This being Romance Awareness Month, I thought this would be a great time to tackle the genre here on the blog .We have never done a deep dive into romance before, which I find somewhat surprising, given the number of romance authors I have worked with over the years. So today, we’ll be breaking new ground as I start a new series following the publishing and marketing processes behind releasing a romance novel into the world.
(If you do not write romance, never fear! Many of the steps through which a romance novel must go are the same or quite similar to the steps through which books of other genres must go as well. You’ll simply need to apply your own lens to the information in order to apply it to your work.)
Today I want to ask two very important questions we all have ready-made answers to, but which I think we must revisit to discover what’s really going on.
Who is romance for?
In 2016, Nielsen compiled its research on genre readership into one very handy infographic: “Romance Readers by the Numbers.” While I’m including the infographic here, I absolutely encourage you to read Nielsen’s entire report! It’s full of fantastic information that totally re-oriented my perspective on romance readership.
At its base level, many of your assumptions are true––of a majority. But I think it’s taking a closer look at those minorities, because if you consider that more than one in four fiction books on the market in 2015 was a romance, and that 16% of the readers reading those books are not female, that still leaves you quite an important market share––compared to, say dystopic science fiction. Nielsen hasn’t updated these numbers in a few years, but if the percentages hold true, that could equate to around 32 million reported units being read by men. Sure, women might be reading five times that many books, but 32 million is not an insignificant number if you’re smart in how you promote your book.
The same holds true, of course, for other minorities! Consider that more readers are not white than are not female, percentage-wise––up to 38 million readers of color relative to the (admittedly rough) 32 million calculation for male readers. And while the Nielsen infographic doesn’t have room to show it, LGBT romance ebook sales are on a sharp rise now that its authors have moved from fanfiction websites into the main stream of publishing and self-publishing.
Keep in mind that Nielsen can only track books that are sold and tracked with ISBNs, and only about 1/3 of the ebooks sold in the year covered by the infographic (2015) had ISBNs. With ebooks soaking up around half of book sales overall, with that percentage leveling out but still growing (especially during quarantine), that’s a BIG chunk of ebooks that are just … an unknown quantity. Another report from the same year says that “the 2015 Smashwords sales report shows that 89% of their sales are fiction with romance taking 50% and erotica another 11%. K-Lytics indicates that romances on Kindle outsell cookbooks, for example, by a factor of 27 to 1!” Publishing numbers are still, five years later, trying to figure out how to measure and quantify and compare numbers coming from platforms that aren’t selling the written material they’re publishing, or that are publishing paid stories that are not in “book” format. Consider WordPress, storytelling podcasts, and interactive book apps like the ones created for Eric Carle’s The Hungry Caterpillar (as an easy-to-remember example).
One also has to consider the old library sales that “if you make it, they will come”––readers have to know something exists and is attainable before they come looking for it. So if the Nielsen’s reported readership doesn’t match up to what you know your friends and fellow readers are interested in but aren’t being offered, that might be a sign that you need to help carve out a new niche. It’s not easy, but when it works––wow, does it work! Consider young adult fiction, which wasn’t a significant market share before the one-two punch of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Now there are dedicated rooms in libraries and bookstores dedicated to that readership. You can definitely launch new trends!
So yes, the majority of romance readers are white and female. But a significant number are not, and for many authors that means that yes, there is room for your unique take on romance.
This ran a bit long, so I’m going to answer my second question next time so as not to overwhelm you just now:
Who writes romance?
You are not alone. ♣︎
Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, below.