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The Reader's Soap Box: Your answers to our questions about the books we all love...
Statistically, the average age of today's romance reader is over 30, but it seems that the recent trend with some publishers is for heroes/heroines in contemporary categories to be under the age of 30 - more in the 22 to 25 age bracket. We contacted several category authors and asked them if they take the age of the romance reader into consideration when crafting their novels. At the end of the "Reader Query" you'll enjoy reading "Author's Responses" from the other side of the covers.
We want to know what you, the buyer and reader's thoughts/experiences have been regarding this trend. 1) Based on the choice of contemporary category romance books you've read recently (say in the last year), do characters in contemporary category romances seem to you to be getting younger? If so, do you find that these younger characters are believable? -- Interesting comments by the authors. I don't usually buy romance books as most of the heroine's are too young to be believable. Since I'd like to see more books in the 50 age group, I'm trying to write one of my own. It's about a married couple in their 60's who have to sell their home in NH due to his health/family pressure/brutal winters and move to Florida. Instead of reading romance, they gather to discuss mystery books. Together they form the Boring Biddies Kniting and Crotching Society which becomes The Boring Biddies Detective Agency. - HOSTPFCLStormy -- I purchase a book on the premise/plot/theme primarily... I cannot read about 20 somethings. Mid-thirties for the female is as young as I?ll go. What?s interesting to me is that Suz Brockmann writes older heroines [five years at least] to younger heroes. No complaints here! Exactly my cup of tea. But the storylines based on the SEALs are realistic in the males ages because yes, they tend to be young in that they?re in the primary action taking out the terrorists. - Cat Carol -- I don't tend to find heroines who are younger than around 25 believable - that might just be because I'm 38 myself. I prefer it when the H/H are in their mid-20's and older. I have no problems at all with age differences between the main characters. In Suzanne Brockmann's "The Admiral's Bride" the heroine is early 30s and the hero is early 50s and I absolutely loved it. I just feel that older characters have much more to offer. DawnB -- Yes, I think that age matters. Once I read a book where the hero was in his 40s, and I was completley turned off of the ideal, my father is 40! LOL! - Sassy_232@... -- I like the 20's and 30's is a great range but I don't really care for older than that. That could be because I'm 32. I also cannot stand for this under 20 business. I read one where it started out with the heroine at 15! I think under 20 is way too young. - Sherry -- I've been an avid reader of romance novels since i was 15. ( i know thats a little young but i was bored and my mom left it out on the table. LOL) I am now 24 and i find that my taste in books has changed a little. I don't mind when the heroine is in her late teens to upper twenties. what bothers me the most is when the hero is 10 to 15 years older than her. I just don't see how they can relate because their age is so different. - Janis -- The readers who have the most time to read are those who have raised their children and no longer have to work. Most have read hundreds of novels about younger characters. Where can we find books with older characters? Also, older readers who read many books in a month are staying home. It would be interesting to have more background description woven into the plot. - B K E -- I am open on the age issue as long as everyone is legal! No kiddie porn, etc. I am in my fifties, have a friend 79 who I pass my books on to. However, I married at 19...husband was 20...we are still married after nearly 35 years. I don't mind the characters young and enjoy mature ones, too. I just wish I'd found the genre when I was much younger! I didn't know what I was missing. - Nancy B. -- A lot of books seem to have younger heroes and heroines, but I actually enjoy books with characters who are in their thirties or older, with the exception being romance set in the west where the life expectancy was shorter and, therefore, characters would naturally be younger. - Chelle M. -- I think the recent trend is just about in the opposite. I find that the heroines/heros are getting older, not getting younger. Some authors even skip mentioning the ages of the characters, one way to circumvent the issue. This has bothered me before and I think the ages should be mentioned in the stories. - Leiya -- I may have a romance-loving 17-year old still inside me, but frankly I'm bored by her much of the time. She is too young to have the breadth of experience, wisdom, and compassion that I'm looking for now. Not to mention that she was way too earnest and had no self esteem or sense of humor about herself or life. I read Jennifer Crusie and Robin Schone and Susan Elizabeth Phillips because their heroines are old enough to bring a lot to the table. They are not perfect, but I can much more identify with them than with the unformed, barely past puberty heroines of some novels. In fact, if I see that the heroine is still a teenager I put the book right back on the shelf and don't bother to read any farther (and certainly never buy). I'll read almost anything, but that is the one rule I almost never break. - CityLover... -- I'd agree with the correspondent that said she didn't care about the age, so long as the behavior was correspondingly reasonable. There are a lot of over 60 readers, and my friends in this age group say they still find that sexually graphic details are a bore and if a book is too loaded, they dump it, unread. - Jackie S. -- Yes I think they seem to be getting younger, or maybe it is just that I am getting older. But they no longer seem as believable, at their age they just do not have the life experiences of an older person. I wish more authors would write about the romance of people in their 40's, 50's and older. - Luci N. -- I recently picked up a book where the hero and heroine, were in their late teens close to becoming 20. I found this both uncomfortable but moreover unbelievable. Unless one has an extraordinarily wide and full life I feel it would be impossible for these people to have experienced the width and breadth of what the author would have us believe. I know, I know - this is supposed to be fictional and I'm supposed to be transported to another place - but the practical side of me won't go for it!. I gave the book away without finishing the read. - Lyn -- ...I like my heroines with a little bit of life experience behind them -- ... A 20 year old is a kid. I was when I was 20, so they still must be. Time adds depth to a woman. You need that for a real romance. - Irene P. -- Yes, heroines do seem to be younger these days. I, personally, do not read any books where the heroine is 15-16 years of age and supposedly having a mature relationship with a man almost twice her age. Just completely turns me off. - Barb -- I haven't noticed whether characters are getting younger or not. I'm looking for a good story, so age doesn't really matter. I'm 56, but I can remember all my younger years, so if I choose to try to identify with the characters, I can pretty well manage. The younger characters seem to be pretty believeble to me. Times and mores may have changed from when I was their age, but I think what I read is pretty much in line with what I see going on around me. - Patsy M. -- The contemporary books that I have been reading I have actually seen older heroes and heroines. Chris R. 2) Do you prefer reading about characters who are closer to your own age and life experience, or are the ages of the hero and heroine irrelevant to your reading pleasure? -- Older characters have more to offer and I think writers can do more with them. Jude Devereaux's "The Summerhouse" is a perfect example. - Chelle M. -- I still prefer to read about characters who are young, say 18 to 30 (older for the male characters), even though I am getting older. I do not think that the characters have to be closer to my age because after all, it's fiction and fantasy. - Leiya --I have been very aware that I occasionally come across a 'younger' heroine, so far I have had no problem relating to her, but feel there will come a time when I will, perhaps as the age gap grows and I "no longer understand the younger generation"! I am surprised that some publishers think we want younger, innocent, 'virginal' heroines. I have been thankful for a long time that we have moved on from that formula. I prefer my heroines to have plenty of character developed from life experiences. - Janet P., England -- I do enjoy reading about characters my age, although that obviously doesn't happen too often. But it doesn't affect which I choose to read. - Patsy M. -- The ages of the hero and heroine is irrelevant to my reading pleasure. I like knowing the ages of the characters because you expect smarter decisions and more life experience from the older characters than teenagers. Chris R. -- Although I am in my fiftieth real year, I am only 30-35 emotionally! I therefore tend to enjoy reading romance between 30-35 year olds. I have children who are both in their mid-twenties and therefore can't get to grips with reading about highly charged sexual, sensual or emotional scenarios. This is a little too close to home and personal and I find I can get taken away by the story. - Lyn I am in my 50's, and love to find stories that feature women in their 30's, 40's, and Yes!...in their 50's (god forbid, that we should fantasize having a love life too!) This is why I always enjoy Robin Schone's work. She features the less than perfect woman that is not always 17-25 years of age.......and they don't all have perfect bodies, titian hair, and emerald green eyes!!! Diana Gabaldon is another one. Her absolutely fabulous main character from the Outlander series is Claire... {started out in her 20's and now hovers around 50} she is a sexy, smart, vital woman that would capture the attention of any red-blooded man. And, by the author's own admission, has a healthy sized "arse" and big feet! (and is older than her husband.) In a nutshell, I am not interested or impressed with the young heroines in their teens and 20's... and Publishers, if you knew the amount of money I spend annually on new and used books, you would sit up and take notice. I am an avid reader, have time to read, and have the money to spend. Pay attention!!! - Suzanne F. 3) Which contemporary category line do you read, and do the ages of the hero/heroine have anything to do with your preference? I have read a few books in the Blaze and Desire series, which were okay. Age was irrelevant if the story was interesting enough to keep me reading. I'm currently reading a great Duets where the characters are late 20s/early 30s and the writing is excellent. - Chelle M. -- I read all Harlequin Mills & Boon categories. I would suggest that a category featuring older characters be published for those readers who prefer characters. One more thing, nowadays authors seem to dispense with descriptions of environment, you know, description of places, attire of the characters, dwellings etc. which I found charming in the books of old. Is this a new guideline to the authors by publishers as they deem that "nobody read this kind of thing anymore"? - Leiya -- It's nice every once in a while to have a heroine older than 30, but the 30-40 age seems more realistic since these characters are supposedly considering beginning a family, etc. I did read a book recently where the hero was over 40, a widower, his daughter was completing college and he became involved with a younger woman, married and considered beginning a new family. That was kind of refreshing. - Barb -- Although I read many category romances, the line I seem to read most frequently is Silhouette Intimate Moments. Patsy M. -- I read Blazes and Harlequin Temptations. I pick up the other lines when I see a favorite author's name. - Chris R.
Statistically, the average age of the romance reader is over 30 years of age. How does this effect your writing, if at all? Christine Rimmer: Actually, I used to do "older" heroines--in their mid-late thirties, but there has been a push lately by my publisher to get authors to write younger heroines. Apparently, their numbers show that, while the readers themselves are older, they want younger and more "innocent" (even virginal) heroines, that books with older heroines don't sell as well. Mind you, I realize that a lot of the more "vocal" readers will always say they like older heroines. But we're talking about the everyday reader who doesn't want to talk about what she prefers, who "votes" for her preference with her pocketbook. Carly Phillips: I honestly can't say I've ever thought specifically of the age demographic of my readers. I've always been concerned about writing intelligent, empathetic heroines - someone a reader can relate to on many levels. Donna Sterling: My heroes are usually in their early to mid thirties, and the heroines in their late twenties or early thirties. This has no reflection on my audience. I simply think these are interesting ages in a person's life, and prefer to write about them.
Do you take the age of your audience into consideration when determining the ages or characteristics of your hero and heroine? Maggie Price: Often in my books the thing that determines the age of my hero and heroine is their profession. For example, if my hero and/or heroine is a sergeant in a police department's Homicide Detail, he/she will probably be over 30 years old. If the storyline requires that I use a cop hero/heroine who is younger than the norm for a specific assignment, I give that person a certain expertise. (Example - Maybe I have a Mafia-type bad guy under police surveillance whose passion is growing roses. When he advertises for a gardener, my jaded cop hero pulls the just-out-of-the-academy heroine into his undercover operation because she grew up working in her parents' landscaping/nursery business.) Tori Carrington: Personally, we don't take the age of our audience into consideration when determining the ages or characteristics of our h/h. But expanding on our previous answer, perhaps subconsciously we speak to that age group because we're part of it. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but this discussion comes up time and again for us as we grow as writers, inhale the world around us, then reflect it back in our books. We do tend to write characters closer to our own age, around thirty, simply because those are the characters *we* more directly relate to. We're both curious as to how this will change as time goes on and that gap between us and our characters, and perhaps even our readers, grows. Joanne Rock: Temptations and Blazes are targeted toward a bit younger audience-- early twenties to mid thirties-- and yes, I take this into consideration when creating the ages of my heroes and heroines. Beverly Barton: Many publishing houses do consider the average age of their target audience and thus "recommend" to their writers to stay within a certain age range for heroes and heroines. I don't have a problem with this and have written about heroines in their twenties, thirties and forties. Lori Foster: Sometimes. For instance, the Harlequin online serials are for a younger audience and I was specifically asked to keep the characters in their mid to late twenties. Ages are also previously determined in continuties, like in Married to the Boss, my contribution to the Maitland Maternity Continuity. Normally though, I conceive characters in my head and the just sort of show up at a certain age without any help from me.
Does your own age affect your writing? Do you tend to write characters who are closer to your own age, or much younger or older? Beverly Barton: Of course my age affects my writing. I am, after all, a product of having lived these many years. -- Having heard from many readers who enjoy my books, I know the age of my readers spans the generations--from young women in their late teens to ladies in their eighties! Lori Foster: Again, the characters seem to determine their own ages in most cases. I'm 43, so I'm friends with women in their 20s and in their 60s. I *have* written characters my own age, but more often than not the heroines are younger, in their late 20s to mid 30s. For me, developing characters has always been a simple process. Suzanne Brockmann: Maybe the average romance reader is 30 years old with a very sensible, practical 30-year-old's life, but I'm writing my books for the smart, funny, adventuresome, hopeful, romance-loving seventeen-year-old that I know we all still are inside. Carly Phillips: I think life experience affects writing. ...I'm in my late thirties so I'd say now my characters are younger than I am, although when I started writing, they were older! Deciding a character's age is all part of the process of writing and setting and plotting a story. My age has less to do with this than my knowledge and life experience and how much research I want to do! Joanne Rock: I am still in the demographic for my books' target audience, so I find it easy to relate to the characters I write. Each and every response is important to us, and very much appreciated. We want to hear what you have to say!
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