Contemporary Romance Writer: Romance Always Sells — But Why?

Reader alert: The publishing industry has experienced nonstop upheavals for the past five years or so. Some people would say the industry is convulsing. Others would say it is dying a slow, painful death. (I’m mentioning this for those of you who’ve been walking around in some sort of daze. Or who never read the news–not even just the headlines.)

No matter what the state of the publishing industry — or the state of the economy for that matter — romance always sells.

Or so “they” say. For the statistic-hungry readers of this blog, I’ll toss one stat your way:

According to a 2010 Romance Writers of America (RWA) report, romance fiction sales remained relatively steady in 2010, though dipping slightly to $1.358 billion from $1.36 billion in 2009. And romance fiction continued its dominance of the consumer market at 13.4 percent (in terms of revenue of market categories), beating out mystery, science fiction/fantasy, and religion/inspirational titles.

Here’s the question: Why does romance sell?

Some would say that sex always sells — equating sex with romance. But there are plenty of romance writers out there who do not equate sexual tension between a hero and heroine with explicit S-E-X.

When a reader invests both money and time in a romance novel, what is she (or he*) hoping for?

  • Entertainment
  • Escape
  • Education
  • Excitement

Or could it be that romance readers are looking for some combination of all of these things? Or could it be the longing for that intangible happily ever after?

In Your Words: Why do you read romance? There are plenty of other books out there on the bookshelves — why do you pick up a contemporary romance or a historical romance or a romantic suspense?

* According to a 2009 RWA study, men make up 9.5 percent of romance readers.


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  1. November 28, 2011, 11:12 pm   /  Reply

    I read romance because I delight in love stories and happy endings.

  2. November 29, 2011, 6:02 am   /  Reply

    Helpful info., though a little disconcerting for those of us preferring to write things other than romance. Our chances of re-educating the public? Probably not high.

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 7:09 am   /  Reply

      No, not necessarily, Dee. People do read other things besides romance. And some writers weave a romance-thread through their stories to appeal to readership too.

  3. November 29, 2011, 7:29 am   /  Reply

    I’m going to get spiritual for a second here… 🙂 On a surface level, I think romance sells because women, in particular, do crave those things you mentioned – entertainment, escape, etc. Personally, I love love and happy endings. 🙂 BUT, also I think one of the reasons romance sells is because it can and often does connect with a longing/desire/common denominator at a spiritual level in most, if not all, of us…Romance with a capital “R.”

    Look at Ted Dekker’s books – particularly his Circle series – probably his most-loved, biggest cult-following stories. They are fantasy, yes, but they ooze with romance. And they’re quite allegorical to “divine romance” – the love between God and his children. This is a guess, but I do think Ted Dekker has a bigger male following than female. I really think that common denominator in all of us, whether we recognize it or not, is a desire/craving/need for Romance at the spiritual level. So, when Christian writers write romance, they’re hitting not only the surface desire for love between a man and a woman, but between God and his creation. Whether we realize it or not, directly or indirectly, they’re touching that place in us which craves God’s love.

    And, I actually think the same is almost true for some mainstream romance (though, surely not the hard core, explicit stuff). It’s probably not the goal of the writer and the reader may have no idea, BUT that desire to consume “romance” could come from a deeper desire for the kind of eternal romance we were made for…maybe, maybe not…and possibly I’m over-spiritualizing…

    Still, it’s interesting to think about. So, thanks for the morning intellectual boost, Beth! 🙂

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 8:24 am   /  Reply

      Melissa, you took this conversation in a great direction! Thanks so much for addressing the sometimes unspoken spiritual (or inspirational) aspect of romance. Even mainstream romance shows a search for intimacy — and there are different aspects to intimacy: emotional, physical, spiritual. I think the best writing acknowledges that God made us with a desire for more than just physical intimacy.

  4. November 29, 2011, 7:30 am   /  Reply

    Wow, sorry I got so rambly!

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 8:24 am   /  Reply

      No apology needed, Melissa! I so appreciated what you said!

  5. Jeanne T
    November 29, 2011, 7:32 am   /  Reply

    Interesting thoughts, Beth. I read a variety of genres, but I always love to see how two people grow in who they are and in a relationship with Mr./Miss Right when I read a romance. I love to see the relationships develop, the love grow and I like a satisfying happily ever after.

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 8:25 am   /  Reply

      Excellent point, Jeanne. I like seeing how love changes characters too.

  6. November 29, 2011, 7:44 am   /  Reply

    I read romance for that *sigh* dreams-can-come-true feeling at the end. I guess its the happily ever after thingy.

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 8:25 am   /  Reply

      Ah, the happily ever after thingy … I expect that in a romance too, Pat. 😉

  7. November 29, 2011, 8:52 am   /  Reply

    I think romance sells because deep down inside the heart of a woman, we long to be loved and cherished and fought for and rescued. And we’re all running around looking for the answer to that longing. Only we’re looking to other dudes instead of THE ultimate dude. The one who’s already rescued us.

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 9:00 am   /  Reply

      So … Katie, you’ve just issued an unspoken challenge for writers of romance to consider, haven’t you?

  8. November 29, 2011, 10:41 am   /  Reply

    I think we (I) read romance novels because they appeal to our need to connect with others personally, emotionally and spiritually. Romance novels are about going above and beyond your everyday efforts for one special person- and who doesn’t want to be the object of that extra effort? At their heart, romance novels are all about connecting, not superficially, but on a deeper, lasting level with one other human being. Someone who knows you for who you truly are, inside and out, and loves you anyway. Isn’t that what we look for when making new friends or searching for our soul mate? We want to be loved and accepted and made to feel uniquely special. For many readers, men and women, I think romance novels give us hope that that special connection is out there for us, too.

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 5:21 pm   /  Reply

      Appreciate your thoughts and how they deepen the conversation — along the lines of Melissa’s reply.

  9. Loree Huebner
    November 29, 2011, 10:44 am   /  Reply

    I read romance to escape…I admit it. I read so many history books that I need to escape into another world where love and romance take the table. I also agree with Katie, our hearts long to be sought after, fought for, loved, and rescued.

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 5:23 pm   /  Reply

      I think there can be different reasons why a woman (or man) reads romance. Although I don’t know any men who read romance — other than my husband. And he only read my work in progress (WIP) at my request because I wanted to get my guy characters right. 🙂

  10. November 29, 2011, 12:58 pm   /  Reply

    I love Katie’s answer, so I’ll just say ditto….minus the “dudes”. 🙂 Great discussion, Beth!

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 5:23 pm   /  Reply

      LOL, Sarah!

  11. Cindy R. Wilson
    November 29, 2011, 1:14 pm   /  Reply

    I’ll echo what some of the others said, I read romance primarily for the happily-ever-after. Romance it the number one genre I read, and I write it also. It makes me happy to have that escape, to see things turn out well despite trials, and I love that emotional connection between characters.

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 5:25 pm   /  Reply

      Hi, Cindy,
      Thanks for joining the conversation.
      I’m with you: I read and write romance for some of the same reasons: for escape, for entertainment, for excitement — the adventure kind — to learn more about myself and about others, and yes, to experience that happily ever moment.

  12. November 29, 2011, 4:29 pm   /  Reply

    Love your answer, Katie! I totally agree. Anyone ever read “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge? A great read that explores the deepest longings of a woman’s soul…

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 5:25 pm   /  Reply

      I have read some of Captivating, Lindsay … there’s another discussion for another day …

  13. November 29, 2011, 6:24 pm   /  Reply

    I love remembering the feeling of falling in love, being chased and caught. And I think as we read and write from a Christian perspective, that allegorical romance of Christ wooing us is a great reminder of how He continues to pursue and love us, in spite of everything. The greatest love story of all!

    • Beth Vogt
      November 29, 2011, 10:03 pm   /  Reply

      I like your reminding us that romance can remind us of our own falling in love experience. (Yikes! What a sentence.)
      And as you and others have pointed out, romance novels also have the opportunity of being a spiritual allegory too.

  14. December 5, 2011, 11:16 pm   /  Reply

    […] A blog post or two ago, we chatted about how romance sells. […]

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