Yesterday I read my first contemporary romance novel. I felt like I ought to give the genre a chance, since it's much-maligned yet very popular, just like SFF. The book was, in a word, ridiculous. Enjoyable, but completely forgettable and not-very-plausible fluff. But the interesting thing was that, despite my unfamiliarity with the genre, it still felt extremely familiar and I could see the tropes coming from a mile away. And why? Because it was just so very fanfictiony. I always kinda knew on an intellectual level that 'ship-focused fanfic is romance and thus is very likely to draw on the same body of tropes as published romances, but now I really KNOW it.
However, as well as reading this book thinking "I've read this type of thing before," I was also thinking "I've read this type of thing done much better" -- and the book was by someone who's apparently one of the GOOD romance authors, Jennifer Crusie. Of course, I've also seen the same type of thing done much WORSE, but it is the good ones that stand out in my memory. One hypothesis would be that I just have more practice in separating wheat from chaff in fandom than I do in published romance. But I'm also thinking that it's very probable that fanfiction actually DOES have a body of better-quality romance-based stories (or at least a body of more-enjoyable-to-me romance-based stories). Perhaps this is partly because of the audience: fanfiction is more likely to be written to please oneself and like-minded folks, whereas romance is more likely to be written to fulfill the expectations of the genre. And since I'm one of those like-minded folks, fanfic hits my particular story-kinks, whereas romance is written to hit the story-kinks of a differently-minded group of people.
My conclusion: branching out into published romance is not likely to be an effective way to get my daily quota of romance. It's fanfic all the way for me!
(except for, you know, Jane Austen and the like. I can't abandon my first love.)