Did you know that romance novels are in the hands of more readers than any other fiction genre? According to the Romance Writers of America’s website, romance books make up the predominant share of the consumer market. In 2008, 74.8 million Americans read at least one romance, while the core of the romance novel fan base is estimated at 29 million regular readers. Bottom line: Today’s “it” story is the love story!
But for whom? The majority of American romance readers are women between the ages of 31–49, but younger readers are joining the ranks: 29 percent of Americans over the age of 13 read a romance novel in 2008 (Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, anyone?). Are these younger readers looking for something beyond the traditional archetypes of romance? I decided to investigate, interviewing more than a dozen readers between the ages of 25 and 35, contacted via my newsletter and multi-author blog.
The starring men who stride through the pages of romances—be they dukes or vampires, soldiers or spies, brooding loners or playful bad boys—come in a variety of shapes and styles. When asked if they have a preference, the younger readers I talked to were in nearly unanimous agreement. “I’m not sure I have met a romance hero that I didn’t like,” says 25-year-old Rachel. “If the writer is good, she’ll make me fall in love with about any kind of hero,” says Emmanuelle, 31. And heroines? Readers can enjoy any female lead, “As long as,” Keri, 26, says, “the author backs up the heroine with the history to fit the character.” Adds 32-year-old Lanae, “I love reading about heroines who start out as not so confident, then are put in a situation where they really find themselves. It’s almost inspiring.”
The good stuff
What about heat? “The hotter the better!” exclaims 27-year-old Anna. With the rise in availability of erotic romance, it’s not hard to find sexy scenes. But as Stephanie, 29, explains, “The sexual tension and sex should help move the relationship and emotional connection between characters [forward].”
Another change in the landscape: Younger fans are more likely to get their romance news through web-based means such as blogs and social media. And while most of those interviewed are not averse to the concept of reading an electronic edition, the cost of electronic readers can be prohibitive. But beyond the cost, all of the readers I spoke with profess their enjoyment in holding an actual book. “Who wants to take a gadget with them to the tub?” asks Toni, 35.
Still, as Leis Pederson, assistant editor for the Berkley Publishing Group, puts it, “The core of what draws readers to romance novels is the same across generations.” Alyson, 31, uses the true romance readers’ code: “It’s the HEA.” The “happy ever after” is what appeals to readers more than a particular kind of hunky hero, feisty heroine or steamy love scene. Instead of apologizing for their reading preference, these young women even appear a little smug about their choice of books, as Rachel sums up so well: “Sometimes when people make fun of romance, I smile to myself because they just don’t know what they are missing. Romance novels make me happy.”
Having been a dedicated fan of the genre since discovering Georgette Heyer’s works in my public library, I wasn’t surprised by what younger readers said was the fundamental appeal of the genre—it’s the journey to that guaranteed happy ending that makes romance popular every day of the year, and for readers of every age.