According to the latest statistics from Romance Writers of America, the romance genre generated more than $1.3 billion in revenue in 2011. Yes, billion. Not some fly-by-night genre. It’s here and here to stay. Thanks not only to female readers, who are typically thought to be the only consumers of the genre. Nowadays men are about 10% of the readership. That percentage may seem small but it’s increased over the last decade and could continue. Nearly half of respondents in a reader survey live with a spouse or significant other. So the image of a spinster sitting at home slurping melting ice cream on a dilapidated couch with a mirage of smelly cats curling up at her feet while she wastes another week of her life delving into the pages of a steamy romance novel is a bit dated. And just plain wrong!
Romance novel readers are smart and dignified library users. Respect that. Include romance titles in library displays. It doesn’t have to be a total romance display. Honor military members with a display of nonfiction and fiction books about the armed forces along with a couple of military romance novels. Another display could be about the civil war with a historical romance title added in. Include romance novels in book groups. Again, not every title needs to be a romance. But include a romance title along with other genres and nonfiction titles.
Let the sophisticated romance reader know that the library recognizes and encourages him or her by doing research. There are category romances that come out on a regular basis, usually once a month, from such publishers as Harlequin, which now includes Silhouette. There are imprints within these publishers that appeal specifically to inspirational, suspense, historical, and contemporary romance readers. Single title romance novels are longer in length and are published less often. So romance books are not all the same. Be sure to include male romance writers in your readers’ advisory, too. M.L. Buchman and Leigh Greenwood are a couple of male romance authors right now who are popular and relevant. Most importantly, keep in mind that a happy ending is a significant aspect of the genre. So many authors who are thought of as romance novel writers (Nicholas Sparks comes to mind) are not because their books tend to end tragically.
A general complaint from folks about the romance genre is its predictability. Yet that is one of the biggest reasons folks read the genre, as well as a desire for hope and inspiration. So here’s a good response to a critic of the genre, whether it be a reluctant reader or a reluctant librarian: Life is predictable. We all know how it begins and that it ends. That’s universally true. What makes each of us different, and every romance novel different, is the journey between these two events. Respect those journeys. Respect the romance genre!