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February 02, 2017

Why Have Romance Novelists Been Dolling Themselves Up?

Text by Nittal Chandarana

Armed with makeovers, they are stepping out from the shadows — all in an effort to sell more copies

Everyone has heard the mother of all cliches — ‘Never judge a book by its cover’. I disregarded this entirely when choosing Siddharth Chowdhury’s The Patna Manual of Style for a leisurely read. But that’s a different story. Nowadays, books are judged by the attractiveness of the author and his or her cleverly crafted online persona.

A number of ridiculous events transpired in 2016 — from Brexit to the Trump presidency, demonetisation and the remodelling of Toblerone. The new year does not seem to be any better as it heralds the Advent of the Prettified Author. This kind of writer usually pens romance novels and commits the cardinal sin of conjuring a surrogate; an autobiographical protagonist or one that is too close to home. The intelligent reader joins the dots and draws parallels between the two, finally being able to put a face to the name.

Now, you might find publishers making frantic calls to the writer to hire a stylist, fix their face and have a lovely portrait shot. No longer does the customary book-jacket image qualify. Jumping on the Instagram and Snapchat bandwagon is always considered a viable idea. Some even go as far as setting up Facebook pages, uploading videos of their ‘stars’ in the middle of photo shoots, playing a guitar and giggling at regular intervals. What are they laughing at? Who cares, when they look charming flashing their pearly whites.

A story belongs in equal parts to both the writer and her reader. The former, for penning it down, and the latter, because he or she blends their imagination with the text. This fantasy particularly takes flight in romance novels. For instance, the TDH (Tall Dark Handsome) man is a recurring trope but uptil now assigning any other trait to him was the reader’s prerogative; crooked smile, intelligent eyes, war wounds, and what have you. These days, if publishers have it their way, one need look no further than inside the jacket for their picture-perfect TDH paramour.

Quite clearly, the joke is on the reader. What was earlier a personal affair has become a homogenised phenomenon. But if it helps to sell books, is bringing the writer into the limelight a necessary evil and the way ahead? Something tells me that in this world dominated by social media, this trend is here to stay. Ladies and gents, make way for the dolled-up writers of romance.

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