue herself, saying, "We need to stop thinking in terms of building respect and more along the lines of elevating our own work... It’s really hard to say that these are serious books when the supporting evidence says otherwise. You want to grow the audience? Give us books that won’t make us turn red if they fall out of a briefcase during a meeting. Give us books that we can hand over to men."
Two issues here, I guess. Number one-- do most of us read romances for serious content? I do sometimes, I suppose, but more often I read it for fun. Most people read for fun much of the time... no shame there. Most romance readers I know are avid readers who buy a lot more books than the average person. Everything we read doesn't have to elevate us or to be serious, and other genres aren't always "serious" either-- mysteries and sci-fi are frequently fluff too. I believe there's room in the genre for fun books and serious books.
The second issue is sex. I want to be clear here that Kassia doesn't talk specifically about sex in romance, so my thoughts are tangential to her post, but the issues she brings up frequently do devolve into concerns about the level of explicit sex in romances. And the sentence about "books that we can hand over to men" makes me think she's thinking along these lines, although I could certainly be wrong.
Do we want to take the sex out of romance? Should we take the sex out of romance, and if so, why? Love is ageless, and so is sex. Both have been around forever. Isn't sex an important part of love, and isn't it okay for romances to reflect that fact? What about blunt language? Does that help "elevate" romances, or should we go back to using purple euphemisms?
And with regards to covers, is it preferable for covers to suggest what's really in the book (frank and open sexuality) or would it be better for the genre to get the sex off the covers but keep it in the books? As someone says in the comments, many readers think of romance as "smut" whether or not there's a clinch cover. The only way to change that perception may be to remove sex from the books entirely.
And I doubt that's a solution many romance readers want.