Like most writers, I was a reader in my genre before I seriously started writing in it. But I was a “closet” reader, so to speak. I didn’t talk about my books with people that I knew, mostly because I know very few people who read much. My friends IRL spend a lot of time exercising, and skiing and volunteering at the elementary school, they just aren’t big readers.
Because of this, I started my career as a writer with very little idea of who my readers would be. I knew they’d be almost entirely women (that’s a fact of the romance genre) but beyond that the information was sketchy. As I’ve gained a readership and gotten to know my readers, I’ve discovered some things about who they are.
1. Not all romance readers are interchangeable. The Romance Writers of America (RWA) has some interesting statistics about who reads romance in general, but I don’t write standard “Harlequin-esque” romance. I’ve coined the term “Edgy Contemporary Romance” in an effort to describe the kind of writing that I (and many other writers) are doing. And just as the writing is unique, so is the audience. The women who read (fabulous) authors like Marie Force, don’t necessarily also read (equally fabulous) Jamie McGuire. I’m on the Jamie McGuire end of spectrum, so maybe you get what I’m saying. It’s a different feel, and one that you’d think was younger, but I’ve got readers who are college students and readers who are grandmothers. So, I say they’re readers who like “edgier” story lines and a more emotionally intense read.
2. Most of my readers are married. Yep, for all of you who say that romance writing is “porn” and think it somehow rubs against “family values,” guess what? My books are read primarily by women who are married and have children (of varying ages). These women may like to fantasize about the heroes in books, but at the end of the day, the majority of them go home to very settled lives with husbands they’ve had for years and kids they are devoted to. I firmly believe that romance novels are part of what keep these marriages strong. Women have an inherent need for “romance” in their lives. Most men, no matter how devoted and charming, aren’t all that romantic after a decade of marriage, two kids, and a mortgage. So, my readers get their romance in a book, and then don’t have to feel disappointed in their husbands all the time. And I should also mention the ideas readers find in romance books for spicy new things to supplement their marital bliss. I’ve had more than one reader tell me her husband owed me a thank you. 😉 It’s a win-win situation, y’all.
3. They’re devoted. In a parallel to the loyalty a lot of my readers have to their families, they show a great deal of loyalty to writers and series they love. When I ask my readers to post reviews of ARCs, they follow through; when I put out a new book, they buy it; when I hold an event, they attend. I have readers who I talk to nearly every day, as well as readers who patiently wait for my next in series no matter what. They blog, they organize, they review, they pimp. They are truly readers deluxe, and they keep an entire industry afloat by buying and reading $2.99 ebooks. It’s awe-inspiring what my readers do every day, and I feel damned lucky to have them.
This summer I’ll try something a little different with the Bittersweet Chronicles. I’ll cross age boundaries with some books in the series being Adult, some New Adult, and others Upper YA. I’ll also cross sub-genres, with some books being small town romance, some sports romance, some movie star romance, etc. And finally, I’ll cross a spectrum of contemporary time settings by having some books set in the present, and others set in the past when the adults in the novels were teens themselves. It’s a massive experiment on my part, really starting a whole “imprint” just like a publisher would, but all written by me. I hope to keep that wonderful core audience I’ve built, as well as attract some new readers who are interested in different things. And just as readers like to discover new authors and new books, authors love to discover new readers. There’s nothing as satisfying as learning who your readers are.