Friday Filler – Why Do Women Need Romance (Novels)?

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 Famethink 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! 



19 responses to “Friday Filler – Why Do Women Need Romance (Novels)?

  1. On a different note. My sister and i were wondering what your thoughts were on the prize of a cliff overlooking water with wind sound? Wtf??? What has that to do with the story or do you think they just looked around for something no one would buy to give away for free? Thanks! Signed another romance reader.

    • Haha! I kept waiting for something to happen. It is rEAlly lame and super lazy. Prizes in this game event, with the exceptions of the characters, are just lame…

  2. I don’t read romance novels and I don’t think I know anyone who does. Far from a “hippie” audience, my guess is that the typical romance novel reader skews to the conservative side (and, I would also guess, tends to have a lower educational level, but that’s just a guess and I’m not saying that to be insulting).

    I’ve belonged to a Classics Book Group since 1995, and have been the leader of the group for at least the last 15 years (maybe 20?). On the rare occasion that I have time to read more than just my book group book for the month, my tastes skew more to science fiction, and sometimes fantasy, autobiographies (Trevor Noah’s autobiography is one of the best books I’ve read in the past five years), and the occasional YA book.

    I’d also like to put in a plug for a terrific (but somewhat challenging) book (which was long-listed for the National Book Award, among other accolades) that my best friend wrote, “Is Rape a Crime?” which, as the subtitle says, is “a memoir, an investigation, and a manifesto.” (The title poses that question in the sense that rape is treated very differently in this country than other crimes, to the point that one wonders whether society truly considers it one.)

    • Uhm…I am fine with your analysis with one grave error…your call out of conservative readers. The numbers would make it clear that politics, education, and religion have little to do with book sales of romance. The sales spread across all sorts of demographic and psychographics, with “IQ” not being measured. Romance and relationships are a part of life. The longing for love and passion also play parts in books as intelligent as the biographies of Doris Kerns Goodwin. Books considered “classic” today, are rife with hot scenes…going back to Greek classics, and into the Victorian era. There’s a reason the “Pick-a-little” ladies in “The Music Man” warned of writers like, Chaucer, Rabelais, and Balzac!

      Secret reading is as personal as what goes on behind the drawing room doors…

      • First off, I said the “conservatives l thing was just a guess…I haven’t seen the stats, myself, and am entirely keen to learning my hunch was wrong!

        Second, I was strictly referring to romance novels of the sort you were referring to…the type that are mass produced “bodice rippers,” not ALL books that have romance as an element in them! Of course many great novels are romantic ones, whether it be romance without sex, as in an Austen novel, or ones that make bawdy references to sex, like Shakespeare, or ones that have more graphic sex, like books written by the authors you mentioned. I was taking more about Harlequin Romance type books.

        I also never mentioned IQ or intelligence, only education level, which is not the same thing. (There are plenty of very intelligent people who, for one reason or another, didn’t get a high level of education.)

        • First paragraph got mangled by Swype and I didn’t notice. 🙄
          It should have read, “First off, I said the “conservatives” thing was just a guess…I haven’t seen the stats, myself, and am entirely open to learning my hunch was wrong!”

          • FYI…I was looking at some old posts and on the one where we celebrate 100 million hits you commented that you must be getting close to 10k comments. And Pat made a comment that once you hit 10k we’ll buy you a t-shirt.


            Well I thought you’d like to know you’re getting pretty darn close to it. You’re at (roughly) 9,900 comments. So 100 more and that t-shirt is all yours! 😉

            • That’s hilarious! In the old days, that would have taken me about a week. 😂 Nowadays, though, I think it will be a while before I get another 100 comments in….I promise I won’t be a jerk and start flooding the site with comments just to speed things along. But, I look forward to hitting that mark at some point (this year?) and getting my t-shirt!

        • I think you pretty much nailed it. Education does not signify intelligence, grace, or common sense.

          Unfortunately, much of our political strife these days is born of one party calling the other “uneducated,” and the other pushing back against elitism. Romance, no matter what your education level, has no barriers. The women who write, read, and turn this genre into a huge industry, are highly educated, but know their audience. Harlequin is a huge force…and it isn’t just from buyers who “ain’t got much book learnin’, or don’t have no higher edjamacation.”

          People read what gives them pleasure. It’s a commitment of time and intention. It has nothing to do with education, and much to do with imagination.

  3. Think of it as the pH Scale
    1.0 to 14.0
    Acidic to Basic
    Men to Women
    Action to Talk, talk, talk
    Porn to Romance

    Works for me

  4. True Crime
    (especially Documentaries – although the recent one on Netflix regarding Richard Ramirez brought up memories neither of us wanted to be reminded by)
    Those are her favourites 🤔

    The Mrs loaths ‘romance novels’
    (I actually remember Judy Blume books on the playground – lol) 😉

    We both joined our Friends thumbing our noses at ’50 Shades’ due to its inaccurate depictions of those we know ‘into the lifestyle’ 😂

    If there’s one programme we both have admired over the years? It’s Murdoch Mysteries (Edwardian, Canada, a couple where she works in forensics / he works as the detective) – that’s our on the couch drinking tea together with the cats viewing pleasure! 😊

    Never take anything for granted, never forget, never rely on a Hallmark Holiday to express your feelings (I’d rather be at a Museum vs a Stadium – but we both miss going to watch our Hockey Team). 🤔

    Ok, now back to counting how many variants of the same Character I have in my Springfield (I need a portal to a variant Springfield to put them in, EA!) 😂


  5. Great article! I’m not a romance reader, and I never read 50 Shades. I belong to two book clubs, and we read a great assortment of books. Even REAL BOOKS! (Unless the Kindle version is cheaper. 😂). I love reading even more that playing TSTO! 🥰

    • That would make you far smarter than the average romance reader…I belong to a book club as well. Four couples my age. We haven’t read anything too tawdry…but there have been a couple of titles that had some serious literary debauchery!

      • Does your book club have rules about sharing your reading lists? I’m due for some new ideas, so spill, Patric! I don’t do religion or romance (I once read a Danielle Steel book by mistake) but like the action & thrillers.
        It’s February…..this is a plea for help!!

        • I will pull out the list of the last few books. Pretty Diverse! We bounce between fiction and non-fiction.
          Currently reading “Deacon King Kong.” Just read Obama’s new book. “The book woman of Troublesome Creek” “Shoe Dog.” “Where the Crawdads Sing.” “Last Bus to Wisdom.” “Travels With Charley.” “All the Winters After.” “Hillbilly Elegy.” “All the Light We Cannot See.” “The Signature of All Things.”

          All good reads…I wasn’t a great fan of “Troublesome Creek.” But the rest…I enjoyed!

          We are all good friends. We met when our kids were in school together. Going on 20 years. There are countless others…but those are the most recent.

    • I was telling my college-aged granddaughter about your article. She saw this ad for a “romance novel” that I never would have imagined! It’s called, “Kissing the Corona Virus!” As you asked, “Who reads this stuff?” 🤣. I found it on Amazon, and the reviews are hysterical. (But not enough to make me want to read it!).

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