Why Romance Writers Get All The Breaks
I’m not a romance writer, but often I wish I were. I see the stats, read the reports, and then compare them with my own numbers and sigh. It goes beyond the royalties, too. Romance seems so easy to write, so easy to craft and so easy to sell.
Why do romance writers get all the breaks?
Romance writers don’t need to involve themselves too heavily. Romance writers stick to basic formulas and tropes and pop out consistent bestsellers. Romance books fly off the shelves with hardly any effort on the part of the writer.
See a pattern?
It’s almost as if romance writers get off the hook by writing whatever formulaic trash they want regardless of skill or passion, while the rest of us have to craft our stories with more detail, intricacy and care than we can easily muster. I’m not just talking about erotica, either. Clean, innocent Christian romance is the same way. And while some of it is well written and fascinating (I love Jeanine Frost and have read a ton of Gilbert Morris), a lot of it--the bulk--isn’t.
And it still sells.
In the K-lytics report in the end of August 2020, Alex Newton revealed that--once again--romance beats out every other genre easily, with the top 100 romance novels selling about 551 titles per day. This is a huge lead over the #2 fiction genre out there (mystery, thriller, and suspense), the top 100 of which sell only about 383 titles per day.
That’s a list of numbers, but the question is clear:
How can romance hold such a strong lead?
Let’s take a look and see why this is and what the rest of us non-romance writers can learn from it.
First, romance is an evergreen favorite, and always in season. It’s the only genre that doesn’t ebb and flow with the current literary trends but remains popular regardless. Even if the quality of the writing isn’t especially “good,” the idea of romance resonates with a lot of people, and the ability to daydream or fantasize about unthinkable drama or happy endings gives us all a welcome break from reality.
According to a 2012 article from Psychology Today, people like romance now more than ever because of the way romance addresses modern loneliness. With today's tech-driven world, readers don't crave an exciting story as much as they crave human interaction. Romance novels provide a good simulation of this interaction, with ideal characters and transformations everyone longs to see. Readers often form close relationships with characters they care about, and romance novels pull them in by focusing almost exclusively on those relationships.
Then there's the theming. The themes often found in and associated with romance are broader and more universal than in other genres. This is because romance deals with humanity primarily, and humanity is something that everyone can relate to. People crave stories about forgiveness, about heroism, rebellion, triumph and the possibility that all of this could happen to someone just like them. A single romance novel can hit all of those with one stone.
This is one reason why many other genres choose to include and bleed into romance. It’s very easy to write about romantic suspense, historical romance, or dystopian romance even if the romance isn’t at the core of the story. Regardless the fiction you write, you can find a romantic variation or three in the genre.
This works to the advantage of those of us who don't write romance. Adding romantic elements or having a romance unfold in the background of your story can bring the entire book to life in a way readers won’t be able to avoid.
Lastly, we have to admit that maybe there’s something to the fact that romance, out of all literary genres, is the most formulaic and trope-ridden. There’s no escaping it. Why else would there be so many romantic parodies on the market?
You could arguably write a competitive romance novel by picking clichés out of an old hat. For most of us, that makes romance in general cringey and silly. We writers don’t want clichés, after all. We love originality. That’s why we write, and for many of us why we self-publish instead of seeking traditional publishing methods. Because we don’t want to see our writing crammed into a box.
Could the clichés actually be a good thing? While I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to find some good tropes to throw into your novel, many of these tropes exist for a reason: they’re popular. People like them.
There’s a point where a story is so unoriginal and formulaic that people are driven away from it, but that point is much further into the writing abyss than any of us have yet encountered. Readers often don’t care about whether a book is formulaic and are much more turned off by pieces they deem too experimental and avant-garde. After all, which classic writer is more popular: Ernest Hemmingway or James Joyce? Read a page of each and see which pulls you in better, and I can almost guarantee it won’t be the latter.
Note: This doesn’t mean you can’t be original or shouldn’t experiment. New success stories happen every day, and you never know what will be popular in the future. I’m only reporting what’s selling now and why.
There’s a lot here that we can implement, and a lot that reflects what readers crave in practice. Readers want to make connections with characters. They want to indulge in something larger than life, and they’d rather have those connections and those relationships than read something that could only be described as well crafted and unique.
What do you take away from the popularity of romance? Is it the only lucrative genre possible, or are there elements we can implement in our own writing to steal some of that success? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments, and join our Facebook group for more interaction.