The Not-So-Secret Shame of Romance

I couldn’t bring Redeeming the Rancher on the train with me. I kept having visions of a sophisticated commuter looking over at my book cover and sneering. It made me wish I’d just downloaded a romance on my Kindle instead of buying a used copy at the library book sale, but we can’t change the past. I brought (a used copy of) The End of the Affair by Graham Greene with me. It’s a thin, portable novel and I figured anything with “affair” in the title would help inform my view of romances.

But why was I so worried about someone seeing me reading a romance on MetroNorth? Part of it is my own literary snobbery. Part of it is the idea that romance is the only thing worse than chick lit — which is sexist, and stupid, and just plain wrong. I did a little research and come up with some facts about romance readers, courtesy of myRWA:

  • Women make up 84 percent of romance book buyers, and men make up 16 percent. (Update: According to Nielsen, as of Q4 2014, women make up 82% of romance book buyers.)
  • The U.S. romance book buyer is most likely to be aged between 30 and 54 years.
  • Romance book buyers are highly represented in the South.
  • Romance book buyers have an average income of $55,000.

I hate to think I’ve internalized the dismissive attitude so much of the literary world has adopted toward books aimed at female audiences. That might be part of it, but I also think romances suffer from, frankly, bad writing. Sure you may need to follow a certain formula to find success, but that’s no excuse to be a lazy writer. I understand that the turnover in the romance world is high, and that the price point is low–but readers still deserve a smart, well-written book. And not all romances are delivering that.

Let’s change that.

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