When I wrote the wedding planner trilogy of my Tales Behind the Veils series, there was one secondary character who stood out to me and piqued my curiosity. This character, Maggie, was one I enjoyed writing, and as details emerged about her life and her history, I wanted to explore the character further and find out more about her past and her future by giving her a book of her own.
As I started discussing the new project with other authors, I was greeted with dire warnings that Maggie was too old to be a romance heroine.
How old is she? She's 49...the same age I'll be later this year.
I don't consider myself too old to be a heroine, and I certainly would be interested in reading about someone my age, whose life experiences and relationship issues might be something I could relate to. So in hopes of proving my well-meaning fellow writers wrong, I set out to research the issue.
What I found was disturbing.
The Publishing Industry says No!
The romance publishing industry frowns quite sternly on any heroine over the age of 30. It's a rarity to find a best-selling romance with a leading lady that has already left her twenties behind. It seems that if the storyline focuses on love and passion over "a certain age", it pushes the book into the women's fiction genre and out of the romance genre.
Over and over again, I found the same message in my research---according to the powers that be in publishing, no one wants to read about people over the age of 30 having romance and sex.
Yet...as people over the age of 30 would readily confirm, it happens! Despite how far-fetched (or disgusting) it may seem to those still seeped in youth.
I met my now-husband when I was 36, and I can assure you, romance and passion were (and are) alive and well in our relationship. The candid conversations I often have with friends in my age range indicate that I'm not alone in that. People "my age" are still having sex. And good sex!
So if women still experience romance and passion past thirty, why is it a taboo subject?
I was curious to know if this was a case of the publishing industry deciding for readers what they want to read. Was there a market for heroines over 30?
Several factors would indicate there is.
Readers say Yes!
Baby boomers and Generation X are two large segments of the population in that higher age range, and they are both groups that buy and read romance.
Demographics for reader subscription services such as BookBub reveal that women over age 40 are a significant portion of the market for romance purchases, and my own statistics from my website and my marketing efforts show that the majority of my readers are over 35.
So if it's reflective of real life, and there's a market of people who could relate to it, why is it taboo?
It Goes Deeper than Publishing
I think part of the problem is rooted in our society's overall view of women aging. We glorify youth, and while we allow our men to age with dignity and retain their sex appeal, we tend to bench females who are considered "past their prime" as having lost their sensuality.
As I combed the internet in my research, older men were referred to as silver foxes. But the few articles I came across regarding older heroines often called it "matron literature" or "hen lit", (older chick lit). Somehow matron and hen don't sound as enticing as silver fox to me. Even "cougar" has a bad connotation associated with it. Where are the positive terms?
Of course, part of the problem stems from the prevalence of youthful gatekeepers within the industry who cannot fathom old people having sex.
I get it. I do. I remember being a teenager when one of my aunts turned fifty. I was horrified on her behalf. She was ancient! Life was basically over for her in my mind.
But I have found as each birthday has rolled around, that despite the increasing number of candles on the cake, I don't feel old. I'm still just me on the inside. My bones may creak more, and I may forget why the hell I walked in a room, but I'm still me. And I still have a full range of emotions -- love, passion, hurt, anger, disappointment, elation, and yes, ecstasy.
But as an "older woman", my perspective is quite different than it was in my twenties. It is colored by my life experiences and the wisdom of hindsight.
Older heroines are more likely to have survived heartbreak and hardships. They may have children, even adult children, who change the dynamics of starting a new relationship. They may have financial independence and career security that a younger heroine hasn't achieved yet. They are likely to have gone through a divorce or losing a spouse, or many other life upheavals that change us and shape our ability to trust and be open to love.
Nothing in my research led me to believe that older women do not want to read stories about older heroines.
In fact, it's quite the opposite. More and more, older readers are demanding that writers give them heroines they can relate to. People whose lives look more like theirs.
We're Coming Together, Slowly But Surely
At a recent book conference, I attended a workshop on "Seasoned Romance", one of the new terms coined for this market. Authors Morgan Malone and Karen Booth talked extensively about the challenges of marketing older heroines, but they also pointed out a few encouraging signs.
More than one romance publisher has announced plans for a division dedicated to older heroines, with names such as August Romance or Love Like Fine Wine. So the powers that be are paying attention to the buying power of older women!
As for me, I didn't let the taboo designation slow me down. I published Maggie's story, which includes parallel tales of her heartbreak at nineteen, and her resistance to risking her heart again at forty-nine. It delves into her reluctance to give up her independence, her adult children's reactions to her budding romance, and the baggage (and habits) she and the hero both bring into the relationship.
Just like in my novels about heroines in their twenties, Maggie focuses on the relationships she has with her family and friends, her own doubts and insecurities, her career, and yes, her attraction to the opposite sex. Because these are all universal aspects of life, regardless of age.
Thanks to the workshop I attended, I've joined the Seasoned Romance Facebook group, where I can interact with other authors who write about older heroines and meet readers like me who want to read about people more like them. That led to joining Romance In Her Prime, another Facebook group for fans and authors of older heroines and heroes.
It has been refreshing to see so much love and acceptance for realistic characters who have found love later in life.
The twenties were exciting and tumultuous for me, but the thirties and forties have held much in experiences, emotions, triumphs, and losses. The ups and downs of this thing called life. Looking back on it all, I think that time period from nineteen to twenty-nine was just the tip of the iceberg in all my life has encompassed.
How sad it would be to limit our fictional counterparts to that one decade in the immense lifetime of being a woman and what that entails at every stage of life.
What's your take on it?
So here's to love no matter what age we are! I'd love to hear from you.....what do you think? Would you read a love story about an older heroine? Do you believe in seasoned romance?