Last week, in All We Need is Love – Romance Novels, I shared some interesting statistics about romance novels and inspirational fiction, and the obvious correlations between the two. But the one statistic that stood out to me the most was that more than half of romantic fiction readers are in a relationship with a spouse or a significant other (Click to Tweet!).
If the RWA/Bowker and CBA statistics I posted last week are accurate, then middle-aged, middle-income, married women are the targeted audience for romance novels, whether secular OR Christian. My question for you readers – and for myself! – is WHY?
Okay. I’m jumping into waters that may get a little choppy….
I admit, it bothers me that middle-aged, middle-income, married readers – like me – are targeted by the publishing industry for books depicting young love in its early stages of flower.
I’m especially bothered that the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) follows suit in a seemingly much more funneled way. It’s only been in recent years that the CBA has started promoting fiction where story is centered around marriage or married main characters, but even so, it often seems careful, and formulaic.
But this “void” isn’t the industry’s fault. The publishing companies aren’t the bad guys. Neither are the romance novelists. They’re all just doing their jobs, and some of them, QUITE WELL! And at the risk of contradicting myself, the problem isn’t the CBA, either; not really. First and foremost, the CBA is a business. They’re going to pump out whatever we’re buying. So attacking the CBA for not promoting more married love fiction and/or less romance is really missing the target all together.
I LOVE romance novels, but the older I get, the more I want to read about what comes AFTER the romance. (Click to Tweet!) I want to read about couples living victoriously through the seven-year itch, the seventeen-year itch, and all the itchy years in between. I want to read about a husband and wife who discover that their “perfect” marriage, or their “perfect” kids, aren’t so perfect after all… and how they learn what it means to start over, to be reborn. I want to read about marriages broken by tragedy – infidelity, the loss of a child, or even a limb! – and then restored again under God’s faithfulness. I want to read about the bud of romance…followed by the full bloom of love, in all its ups and downs, in all its seasons of pain and joy, of sorrow and victory (Click to Tweet!).
Yes, think: Downton Abbey. Why were we all SO DEVASTATED when Matthew died? Because we were in it for the long haul with Matthew and Mary. Because we were seeing their relationship go from bud to bloom, from romance to married love. We were invested in these characters and their marriage relationship. Does this diminish the value of their romance? Of their courtship? NOT IN THE LEAST! In fact, their romance was the foundation of their relationship, because the pursuit of each other becomes the premise of the pursuit of a lasting marriage. (Click to Tweet!).
We shouldn’t stop reading and writing romance novels. In fact, if we remove this genre from our shelves, we remove the foundational premise of the marriage relationship in fiction! But the Christian industry, especially, should be compelled by both authors and readers alike to make marriage more attractive. I believe the CBA should be a place where love stories ABOUND, both in new romance, AND in long-term married relationships.
Which brings me back to my original point. WHY, then, are we middle-income, middle-aged, married women reading about new love? Perhaps we need to examine our hearts and address whatever it is that sends us into the arms of the characters in the romance novels. (Because when a romance is written well, I don’t care how old you are, or how happy you are in your marriage, you’re going to see that man through the eyes of a hungry heroine, and you’re going to ache for him, right along with her.) Let me share with you a few quotes I’ve pulled off the internet, that vast and varied source of allllllll knowledge. Ahem.
Here are some, to me, rather discouraging observations about romance novels from the International Business Times:
In an age where staying ‘connected’ means following someone on Twitter or communicating via text message, these stories of deep physical and emotional intimacy offer a welcomed retreat from reality. Much of the thrill of a romance novel is the care and devotion the hero lavishes on his beloved, maintains New York-based sex therapist Stephen Snyder.
Some believe the romance novels offer women what they can’t get in the real world. Couples therapist Niloo Darashti feels that male emotional neglect, a chronic problem in relationships, contributes to the appeal of the romance genre. In the real world, women often struggle for the kind of emotional support offered by romance novel heroes.
An interesting take from Anne Browning Walker at Huffington Post:
“Rather than ignoring the existence of love in our lives, these romances celebrate how the best love helps us to grow. Modern romance novels (for the most part) insist that the love between two people be to both of their benefit. In my own relationships, I don’t want to gain my power at the expense of my partner. Working together ought to enhance our power.”
This is from a Boston College Thesis by Jennifer C. Bun; The Effects of Romance Novel Readership on Relationship Beliefs, Romantic Ideals, and Relational Satisfaction. (Quite a title, isn’t it?):
“There are … [many] reasons given for why so many women read romance novels. The reasons given can be broken down into four categories: 1) nurture deprivation/recapturing intense feelings of love, 2) entertainment value/escapism, 3) female empowerment, 4) dealing with patriarchy.”
And here’s an observation I think is interesting, especially in light of my own thoughts above, from Maryanne Fisher, Ph.D, in Psychology Today:
“The real magic of these books, at least in the analyses I’ve done, is how the hero changes. He starts off gruff, rude, arrogant, and cold, but with fantastic looks. In the middle of the book, he tries to prove that he’s good enough for her, and that he’s changed to meet her criteria. Something happens by the end of the 180 or so pages, and he turns into a man who wants to settle down and have a few children in a monogamous relationship. He’s happy to be loyal and adore the heroine for the rest of their lives. (As an aside, am I the only one who wonders how this story plays out? I’m curious to see what their lives are like 20 years in the future. How does the married couple keep it going; are they still together, happily? The magic of falling in love is all well and good, but the long-term is never really considered.)”
No, Maryanne, you’re NOT the only one! There IS another person who’s asking the same question – I am.
And I’ve discovered that there are even more of us out there!
Over the last several months, a few author friends and I have shared many conversations about the need for great love stories with main characters who are married. This topic opened up the notion that there are real voids in the publishing industry, from beginning to end, and one of those “voids” is mentoring. (Click to Tweet!) We’ve all felt this vacancy in our own writing careers – it’s very difficult to find writing mentors, especially for new and/or unpublished authors, to know where to look, or even how to ask for help – just as we’ve all felt the lack of mentoring in our personal lives, our marriages, our families. In Titus 2, we believers are called to come alongside others traveling the roads we’ve already traversed, to encourage and help those who come after us… both in our personal lives and our work.
With these conversations, seeds were planted, and soon began to grow. Could we combine these needs in one place; the need for mentoring for marriages and families, AND the need of mentoring for writers?
On April 1st, 2013, we are launching a new website called Married…With Fiction. (Click to Tweet!) It will be a HUB where authors reach out to connect with other authors, where agents and editors share their insight in the industry, where marriage and other family matters are supported and encouraged in fiction, as well as in a real life community. Married…With Fiction is a gathering place where mentoring happens organically. All are welcome, because we all have stories to share.
We are so excited about this new venture. Throughout the whole month of March, in preparation for our April 1st launch, we’ll be opening up new ways you can connect with us, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and more. Then in April, we’ll be hosting a month-long online Married…With Fiction Launch Party!
You’re invited. We welcome you.