As a lifelong lover of the romance genre, I’ve heard my share of romance reader myths: We’re escapists. We’re all single females. We aren’t serious readers.
And that was before I became an author of steamy romance books.
Imagine this: You announce you’re becoming a romance novelist at a neighborhood progressive dinner party. And the conversation in the room grinds to a halt. Suddenly, myths about romance readers start flying out of your neighbors’ mouths.
Yeah, that’s what happened to me. Can you say major overreaction?
SWEDEN SCARES OFF HER DINING COMPANIONS
I should mention that I live in Washington, DC, where What You Do is often conflated with Who You Are. When your work is something totally unexpected like writing romance novels, it doesn’t always go over well.
You see, I used to be a super ambitious professional. I was climbing the ranks in the public relations field, and going to graduate school at the same time.
Then I found out that if my husband and I wanted a child, I’d be going through a high-risk pregnancy. Yeah, we told the doctors, we wanted a child. I quit my job and officially became a housewife so I could concentrate on baby.
It was a bit confusing for my friends and acquaintances. I was no longer working, and I had no children (yet). What did I do all day?
OPENING MY BIG MOUTH
Of course I knew the secret answer to the question of what I did all day: I was becoming an indie published author. But I’m not one to announce something until it’s accomplished. So I kept my lips sealed.
Even my closest friends barely knew I was writing an erotic romantic suspense series. I certainly wasn’t giving out that information at the monthly Mom’s Club meeting!
So perhaps I was overeager to finally announce that I am doing something, which had me opening my big mouth to all my neighbors when I should have kept it shut.
My other motivation: Never feeling good enough as a stay at home wife and mother.
You see, I have this persistent fantasy that if I were actually the full-time mom I’ve been pretending to be—rather than a working mom without childcare—my family life would be totally different and better.
I’d learn to use a crockpot. Our closets would be meticulously organized. Those 7,000 baby photos on my hard drive would be pasted into color coded scrapbooks.
This is my fantasy. My full time mom friends tell me I’m dreaming…
IS IT HOT IN HERE OR IS IT ME?
At any rate, as the publication date for my debut novels approached, I was primed to spill my news to those in my broader friend circle.
I was unprepared, however, for the reactions. As you may know, a progressive dinner party moves from house to house for each new course. This was an adults-only party, by the way!
We were eating garden fresh raspberries and crème brûlée at the home of our neighbors Malcolm and Jillian when…
Me: “What’s new with me you ask?…Oh, I’m indie publishing a couple of novels soon.”
Malcolm, a thirty-three-year-old stay at home dad and huge sci-fi fan, perking up: “What genre?”
Me: “Contemporary romantic suspense.”
Juan, a forty-something corporate lawyer for an area tech firm: “Romance, huh? You write, like, graphic sex with spankings and blow jobs and stuff?”
Me, brow wrinkling: “Hmm…”
(True answer: Well, yes. But there’s also a heart-racing suspense plot and that little thing called True Love. And it wasn’t something I was prepared to discuss with Juan, husband of a close friend!)
Blue-eyed Sara, an interior designer in her early fifties who runs a successful business: “Is it one of those BDSM stories where the guy bosses the woman around the whole time? I want to punch those guys in the nuts.”
(True answer: Well, yes. But the heroine gives him hell right back. And isn’t that sexual tension what makes these books hot?!)
Malcolm’s gorgeous young wife Jillian, addressing me but eyeing my husband, Mr. Reese: “How exactly do you research something like that, Sweden?”
Me (with something to say at last!): “Actually, I had the good fortune to interview four long-term couples in the BDSM lifestyle early in my research process. I’d love to tell you about it—”
Grant, an enviably fit male yoga instructor and former White House photographer, interrupting: “So you basically spend your days looking at dirty GIFs on Tumblr?”
Me: “Well…a little.”
(True answer: YES.)
Fortunately, at this point Mr. Reese rescued me by changing the subject. Later, we had a good chuckle privately over the awkward moment, both of us realizing it might be the first of many as I embark on my new career path.
BRANDED AS THE EROTICA LADY
Was I clueless to be taken aback by the reactions of my friends and neighbors? Since when did “contemporary romance” become synonymous with “erotica”? I figured people would assume I was writing in the Nora Roberts mold…not EL James!
I should mention that I’m grateful to EL James for many things, primarily:
- Giving us Christian Grey
- Singlehandedly launching the erotic romance genre into the stratosphere
- Giving us Christian Grey
However, that night I was cursing her a bit for making the world just a little too familiar with the racier aspects of contemporary romance. And for being the unwitting inspiration to all those romance reader myths.
Oh well. My secret is out. I’ve been branded as the neighborhood erotica lady, lol. I’m certainly not ashamed of my reading and writing tastes!
WE’VE GOT NOTHING TO PROVE, RIGHT?
I have a couple of university degrees in a drawer somewhere testifying to my literary abilities. I have Kazuo Ishiguro, Donna Tartt and Hilary Mantel lined up on my bookshelf next to Kristen Ashley, Lexi Blake and Maya Banks. I have nothing to prove.
I don’t exclusively read steamy contemporary romance, but it’s what I’m most likely to reach for after a busy day of toddler wrangling and story slinging.
Those last thirty minutes of the day are my sacred time, when I get to relax, unwind and cozy up to whatever’s burning up my Kindle Fire tonight. Until Mr. Reese finishes in his home office and comes to find me.
At that point in the day, it’s not usually a character-driven, introspective literary tome that captures my reading interest, is it?
Nope, I’m looking for excitement, passion, heat and steam, for a story that gets my pulse racing, eyes glued to the screen and body temperature rising. You feel me?
What can I say? I love boy meets girl, boy gets girl. I love happy endings. I love knowing that everything can turn out right.
I also love provocative. I like to be pushed out of my comfort zone. I like books and authors who take risks, lead me down unexpected paths and force me to confront my inner demons.
ROMANCE THEN + NOW
The romance genre has grown broad and diverse since I first started reading Harlequins stolen from my best friend’s mother when I was thirteen years old.
Everything a reader could want in a story—unexpected plot twists, thought provoking themes, complex characters, bad-ass heroes and kick-ass heroines—can be found in contemporary romance.
Let’s be honest here, friends. There are more than a few misconceptions about those of us who love to read about love. Good thing I’m here to set the record straight!
REAL-LIFE ROMANCE READER MYTHS
Here are some myths about contemporary romance readers that are making me laugh and shake my head right now…
- MYTH: WE ONLY LIKE BILLIONAIRES. Nothing could be further from reality. TRUTH: We also like millionaires, foreign princes and professional athletes. And don’t forget the secret agents, brawny bikers, tough cops, genius hackers and daring special ops who’ve stolen our breath. It’s not the size of your bank account, gentlemen, it’s the size of your…heart.
- WE SLEEP WITH A MAN ON THE FIRST DATE. Only if we’ve auctioned our bodies to a billionaire (or a foreign prince) to pay for our dear aunt’s cancer treatments. TRUTH: Otherwise, it will take 20–40% of a book for a man to get us between the sheets. Or against a wall… across his desk…on the kitchen counter…the hood of a sports car…an airplane bathroom…you get the idea.
- WE FETISHIZE HEADLESS MALES. Stop judging a reader by her book covers! TRUTH: Sure, we have our preferences. Black boxer briefs? Fetish. Man in an open collar dress shirt? Fetish. Intense, blazing stare? Fetish. Headless males—not so much. But we do enjoy a brawny shirtless male model, and if his face is left off the book cover we may not even notice, lol.
- WE’RE UNFAITHFUL. Some readers cheat with abandon. They start an affair with one book boyfriend only to forget him as soon as the next alpha male comes along.TRUTH: Many of us remain loyal to our one true love—our forever book boyfriends—no matter how many other fascinating males cross our pages.
- IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SEX. Wrong, wrong, wrong. TRUTH: The sex is the hot fudge. The romance is the ice cream. You can’t have one without the other and call it a sundae. Along the way to Happily Ever After, we crave the heart-rending vicarious thrill ride called falling in love.
- WE’RE ESCAPISTS LOOKING TO FORGET OUR DREARY LIVES. Factually inaccurate. TRUTH: We’re escapists who like to absorb the heat and excitement of our favorite books so we can bring that positive energy back into our fabulous real lives and give it to the people we love. It’s a win-win, trust me.
- WE ARE EMOTION JUNKIES LOOKING FOR A HIGH. Okay, this one is true. Totally true.
The most satisfying part of reading contemporary romance? The feeling of connection when I meet (online or in real life) a fellow sexy book addict. We’re about as diverse a group as you can get, from every corner of the world, and our book tastes are all over the map, but we are united by our predilection for reading about love.
What’s the absolute best place to feel like part of this global tribe? Right here at SexyLoveBooks.com obviously! If you haven’t already done so, put your name on the form below to receive fabulous emails from me, and join in the glam, sexy bookish fun.
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