Marketing your Book: What Genre are you Writing, Who is Reading it and What do they Expect? Part One - Romance


In this 5-part series I'll be breaking down the common genres from the perspective of a debut novelist-how do I know what kind of book I've written? Are there any specific rules I should know about the genre I've written? Who is my likely target audience, and how do I reach them?

Part 1 - Romance

One thing many authors have trouble figuring out is what kind of story they're creating. Especially with all the sub-categories and crossovers, trying to figure out where your story fits can seem daunting. Why even try to fit your unique creation in a box? Because to satisfy readers, you need to know what their expectations are, and each genre has certain rules that set up expectations. Knowing who your readers are and what they expect from you will allow you to make sure you've checked off everything your story is supposed to provide to your target audience and leave your readers feeling like they got what they paid for.

What is a Romance?

Romance and Literary Fiction are unique amongst the genres as they focuses less on the traditional plot of the outside world and more on the relationship between two (or more) characters. The 'plot' in these stories is used as a means to show the relationship, rather than a means in and of itself the way Thrillers or Science Fiction or other common genres do. Not to say that a well-written Romance can skimp on the plot, it's just a standard of the genre that the relationship will be in the spotlight, not the going-ons of the outside world. The Borne Identity, for instance, could easily have been written as a romance; girl going about her normal life, meets guy who's mysterious and really hot, she joins him on his adventure to discover the identity he's forgotten, some shit goes down, he meets her family, he saves her life a couple times, she contributes to the adventure at significant points, they find the opportunity to enjoy some naughty time, and they end up in a happily ever after situation on some beautiful tropical beach. Slap a different cover on that book and you've got yourself an entirely different target audience.

Many, if not most, stories have romantic components so it can get a little confusing to figure out if you've written a Fantasy Romance or a Romantic Fantasy. Easy test: if the main focus of your story is what's happening outside of the relationship, then you're written a different genre with a romantic subplot.

Who is Reading Romance?

Romance is, by far, the most common genre and commands a $1.44 Billion (that's with a B) dollar piece of the book market. Over a third of all fiction books marketed to adults are in the Romance genre, according to a 2015 Neilson Bookscan. Romance is the easiest genre to break into as the target demographic is composed of voracious readers, generally consuming five or more books a week. The top sub-category is Romantic Suspense, followed closely by Erotica, then Historic. Additionally, one third of these readers are so hungry for new material they have purposefully sought out new authors within the past six months. This is the easiest genre for new authors to make a name for themselves in.

82% of Romance readers are female, no surprise there, but 18% are men, and with an 18% share of a pie slice that big, it becomes a significant market-to be specific a market of men paying $259 Million dollars a year to read Romance. Now, that's an assumption based on the raw numbers, there's no data on how voracious the average male romance reader is, but even if those 18% of Romance readers are only spending 1% of the money, it's still $1.44 Million dollars, and the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. So don't say male Romance readers don't exist-they may not advertise because of the social stigma, but they're there and they're spending cash to get their hands on the books.

The highest age percentage of readers are in the 25-34 age bracket and the most frequent readers are all below 34 years of age. However, the sheer number of women reading romance above this age puts the average Romance reader between 35-39 years of age. 95% of Romance Readers describe themselves as straight or bisexual, and for ethnicity the numbers break down to 73% Caucasian, 12% African American, 7% Hispanic or Latino, and 4% Asian American. This is a pretty close match to the overall demographics of the United States general population, so understand that Romance readers are a diverse group. Only 2% of romance readers identify as gay or lesbian, again reflective of overall population demographics, and there is a corresponding lack of lesbian romance stories available. Interestingly enough, however, gay romance written by women for women is one of the fastest growing segments of the Romance genre, with writers just scrambling to keep up with demand.

What do Romance Readers Expect?

Romance novels typically are found in the 71,000 - 109,000 word count range and feature a focus on the emotional journey between two or more main characters. Generally they are written from either the heroin's point of view or from both the hero and heroin's points of view in an alternating format. Books written entirely from the male perspective can be quite popular, and it won't hurt your story to write it this way, but readers will expect to be told about it ahead of time.

The Romance genre demands a Happily Ever After ending or a Happy for Now ending and readers typically expect to be warned before purchasing if infidelity or cheating is part of the story. Not disclosing this in the description of the book will likely earn you bad reviews from readers who prefer to avoid those plotlines.

Readers expect to be given a general 'heat level' of the book in the description before purchasing. A 'high heat' or 'scorching' romance will feature full-fledged graphic erotica while something defined as a 'Young Adult' or 'Sweet and Innocent' can allude to sex having occurred, will certainly show a great deal of sexual tension, but never shows more than kissing "on screen." In the middle you have "Moderate Heat" or "Sensual," where the lead-up and foreplay can be shown but the story stops short of describing actual penetrative or oral sex.

Younger Romance readers, the most frequent readers in this genre, prefer erotic and paranormal Romance books, while older consumers prefer contemporary stories in all heat levels. If you're self-publishing, you'll want to know that 92% of Romance readers buy physical books while 64% buy ebooks. There's significant overlap but in this genre it may be worth the extra expense and effort to make your novel available in both formats.

How do I Appeal to My Target Audience in Romance?

Once you've decided that you've written a Romance and have identified your target demographic, you can get to making your book most attractive to the readers most likely to but it.

The book cover is the biggest piece of the puzzle in this. For every book you publish you will need to thoroughly research key words, categories and write a kick-ass description, but your cover and where you advertise is where you can really take advantage of the differences between demographics. Younger readers spend a lot of time on Twitter, so you should too. Older readers are more likely to see something on Facebook and will place more value on word-of-mouth, or reviews, so you should concentrate on procuring a large number of Advanced Copy reviewers if you've written a contemporary Romance.

For the cover, the younger your audience the more elaborate the cover must be. This is true across all genres aside from Literary Fiction. If you've written a fantasy shifter paranormal Romance, you will want to hire a talented graphics designer who can make you something beautiful and eye-catching that can compete with the other covers in this high-expectations demographic. High-heat books often feature shirtless men on the cover and this is an easy way to communicate to your readers that this is the type of story they're searching for. Contemporary low-heat romances will generally have simpler covers, typically featuring a picture of a woman turned away from the camera or a couple almost kissing-think anything by Nicholas Sparks.

Fonts on your book cover are also very important. Single word titles must feature a flowing script, the lower the heat the more fancy the font, while multiple word titles with higher heats will more often feature two fonts, one bold and masculine for a few title words and the rest of the title words in a flowing script. Paranormal or Fantasy Romances generally have a less flowing script but more often feature a fancy, decorative font versus the elaborate cursive fonts you expect to see on the cover of all heat levels of historical romance.

That's all for today. Do you have any questions about the Romance genre that I didn't cover here? Ask it in the comments section or hit me up on Twitter at @CynthiaCPayne

I will be continuing this series next week with Thrillers and Mysteries. To be notified when I post new content, follow me on Twitter or join my Facebook group