A Different Spin on Romance
Literary fiction deals with people of all ages, shapes and colors. But romance novels tend to be about young couples and young love. Recently, romance has begun to include humans of different shapes and colors—but lovers who are in their 40s? There aren’t that many. Lovers in their 50s and beyond are in even shorter supply.
When I considered looking for an agent, I read something like 50 agents’ wish lists. On those lists? LGBTQ novels and novels about people of color, as well as novels in the fantasy and YA genres. I’m thrilled that no matter our sexual or racial identity, the publishing world wants to turn out stories that represent a wide array of readers. But here’s the thing—not a single agent mentioned wanting to represent romance novels about women over 40.
The disconnect here is that women over 40 buy the most books. While traditional publishing is busy luring new audiences, they are ignoring a large audience ready made for stories about themselves—the same audience that keeps those publishers in business!
Does the publishing industry assume that since older female readers are buying what is put in front of them, they are content? Has the industry considered that we simply don’t have a choice?
Women who are older have had rewarding long-term relationships as well as bad ones. We know how much work it takes to live with another human, or to be on our own, and to raise children while juggling many other hats—the partner hat, the keeper of the household hat, the career hat, the caretaker of aging parents hat. We have begun losing friends and parents. We have had relationships fail. There have been career and financial woes, as well as other disappointments. We are well acquainted with grief and grit.
Equally important, we have experienced great triumphs. By the time we blow out forty-odd candles, we have learned a little something about how not to sweat the small stuff. We are getting a handle on how to nourish ourselves. We are more confident about who we are than we were when we were younger. Best of all, we are comfortable owning our own power.
If we are over 40 and unattached, it isn’t as if we’ve aged out of desire or romance. In fact, the stakes are so much higher after 40. Our lives are full of commitments already, so meeting someone and finding the time to foster a relationship is harder than ever before. I remember reading that you are statistically more likely to be hit by lightning than to get married after 40. I doubt that’s actually true—but it has the ring of truth. Whether you are too tired to date after a hard day at work (and after rushing the kids to soccer practice, making dinner, doing the wash, etc.), or because you have totally burned out on dating after your 33rd awful eHarmony pairing—or some variation therein—finding new love is fraught. Plus, even if we are in a good relationship, stories with happy endings put a satisfying cap on all of the bad news happening around us.
The responsibilities and the challenges of women’s lives make compelling elements for any story. Whether we are single or coupled, many of us are hungry for stories with heroines who defy the odds. Those stories nurture our hopes for our own happy endings.
We deserve to be celebrated! Novels that offer insights into lives like our own—novels that honor women’s lives and examine the issues specific to maturing—are satisfying, enriching, and entertaining. I wrote Willing because I wanted to offer up a fun story about a protagonist who has all of the strengths we acquire as we age, and also, because she is vital and engaged with life, has a lot more to learn.
Here’s a prediction: sooner than later, novels about mature heroines will be everywhere. As for me and my first novel, I’m happy to be riding the upswing of this wave and looking forward to writing more stories that celebrate us!