Posted On December 14, 2015 by Print This Post

Who Reads Romance, Anyway? by Becke Martin Davis

RU’s weapons expert, ADAM FIRESTONE, will be back soon. In place of his scheduled post, avid reader Becke Martin Davis wants to know who’s reading romance, anyway? 

Who reads romance? Hmmm, judging by that show of hands, it looks like most of you do. A fair number of romance readers are still in the closet, based on my personal, totally unscientific research. Reading romance is sort of a guilty secret – millions of women and a growing number of men read romance, but some are awfully shy about it.  Non-romance readers might be surprised to learn that Romance/Erotica was ranked the top selling book genre in 2014, bringing in $1.44 billion. 1

That said, a report from Publishers Weekly noted that sales in all genres except Graphic Novels and Westerns fell in 2014. 2

I’m an obsessive reader, but as a grandma, I’m not in publishers’ preferred demographic for readers.  That’s okay – the more people who read romance, the more of my favorite authors will be able to shed their day jobs and write.

“According to Nielsen’s Romance Book Buyer Report, romance book buyers are getting younger—with an average age of 42, down from 44 in 2013. This makes the genre’s average age similar to the age for fiction overall. In addition, 44% of these readers are aged 18-44. . .

These core romance fans are avid readers who stay very loyal to the genre. Some 6% of buyers purchase romance books more than once a week, and 15% do so at least once a week. Moreover, 25% of buyers read romance more than once a week, and nearly half do so at least once a week; only 20% read romance less than once a month.

Younger buyers (those under 30) are not quite as devoted, reading and purchasing less often. They also have different tastes; while romantic suspense is the most popular subgenre overall, these younger readers trend more toward erotic stories.” 3

Whenever possible, I try to read a book a day. Over the years, I’ve done my bit to keep several bookstores in business, and I’m happy to put money into the pockets of hardworking authors. Nowadays, I read all kinds of genres and sub-genres, but it wasn’t always that way. For many years, mysteries were my number one choice of reading material. When I was in my twenties, I realized a lot of my favorite authors – Mary Stewart, for instance – incorporated a romantic subplot into their stories. That led me to take my first baby steps into the world of romance novels.

Janet Dailey’s books were everywhere back then and, much to my surprise, I liked them. Kathleen Woodiwiss’ books also landed on my keeper shelves. When I took the brave step of suggesting that my mom might like to try a romance, my mystery-reading mother nearly laughed me out of the house. If my mom reacted that way, I dreaded to think what my friends might say if they caught me with a Harlequin or Mills & Boon paperback in my purse. I was hooked, but it remained a secret passion. Rather than risk the raised eyebrows of a judgmental bookstore clerk (one elderly bookstore cashier said, “You don’t want to read that, honey, it’s full of bad language and filth!”). I bought the book anyway, but it taught me a lesson. If I read romance, I would be judged.

“Romance novels feature archetypal characters, occasionally contrived plots, and predictable endings. But, wait…bookstores are full of sci-fi novels, fantasy novels, and mystery novels that check each one of these boxes. Yet other genre fiction readers, instead of being characterized as simpleminded or unwilling to challenge themselves, are often stereotyped as smart. So what gives?

Oh yeah! It’s the sex.

A talk radio show host essentially called women who use birth control “sluts.” State Legislatures suspended people for saying “vagina” on the floor. Current legislation proposes to deny expectant mothers access to testing that would help ensure their health and the health of their fetuses. Our society feels threatened by women having sex.” 4

Before the days of e-commerce, but there were ways to get books by mail, in anonymous brown cardboard boxes: I subscribed.

I subscribed to them all – Harlequin and Silhouette in every line I could find, Candlelight Ecstasy Romance. Others whose names I’ve forgotten. I had book boxes coming every week, and I gobbled them up like chocolate. I made a note of my favorite authors and was excited when one of them, Nora Roberts, soon had thrillers on the best seller racks. My daughter bought me a compedium listing all of Nora’s books and I read all 200+ of them. When I finished the last one (thankfully, she’s written a lot more since then), I panicked. Agatha Christie was dead, Mary Stewart hadn’t had a new book in years – if I didn’t have Nora Roberts, what was I going to read?

A month or so later, my husband had to go to Las Vegas on a business trip, and brought me with him. I had all kinds of free time during the day. It’s a fun town, but I’m not a gambler. I found a small bookstore and desperately looked for something to read. I picked up a book called TELL ME LIES by Jennifer Crusie. An hour later I was in my hotel room, laughing out loud as I tore through the book. As soon as I finished it, I ran out and bought every Jennifer Crusie book in the store. The next day, I sat by the pool with another Crusie book, totally caught up in the story. I was almost finished when I realized I was the only person at the pool – in fact, the gates were locked and I had to flag down a maintenance man to let me out.

Discovering Jenny Crusie’s books was a life-changing experience. A few months later I found out she was holding a fan conference called Cherry Con just a few miles from my home. I managed to get the last available registration slot. Mid-conference, I ran out to a nearby bookstore and bought everything I could find by Lani Diane Rich and Anne Stuart, who were also at Cherry Con. And as soon it was available, I ordered a historical romance by a new author Christine Merrill. Up until then, I had avoided historical romance. In my head, those books were torrid costume-dramas with nothing to hold my interest. When Christine read an excerpt from her back, I was surprised at the snappy dialogue and humor. She and Anna Campbell, who gave me a “must read” list, have a lot to answer for! My keeper “shelf” now includes two whole bookcases of historical romances.

My daughter introduced me to young adult books, a writer friend introduced me to erotic romance, while yet another friend led me paranormal romance. I was predisposed to like paranormals, since I had enjoyed the sci-fi books I sampled back in high school.

And so it goes…and so my keeper shelf grows. I’m a proud, addicted reader of romance in all forms but, although I hate to admit it, I’m a poor suffragette for the romance movement. I’m happy to talk books with anyone, and if I could find a “romance reader” tiara, I’d wear it with pride. And yet, I have a really cute Vera Bradley quilted paperback book cover that I bring with me to cover those bare, tattooed male chests when I read in public places. Am I ashamed of my reading choices? Not on your nelly. But I choose my battles, and I don’t want to get into a shouting match with readers who are clueless about the romance genre. They don’t know what they’re missing.

To see more statistics about romance readers and the romance genre, check out the website of the Romance Writers of America®.




1 “What 5 Book Genres Make the Most Money?” by Thomas Stewart, 1/31/2014, The Richest

2 “The Hottest (and Coldest) Book Categories of 2014,” by Jim Millott, 1/23/2015, Publishers Weekly

3 “Literary Liaisons: Who’s Reading Romance Books?” 8/10/2015, Nielsen

4 “Why Smart Women Read Romance Novels” by Anne Browning Walker, 7/12/2012, Huffington Post Books

What about you – are you loud and proud about your romance reading? Or do you read when no one is looking?

Author/blogger Ryan Lanz joins us on Wednesday.



Becke 2

Becke joined the RU team in January 2011. She moderated the Garden Book Club and the Mystery Forum at until the forums were discontinued. Prior to that, she was a writer and instructor at B&N’s Online University and for two years she wrote a garden blog for B&N. During Becke’s twenty-plus years as a freelance garden writer, she wrote six garden books and one book about ‘N Sync, co-authored with her daughter. Writing as Becke Martin, she has three short stories in the HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYSanthology published by the late, great Ohio Valley Romance Writers Chapter. Becke has two adult children, two awesome granddaughters and two cats. She has been married 44 years and lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park.

Check out Becke’s Pinterest page here:

She’s on Facebook here and here.

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14 Responses to “Who Reads Romance, Anyway? by Becke Martin Davis”

  1. I don’t care who sees me reading, or what I’m reading, when I’m reading a paper book. It’s one of the things I dislike about e-books, no one can see what book I’m reading!

    Posted by Stacy McKitrick | December 14, 2015, 10:15 am
    • You raise a good point, Stacy. Sometimes I love a book so much I want to wear the cover like a sandwich board so everyone can see it.

      For all the negative aspects of social media, one huge plus is that I can link up with lots of readers and authors. I find out about a lot of new authors and new releases on Facebook.

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 14, 2015, 6:46 pm
  2. Hey Becke,

    Yes, romance readers are an easy target, in part because detractors assume romance readers (and authors), only read romance. I don’t believe romance readers have unrealistic expectations but what is unrealistic is to dismiss anyone who reads romance as simple minded. Just look at the numbers, simple minded readers buy a lot of books!

    Great post, Becke!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | December 14, 2015, 3:39 pm
  3. Evening (very late evening!) Becke!

    I remember in high school going on a bus trip….I was the only girl on the bus and I tore the cover off my book and shoved it in my backpack. I would still do the same, but I rarely read in public….however! if someone else is reading a romance, I walk right up to them and start talking about it.

    I adored Kathleen Woodiwiss as well…she was brilliant…and Janet Evanovich was my eye-opener that I could read something besides historical – and like it. =)

    great post Becke!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 14, 2015, 11:50 pm
    • Carrie – Years ago, I was at a very male-oriented horticulture trade show. I picked up lunch at Starbucks and pulled an Anne Stuart book out of my purse. (I have no manners – especially if I’m on my own, I love to read while I grab a sandwich!) Anyway, I was very engrossed in the book to begin with, but while I was sitting there – in the busy lobby of a big, fancy hotel – I came to one of the most sizzling scenes I’ve ever read. I could feel myself blushing and could only hope there were no mind readers in the crowd!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 15, 2015, 10:44 pm
  4. I used to do that, because, like you, I didn’t want to get into a shouting match with ignorant readers. But since I plan to start writing in that genre, I no longer do that. I now tell people that I write adult romance under a pen name (this pen name to be exact, lol). It also helps that I switched to an eReader. I read so much that I got tired of caring around 1-3 book in my purse. Sometimes people still ask me what I’m reading and I tell them. Oh, and here are a few more authors you should check out. These are some of my favs:

    J.R. Ward
    Shelly Laurenston (also writing as G.A. Aiken)
    Lori Foster
    Melissa Foster
    Jaci Burton
    Jill Shalvis
    Lorelei James
    Olivia Cunning
    Bella Andre
    Sandra Hill
    Lynsay Sands
    Carly Phillips

    Posted by Evolet Yvaine | December 15, 2015, 12:14 am
  5. Becke, what a great piece. I love hearing about people’s reading journeys – and so glad I took you a few steps on the way. I remember how much you loved those books I recommended – it was wonderful!

    Posted by Anna Campbell | December 15, 2015, 3:21 pm
  6. P.S. I hope the numbers for the source footnotes aren’t too confusing. I’m a technoklutz and I couldn’t figure out how to use Superscript on the numbers.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 15, 2015, 10:46 pm
  7. @Admin

    I couldn’t care less who sees me perusing, or what I’m perusing, when I’m perusing a paper book. It’s something I disdain about ebooks, nobody can see what book I’m perusing!


    Posted by Jenifer | December 21, 2015, 12:06 am

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