I am in no way a closet romance reader; I have been out for some time. I know I’m not in an imagined minority because it’s one of the highest selling genres, with an estimated annual total sales value of $1.44 billion. Literary critics can balk all they want, as long as they acknowledge that romance is a major prop for the publishing industry.
If you are imagining romance readers as uneducated, cat-owning spinsters, then it might be time for a fresh perspective. According to research done by Romance Writers of America, 18% of readers are men, 59% live with a spouse or partner, and 60% consider themselves feminists. You only have to browse the list of romance sub-genres below to see that it is so much more than bodice ripping and mummy porn.
- Adventure romance
- Category romance (also known as “Series” titles)
- Dark fantasy
- Historical (my fave)
- Menage a trois (see – something for everyone)
- Rock ‘n Roll (why not?)
- Science Fiction
- Urban fantasy
- World War II
- Yaoi (I admit – I had to google this one)
- Young adult/Coming of age
So what do all these romance sub-genres have in common? Two things: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The latter means that the lovers overcome their struggle to be together and are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. These two elements are not negotiable.
I once read a Facebook post by a woman who had just finished reading a novel that ended with a tragic death. When she was done, she threw her iPad (it was an eBook) against the wall, wrote a scathing book review warning others off purchasing it, and boycotted all future titles from the author. Why? Because the book had been marketed as a romance novel, and the author had broken one of only two rules of romance fiction.
An emotionally satisfying ending translates to a “happy ending”, something that is frowned upon literary snobs who are wary of formulaic and predictable texts. So why do so many readers devour them? The official answer is ‘entertainment, escapism and relaxation’, but I think it goes a little deeper than that. Why do I read romance novels? Here are my top three reasons.
- I know what I’m getting
At the end of a day when I’m processing all of the horrible things happening in the world, I can pick up a romance book and know that I will feel good by the end of it. When I want to experience other human emotions, I change genres or read the news. Yes – romance readers are still allowed to consume and enjoy other genres.
- I don’t ever want to forget how good it feels to fall in love
I will never understand why people scoff at this idea. Falling in love, whether it be with your partner, lover, baby or pet, is the best feeling. The fact that we get to experience love via fiction is a gift. Good romance writers will deliver this with every book, so if this is missing from your reader experience, it’s time to explore new authors.
- To feed my optimism
Yes, a guaranteed happy ending every time is unbelievable, but it’s fiction – a safe, indulgent space. I don’t want real life constantly mirrored back to me, I read romance to imagine better possibilities.
So if you are a closet romance reader, it’s time to step out into the light. If you are yet to partake, get ready to fall in love.