The Demographic Dilemma

Photo by Tina Phillips
This is a repost from two years ago, but in recognition of Black History Month, I feel that this is a topic that bears reexamination.

Authors like to quote the age-old wisdom "Write what you know". Publishers and editors advise you to write for the marketable demographic. But what if what you know and who you are as a writer doesn't fit that mold?

When I wrote my first book proposal, I learned that in order to show publishers that the book was marketable, I had gather some data on the industry. Daunted that I had to spend a few days with numbers and graphs, I nonetheless set about compiling my data.

I found that, according to Romance Writers of America, the average reader of romance novels is female (knew that), between 31-49 years of age, has a bachelor's degree, and lives in the southern region of the United States. For inspirational romance, those statistics change. Your average reader is still female, but she is also a little older, Evangelical Protestant, and is politically conservative.

I must admit that when I was writing my novel, I wasn't concerned about a target audience in terms of what region of the country they lived in or what political affiliation they leaned towards. I wrote because I wanted to get away from all of those dividing factors. I wrote as a means of creative therapy, allowing myself to do what I've always wanted, but never took seriously before because time or life situation didn't permit. Not only that, but whenever I browsed the romance section of the bookstore, I came away a bit disappointed.

One, where was the diversity? Where were the female heroines that looked like the women in my family or those I went to school with? Particulary in the historical category, where was the African-American or the Native American, period? If they were present in a fiction work, they functioned as background characters and did very little to move away from commonly held stereotypes. Aside from that, a good number of books focused on the gentler aspects of bygone living, not giving attention to the struggles and everyday adversities that men and women went through. There was a lot more going on than tea parties and sewing circles.

Like other women in my position, I wanted to read about characters whose struggles and triumphs I could relate to, even if the events took place in a historical setting.

Make no mistake. I'm not out to bash romance. If I didn't love the genre, I wouldn't be reading or writing it. With that being said, I strongly believe that the demographic who reads inspirational romance would also enjoy stories featuring multicultural characters and plots that involve overcoming tough obstacles. Who better than Christians to appreciate and understand how God blesses and redeems those who depend on Him?

Also, as a younger woman, I would love to see more ladies in the 18-39 age range pick up an inspirational romance. We come from all walks of life. Black, white, Asian, city, small town, college-educated, high school diploma, kids, no kids. Shouldn't that variety also reflect in the books we read, especially those that present Christian messages of faith?

So back to all that research on demographics. When the time came for me to address who my target audience was, I listed women 18-39 in addition to those in their forties on up.

Is that a broad range? Yes.

Is it too much? No.

There are many stages of a woman's life, and a different perspective she gains from each. We cannot afford to ignore nearly two generations of them, especially when the majority of the romance heroines we enjoy reading about fall within that age range.

Changes in the industry can be scary, but reaching out to new readers can be an encouraging one.

This is a tough subject, but that doesn't mean our conversation about it can't be honest. How do you feel about demographics in fiction? Are we at a better place now than say, 10 or 15 years ago? Your input is valuable, so let's keep our comments clean and maintain the utmost respect for one another.