Romance Sub-genres and Expectations of Readers
Romantic fiction has two types: contemporary romance, set in the present day, and historical romance, typically set between 1066 (the Battle of Hastings and the subsequent Norman conquest of England) and 1920. The seven primary expectations of romance novel readers are:
Characters and Character Development
- Expound on the relationship between the heroine and hero as it flourishes into love.
- In as many ways as you can, delve into the interrelational complications of women and men. Sometimes, authors depict communication issues using conventions such as silly mix-ups, trivial quarrels, and charades that end with unforeseen consequences.
- Portray the heroine and hero as they navigate the ins and outs of their relationship and how this follows (or doesn't completely follow) the social norms of the time.
- The heroine and hero must be interacting for most of the story, almost uniting and then something comes between them, whether it is their own clashing personalities or some external force.
- The story comes to a denouement as love reaches its peak. At the end of the story, the two are delightfully in love and readers can be certain they will live happily ever after.
Mainly, romance novels are character-driven rather than plot-driven. Characters' interactions and development are the primary foci of the novel. When editing a character-driven story, it's vital to focus efforts on character believability and development. Characters must be likable, their flaws must be credible and the romance needs to be believable. Do be sure to have flaws in your characters; otherwise, you risk alienating readers. Who wants to read about someone who is perfect? Be sure the conflict is strong; it's what drives a novel. Continually develop characters throughout the manuscript as a way to energize the story. Never disclose everything about the characters within the first chapter or two. Leave something to surprise readers later, to serve as a plot twist, or to help wrap up the story. Be sure the ideas and opinions of characters reflect the times to maintain a semblance of realism.
Examine dialogue closely. It's vital in romance novels because it advances the story, develops characters and holds the attention of readers. There must be lulls in the action to give your characters time to get to know each other through dialogue. Rather than diatribes be a single person, readers want conversations where relationships grow and advance. Always be sure the dialogue is naturalistic. For historical romance, be careful when using authentic speech patterns from the period. An author can lose readers quickly by bogging them down in stilted language.
I hunt for changes in physical descriptions of characters: eye color, hair color and body type. Although these issues are problematic in any novel, the characters' looks have a more central role in romance than in other genres. Descriptions of a location or time of year often can be incongruent or mismatched. I also, keep settings and the spelling of names consistent, and make sure actions ring true. As an editor, I also keep track of the timeline and character descriptions to make sure they are realistic and consistent.
I encourage authors to keep detailed notes of character backstory, which can often be very important. It's imperative to make sure the story stays on track. If there's a lot going on, make a timeline.
Modern readers expect things such as contraception to be referred to if not discussed by the characters. Sex scenes require editing just as carefully as the rest of your novel. Authors sometimes struggle to write these scenes and many editors don't give them enough attention. I don't embarrass easily and am comfortable with explicit content.
It's important to ensure that the plot is elucidated well and stays true to the formula. I make sure there are interesting plot points, enough conflict to be believable, and the resolution makes sense.
Tact, honesty, objectivity, and being uninhibited are traits my clients appreciate. It's important to indicate anything that reads awkwardly. If your editor can't make sense of it, then readers won't be able to, either.
I'm a lover of romance novels and not ashamed to say so. That's why it's one of my specialties as a fiction editor. In many ways, editing romantic fiction is much like editing other books. It's just as worthy as editing literary fiction, and romance novels are just as deserving of good editing as any other type of story. Romance readers have extremely high expectations and standards and can be vocal when something doesn't meet with their approval.
The Romance Novel Reader at a Glance
Romance is the most productive genre, and authors are self-publishing at an astonishing rate. According to Romance Writers of America, romance sells more books than mystery, science fiction/fantasy, and religious/inspirational genres. More than 8,000 new romance titles were released in 2016, translating into sales of over $1.4 billion annually.
Romance Novel Buyer Demographics
- Women make up 82% of romance book buyers. Therefore, the essence of every great romance novel needs to address subjects of particular intrigue to women.
- The U.S. romance book buyer is most likely to be aged between 18 and 44 years.
- Romance book buyers are more highly represented in the Midwest and South.
- Average income – $55,000.
What They Read and Buy
Reading versus buying romance:
- 64% read romance more than once per month and
- 35% buy romance more than once per month.
Reading romance how long:
- 35.1% – 20 years or more,
- 20.6% – 5 to 10 years,
- 20.4% – 10 to 20 years,
- 16.1% – 2 to 5 years.
Romance subgenres by format:
- romantic suspense (53%);
- contemporary romance (41%);
- historical romance (34%);
- erotic romance (33%);
- new adult (26%);
- paranormal romance (19%);
- young adult romance (18%);
- Christian romance (17%).
- romantic suspense (48%);
- contemporary romance (44%);
- erotic romance (42%);
- historical romance (33%);
- paranormal romance (30%);
- new adult (26%);
- young adult romance (18%);
- Christian romance (14%).
Most popular romance themes:
- friends to lovers;
- soulmate, fate;
- second love;
- secret romance;
- first love;
- strong hero or heroine;
- reunited lovers;
- love triangle;
- sexy rich person; and
- high-spirited heroine.
What else romance buyers read:
- general fiction,
- cooking/food books,
- young adult, and erotic fiction.
Regardless of format, compared to 12 months ago:
- 61% are reading about the same amount of romance novels,
- 23% are reading more often, and
- 14% are reading less often.
How Readers Obtain Books
- buy in stores,
- buy online (e.g., Amazon),
- borrow from a library,
- download to an e-reader (e.g., Kindle Fire/DX),
- borrow from friends/relatives,
- buy using a mobile app for a tablet, smartphone and/or to read on an e-reader,
- buy using a book club subscription, or
- buy from a subscription service (e.g., Amazon Prime, Scrib,).
Which stores have they bought from most often?
Brick and mortar
- Barnes & Noble,
- used bookstores, and
- supermarkets and grocery stores.
- Barnes and Noble online,
- iTunes/iBooks, and
Principal influences when buying a romance novel:
- the story;
- the author;
- part of a series;
- back cover copy;
- cover art;
- recommendations on a social media site;
- deal, bundle, bargain, special offer; and
- an endorsement by another leading author.
How romance novel buyers find new romance authors or titles:
- bookstore browsing,
- recommendation from someone the reader knows,
- browsing online,
- bestseller lists,
- from books a person sampled,
- social media author sites,
- book lists,
- library staff suggestions,
- online book reviews, and
- online retail recommendations based on previous purchases.
Talking about romance books with family and friends
Most romance buyers report they discuss romance books in person with friends and family (76%).
Formats read versus formats read most often
- Format read by 86.7%
- Format read most often by 67.5%
- Format read by 47.5%
- Format read most often by 29.5%
- Format read by 11.0%
- Format read most often by 3%
Most popular e-books genres
- science fiction,
- historical, and
- adult fiction.
A price of $6 is considered fair for e-books.
Source: Nielsen's Romance Book Buyer Report.