Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What Do Romance Readers Want And Why?

I recently asked readers in my circle, a group of church-going women and more than a few professed agnostics, their thoughts on Christian fiction, romance, and where you draw the line. I've also been reading opinions, post, and blogs to discover once and for all ... what do romance readers really want? It's been a fascinating revelation.

I found that although a few enjoy the "Calgon-take-me-away-moments" in fluffy, funny, happily-every-after novels, the majority demand the guts and glory of the story to show them something they've never seen, learn something they didn't know, take them somewhere they've never been. It's a daunting task for the writer.

At the end of my three-week research, I got a clear picture from the mostly 35+ women I spoke to. They have to see the stakes raised on every page to keep them immersed in the pages.

I've been told most publishers believe women who read romance don't want to be challenged, inspired, or enlightened. That women don't want to think. They want to feel. I don't know about you, but that's insulting to me. (Okay, Okay. With one exception: if I'm relaxing in a bubble bath with a few lit candles on the tub and glass of Merlot within arm's reach, I need something soothing and well written. I don't need to read anything that'll cause me to drop my Kindle in the soap suds.)

But with that said, more than 50 % of the women don't want graphic material or sex kitten fantasy: They want reality-based fiction. No matter what they're reading.

I questioned two women who poke their noes in a romance novel only on occasion. They find them silly, trite, predictable. However, when I asked them if they've read the, oh, so popular 50 Shades of Grey, one told me she honestly felt embarrassed for the author. Her words, not mine. The other's face reddened and said, "I had to. I wanted to see what the fuss was about. But I threw the book away when I finished it. I didn't want my daughters to find it."

Other readers I spoke to and heard from want to be transported to the point they have to look up from the pages to remember where they are. They need to feel the raw emotion as tears on their faces. Listen up romance writers, readers are wanting more. Are we prepared to give it to them?

They want to see their hero and heroine fight against insurmountable obstacles to be together, even if they don't end up together in the end. Readers don't care about unrealistic expectations. We all have them; our lives are plagued with them, so why shouldn't the character's lives be full of unattainable goals The readers told me they still, indeed, rooted for them.

I've been told by those in the industry that truth is stranger than fiction because it can be. That fiction has to make sense. It can be as fantastic as you care to make it, but it must have an inherent logic to it at all times.

My question is -- logic to whom? What is logical to me is not logical to someone else. What is plausibility? To whom must it be plausible? The readers I spoke to agreed with me, the whole issue with logic and plausibility lies in the lap of the reader.

So go for it, writer.

But no more Barbie and Ken characters. Readers want a flawed protagonist. Inside and out. She may have gorgeous blond tresses and wear stilettos to work, but she's a recovering drug addict. He's a firefighter with chiseled cheeks and a hard body, but he's fighting an incurable disease. Readers don't buy perfection. Not anymore.

I'll write more about Christian fiction tomorrow ... you wouldn't believe what they're asking for.

Blessings to you and yours.


B. J. Robinson said...

Enjoyed reading this blog and understand exactly what you mean by what you've previously been told by Christian publishers. I always felt I could write a better story if I could let it go without feeling like I had to follow a permission slip to insert drama or expectations. I also like reading about realistic characters, those who've been through trials and came out on the other side. That's what life is all about and with most people it takes some living and learning the hard way along the way at some point in time. I don't want to read gritty sex scenes, but I don't want predictable fiction. That's boring. I also like to be challenged and like to think and don't like an easy read. I'm not in elementary school. As Henry David Thoreau said many years ago, give up those easy readers. Blessings, BJ Robinson

Pamela King Cable said...

I get what you're saying, B.J. And you don't need a permission slip to raise the stakes. Everything you said, I hear in the voices of readers everywhere. They're tired of vanilla books. Same old, same old. You keep writing your way. I believe in you.

Ann said...

I totally agree with you. The main question I ask when reading and writing is "why." I hate it when a book ends with an easy coincidence, or when the character suddenly does something for no apparent reason. As a reader, I need to have my "why" answered.
The other thing I want to see is more variety of characters. I've been reading romance books since jr high school and I'm now over 50. The heroines have gotten a little bit older, now 23-32 instead of 18. But I'd love to read more about women my own age. Because I couldn't find many (and none from big publishing houses) I started writing my own. I'm hoping a lot of other women will feel the same way and enjoy my books.

Pamela King Cable said...

Exactly. It was wonderful writing my main character in Televenge. In the beginning, she' a mere 17, but the story covers a 30 year time span. I loved writing her because I felt her aging and wrote her accordingly.

Why and why should I care are two very good questions for any reader to ask. Excellent point, Ann. And I think a great many women feel the same way. My best to you!

Cassandra said...

I really enjoyed reading this piece. Forever trying to get inside the heads of my readers, while remaining true to my characters and the author voice. Thank you for sharing! Cassandra Black, Romance Writer