Romancing the Genre

HeartsI am co-authoring this post today with one of my alter egos, Angelica French. Angelica writes romances of varying degrees of heat. (I have another alter ego, River Glynn. River writes paranormal, science fiction, and fantasy.) The fourth Tuesday of each month I’ll post about issues in romance, writing romances, or provide general information like today.

Why alter egos? Why don’t I write all my books under a single name? That’s for another post. Today, Angelica and I are here to entertain and enlighten about romances. When discussing the romance genre, several questions arise: What are the various romance genre? Why so many? Who reads romance? Why do they read romance? What makes a romance “good”?

  • What are the various romance genre? Why so many?

Romance genres heat levels range from sweet to erotica. By the way, pornography is not a romance, since there needs to be more than sexual acrobatics. By definition a romance has to have romance.

“Sweet” romances depict love with yearnings not backed up by action (certainly not outside of marriage), whereas, some accuse “erotica” of not having any subtlety at all–it’s all about “the act.” Erotic romance, on the other hand, does keep a relationship as a central component.

There are multiple levels of heat along this continuum and when authors submit to a publisher, they must identify the heat level according to each publisher’s guidelines. Even the erotica publishers have their limits, however. No pedophilia, bestiality, and other acts generally deemed offensive or illegal.

Within the heat levels, there are categories of romance genres. These include historical, contemporary, inspirational, paranormal, suspense, mystery, and so on, as in general fiction categories. And, as with general fiction categories, historical romances might be the Old West, Regency, Civil War, Pre-World War I, Post World War II, and so on.

It’s pretty obvious why there are so many categories and heat levels. If there weren’t readers, there wouldn’t be books produced. That simple. Lots of folks like romances, men and women.

  •  Who reads romance?

There’s been a good bit of research to identify the demographic for romance readers. In a study by Romance Writers of America (RWA) a few years ago, 42% of romance readers had at least a bachelor’s degree, and 15% earned or were working on post-graduate degrees. While still mostly women, nearly one-quarter of romance readers are male.

In the RWA study, half of romance readers were married, four percent were divorced, thirty-seven percent were single, one percent were separated, and eight percent were widowed.

Most romance novels readers in the study were ages 35-44. The next largest group was 25-34. The third highest age group of romance readers were ages 45-54. Only seven percent were 17 or younger.

After I (Angelica) finish the trilogy for my “Sex Sells” series, I am going after crone lit. There are LOTS of older women looking for romance and titillation in their reading. Old folks can have and enjoy romance and sex, too!

  •  Why do they read romance?

People read romances, I think, for the same reasons they read anything. A peek into how and where others live. An escape from their own reality. An examination of how others solve a problem they have. A chance to live in another world for a while. Maybe a bit of titillation and fantasizing. 

  • What makes a romance “good”?

A good romance shares the same things that make any fiction book good–interesting characters you care about (Gone Girl is a notable exception), unpredictable twists and turns that still make sense, authenticity of setting/characters/events, or learning about another place/time/event.

Romance, more than most genres, has been criticized for being clichéd and formulaic. I admit to boredom with those overtly predictable stories as well. The best romances, as in any genre, provide surprises that weren’t foreseen but were still logical in the story. I also am weary of the women who must have a man in their lives to define them and solve their problems. Give me a romance with a woman who takes charge of her own life, and then, oh, by the way, falls in love with a fellow (or gal).

Chick Lit, one of the categories in romance, is characterized by the growth of the woman (apart from a partner) who with humor and good will stumbles around in life and relationships before finally getting it all together.

The Romance Writers Report, journal of the Romance Writers of America, recently had an article about the canon of romance books. The author took on a critic of romance genres, critical that there was no set of generally agreed upon representative books.

According to the author, a canon is not necessarily those books that are the best in the genre so much as game-changers, books that initiated a change of direction in format or content. It was a pretty compelling article. [Is There a Romance Canon? By Wendy Crutcher, June 2014, 34 (6), Romance Writers Report]

It’s interesting to me how romance genres are more likely than any other genre I know to be denigrated. And, on the other side, hotly defended. Do you read romances? Are they one of your guilty little secrets? Or do you disdain romance readers as unsophisticated and naïve?

Author: Sharon Arthur Moore

Sharon Arthur Moore is an intrepid cook, who has lived in every region of the country except the Pacific Northwest and loved every single one of them.

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