The stigma of happily-ever -after

When Diana Gabaldon’s agent suggested she categorise her first Outlander book as a romance novel, she balked at the idea. As a scientist, she preferred to think of her work as sci-fi, with a bit of adventure, romance and historical fiction woven in. Her agent, however, knew that a sci-fi bestseller would sell 50000 copies at best; a romance, on the other hand, could reach the half-a-million mark.

In the end they compromised: she agreed to publish it as romance, but if it became ‘visible’ (that is, made it onto the New York Times bestseller list), they would rebrand it as ‘general fiction’.

Today the Outlander series has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, and is the subject of a very popular TV show. And, judging by Wikipedia’s description of Outlander as a ‘historical multi-genre novel’, Diana got her way.

‘The literary bunch look down on us like we’re not real writers. We haven’t written real novels. That’s such crap.’

But why the reluctance to call it romance? To be fair, she wrote the series in the ’90s, so the bodice rippers of the ’70s and ’80s were probably still top of mind. (You know the type: a flaxen-haired peasant girl swooning in the arms of a muscular Italian count who doesn’t own a shirt.) Those are still around – Mills & Boon is thriving, after more than a hundred years.

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