moms-smart-phone-art-02The Economist has an article looking at the success of the romance and erotica genres in the United Kingdom, and the stigma that still attaches to the genre. Even though romance and erotica has sold 39.8 million physical books worth £178.09 million (US $260.55 million), public attitude toward popular romance/erotica titles (such as the 50 Shades trilogy) tends to be scathing.

The article notes that romance and erotica has a strong tradition of self-publishing, and was one of the earliest genres to capitalize on e-books’ anonymity. (Romance e-book store Ellora’s Cave was going strong in 2006 before most people even had e-readers.) The most interesting thing to me is that the article cites Jellybooks statistics showing romance readers are twice as likely to read on smartphones than people who read literary novels or non-fiction.

The Economist piece doesn’t venture to guess why that is, but my suspicion is that it ties in with something it does mention later on in the article—“romance readers are singularly voracious and loyal.” 15% of romance fans buy at least one new book per week, and 6% buy them more than once per week. (Not like this is news to any of our readers; it’s why Scribd significantly pared down the number of romance and erotica titles from its subscription service last year.)

The article suggests that “shame is perceived to be a significant factor in the romance genre’s success in e-book format,” and while I would grant that probably is a factor, I think another one might just be the convenience and ease of use of the form factor. This comes back to that greater amount of smartphone use—voracious readers might be more likely to have multiple titles on their smartphone so they can resume where they left off at any time they have an extra minute or two. Just pull the device out of their pocket and there they go.


  1. When I lived in Israel, a Canadian woman who hoped to become a romance writer told me that I’d be surprised to discover who wrote many of them:

    1. Aging spinsters who’d never married or even had a romance. Every so often, she said, a publisher would a hire handsome young man to take one of these women out to dinner to get her creative juices flowing.

    2. Men who’re in it for the steady income and who write under a woman’s name. For them, it’s just a lucrative game.

    The more I thought about it, the more sense that made. If you’re going to write unrealistically about romance, it helps to have a mind uncluttered by reality. Then anything goes.

    A lot of thrillers are similar. I’ve tried to read a few of the more successful ones and gave up in disgust after a few pages. I have read enough history and biography and experience enough adventure mountain climbing and sailing to know that they weren’t even plausible. One had its “hero” hop in his private jet headed for Europe without making anything remotely resembling a flight plane. Real pilots make flight plans, checking the weather carefully, for a mere hours flight.


    I’ve tried to come up with a term that adequately describes this phenomena. The best I can come up with is the Unreal Story Effect (USE). It runs something like this. Those who are actively involved in some area of life are generally too busy to spend time with bad fiction covering that area. If you’re living a great romance, why read about bogus ones? If you’re life is a genuine adventure, why waste time with fake ones, particularly when they’re badly done? Both limited free time and an ability to spot a phony mean these people don’t drive what hits bestseller lists.

    For instance, I just read Dan Hampton’s The Hunter Killers. It’s about the brave guys in the USAF’s Wild Weasls during the Vietnam War. They went into hostile airspace ahead of our bombers, making themselves a target of SAMs, and then destroyed their sites. Very, very dangerous work.

    I doubt the readers of thrillers would enjoy the book though. It was too messy, detailed and true to life. I know. As a college co-op engineering student, I worked at Eglin AFB with Wild Weasels testing their jamming equipment. I even worked at A-7, a radar site mentioned in the book that operate like a SAM-2 missile radar. We tested equipment that, mere weeks later, would go into use against the bad guys. The book did not fit the thriller novel style, but I loved it because I knew it to be true.

    I even laughed when it noted that Wild Weasel pilots were frustrated that their tests were run against only us. Our radar was in white 80-foot high radar dome that was visible for perhaps twenty miles. They could easily spot it for their fake attacks. The real missile radars in Vietnam would be expertly hidden.
    The same, alas, is true with romance literature. In the 1980s, working nights at a hospital, I went to our pharmacy to pick up some drugs. As I came up to the window, the pharmacist was reading—yes you guessed it—a romance novel. Knowing I knew, she offered her excuse. It was her only way to get romance. ‘Yes, but is it really romance?” I felt like asking her.

    What’s the result of USE? If you write realistically, either romance or thrillers, you will not have a bestseller. Those who’re your target audience are too busy and will discover little new from your book. On the other hand, if you target those living hum-drum lives devoid or romance or adventure, you’re get a lot of takers. They have the time to read four to five books a week. And no matter how bad the tale, they will believe it.

    Then only thing you need do is take care to never let ‘this is how it really is’ slip into your books. You’ve got to figure out just what an uninformed reader believes and write to that.

    I saw that in one thriller I started and gave up on. The “hero” took off from a military airbase in the midwest on what was obviously intended to be a C-130 cargo plane. It then flew non-stop to Italy, never landing or refueling. A real C-130 doesn’t have anything like that range. It would have ran out of fuel just a short distance into the Atlantic. But the voracious reader of books not only doesn’t know that, such a reality makes no sense to them. That plane was loud and military, therefore it should be able to fly thousands of miles…. much like the “hero” that other tale could cross the Atlantic in his jet untroubled by an semblance of a flight plan. For those low-information readers, flying a jet across the Atlantic was like driving their SUV to the store. No planning needed.


    Someday, I hope to get through a thriller or even a romance to figure out what makes them tick. But repeated tries with thrillers haven’t worked. I end up wanting to hurl them against a wall and I shouldn’t do that with library books. I can’t even imagine myself starting a romance novel.

    In my, as yet, first attempt at fiction, I co-authored Lily’s Ride, a YA novel. The other author took the fictional side, very true to life since he lived it long before. I added the non-fictional history.

    –Mike Perry

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