When looking at romance books by the numbers, the obvious becomes even more so. The genre is huge and continues to grow. As with any variety of story, tastes change to reflect the times. Innocent wallflowers who blossom under the touch of an experienced man still abound, but plenty of take-charge women dominate this wildly popular genre.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to add some fuel to the romantic consumer-driven frenzy and post this infographic for discussion. As I’ve edited more romance books, it grows more clear how varied the genre can be. I do try to read widely, but no matter the genre, I’ll always be a sucker for well-crafted prose. Once an editor, always an editor. And gasp! The more I’ve delved into the world of self-publishing and the proof of romance books by the numbers, I’ve even found myself entertaining notions of trying my hand at writing romance. The thought makes me chuckle because I am also equally drawn to writing darker, more psychological fiction as well.
The quest for love in all its incarnations will never grow old.
The rise of e-books does indeed make it easier to take that steamy book with you to read during your commute or sneak in a few pages at lunch since there’s no worry of someone spying a sexy cover splayed in your hands. The depth of such stories run the gamut from fluffy romps to serious affairs. Even though I readily decried the content and quality of writing in Fifty Shades of Gray, there’s no denying any book that gets a huge segment of the population to start exploring their sexuality more and also encourages them to talk about it more openly, is doing something right.
What types of romance books have you read? What other reasons help explain the genre’s popularity?
The Evolution of the Romance Novel infographic showcased here originally appeared on the PBS website.
The steaming sex scenes don’t appeal to me. It’s not so much that I’m prudish though. I just believe the intimate LOVE (as opposed to sex) is just for those two people. If it is a well written romance, yes, I’ll read it. What I like more though is to read a book that has romance as the subplot.
Glynis, I’m probably with you in enjoying romance more as a subplot rather than as a main focus.
Great infoggraphic Jeri. Possibly readers are ‘getting in the mood’ for Valentines Day, lol. 🙂
Debby, the credit for the infographic goes to PBS. I’ve been looking for others for various genres. If I find a good one, expect an infographic on horror or mystery comes October in time for Halloween.
It is interesting to note how romance books have evolved with the demands of time and change in society. That is a very nice info graphic to quickly understand this genre.
I have never bought romantic novels and have read only a few, which came my way through friends. To be honest, I find them fake stories, without much depth. Even Nicholas Sparks books don’t appeal to me much, it seems a waste of time, the way he goes round and round, not much different from old-time favourites Mills and Boon!
Probably age is catching up! Lol!
Yes, e-books are a good pass time during a long flight…I agree with your conclusion.
Thanks for a refreshing change. 🙂
Balroop, I have read a handful of Nicholas Sparks books and they just all blur together for me. I do really enjoy the movie version of The Notebook. You are the second person to mention Mills and Boon 😉
Its really incredible how many romance books are selling these days. The author I like is Pamela Aares whose Baseball star themed Tavonesi series has become a USA best seller. I was surprised just how good the writing is and how easily it became page turner for me. I can totally see why you’d want to try your hand at it Jeri. Ive thought of it myself.
Kathy, the more I learn about self-publishing has led me to re-think all of my options as a writer. I still want to write at least one novel I go through the querying process with, but at the end of the day there are just so many ways to get books into readers’ hands. If I do end up going the indie route I now know to stick with a genre and market to that genre. There’s an audience for self-pubbed romances. Literary short stories? Not so much… but can still aim to submit the likes of those to dusty literary journals nobody reads all in the name of earning some bonafide writing cred. It’s all so silly when I really start to think about it.
Clearly I’m writing books in the wrong genre! I did try writing a romance novel once and it was a disaster. I did read a Danielle Steele once. It was okay.
Jan, part of me wants to think I could pull off a romance novel, but it would probably end up being more in the vein of women’s fiction or bookclub fiction. Time will tell. I have been editing quite a few romances, and the process has allowed me to learn a lot more about the genre so I can someday apply it to attempts of my own.
I had no idea how huge the romance genre was in the market. Despite its popularity, you still have to know how to write. I attempted reading 50 Shades and found it so brutal I don’t think I got past 50 pages. It wasn’t the sex, it was the horrible writing that turned me off. One of my favorite reviews of 50 shades is yours and I use it as an example of the perfect review. 🙂
Debra, yep the writing in 50 Shades was indeed painful. Bad writing, bad sex, just baaaaddddd!
Based on the numbers in your infographic I am apparently not unlike most men in bypassing this genre. Woudl be interesting to hear from someone who wrote romance fiction targeted for men. That would probably be a tall order.
Ken, romance targeted for men? Where would one even begin? At the end of last year, I did edit a romance novel written by a man. He had all the mushy bases covered and then some, but he was still writing for a female audience.
Really interesting Jeri and I had to laugh when I came to the “Clinch” trend because if the Amazon feed is any indication there’s still plenty of that around. In general I’m not a fan of romance novels, in fact confess I’ve never read 50 Shades of Grey, but I do think the trends are fascinating. One of these days someone will figure out how to combine romance stories with adult coloring books and they’ll make a fortune!
Marty, you get a prize for best comment all day. Maybe we should run this idea by Kathy. The follow-up to her stained glass coloring book could be an erotica inspired collection. Maybe Cubism would be the way to go…
I think I’ll stick to sci-fi. I have no problem with love being part of the mix for any genre – love is universal, after all – but wish-fulfilment is another beast entirely. Unfortunately, it seems to be a very profitable beast. -sigh-
A.C., my smart alec side says to myself if I just write a romance with the mindset I had as a fifteen-year-old concerning love, I’ll be good to go 😉 That’s somewhat facetious, and yet not totally. The focal point of desiring a man above all else does ring a bit hollow in many ways.
Love this post! But, unfortunately, I’m usually disappointed by the writing, plotting & characters in romance novels. Once in a blue moon, I stumble upon an original book—usually in the historical category. Alas, that leaves me more focused on the sub-genre of Romantic Suspense where the mystery drives the plot, while the romance drives the characters.
Your infographic is wonderful!
Candy, I can definitely see you more drawn to romantic suspense. Maybe one of your Monster novellas can go down that route one of these days. I agree the infographic is great, but credit goes to PBS for its creation. I’ve shied away from posting infographics in the past, but this one caught my attention and fit the imminent lovebird holiday.
Wow, this is fascinating, Jeri. It’s an explosion of e-book romance since 2012!! 50 Shades is actually mind boggling when we talk about sales. I still haven’t read it. I saw the movie when it came to the movie channel on TV and seriously, no way. I think this is truly a case of mob response. Regardless, I’m not ashamed to admit I’m a fan of the romance novel. I grew up on Danielle Steele 😉
Lisa, mob response if a fitting way to describe the furor of 50 Shades. Even though the book made me ill, I find comfort in knowing it probably opened the doors for many readers to seek out better smut on their own 😉
I doubt I have read one “romance” book. I just have not felt pulled to. I am probably too much of a cynic. I recall my mum having a few shelves full of Mills and Boom. You do not get more romantic than that!
My mum also watches Danielle Steele films. I find them far too cliché and terribly predictable.
Phoenicia, you’re the second person to mention Mills and Bloom. The reason I veer away from various types of genre fiction is predictability, but I’ve found that to be less of an issue the more I’ve read. The genre that always throws me for a loop is fantasy. It’s just really hard for my mind to go that route. World building is tough and I find myself asking why too much. I guess with romances I can turn that off and just go with the flow when I need a nice, fast read.
Jeri, First let me tell you your infographic was wonderful – what a lot of research and work you did to pull it together like that – informative and direct.
As for romance novels, I can read them and have enjoyed quite a few of the older ones – the newer ones with the graphic steamy sex, not so much. As a matter of fact, I usually stop reading them
I grew up in the 50’s where sex was whispered, not shouted, and I guess that thinking has stayed with me.
Lenie, when it comes to graphic sex, language, or violence a lot of it depends on how much it fits the story. At times, it can seem gratuitous yet at others the story and characters might not work as well any other way.
I don’t mean to sound high-brow…because I certainly am NOT. But I sort of graduated from straight romance novels in my earlier years. It’s kind of like developing a palette. You start out loving fish sticks and grow into sea-bass:) I do enjoy romance as a sub-plot, however.
Jacquie, oh dear 😉 I’d much rather have the sea bass as well.
Hi Jeri, I’m just sitting here chuckling over you and Debra commenting on Fifty shades of Grey being brutal….to read. Lol. Do they count that as romance?? Never thought of that. Didn’t realize how wildly popular romance novels are. For me though, I need something witha little more substance. I don’t have much spare time to read, so I like to learn a little something along the way.
Susan, I definitely enjoy a breezy book every now and again, but largely am like you in coveting material with a bit more substance.
Jeri, this was so fascinating and funny! I totally think you should write a romance novel. I love that you put this together just in time for Valentine’s day!
Meredith, I’m aiming to at least give at least one romance novel a try as a writer. I have some good ideas stewing in my head, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be great on paper.
Hi there dear Jeri.
A most interesting discussion… I agree with you and I would say I am fond of a type of darker, more psychological fiction…
I am not a fan of Romance when it comes to books… I like romance and eroticism as a subtle seasoning in books, though…
However … I have read many books by Jane Austen… and watched movies too… I think that this does not exclude the previous statements as Austen´s characters were so well crafted, and her women -and respective partners- simply unforgettable…
Thanks for sharing. Sending best wishes. Aquileana ?.-
Aqui, romance coupled with well-crafted characters and lots of socially interesting plot twists can take romances to a new level that much is sure. I don’t like it when I pick up a book of any genre and the characters and plots seem practically interchangeable.
I don’t read the Romance genre. Some books I’ve read do have a romance theme, but it’s not necessarily the driving force of the story. Then again, the categorization of books is not always on target. My second novel has a romance theme, but I didn’t want to put it under the romance category. I filed it under women’s fiction / chick lit. To be honest, I didn’t want the stigma of poor writing and plot of Romance to attach itself to my book, especially after 50 Shades. Maybe I should have gone the Romance route.
Denise, I think women’s fiction was a wise choice for you book, but genre placement can be a hard call. FUFT ended on an upnote, so that would make it fit in the romance category as well. Romance certainly rules when it comes to online indie sales.
I know that I looked up at the demographics of all book readers, and not to long ago woman made a large hunk of readers.
I wonder about romance novels? Is it because woman like romance novels, so there is a large % of romance novels written, or is it there is a large % of romance novels, so more woman are reading them?
Thanks for sharing.
William, women do tend to read more books than mend. The trend is clear early on as I can attest from my time in the classroom. It probably goes both ways when it comes to romance novels, but it’s probably women’s interest in the genre that helps drive production. I don’t want to belittle how females are socially conditioned to fixated on love and finding “the one” but since I am a female, I can speak to that effect. Love is a grand fantasy on a gigantic scale to many women. We spend our lives chasing the notion. I say keep it between the pages of the book because in real life we all know love takes many shapes and forms and also a lot of work needs to go into a successful relationship. Romance books offer up the easy fairy tale fantasy version of love. Wow, I have a lot to say on this topic. I think I’ll file it away as a topic for a future post 😉
Interesting infographic. I really don’t read romance novels. But I do know many friends who do. And, of course, they are all female. =)
Sabrina, a workbook came in my mail yesterday for how to plot a romance book. I’m looking forward to conducting my own experiments in the genre, though they may never see the light of day.
I was in a bookstore a few years ago. I peeked into Shades of Grey just to see what all that chatter was about. I couldn’t believe how silly it was. But I know people who found it thrilling so I guess it is me. Great infographic. I especially loved seeing how romance novel covers have changed so dramatically over the years.
Erica, comparing covers over time is a lot of fun. It’s always interesting to consider how drastically different what can be considered a eye-catching image changes over time.
I am not into romance novels. I was when I was younger. If it has romance in it that’s fine but I don’t want it to be the main thing. I love mysteries and thrillers. I do love a heart felt story.
Crystal, stories with heart are among my favorites, but I agree in that a story that is focused on romance alone often leaves me wanting more.
I’m reading my first romance/chick lit novel by my friend, Charlene Ross.
This is def. not my genre, but one must get out of one’s comfort zone.
I mean, we can’t read Kafka all the time!!!
Kim, yep it’s good to stretch ourselves as readers with new genres from time to time. I just finished listening to the new Audible recording of The Bell Jar and thought of you the whole time. You would love it. Maggie Gyllenhaal narrated it perfectly.
I’m not one for reading romance novels — my wife is — but what an interesting infographic!
Not a big surprise that eBooks are taking over in popularity. I imagine, to some extent, it’s like visiting an adult toy store versus ordering online…
Not just that eBooks are becoming more popular in general, but some romance readers might prefer the privacy of downloading versus buying in print.
17 library branches banned 50 Shades? Hmm… I can never understand why a library would ban literature of any kind.
Great read, Jeri! Thanks.
Brent, it’s good to see you again. When it comes to libraries banning books, such doings often seem to align with community standards. Each community is different in the level of what it finds acceptable and the influence of a few can go a long way. Community standards also come up in the case of many attempts to ban books from public school classrooms. I am eternally grateful to the school librarian I worked with when I was teaching. She took a lot of grief, but always fought the good thought in the name of literature and intellectual freedom for all.