What is a romance novel? On it’s face this seems like a fairly silly question and yet there seems to be some contention. Historically, a romance novel meant that the book ended in a “happy ever after” or at least a “happy for now” for the main couple featured in the book. There doesn’t need to be a wedding or even an engagement but when the book ends, the couple needs to be together and happy. Non-romance readers – and by this I mean readers who may read a romance because it sounds good but aren’t seeking it out specifically because it is a romance – aren’t nearly as wedded to this required ending as romance readers are. This is fine, of course. This is not where the problem has apparently arisen.
The problem, as addressed in this article (it contains some book spoilers), is that some books are being billed as romance novels but do not have the required ending. Yes, required. If I’m reading a fantasy series that contains a romance element and the end of the series doesn’t have a romance ending, I’ll be disappointed (cough, Charlaine Harris, cough) but I can’t feel betrayed because it wasn’t billed as romance. However, if I am reading a romance novel or series and the couple dies or divorces or whatever at the end, then I will absolutely feel betrayed – and that pretty much guarantees I won’t read that author ever again. Maybe they don’t care that they will lose me as a reader – although they should, of course, because that’s money they won’t get going forward and I would bet that I’m not in the minority when of romance readers with this reaction. That kind of betrayal of your readership – and it is a betrayal to market a book as romance and pull the rug out from under your readers by not having a romance ending – is bad for business.