Anyone who regularly follows my reviews or reads my blog knows that I am an open lover of the romance genre. Unfortunately, though the romance genre is the highest selling genre in both print and e-books, it is also one of the most stigmatized—so let’s take a few minutes to talk about it.
First, let’s take a look at the facts.
- The romance genre is a $1-1.5 Billion industry. The second highest genre makes half a billion less.
- Around 35% of books sold in both print and e-book forms are of the romance genre. That’s a lot.
- 64% of romance readers read a romance book more than once a month.
- 35% of people who read romance buy it more than once a month.
- 35.1 % of romance readers have been reading romance for 20+ years.
- 84% of romance readers are female.
- The largest group of romance readers falls into the age range of 30-54 years old.
Soak those statistics in for a moment. If you’re a romance reader, you’re probably not surprised by what you just read. If you don’t read romance, you may be a little stunned. Your next question may be, “so why does the genre have such a negative reputation?” The answer isn’t simple.
Considering the target market, I think it’s relatively safe to say that one of the main reasons Romance has gotten a bad rap in the last few decades is because it’s seen as “girl porn”. Let’s face the facts: not a lot of men are comfortable reading romance. They consider it a ‘girl thing’ and, unfortunately, because we struggle as a society to view men and women as equals, a lot of men don’t want to be associated with anything girly. I’m not here to point my finger at the men in the audience and yell “it’s all your fault!” but it seems to be one contributing factor. Another side to this is the fact that most romance books are written by women. It’s a simple fact—and it may be that men don’t always feel comfortable reading a book from a predominantly female point of view. I know I certainly don’t connect as well to books that are written from a male’s perspective, and there’s nothing wrong with that… but it hasn’t helped the genre, that’s for certain.
Whatever the reason, the romance genre has been a little on the taboo side for many readers for a number of years. People don’t always feel comfortable admitting that they read romance despite the fact that statistics clearly show that most readers do, in fact, read romance. Many readers feel embarrassed to admit that they read books that mainly center around romance and sex—especially to their families, coworkers, and even complete strangers. We have to keep in mind that it’s only been a few decades since all things sexual were considered private and not to be talked about in public places. Here in the USA particularly, we tend to have some pretty ridiculous hang-ups about sex. Generally, it’s not a topic we’re encouraged to discuss, and the romance genre has suffered because of it.
So let me tell you about my experience with the romance genre.
Growing up, my house was filled with bookcases. Some of my earlier memories are of me and my sister sitting in the living room building Barbie houses out of hardcover copies of David Copperfield and The Brothers Karamazov—this is funny, because I didn’t witness my parents reading very often.
My father had Dyslexia and a questionable elementary education that meant he had trouble spelling and reading. When he did read, it seemed to be mostly Westerns (though I later discovered that those too were little more than Historical Romances).
My mother on the other hand, was constantly working and taking care of all six of their kids, so reading was pretty far down on her to-do list. When she did read, it was usually a weekend, and I can distinctly remember her lounging in a lawn chair in the sunshine with a floppy straw hat on her head, engrossed in a Harlequin Romance. My mother was never without a romance book at her side. She always had one on her nightstand, and a stack of 20-50 on a shelf at our cabin where we spent weekends and summers.
As you may have guessed, I owe my love for the romance genre to my mother. I will never forget the day I turned 13, and my mother sat me down and handed me a Harlequin and told me I was finally old enough to read one. Oh, how I was excited! Romance books weren’t like the middle-grade fantasy stories I’d been reading up to that point—stories that were goofy and fun and full of adventure, but very little character development. Up until this point, I’d been an avid consumer of all things Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey, and Patricia C. Wrede.
Romance was the complete opposite. It was about emotions, friendships, and the connections between people. It was filled with heart-stopping drama and yes, sizzling sex scenes (though, trust me, if sex scenes aren’t your thing, clean romances exist). Not once did it cross my mind in my younger years that the romance genre was anything like porn—I didn’t see it that way. I saw romance for what it was: stories about people. They were flawed, imperfect. The characters went through every drama-inducing situation imaginable (and some you couldn’t even begin to imagine)… and though you may be crying foul at the fact that I was at the very tender age of 13—perhaps an age that I shouldn’t have been exposed to “girl porn”, I will say this: I am forever grateful to my mother for exposing me to it.
The romance genre taught me about life. It taught me about relationships, friendships, and how to grow up and become a strong woman. I learned about safe sex, abusive relationships, how periods were handled in the old west (I’m not even kidding—I will never forget that book), and the consequences of alcohol and other similarly rash decisions. I learned how to be a good mother, and how to deal with stress. I read about all these things in my mother’s books, and I absorbed them like life lessons. I didn’t have to make the stupid relationship mistakes I saw the characters making because I learned how they would play out before I was old enough to be put into those situations—and yes, when my daughter turns 13, I too will hand her a romance book for the very same reason my mother handed me one… to teach her about life, and to impart in her a deep love for reading.
I encourage everyone who’s ever sneered at a romance novel to take a weekend and read one. If you don’t like it, read another one; not all romances were created equal and it may take time for you to find a subgenre and writing style that you enjoy—but don’t give up. Romances come in all flavors… from the very clean—where all sex scenes have been omitted, to the ridiculously raunchy. Romance has a number of sub-genres ranging from historically accurate to science fiction, fantasy, murder mysteries.. you name it. (There’s even a Shape-Shifting Dinosaur romance. I’m not kidding.) Whatever you do, don’t systematically turn your nose up at the entire genre, and don’t point fingers and laugh at those of us who enjoy it either. I guarantee you, there’s something in the genre for everyone.
If you do read romance, be proud of it. There’s no reason to be embarrassed; chances are that you’re wiser for it. Don’t let anyone sneer at your reading choices. Romance is a fantastic genre—full of diverse people and stories… and no one should make you feel bad for reading something you enjoy under any circumstances. Don’t know anyone else who reads the genre? Think again. I do—and you’re more than welcome to pop in anytime and ask me for reading recommendations or just to discuss the genre. You can find links on my contact page to my GoodReads, E-mail, Skype… whatever. You know where to find me if you need a romance reading buddy—and I will never judge you for your reading tastes.