Calling All Readers: What Do We Call It and How Do We Do it?

For years, I’ve been writing for an overlooked audience. Now, finally, I’m writing for a slowly emerging market, one a few publishers are, after years of ignoring, only just beginning to cater to. Despite the presence of a target audience, that is readers over 40,  two stumbling blocks remain when it comes to marketing romance fiction to readers over 40: WHAT to call this subgene, and HOW to market romance with older couples.

The WHAT: The front-running suggestions for this romance subgenre (Thank you, Laura Boon Russell for reminding me to mention that this is a subgenre), from those of us who write romance fiction with lead characters over 40, have been Adult Contemporary Romance, Seasoned Romance, Mature Romance (MatRom), and Silver Romance. The new category line from Entangled is called August, which is a charming moniker, but the line is limited to stories of characters 35-45. Now, here’s where you come in. Do you have any ideas of WHAT to call romance fiction with both lead characters who are over 40?

If you do, leave a comment. Better still leave a comment about the search terms you use when you go looking for romance tales where both characters have been around the block a time or two? You as a reader have the power to pick the name that REALLY sticks.

Groovy, say we come up with a consensus on a name for this subgenre, for Romance of a Certain Age, Granny Lit or Hag Lit, (Can we agree now NOT use any of those?), but what about the HOW?

HOW to market these books is fraught with the same issues Hollywood has when it comes to marketing any film featuring a woman over 40 as the lead. Artwork and advertising, which in the publishing world means book covers, can be tricky for a tale with younger leads. A book cover, like a movie poster, is supposed to be shorthand for the story presented. Marketing departments for Romance fiction have always found a way to work around finding cover art for troublesome novel, usually steering clear of the stereotypical clinch cover in favour of something benign, such as a pair of shoes, a dog, an empty Adirondack chair sitting on a beach. In Hollywood, the usual thinking is:

  1. If the older woman appears on the advertising, be sure the image includes an object that obscures her age, such as a coffee cup in front of her face;
  2. If the older woman appears on the movie poster, ensure only a small percentage of her body is shown, no full body shots;
  3. Reduce the size of the woman’s image, place her in the background in a setting, such as on a dock, on a boat, behind Bruce Willis or Morgan Freeman. Seriously. Go look at this poster for Red, right now.

Obviously, in fiction and film there’s a similar workaround showing the ageing body, which is primarily horrifying because ageing and the bodies of older people are continually presented as ugly and something to fear. These images lead to an unconscious bias against older people, particularly older women, and that bias keeps women from appearing roles other than mother, granny, harpy, crone, or keeps them from appearing at all. ON book covers and movie posters.

The chief antidote to treating ageing as a disease is to present it as normal, as everyday, but creating a new standard and breaking down pervasive image stereotypes of age—or any stereotype—takes time. People need to ‘get used to’ something new. I understand starting small, put the aged female face behind that coffee cup a few times, or reduce the size of Mary-Lousie Parker and Helen Mirren on the poster for Red. Use those benign beach-front images that suggest peace, use the dog, the shoes. Then, slowly, because, people need time to adjust to change, get rid of the coffee cup, enlarge the size of the woman, move her to the foreground, right beside the acceptable male silver fox in that Adult Contemporary-Seasoned-Mature-Silver-August Romance.

14 thoughts on “Calling All Readers: What Do We Call It and How Do We Do it?

  1. This is my favorite type of book to read. I call it women’s fiction or adult contemporary. Freya Barker writes this style and does it well.

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  2. I love ‘ageless romance’, that has a nice ring to it. I also read somewhere: midlife romance which is my second best. I get frustrated when I buy a book and it turns out it’s about young twenty-somethings. I got a book that announced older MCs, turned out the hero was in his early fifties and the heroine in her early twenties. Although the story was actually interesting and I enjoyed it, it fed into the acceptable stereotypes older man meets young woman.

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    • I like ageless romance and timeless romance. Midlife is good too, I’ve always liked that, but I some would think it limits the ages-range to middle age. Hmmm. I get annoyed by the moniker ‘Silver Fox’ romance, which is simply, as you pointed out, the older man younger woman thing you see so often. BLAH!

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  3. FineWine Romance (because we get better as we age too) or Platinum Romance (silver-like, yet valued more than silver) are two labels I could get behind. Seasoned romance brings to mind a roast or a cooking-based romance, which could lead to confusion. Honestly, it’s hard to think of a label that *doesn’t* conjure up images of gray hair and wrinkles for a mature romance, which is anathema to marketing. Trying to change that kind of ageism is a big uphill battle and since this subgenre is so newly acknowledged, we’ll probably need to start with baby steps.

    I do like your idea of gradually showing that mature face on a cover and slowly conditioning the audience to see it as a positive, not a negative image. I have found that older men are more easily accepted on a romance novel cover than a woman (much like real life, that kind of institutionalized sexism rears its head all time).

    I personally don’t mind the more ambiguous covers because I prefer to picture the leads in my head anyway. Also, much like my “curvy” girl romances with horribly misrepresented heroines, I’d rather see a chair than a young 20 something girl portraying the 40 something woman, you know what I mean?

    I hope this blog sparks some good conversation about this topic and I hope the subgenre as a whole flourishes. My fellow Gen Xers and I are certainly part of this more mature reading audience and I know I’ve grown to appreciate reading romances that feature women my age finding love. Finding love can happen in any decade of your life and romance should certainly reflect that.

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    • Thanks for your considered response,Ivy.
      There’s part of me that hopes we can just call it ‘Romance,’leave it at that, find a better way to market the books by using the cover ambiguity angle, and bring about change by introducing elements of ageing to the covers. Start with the the half obscured images we see now, or the ‘acceptable’ versions prettied-up of ‘older’ women, the ones that we are starting to see in advertising, then bring in those other shorthand elements we see so often on romance covers. it NOT hard, it just a matter of getting over the fact people over 40 have sex and relationships, and age is not a disease that needs to be covered up.

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