Monday, April 28, 2014

Growing The Romance Reader

News broke today that after eighteen years The Romance Reader was shuttering it's cyberspace doors forever.  For you young whipper-snappers out there, TRR was the first online website to turn an unflinching eye towards reviewing romance novels.  This seems like not-so-much a big deal now, but in 1996?  Gather round ye young whipper-snappers and let Auntie Wendy tell you a story.....

In 1996 romance readers essentially relied on word of mouth and RT Book Reviews (then still going by the name Romantic Times).  Romantic Times was, and has always been, great with giving you the rundown of what is published every month.  But in 1996?  It was very rare to find reviews that were, shall we say, critical.  Every book was good, very good or super-great-squee!  As for other review outlets?  No Amazon, no GoodReads, Publisher's Weekly gave you four mass market reviews a week (for all mass market originals, not just romance!  Yes, four!), Kirkus = you must be joking right, and while Booklist and Library Journal were starting to cover romance, these were not household names that your Average Jane Romance Reader was going to have access too.  So yeah, word of mouth assuming you were lucky enough to have another romance reader in your life or Romantic Times, which loved damn near everything. 

TRR coming on the scene can be likened to a bomb going off.  It's why I tend to roll my eyes when authors start crying "Bully!  Those Mean Girl Bullies!" when they get a 3-star rating over at GoodReads.  TRR heard it all, most of it revolving around being staffed by "unqualified reviewers" who were "frustrated writers who couldn't get their crappy stories published so they spent their free time tearing down published authors."

All this sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it?  Yeah, some things never change.

Anyway, TRR was the first and a few years after, Laurie Gold (originally a TRR reviewer) broke away to start All About Romance, which featured a more interactive vibe that TRR never adopted.  And from there we got Mrs. Giggles, blogs, Twitter, GoodReads and so on.

As some of you may know, I was a TRR reviewer for many years, from 1999 through 2007.  So you'll forgive this old codger fuddy-duddy if I wax poetic for a few moments on the site closing down.  My discovery of the romance genre is forever linked with TRR.  You see, in 1999 I was a wee baby Super Librarian.  Sort of like Spider-Man before he was bit by the radioactive spider (or whatever).  I had landed my first real professional job and they expected me to purchase adult fiction.  No problem, accept my adult fiction knowledge was a wee bit rusty after 5+ years of academia (my entire course-load consisted of reading things that weren't fun).  I also, naturally, had developed a healthy disdain for the romance genre.  As one does when they earn two college degrees in 5.5 years.  I learned quickly though.  Romance circulated well at the new job.  Hey, some of these books don't even have Fabio on the cover!  Of course I had no clue who Nora Roberts was (true story), but I was willing to learn.  Which is where TRR comes in.

I was on a listserv (remember those?) that was for "new librarians."  One day someone sent out a message about two helpful web sites, one of which was TRR.  I, naturally, went looking.  And reading.  Wow, some of these books sound good!  I read a few romances in high school and these reviews don't make the books sound anything like those few heaving, lusty historicals I read at 16.  So I decided I would pick up a few of the highest rated (five-hearts in TRR speak) books that sounded appealing to me and start reading.  You know, just to broaden my horizons.  The first book?  Watermelon by Marian Keyes.  OK, technically chick lit - but I loved it.  I inhaled it.  I then went on to read My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway, the Born In trilogy by Nora, Patterns of Love by Robin Lee Hatcher (the original heathen mass-market version, she later rewrote it for the inspy market) and some others that I now can't recall specifically.

I was hooked.  And even though my knowledge wasn't extensive, I wanted more.  So I e-mailed TRR, I sent in some sample reviews, and Dede Anderson "hired" me.  When I probably should have been reading through popular authors (you would be shocked the "big" authors Wendy still hasn't read.....) I was learning the genre in a trial-by-fire way.  Which is to say, Dede sent me random books and Wendy read them.  The great, the good, the bad, the OMG I Think My Eyes Are Bleeding books.  Every last word.

The romance reader that blogs before you today was raised up by TRR.  It's where I discovered category romance, my love of western historicals, and my insatiable need for erotic-just-about-anything.  Oh the authors I read!  The books I read!  The reviews I wrote!  I used to write great reviews.  Sometimes I go back to TRR, read my great reviews and wonder what the heck happened.  Actually the answer is pretty simple: I burned out.

After eight years of reading whatever random books TRR sent my way, I just couldn't do it anymore.  I had started my blog in 2003, in part because I wanted some place where I could talk, not necessarily about books, and I was starting to get the itch to do more reviews here.  TRR reviewing took up a lot of my reading time, and I wanted to focus my reviewing efforts more on stuff I was interested in.  Was I going to miss out on those gems I might not discover on my own?  Yes.  And that gave me pause.  But I was ready.  I got to the point where my attitude was starting to go a little sour, and that's not a good thing when you do that sort of reviewing.  So TRR and I parted ways, on good terms.  They soldiered on, and so did I.

In 2011 RWA came calling, having lost their collective mind and deciding I should get their annual Librarian Of The Year award.  More than a little part of me was slightly floored.  I used to review for TRR!  Wait, I'm not blacklisted?  People, like me?!?!  Hell, I remember attending those first few RWA conferences that I went to and not telling a soul that I reviewed for TRR.  So I did what Wendy knew she had to do - I literally thanked Dede Anderson and The Romance Reader in my acceptance speech.  Part of me expected someone to yank me off stage, but oh how times have changed.  The simple truth is, there is no Romance Reading SuperWendy without TRR.  I may have discovered the genre some other way.  But it was a listserv and a message from some random librarian that had me clicking on that link way back in 1999.  It got me hooked.  It got me writing book reviews, or in the immortal words of My Man "so you're going to do book reports for free?"  I often say this blog is responsible for a lot of the good that has happened in my life, but really - it all started with TRR.

Thank you ladies for the past glorious eighteen years and thank you for helping to raise up countless romance readers.

Note: TRR will eventually cease to exist and there will be no collective archive - which means Wendy needs to think about all the reviews she has over there.  Jury still out, but I'm considering trolling through and "reprinting" some of my personal favorites (good and bad) here at the blog or possibly GoodReads.  But I'm still undecided.....

24 comments:

azteclady said...

I *beg* you, Wendy, get your reviews and host them here. Please.

My heart is breaking when I think of all the reviews that are going to be lost forever, and I hope, hope, hope, more TRR (current and past) take it into their own hands to do something about it.

Heck, they can be back dated to the original publish date if people so desire, but losing that treasure trove of excellent, critical writing on the romance genre...really painful.

azteclady said...

Also, please do it here? Goodreads is now *not* a reader space--since Amazon bought them, critical reviewing can be taken down without warning or recourse based on whatever.

Wendy said...

AL: That's a good point re: GoodReads. I haven't had any problems with them messing with my content, but probably shouldn't tempt fate.....

Unknown said...

are they pulling down the site at some point? because that's why i created the romance wiki. not sure how they keep their reviews and articles, but i have the space. i'd hate to lose all that wonderful knowledge (and, seriously, i think it was TRR that encouraged me to dip my toe into regency water...and i was an addict. still am.). if this is something feasible for the TRR gang, let me know.

Wendy said...

Kassia: I'll pass the word on to Dede! I have no clue on the "back end" of things for the site - so not sure what their set-up is.

A Library Girl said...

Sad news. I relied on their reviews a lot when I was a newbie romance reader. I wish there were plans to retain the archives.

Darlene Marshall said...

I hope Dede and the gang appreciate how much TRR has meant to readers over the years. We can't buy and read everything that gets published and depend on the wit and wisdom of quality reviewers to separate the gold from the dross for us.

Victoria Janssen said...

Oh, do "reprint"! That would be cool!

susanwiggs said...

Wendy, I used to study that site like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The reviews were well written and well thought-out--yours especially! I know a lot of readers found my books via TRR. Thanks for the retrospective. I am older than rock itself.

willaful said...

Big fat ditto! Hey, I wonder if I could possibly host them? My husband has access through work but I don't know what the limits are.

Tracy Smith said...

I think it would be great if you put them here,

Miss Bates said...

And another ditto here! Would love to read your reviews. Came to romance so late that I was reading MoSL for my titles and AAR, but TRR felt somehow moribund. It was so interesting to read about what they pioneered. If we're talking about a canon, or not, or a tradition at least, then it seems important to preserve these.

azteclady said...

Quick knote: I just read a comment over to the Dear Author post about a possible way to download the entire site to a computer--but I have no idea of the legalities involved.

Hilcia said...

What a loss, Wendy! I was so sad when I read the news.

I agree with the rest of the ladies. Please scoop up your reviews and repost! That would be a fantastic treat.

Wendy said...

So yeah, apparently I had close to 300 reviews at TRR. Who knew? I'm home sick today (damn you sore throat ::shakes fist::), so I spent my morning saving everything (went quickly actually).

I think I'm going to start a new feature here and repost these "old" reviews. A few things I noticed: I didn't read a ton of "name" authors. Lots of "forgotten books" represented these reviews. Also, how much I recalled on some books and others I have like ZERO recall. Even reading the review didn't help :) Oh, and man did I read some books with doozy WTFBBQ plots. A few of them had me LOL.

LynnD said...

I am looking forward to reading these old gems :-).

Keishon said...

Saddened by this news. I emailed Linda Lowery all the time for category recs. I lost touch with her eventually but whatever she loved I did, too. Hard to find such people in life who share your reading taste like that. What's the verdict with The Mystery Reader?

Wendy said...

Keishon: Mystery Reader will also be shutting down as well :(

azteclady said...

I hate, hate, hate seeing these many wonderful resources disappear.

nath said...

18 years! Jeez, how time flies!! It's kind of sad, another phase of our life over it feels :(

StlScrib said...

Hi Wendy - I was your fellow TRR reviewer for 10 years, from 1997 to 2007 when I literally ran out of things to say. I think I wrote the Watermelon review that helped get you hooked on romance novels (or chick lit, for that matter)! I dug through my computer files and found more than 600 reviews (that's more than 1/week for 10 years). I'm sad to see TRR close up shop as well, but am proud to have been part of it. These days I'm happy to lurk around your site, Dear Author, Smart Bitches, and a few others. The books have changed but the smart readers have not.

StlScrib said...

Sorry, didn't realize how my ID would show up. It's SusanS.

Wendy said...

Susan: I wonder if you also did the review for When Venus Fell by Deborah Smith? That was another book I picked up when I first discovered TRR - and OMG, SO GOOD! I read a library copy and then went out and bought one of my own to "reread one of these days." Ha ha ha - like I ever have time to reread?

I didn't keep my reviews on file, but dug through the TRR archives and found them all. Some of the plots - whoa boy! I can't wait to start rerunning them here at the blog.

StlScrib said...

Yep, did When Venus Fell too, and most of the Deborah Smith books. She just released an e-novella that is first of a trilogy follow up to A Place to Call Home. I'm sad that she isn't writing novels anymore but will take what I can get from her.