Who Writes and Reads Romantic Fiction?

I’ve joined the Romantic Novelists Association and took part in their 2014 Annual Conference. Both the Association and the conference are valuable, the latter providing an interesting mix of practical tips (how to self-publish, attract an agent, ideas about Plot, Location, and Characterisation); some theoretical background (the Chemistry of Reading, universal elements of the genre); and the opportunity to meet agents, editors and publishers. I was fortunate to be able to chat with Hazel Cushion, the founder of Accent Press and was highly impressed with how the company works and their future plans. I’m looking forward to working with them. 

Romantic Writing is a broad category – what I write loosely sits within it, covering the ups and downs of relationships, with a strong element of, often dark, humour. Defining the genre is a challenge: whilst plot is of course important in all fiction, perhaps romance writing is driven most by the exploration of the characters.

In terms of who writes and who reads it, women dominate the genre – this was evident at the conference where male delegates were vastly outnumbered. I was intrigued by the sessions that explored the reasons for this.

The Chemistry of Reading, presented by Nikki Logan, investigated neurology, the chemistry of how the brain is aroused while reading. We were introduced to mirror neurons to explain why reading can create as much a physiological response as the act of being directly involved. The claim is that women are more experiential than men – they develop a strong bond with their ‘friends’ in a story, sharing the protagonist’s anxieties and the ‘happy ever after’ joy that is common in many romance novels.

Universal Elements of the Romantic Novel, presented by Catherine Roach, put forward the notion that women are attracted to romantic fiction because it’s a man’s world. They engage with the female protagonist as she travels along a pathway fraught with challenges, but ends up getting her man. At that point, she is happy, secure, well-loved and sexually satisfied. The conclusion is that the romance story is a woman-centred fantasy about how to make the man’s world work for her. I was intrigued by the proposition that this is a ‘universal element’ and do wonder whether there is a twenty-first century twist with many women now more powerful, sexually and socially confident, and successful than their partners. Without having statistics available, I sense that women drive an increasing proportion of separations. My novels, particularly The Reunion and Nothing Man (near completion), feature insecure men and confident women with that ‘pathway fraught with challenges’ the male as opposed to the female protagonist’s journey.