Are Lesbian Romance Novels Shallow and Predictable?

Lesbian woman reading a romance novel at a lake

If you’re a lesbian, bisexual, or queer woman, you have probably encountered prejudice at least a couple of times when coming out to people. Even in this day and age, not everyone is accepting of different sexual orientations—or of different tastes in books. Readers of lesbian romance novels face a similar kind of prejudice. Lesbian romances—and romance novels in general—are often judged to be shallow and predictable.


Nowadays, I find it easier to come out as a lesbian than as a writer of lesbian romance novels. When I meet new people and they find out that I’m an author, most are impressed and very interested. Once the “What kind of books do you write?” question comes up and I tell them I write romance novels, reactions vary. But there are a lot of raised eyebrows and scrunched-up noses.

Even readers of romance novels are faced with that kind of prejudice. As a result, some consider romance novels their “guilty pleasure.” I think it’s sad that we’re made to feel guilty about something we enjoy.

Romance novels often get dismissed as formulaic drivel— usually by people who don’t read romances but are happy to offer their opinion anyway.


Sure, there are common elements that most, if not all, romance novels share. Usually, two people meet, sparks fly, conflicts threaten to keep them apart, but they finally manage to resolve them. A happy ending is a requirement in romance novels.

So if following a pattern like that makes a book formulaic, I guess you could consider romance novels formulaic.

But is that really a bad thing? Doesn’t all genre fiction follow certain conventions and basic story structures? Take mysteries and crime fiction, for example. Mystery novels have certain common elements too. They start with a crime of some sort being committed that the main character then has to investigate. By the novel’s end, the crime has been solved and justice has been served, so mystery novels have their own happily-ever-after requirement.

In a way, all genre fiction—which includes science fiction, fantasy, horror as well as mystery and romance—could be considered formulaic. But for some reason, only romance novels get a bad reputation.


Personally, I don’t like the term formula. It implies that romance novels are predictable, unoriginal, paint-by-number books that are easy to write without putting much thought into it.

In the end, these so-called formulas are actually genre conventions and reader expectations. Readers of lesbian romance novels want to know what to expect when they pick up a certain book. After a hard day at work, they don’t want to waste their time on a book they won’t like. They want to be able to search out stories that they know they’ll probably enjoy because they have enjoyed other books that follow the same pattern.

Yes, readers of romance know the couple will eventually get together, but in a good romance novel, it’s not the outcome that’s most important; it’s the journey. If the author has done her job well, readers will keep turning the pages to find out how the author is going to get this particular couple together, despite all obstacles.


Within the framework of genre conventions, there are a million very different stories and characters to explore—and a million different ways to write them. And that’s the true art of writing a great romance novel. Authors employ that basic structure and honor the unspoken promise to readers while still making the journey fresh and captivating with each new book.

I’m not saying all lesbian romance novels are brilliant or all mainstream romance novels for that matter. The quality varies, as it does in every other genre. But when you find—or write—a good one, with three-dimensional characters, strong writing, and a unique spin on the genre, we should be able to just enjoy it, without having to endure slights and scrunched-up-nose expressions.

What about you? Have you ever encountered prejudice and misconceptions about your genre of choice, as a writer or a reader?


Jae used to work as a psychologist but gave up her day job in 2013 to become a full-time writer and a part-time editor. For the past ten years she has been writing mostly in English. Jae has just published Just For Show with Ylva.

April 2018 is “Celebrate Lesbian Fiction” theme month at Ylva Publishing. And we’re inviting readers to share the party, too. That’s why our eight top best sellers for 2017 are on sale now:

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  1. Cristina April 25, 2018 at 21:41 - Reply

    All of what you said. Just all of it. So on point.

    My thing now is, I’m reading several Mermaid/Siren novels (currently on Mira Grant’s “Into The Drowning Deep”—it as a F/F relationship in the cast of characters) and watching the show “Siren” on Hulu. Had a relative ask me why I was reading and watching “The Little Mermaid for Grownups,” and I dished up some side-eye: Why do you like reading or watching anything that you do? Obvious answer: Because.You.Like.It. Love her to the ends of the known universe and beyond, but she needed to keep on trucking down the road because I needed to find out who’d be eaten next by a killer mermaid!

    I guess I’m fortunate in that: 1) I read whatever jumps out at me from an interesting book blurb, 2) I read everything from Chick-lit to Russian Classics, and 3) I’ve stumbled across some very good authors just by giving different genres or book tropes a chance. I can’t imagine my reading life being closed off to a genre just because others hate it. I want to read all the good books! Like, I need to live forever so I can accomplish that goal.

    With the Romance fiction industry, on the whole, being a billion dollar a year business (going by 2013 statistics), you’d think there’d be less snobbery. I mean, there was a time when the Twilight Saga series (along with the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series) invigorated the Young Adult fiction industry—and it’s a Paranormal Romance series! Now, Young Adult’s one of the most lucrative categories of fiction going. Twilight Saga then spawned Fifty Shades (it was originally Twilight fanfiction) and that series went on to catapult the Erotica Romance genre to the top of the mainstream charts. Say what you will about the quality, but Fifty Shades was so successful, Random House was able to give all its employees $5,000 Christmas bonuses during the book’s heyday sales. People simply can’t discount the Romance genre’s overall affect on the publishing industry. It’s like the one genre that manages to be recession proof!

    Like you’ve stated, Lesbian Romance fiction has its conventions just like every other genre. I mean, the cardinal rule is, there must be a lesbian somewhere in there, lol. But Lesbian Romance absolutely should NOT get a bad rap for that, especially if people give a pass to other genres like Mystery—which has pulp fiction origins—where everyone can already guess how the books end (mystery solved, lol, thanks). It’s that double standard when it comes to women and the things we love and champion. But, guess what, the Romance industry still thrives. And dudes get in on the action, otherwise there’d be no “The Notebook.” So, boo to the haters. Not interested in them or their hatred.

    Still, here’s a little secret that’s not even a secret: Every story has the same “formula.” Beginning + Middle + End = every story formula (at least, the one most readers expect). Then, there are genre conventions readers expect on top of that basic structure. Romance = Two (or more people) falling in love + HEA/HFN. That’s the plot. Wanna go further? Add some common tropes like Enemies-To-Lovers or (my catnip) Second Chance Romance. That’s plot refinement. Wanna get good reviews? Make sure all the following is amazing: the prose, characters, dialogue (bonus points if some of it is highly quotable, especially on a mug or t-shirt, lol), conflicts, settings, themes + unique things only you could write (like, in real life, you’re a neurodivergent champion fencer… so now your book’s leading lady is a neurodivergent champion fencer who *coughs* totally isn’t you *coughs*). That’s the stuff on top of the plot that makes people say your book “breaks genre conventions.”

    Genre conventions aren’t inherently bad. It’s what writers do with the conventions that matter. There are so many ways to explore the same theme. Like writing, reading, watching things about Mermaid/Siren characters? There’s “Into the Drowning Deep,” “Fish Out of Water,” “To Kill A Kingdom,” and “Deep Blue” to name a few.

    Life is about variations on the “theme of life.” Not to end on a downer, not on purpose, but life itself is formulaic. Birth to Death = the story of life. Everyone’s life. But, no one would argue that the billions of people who live on Earth now—or who have ever lived on Earth or who will ever come to live on Earth—will all live the exact same lives. Yeah, guess what? Books are different like that too.

  2. Paula April 25, 2018 at 23:04 - Reply

    My job requires a great deal of emotional energy and does not always come with happy endings. I read these books for pleasure. To escape the world where happy endings often slip through people’s grasps. Every genre has its place. No need to apologize.

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