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An Elephant in the Room: Women Authors (Especially Romance Writers) Get Less Love

Here are some observations, statistics and questions about dichotomies and inequities regarding Women Authors and the Romance Genre.

Women purchase 80% of the books in the U.S.-presumably some are buying for a household, children & spouses - LOOK AT THE POWER WOMEN HAVE! So that’s positive…not everything is negative about what’s happening to women authors today!

1/3 of mass market fiction purchased are romance novels

Romance books bring in a billion bucks a year

Yet Romance Books Don’t get much Love!

Let’s look at this dilemma from the point of view of the reader as well as an author. Why in the world would readers feel embarrassed about enjoying romance stories? Why would romance authors hide their genre under a bushel? Like I used to. Readers have kindles now…no one can see the cover of the book they are reading. Easier to hide the fact you’re reading romance. But Hide It? Why?

1. Let’s get down to answers to the quiz I gave you. What are the two essential elements of any romance? (This one will really surprise you)

1. A central love story

2. An emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending

No one is telling the author how dominant the love story must be. There is no one dictating heat level. A wedding at the end is NOT a requirement. HEA (Happily Ever After) is not the measuring stick.

We authors get the freedom to write what we want within this vague parameter. But we luck out, because the reader who wants these two elements knows she can find them in our books! This is positioning…so readers can find stories they love!

Get ready for more good news as well as some bad news:

2. Who is buying and reading romance? Caveat here…hard to put #’s to all Indie sales (some even sell on their own websites!)

Women 82% of Romance readers

Ethnicity: 73% Caucasian; 12% African American; 7% Latino/Hispanic; 4% Asian

Sexual orientation: 86% heterosexual/straight; 9% bisexual, pansexual or other, 2% gay/lesbian.

The romance reader is fairly young AVERAGE AGE: 35-39; she is reading on a tablet and/or a smartphone.

She likes romantic suspense (GOOD FOR ME!), followed by erotic and paranormal. She reads fewer contemporary romances (where focus is on the relationship) than older readers.

Most readers borrow from the library or make purchases in bookstores.

Next comes purchasing in print via online stores. 92% buy print, 64% are ebook readers, and 35% are audiobook readers.

3. Who is writing romance?

White women (only 6% nonwhite…Beverly Jenkins…African American trailblazer; two other exceptions as bestsellers: Jasmine Guillory and Nalini Singh)

4. Is romance women’s literature/fiction?

If ‘by women about women’ is women’s literature…then yes, romance is a subcategory of women’s literature/fiction. Is it literature? _Eye of the beholder & reviewer. E.L. James wrote 50 Shades of Gray…she published something that wasn’t polished, but she did open a gate for a whole new generation of romance writers/readers. And she got a better editor, later. And her books got made into movies! She’s made $12 million!

5. Can/do men write it? If you’ve never written it, can/should men?

Did you know that the best selling romance novels were written by men in the 1950’s? Women took over in the 60’s (think the beginning of the feminist movement)…by the 1980’s female authors dominated. Today, 85-90% of romance is written by women. Nicholas Sparks outlier makes millions from his romance books even if he says he writes love stories, not romance. He argues his love stories end tragically or bittersweet; romance has the optimistic resolution. He also says romance books are about ‘taming a man.’ We romance writers beg to differ.

6. Where’s the sexism around romance writer/reader/genre?

Check out my next blog!

7. How many categories of romance novels are there? What are they? And who says so? How much sex would you expect to find in the following genres on a scale of 1-5 (And, yes. This is a trick question): The answer is, steam levels vary in all of these categories. There are no rules!

-Contemporary 1 2 3 4 5

-Erotic 1 2 3 4 5

-Historical (prior to 1950) 1 2 3 4 5

-Paranormal 1 2 3 4 5

-Religious/Spiritual 1 2 3 4 5 Usually very little steam here

-Romantic Suspense 1 2 3 4 5

-Young Adult 1 2 3 4 5 Usually less steam here

BUT WAIT…THERE ARE MORE CATEGORIES! Gay/Lesbian…other bi + identities; Cozy romance, chick lit, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Regency, gothic, time travel, Cowboy (historical west) romance, Nascar romance, SEAL romance…and other Military romance, vampire, shape shifters, Scottish romance, werewolves, pirate, Viking, MM, MF, MMF, FFM…the list goes on! IT’S WILD AND RICH!

NOTE: Far from calling this quirky or even obsessive, think of these diversity-driving categories as useful to a writer. She knows how to target her books (Amazon and FB ads easily point toward her readers). HER READERS CAN FIND HER EASILY!

In next month’s blog, I’ll talk about inequities and prejudices against women writers in general and romance writers in specific.

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