Total Romance Novel Sales in 2013 were $1.1 billion. That’s roughly one-fifth of all adult-fiction sales. It amazes me that people see the genre as a monolithic thing and feel comfortable snarking on it. I see it an umbrella under which a lot of genres find shelter and fans. BUT ok – in a bookstore there are different areas in Fiction; Literature, Mystery, Science Fiction, Romance and Graphic Novels. At least, that’s is my local bookstore. Who would have the nerve to say – “Oh I wandered into Literature and picked up a couple of books and they were horrible. Literature is generally terrible.”
I don’t think people have a freaking clue of how diverse books are within Romance. Here is a basic top-level breakdown of Romance: Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal/Fantasy, Suspense, Erotic/Mature, Lesbian/Gay/MM, and Inspirational.
Let’s take a sample look under these top categories. In Contemporary – you have Legal, Urban, Adult/Young Adult, College, Teen etc. In Historical – you have Regency, Victorian/Gothic, Medieval, Ancient World, Scottish (yes that’s right Scottish is whole separate category). In Paranormal/Fantasy – Classic Fantasy (elves etc), Vampires, Shifters, Time travel, Steam Punk, Young Adult, Dark/Horror, Scifi/Space, Extraterrestrial, new Paranormal fantasy (blended categories).
Ok I will stop – before you get super bored. I am just scratching the surface. In addition – there are lots of books that are hybrids. There is a gay western romance because really….hot cowboys. Shifter BDSM. Vampire Romantic Comedy. And more….In fact – trying to group Romance in classifications makes me chuckle as I think of all the hybrids. They are some of then best of the genre because they surprise and innovate.
There is the regrettable stereotype that the Romance reader as a middle-aged housewife. Hey – it’s always ok to mock women, particularly if they aren’t young. SSHH – don’t tell anyone that Millennial women are major force in the romance market. The YA genre has dominant strain of romance and/or strong female leads. The reality is that readers in Romance are skewing younger and younger. Romance authors are successfully publishing independently because I don’t think the big publishing houses really understand and appreciate the customer and dynamic environment. Writers who want to write shorter novellas receive hard push back from traditional publishing despite the fact that short form novellas are wildly popular. Publishing houses are picking up new obsessions of reader quickly enough. If you had told me Erotic BDSM involving BBW stories were going to be hot, I might I have rolled my eyes 6 years ago – so yes disruption and change is difficult for any business to navigate. A whole wealth of scifi/steampunk/dark romance is hugely popular and vibrant and is sustained by fans that are the same people who go to Comic Con and are involved in wild world of Cosplay.
I must briefly address the elephant in the room – 50 Shades of Grey. I am going to discuss Adult/Erotic Romance fiction in another blog post in detail but let me just say this – sometimes being first matters. So EL James arrived on the scene as e-books exploded into popular use. The eBooks sales drove the physical copy sales. Her story was simple, easy to consume and just naughty enough not to be porn and therefore allowed women to explore “erotic” despite the fact its pretty vanilla (ha-ha). Also, ebooks allowed women to comfortably explore this part of their lives without censure. Are there lots of amazing adult/erotic fiction out there – oh yes. But why was 50 shades successful? I think it’s simplicity of the narrative and fanfiction echo of Twilight helped a great deal. Anyway, I wouldn’t dream of condemning the entire genre of Action/thriller because certain authors who have produced mountains of best sellers is written in a leaden stiff prose that men on airplanes adore. No, not me. I have sat on planes and I have read wonderful action/thrillers.
Anyway, Romance has way more diverse and rich categories then most people appreciate. These books relentlessly push themselves onto the best sellers list and occasionally are allowed into the literary sections of the bookstore. Obviously, a good story is a good story. Doesn’t matter the genre. Successful Romance authors are comfortable with their label because they have TONS of fans and fans that spend money and their fans read everything they write. It is the last thing that is the most important. No one sweats and labors to have their book read by no one – the book doesn’t exist without the reader. Romance books exist BIG because there are lots of readers. These readers are smart and diverse just like the books they read. Now, I have to write….