The RWA (Romance Writers of America) website produced a research study in 2014 that revealed females (82% specifically) as the primary readers of romance works (with males making-up 16% of the audience). The study also found that the audience for romance books is mostly between 30 – 54 years old. (The specific date in 2014 when this study was produced is unknown.) You can take a look at the article for yourself if you wish–and you may be surprised to find that the study found (after 12 months later) that many romance readers were reading romance more often (while only a smaller half of them were reading less often).
Here is what I’m getting at: the romance genre is not set-in-stone to be only for women (and no genre of writing is for that matter). A skilled author knows how to break old conventions of a genre and experiment; they know how to try new things that could even change a genre’s target audience to a broader range of people–but experimenting could just as easily decrease the range of their audience. So it ultimately comes down to not whether or not you break the rules of a genre, but how you break them.
From what I’ve learned of romance works, the basic conflict evolves around two characters who have differences that make it seem impossible for them to fall in love (Morrell says this in Ch. 7 of her book Thanks, But This Isn’t For Us—a work I highly recommend to you all to read, as she gives very thoughtful and advanced advice on writing skills and how to make your own work well-written by the book market’s standards).
So what are some good ways to break the traditions of romance works? I will be thoroughly honest with you in saying that your target audience will ultimately be the ones to know the answer to that question–but it takes the will to experiment with new ideas on your part. So if you don’t have faith in the idea of, say, having a story where the two characters do love each other at first, but learn that being enemies is what truly attaches them, try it out. (I’m an audience member of your work, and I will gladly say that such an idea sounds genius to me–I’m quite curious to see how enemies could care for each other more than friends.)
But you’re still probably wondering, “Ron, what are some absolutely bad ideas?” If by bad ideas, you mean ones that are guaranteed to not work (though I don’t believe in thumbing anything down an author has yet to try), I would say that the worst kind of romance story one could write is a one-sided (or even offensive) one. For instance, if your two characters fall in love (and the rest of the story features them doing what they love to do best: ruin other people’s relationships), I would certainly turn my head away from a work like that. Who wants a story that promotes being a jerk? (Unless your story ends with those two characters not only getting payback for their actions, but learning from their mistakes and changing for the better.) Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind reading a story from the villain’s perspective; but there still needs to be a degree of fairness in any work of literature–not just romance novels–if you want to avoid infuriating your readers.
The point that I want you to understand is that literature is for all genders–not just one. So when a writer hears about a study that proves one gender isn’t as in-touch with a genre of writing as another, they should certainly experiment with a story of their own in that genre and see if, maybe, the work will capture an equal share of both audiences. Maybe romance stories need more action or mystery themes in the present day in order to round-up more male fans–and you could be the first author to try it out! 🙂
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when writing a romance work of your own:
1. How many stories out there mirror the work you’re writing? If you’ve read too many books with the good girl falls for bad boy cliche, then it’s time to write, maybe, a story where the good boy falls for the bad girl.
2. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: research is crucial. There are many research studies outside of the one I cited that show whose reading what, what genres are trending, etc. Your mission: do a little research of your own. In Quesenberry’s book Social Media Strategy (Ch. 11), it is said that there is a new method of research outside of demographic studies, focus groups, etc. Digital marketing research (as Quesenberry defines it) involves contemporary research methods such as learning information of an audience through online communities, surveys, social media sites, etc. It goes to show how technology is changing–and how research methods are keeping pace with the change.
3. Learn from other authors. Discover how many romance writers gained such a fan base, made their work a best-seller, etc. The old saying “I learned from the best” truly is essential to us writers. We learn from the successes (and mistakes) of other authors, giving us the knowledge we need in knowing the dos and donts of writing.
4. Points 1 – 3 don’t just count for romance stories, but all genres. Not all the skills will be mastered at once; they come with time and experience. Patience (if you take out the t, e, c, and the other e) can be a pain; but without pain, there is no gain. We all know that saying–and again, it is very true for writers.
The key takeaway from all of this: learn from other authors and how they gained their fan-base. Discover how their work became a bestseller (fan reviews on websites such as Goodreads and Barnes & Noble will certainly help you come to answers). Research is key–and you are the key to your story.