My name is Tawna Fenske, and I’m a romance author. Kinda sounds like an introduction at an AA meeting, huh?
Well, for the record, I’m not typing this while outfitted in a sequined bustier and feather boa. There’s no shirtless man with greased abs feeding me peeled grapes, and I don’t write chapters of my novels while en route to Paris aboard my private pink jet.
The reality is that I drive a 13-year-old car with a smushed bumper, and I can’t actually remember the last time I washed my hair. There are a lot of stereotypes about romance authors and the romance genre, and I’d like to set the record straight about a few of them.
To the best of my recollection, I’ve never written about ripped bodices, heaving bosoms, or plundering warriors. I’ve never used the phrase “quivering mound of love pudding,” or referred to male body parts using awkward sword metaphors.
I write contemporary romantic comedy, so my books have scenes with people playing Strip Battleship and characters like a former Seattle Seahawks tight end turned corporate customer service rep turned cross-dressing gourmet chef on a dysfunctional pirate ship.
My second romantic comedy comes out in March and it’s being marketed as “your typical ‘reluctant fake psychic’ meets ‘jaded owner of a male strip club’ love story – with a twist.”
The fact is, there’s not a lot of “typical” when it comes to romance novels. It’s true the stereotype depicts them all with Fabio on the cover gripping a woman with heaving bosoms and mysteriously huge hair, but these days you’re as likely to see a cover with a woman in combat boots gripping an Uzi.
The romance genre runs the gamut from historical to sci-fi to action/adventure to Christian to young adult to (my favorite) romantic comedy.
Let me throw a few statistics at you, just to be a total geek:
According to Romance Writers of America, romance fiction generated $1.358 billion in sales in 2010, with 8,240 new romance titles released that year. In 2008, 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel. Romance fiction was the largest share of the U.S. consumer market in 2010 with 13.4 percent.
Know what’s funny? When I tell people I’m a romance author, nine out of ten get this funny look on their faces and kinda shrug. “I don’t read those kinds of books.”
So who are all these people reading and writing romance novels? Perverts? Sexual deviants? Lonely, frustrated women with twelve cats and inflatable boyfriends?
Hey, I’m not judging – statistically speaking, there are probably a few of you reading. But you aren’t the core of romance readers.
It’s true women make up 90.5 percent of romance readership, with men rounding out the other 9.5 percent. Interestingly enough, my own fan mail reflects about a 30/70 split, with a number of men writing me notes like, “I’ve never read a romance novel before, but I took yours on a hunting trip and laughed so hard I scared the deer.”
The heart of the U.S. romance novel readership is women ages 31-49 who are currently in a committed romantic relationship. Not quite the “lonely spinster” stereotype, huh?
The makeup of that group represents a huge cross section of political, social, religious, and economic groups. They’re readers who want books that teach them they deserve happy endings – that everyone is worthy of love and joy the occasional game of hide the salami.
Romance Writers of America likes to trot out the statistic that one in five people reads romance. I think they’re full of crap. I think the number is much higher than that, but part of it comes down to how we define “romance novel.”
Probably the number one comment I get in reader fan mail is something like this… “I don’t like romance novels and I never read them, but I really liked your book. Are you sure it’s really romance?”
It’s a bit of a backhand compliment. Kinda like me saying, “I hate baseball and don’t know much about it, but I sure enjoy watching the Mariners. Are you sure they’re not a badminton team?”
If you think about it, almost any work of fiction has a romantic element. It might not be the primary focus, but it’s usually there. The Odyssey wouldn’t be the same story without Odysseus and Penelope. What would Don Quixote be without Dulcinea? The Hunger Games would fall flat without its Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle, and how boring would James Bond be without his evolving cache of busty Bond girls?
My point in all this is that it’s tough to judge a massive genre based on one or two books grabbed from the ten cent bin at the neighbor’s garage sale.
And while it would be nice if romance authors were saucy vixens with pool boys and private planes, most of us are just average folks with mortgage payments and a houseful of flatulent pets.
Bottom line, a story without at least a hint of romance isn’t a story that I’d care to read. How about you?
Info about the author:
A third-generation Oregonian who can peel and eat a banana with her toes, Tawna Fenske has traveled a winding career path from journalist to English teacher in Venezuela to marketing geek. She’s the author of the popular daily blog “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Writing” and a member of Romance Writers of America. Her debut novel, Making Waves, was nominated for Best Contemporary Romance in the RT Book Reviewers’ Choice Awards, and the Chicago Tribune noted, “Fenske’s wildly inventive plot and wonderfully quirky characters provide the perfect literary antidote to any romance reader’s summer reading doldrums.”
Her second romantic comedy, Believe it or Not, hits shelves March 2012. To order it, just click on the cover below: