Thank Grog It’s Firday!
In last week’s Filler, I made reference to the fact that of all of the books sold in the world today (remember books?), a huge percentage of them fall into the “Fiction-Romance” category. When you look at how many are downloaded onto Digital Readers and Audio Books (still remember actual books?), it is clear that there are a ton of women looking to escape from their own realities and into a world of intrigue, romance and lust.
As the father of five, and a husband of almost 40 years to the “love of my life,” I am going to take on the perplex questions that surround this phenomanen, including the primary question of, “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON? WHY AM I NOT ENOUGH???” that ironically seems to be asked by BOTH sexes.
Let’s take a look at the stats, as “the truth” is always a great place to start any conversation about love and romance. Or not…
Oh…and a special note to our “friend,” Andrew…if you hated last week’s post, you are going to despise this one. Fair warning…I think we can understand why Marge wrote her steamy romance novel. She lays it right out in the dialogue of this act.
And as much as I hate to throw my gender under the bus, actual romance and passion is most likely lacking from the male side of most relationships. I know that boredom, health, age and lack of imagination can cut both ways. But, men seem to be fairly content with just getting to “the act,” without a lot of falderal. Women love the falderal. It’s what makes “the act” more bearable.
So, I get it, when women hide away in romance novels, the way men bury themselves in sports teams. And there apparently are a LOT of women both reading and writing these “bodice rippers,” with a huge range of subjects to mask the real reason they are written…to deliver the lustful goods!
When we wrote our Simpsons book, back in 2013, we were faced with learning the ropes of online publishing, as well as marketing, printing, and tracking the book once it came out. It was recommended to us to join a “Romance Writer’s User Group” to get the inside scoop. And so, we did. Or should I say, I did, as Ryan wanted nothing to do with it.
I found it extremely useful, helpful, and very insightful as to who writes romance (some of the most popular writers are men writing as women), how they sell them (you really can’t get traction until you have a series), and how best to promote the books (start with a blitz of “limited time discounts” then raise the price once it starts selling and you have some momentum).
There were roughly 60 people in the Yahoo group who commented regularly. The group as a whole was responsible for writing, selling and promoting close to 1,000 titles. The key was to keep them coming…keep them short…and don’t over-do the sex, especially if you don’t have enough “story” to carry it.
I read a handful, and most of them were awful! I mean really bad. Not much story, predicable sex, and way too many uses of words like “turgid,” “swollen” and “taught.”
After we had published our book, I continued to get the updates from the group, and was cajoled into trying my hand at “the craft.” I wrote one, on a lark…to see how fast I could churn one out. It was sexy, intriguing (it had a mystery element and a murder), and nothing I would ever publish with my real name on it…or publish at all. It took me all of 5 days, which means you could easily pump out one a week…or at least a couple of months, if you needed a “cooling off” period. It remains locked on my hard drive…never to see the light of day. Not even for my wife’s eyes.
And recently…the larger “governing body,” the “Romance Writers of America” have taken a couple of hits to the…uhm…nether parts. First, Yahoo Groups, which supported a ton of the subgroups (like the one to which I belonged) were discontinued for liability issues. Like a lot of the interwebs…the Wild West aspects of ugliness took over most of the groups this past couple of years. And the RWA found themselves embroiled in some controversy over being exclusionary and racist. Page turning stuff of a different nature. But, I digress…
Overall, the language of the romance writer is hilariously obtuse for those who are shooting for the “general public” – as in nice, wholesome church ladies who “would never use those words!” -but still want to imagine doing those things.
And coincidently, just around the time I was “a romance writer member,” a BOMB Dropped in the world of romance writing! “50 Shades of Grey” was published, and became a worldwide sensation. It was discussed heavily in the “Romance Writer’s Group,” with most of the traditional writers deeming it “pornography, not romance!!” But, barely cloaked was the abject jealousy that it was outselling even Harry Potter at the time.
How many people bought 50 shades?
A LOT. Fifty Shades of Grey had topped best-seller lists around the world, selling over 125 million copies worldwide by June 2015. It has been translated into 52 languages (how do you say turgid member in Mandrin?), and set a record in the United Kingdom as the fastest-selling paperback of all time.
In August 2013, sales of the trilogy saw James top the Forbes’ list of the highest-earning authors with earnings of $95 million which included $5 million for the film rights to Fifty Shades of Grey (which spawned a series of sequels in all sorts of formats).
Those numbers have more than doubled since 2013. DOUBLED.
And you’d think that a series that sold this many copies worldwide would be in the RWA Hall of Fame…think again.
Like I said…these ladies aren’t above being a bit catty about their definition of “success.”
As most of these tawdry tomes today are sold at highly discounted prices, and usually bundled as a “set,” (which is why you have to keep turning them out to make a living), it’s going to take a TON of sales to even reach a fraction of the “Fifty Shades Green.”
So who reads this stuff??? Clearly, more people than voted in the last mid-term election. And it can’t all be just a bunch of “liberal, hippy, sex-fiends.” Not by a long shot.
Which is why readers use digital formats these days that are far easier to “hide,” than a book (remember books?).
This takes me back to a chapter in my life when the “hot book” being circulated by my friends, was a dog-eared copy of “The Valley of the Dolls.”
One of my friends had “borrowed” it from his Mom, and it spent the next several weeks making it’s rounds in the hands of hormonally charged Junior High School boys, who were desperate to read the two passages of steamy, descriptive sex. You didn’t have to bookmark the pages…the “pages of interest” were clearly used and abused, compared to the rest of the book. That copy spent a full week hidden between my mattress and bed springs, before another friend told me I was “hogging it.”
Looking back, and re-reading these portions (which can be found on the internet without buying the book…remember books?), I laugh at how tepid the passages seem compared to almost anything you’d find on cable TV, or any number of the “romance novels” that are out in numbers almost too large to count.
Sex, romance, and even just basic lustful encounters, are so common, and pervasive now (emphasis on perv), that the “tawdriness and intrigue” is all but gone. The bigger challenge for parents (and perhaps married couples) now, is not so much, “if you can find it,” but still maintaining any sense of excitement and passion when you do. “50 Shades” was likely a boon to online sellers of leather paraphernalia and whips. But, let’s be honest…after a certain age, after taking a trip on the “wild side,” you realize that it is a novelty at best, and that your actual relationship must stand on higher ideals, and not so much on stiletto heels and leather chaps.
And, maybe that’s really what Marge was looking for the whole time. A way to escape the hum-drum, without actually buying into the dangers of marching to a different drummer in real life. In short, if your relationship needs to be spiced up, it can’t happen by burying yourself in a fantasy…unless the other part of your relationship is along for the ride!
Maybe, that’s where the sale of “Audio Books” of this genre come in. It’s hard for me to imagine someone sitting alone in their car, getting revved up by one of these stories. But, if you really want to “light the spark,” maybe you would choose to listen to the book together…so you can see one another’s reaction…and discuss the possibilities of the “why/where/how” with someone in the flesh…before laughing, turning off the audio book, and binge-watching Netflix.
If the pandemic has done nothing else, it’s made us appreciate real contact. After months of separation from others…a nice hug will do, without the leather, mood lighting, half buttoned wardrobes and musk candles.
Perhaps…we have all started to realize that reality trumps fantasy every time.
And finally, the answer to the question burning a hole in your minds? NO. My wife doesn’t read romance novels. She is more overt about her fantasies. So yes…we watched the entire five seasons (almost 70 episodes) of “Outlander,” together. With it’s swashbuckling, time traveling, philandering (husbands in different eras) cast of beautiful people…always finding time between battles, and saving America, to have a nice roll in the hey, or covers, or hillside, or…well, they do a LOT of rolling.
And the best news of all…I’ve almost gotten used to breeches. boots and frilly shirts. Bring on season six!