Thursday, February 21, 2019

What Do Romance Readers Really Want?

I enjoy reading romance novels, particularly those set in the Regency era. I got to thinking about why this is so and realized it was because of the societal norms portrayed in the stories. Yes, they're fantasies about what it would be like to be a Lady hotly pursued by a rakish Duke, or even an Earl, and finally be the one who tames his wild heart. But for me, it's more than that. In Regency romances, men treat women like ladies, and I find such courtesies sorely lacking in modern life.

I was raised in the 50s when men still held doors for women, so a desire for those small bits of what I consider to be masculine grace is woven into my DNA. At that point in history, members of the male sex were not as yet fearful of excoriation from some nascent feminist more determined to stake out her own boundaries than to be grateful for a simple act of courtesy. Now when I reach a door at the same time as a man, I see the poor thing looking at me with terror-stricken eyes and feel sad that society has fallen so far that men don't know when they hold a door for a woman if they'll be thanked or assaulted for doing so.

Then I got to thinking about all the romance sub-genres and wondered which types of readers are drawn to the different sub-genres and why. I know from my years as a medical reporter that individual romantic preferences are driven by something called an erotic roadmap or in modern parlance, lovemap, something that is set in very early childhood and modeled after what we see in our parents. I had a warm and loving relationship with my father and in adulthood, found myself attracted to men with dark hair and pale skin, simply because they reminded me of the man I trusted above all others. (Note to readers: this is NOT a good way to choose a life mate as my dark-haired, pale-skinned husband turned out to be something of a rotter.) Psychologists will confirm that if my relationship with my father had not been good, I would have been attracted to his physical opposite.

How then does this account for the booming genre of romances where women fall madly in love with vampires, werewolves, creatures from hell and even dinosaurs? I am not kidding. Look it up.

A few years ago a couple of college kids thought it would be hysterical to create an explicit romance series featuring women having, um..."relations" with dinosaurs, as in T-Rex dinosaurs. Of course, no editor in his or her right mind would have ever bought such a thing, but they self-published the series and laughed as the books shot to the top of the erotic romance genre. I would still be shaking my head over this but I got a crick in my neck and had to stop.

Sorry, but I just don't see how a dinosaur worked its way onto anyone's erotic road map. Yet, today, so-called "dinosaur erotica" is a top-selling sub-genre on Amazon. As I said, look it up, and also have a barf bag ready.

So why do romance fans select and read the things they do? What would possess someone to want to buy and read a novel featuring what is essentially an impossible and even terrifying physical relationship? How is that erotic? Are modern women so fed up with the antics of modern men that we'd rather turn to reading about some fictional woman having relations with a cold-blooded and, not to mention, blood-thirsty lizard than work on our own lives and romantic relationships?

What kind of romance is your favorite? Modern, historic, lonely cowboy, businessman, Prince? Let us know in the comments. One of our Blood-Red Pencil bloggers might be working on just the book for you.

Patricia B. Smith is a journalist who is the author of 11 published books, including Idiot’s Guide: Flipping Houses, Alzheimer's For Dummies and Sleep Disorders for Dummies.

Pat is also an experienced professional developmental editor who serves as an Editorial Evaluation and Developmental Coordinator for Five Star Publishing. She works with private clients as well and has helped many authors land their first publishing contracts. Many of her clients have achieved notable success, including two winners of the Missouri Writers’ Guild Show-me Best Book of the Year Award.

Connect with Pat on Facebook, Twitter, or Linked In.


  1. Great post, Pat. Wow! Not a fan of the romance genre as a whole, I was unaware of the extremes it now may include. Don't get me wrong; I like a good (aka realistic) love story, just not one that dictates when the lovers must meet, how the romance develops, circumstances that drive a wedge in the relationship, and a happily-ever-after ending. Formulaic fiction, in my opinion, forces characters into a box and creates marionette-like story development. Now, about those dinosaurs, uh, seriously? Yikes! I don't even like iguanas, so I won't be reading one of those anytime soon.

    1. I am in complete agreement with you on this one, Linda. I don't like formulaic fiction in any genre, but find it particularly grating in the romance genre because it is so predictable. And as for the dinosaur thing? Don't even get me started. One of these dinosaur erotica books was even nominated for a Hugo Award in the short story category in 2016. No kidding. My, how the Hugos have fallen. Did they really think Space Raptor "_ _ _ _ Invasion" belonged in the same stratosphere as Dune and The Left Hand of Darkness? Apparently their voters were not amused because they elected to not give an award in that category in 2016.

  2. As a writer who dips her toe in erotic romance every now and then, I had to laugh at the dinosaur element. No wonder my books don't sell.

    I used to be a big fan of romantic suspense until every story seemed to be the same. The male and female hate each other at first glance, then spend the rest of the book in highly tense situations until they decide they can't live without each other. I got criticized in a review because my couple liked each other right away. Yeah, it happens. Romance is difficult to write and make it seem real. Kudos to those who do it well.

    1. That has always been one of the tropes that bothers me most about romance novels, that the man and woman hate each other before they love each other. Meanwhile, in real life, I have a couple of dozen friends who met their husbands at age 3 or in fourth grade, and fell instantly in love. And here they are 30, 40, even 50 years later still together and still in love. I'm going to read your romance novels, Polly, because I know I would like them if the couple isn't fake fighting all the time.

  3. As a teen I devoured Barbara Cartland and Georgette Heyer and worked up to the bodice busters. With disastrous results when it came to my first marriage. All those damsels who married rich men they didn't really know encouraged me to try it. Huge mistake. I became jaded over time and stopped reading romances all together. I don't mind it as a layer of a story, but straight romance doesn't interest me. I sometimes wonder if it is because I found my perfect match who is kind, good, romantic etc. so I don't feel the urge to read about other people's romances. No fictional hero can live up to the real thing. As for the paranormal genres, readers have always been drawn to paranormal creatures, so it doesn't surprise me that teens for YA and adults for erotica like that spice added to their stories. Though you had me ROFL with the dinosaurs. :)

  4. Oh my goodness. Dinosaurs?

    I don't read much romance anymore because I'm more into thrillers, suspense, mysteries, and the frontier fiction genre (historical set in US) that I'm now writing. However, back in the old days, I loved gothic romance with an element of suspense, and I was totally hooked on the Angelique series by Sergeanne Golon -- I even read some of them in French. They're full of adventure, kings and pirates, and yes, they're probably bodice busters. I could happily read the whole series again though...but in English this time.

  5. There are so many good romance novels these days. I've read several cozies from Berkley Prime Crime in the past month, and notice their romance angles are a little steamier, and much more integral to the story lines. Nice to see they are upping the ante on the relationship angles.

  6. I think the last 100 books of Nora Roberts have really raised the bar for any writer including romantic relationships in the stories. She is, at this point in her career, not really a romance author at all. She's cross-genre, and has changed the paradigm for all novelists.


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