Z711.55 → Romance Novels & Readers' Advisory

According to Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2012, romance fiction is responsible for generating $1.368 billion in sales in 2011 [1]. Yes, billion with a ‘b.’ In a study focused on the attitudes and relationships of librarians and romance readers, however, Adkins et al. noted that only 14% of romance readers obtain romance novels from the library [2]. The authors go on to question whether women avoid checking out romance novels in libraries because of potential censure that often comes attached to being identified as a romance reader. This is certainly a valid question, and one that has roots in historical aspects of library science as a means of promoting “good” or moral reading. And it’s certainly a real occurrence from the perspective of romance readers. It’s one of the reasons why the romance genre has been so successful in digital and e-book form as an RWA survey found that 94% of romance buyers read romance e-books [3]. That’s enormous.
"Romance novels are much more complex than meets the eye - and we readers of romance know that better than most. It's not hard to discount romance, and it's easy to take them way less than seriously." - Sarah Wendell[4].
In their survey, Adkins et al. found that – at least in the state of Missouri – 34% of respondents discussed romance novels with their colleagues “sometimes or often” which led them to suggest that most library staff “may not be able to help romance reading patrons seek readers’ advisory assistance.” (p.62). So, if library staff base much of their reader’s advisory off of their own reading experience, and many don’t read romance novels – how can we make sure that romance readers are given a fair shake in the RA department? Databases like Novelist help on decisions and recommendations a lot, but there are lots of other venues out there to provide help.

So, here are some of my recommendations for things to be aware of when providing RA services to romance readers. 

Not all romance readers are the same. Just like readers in general, none are entirely the same. But romance readers sometimes become attached to stories and characters in emotional ways that is not seen as often in other genres. What works in one story may not translate well in another. And readers may be adamant about certain authors over others. 
"[Romance reading] is not a simple endeavor, all that mental creation and emotion connection. The entertainment and creative value is huge - and makes for a very personal and often vivid response in the reader." - Sarah Wendell [4].
"Reading romance is about the emotional attachment and connection, and enjoying that thrill in a contained narrative." - Julia London, author, quoted by Sarah Wendell [4] 
Know some tropes. The romance genre is filled with re-used themes and tropes that can either drive a reader to read more and make them reject the genre altogether. Many readers can be absolutely adamant about what they will and will not read. From 'secret babies' (perhaps most likely to appear in the Harlequin Presents series of books) to 'friends to lovers' to 'marriages of convenience' and 'mistaken identities' - romance tropes are many and far-reaching. I don't think there's ever a way to know them all, but it may be good to know that the 'forced seduction' trope (i.e. rape) was much more likely to occur in romance novels of the 1970s and 80s than it is in the 21st century. 

Know some hero types. In the same vein as the tropes, romance heroes come in many different forms, especially when considering the evolution of the romance genre from the 1980s to the 21st century. The Dear Bitches, Smart Authors podcast – a joint production between Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – has a great 2-episode run in which they discuss blue collar heroes and billionaire heroes. Heroes - and heroines, for that matter - have certainly grown and evolved through the history of the romance genre. While many are primarily of the alpha variety, there are some great beta heroes and other archetypes out there to discover.
"Most romance readers have a favourite hero, or heroes, and the reason why that hero is a favourite is often revealing." - Sarah Wendell [4].
The romance genre is always growing and changing in many ways, and can clearly be seen to have a wealth of readers. There are many ways that librarians can expand their knowledge of romance even if they're not avid readers of the genre.

Works Cited

[1] Romance Writers of America. (2012). Romance industry statistics. From: http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=580
[2] Adkins, D, Esser, L. & Velasquez, D. (2006). Relations between librarians and romance readers: a Missouri survey. Public Libraries, July/August issue: 54-64.
[3] Romance Writers of America. (2011). 2011 ROMStat Report. From: http://www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=581
[4] Wendell, S. (2011). Everything I know about love I learned from romance novels. Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks Casablanca.

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