Why Is a Heroine Over 40 A Taboo Subject?

violet howe, seasoned romance, older heroine, publishing sex appeal
Posted by on August 10, 2017
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!

violet howe, seasoned romance, older heroine, publishing sex appeal 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.
silver fox, Sam Elliott, seasoned romance

The King of Silver Foxes

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!
romantic women's fiction, violet howe, chick lit, seasoned romanceAs 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?

14 Responses to Why Is a Heroine Over 40 A Taboo Subject?

  1. any

    Hey Violet! couldn’t agree more. I have a rough start on a 40+ romance and plan to include plenty of heat!

    • The Goddess Howe

      Yes!!! I think heat over 40 is different for many reasons, but it’s still hot and it’s still happening!

  2. Teresa Beutel

    Well, my husband and I met when we were both 40, and married when we were 46. We have tons of passion, and this is the best relationship I’ve had in my life!

    • The Goddess Howe

      That’s awesome! And that’s exactly why we need stories like this. To let people know it’s possible and to celebrate our later in life romances that work out much better than the ones we ventured into when we were younger!

  3. Lisa A Hale

    I enjoyed reading “Maggie.” Older people are still having romance and sex, so why shouldn’t it be written about?!

    • The Goddess Howe

      Right? I agree! And I’m so happy you enjoyed Maggie’s story!

  4. Ruth O'Feild

    There is a definite need for romantic novels featuring women over 50. We may be “over the hill”, but we sure as heck aren’t dead! One of my best friends (my age) has an extremely satisfying relationship with her new love, after the death of her husband of 40 years. I say, go for it, gal!

    • The Goddess Howe

      Yes!!! We don’t stop loving or feeling or desiring just because we get older! If anything, we know more about what we want and what we don’t want! Thanks for your support!

  5. Patti

    I’m in a seasoned romance so I’d absolutely read one. This has been the best freakin year of my life. Absolutely nothing compares except the love I have for my children.

    • The Goddess Howe

      I’m so happy for you, and I would love to hear your story!!! Here’s to love and happily ever after, no matter what age you are!

  6. LG O'Connor

    Hi Violet, Well said! Two books in my series involve seasoned heroines – one with a younger man, one with a silver fox. Both involve all the nuances of a life lived, and the emotional punch for a satisfying romance. I wrote them, because They are books I want to read. Love that I found the seasoned romance group, and great meeting you at RWA! Liz

    • The Goddess Howe

      So nice meeting you as well! And I love that so many of us are writing stories about women who have lived life and are still willing to risk their hearts and open their lives to romance!

  7. Nan Reinhardt

    Nicely said, Violet. My Women of Willow Bay series is all about over-40 characters, including a 52-yeat-old. Book 4 releases 9/26 and my hero is a grandpa. I love boomer romance!

    • The Goddess Howe

      That’s awesome! I think there are more of us writing about it and reading it than we know!

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