Diversity in publishing is something I’m passionate about and, when I got talking to R J Gould, author of A Street Café Named Desire, which was recently nominated for a top romance award, he raised an interesting point with me, one often set aside in the debate. Why do so few men write romance? Here’s what he had to say…
Looking around the room at the last Romantic Novelists’ Association’s conference, I noticed I was one of just ten or so men out of 200+. I was also the only man nominated for the association’s Joan Hessayon Award this year out of 14. The low number of male candidates is nothing unusual but it’s no surprise when so few men write romance.
Where are all the men?
Could many men be put off writing and reading in the genre because they don’t feel represented? As most readers are female, it’s understandable why so many focus predominantly on a woman’s point of view, following her as she travels along a pathway fraught with challenges as she attempts to win an alpha male. For example, in Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic, Rebecca chases a millionaire called Luke Brandon and Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones is after barrister, Mark Darcy.
It’s easy to see how this formula began. The romance novel was born in an era when young women had very little say over their choice of husband. Even if they couldn’t win the man of their dreams in real life, at least they could be rewarded with fictional victories. These stories may be uplifting, even for modern women who have choice, but are we setting them up for dissatisfaction? How many men match up to imaginary alphas?
I’d like to see more modern-day twists to the tale of the insecure woman chasing the alpha male. Although there are still inequalities, plenty of women are more powerful, socially and sexually confident, and financially successful than their male counterparts. Women are as likely to take the lead in starting, maintaining and ending relationships as men are. Surely it’s time for novels featuring insecure men chasing alpha females?
We need more modern heroes
We need men in romance novels who are unique, have flaws, eccentricities and emerge from their own point of view, rather than the perception of female protagonists. Maybe they’re sensitive, in touch with their emotions and mirror women’s feelings, moods, and responses more too.
As romance writing is all about relationships, and bearing in mind many of the objects are going to be males, I’d love to see more modern men both as writers and readers. The trouble is, men are put off by the category ‘Romance’. Although I’m listed as a romance novelist, I don’t write with this genre in mind. I use humour to describe past, present and sought after relationships. My characters are ordinary people trying to make the most of their lives while carrying a juggernaut of baggage. Maybe ‘Relationships’ would be a better name for the genre although it sounds a bit like a counselling manual.
The romance category is wider than ever. A quick search on Amazon brings up a wide range of sub- and even sub-sub-genres. Romance is blended with Paranormal, Science Fiction, Fantasy and even Time Travel. Yet so many cover designs put most men off especially the clichéd naked, male torso. When I spend time on the train, I notice that most of the readers tend to be women while most men browse newspapers, play games, watch films or analyse spread sheets on their laptops and phones. And, if they are reading books, it’s certainly not romance. It’s a shame. If only more men would give the genre a chance.
Readers enjoy a different perspective
My readers, the vast majority women, tell me they enjoy having a male perspective and say it provides an interesting insight into relationships. They enjoy reading about a man who’s an active character rather than a passive object. All the things that make a good female lead apply to the male – the possession of both strengths and flaws, complexity, consistency but room to grow, the ability to surprise and realistic dialogue. They need to be unique and interesting with personalities to which readers can relate.
To check the balance of the characters in your writing, you could take a romantic scene from either something you’ve written or from another author’s work. Swap the characters’ genders – Abbie becomes Andy and Andy becomes Abbie. Keep everything else the same – action, dialogue, thoughts. If you feel that now the female isn’t coming across convincingly enough, it may suggest a need to strengthen how you portray your male. And, if there’s a man in your life, why not encourage him to write a great romance too?
What do you think? Should more men write romance? Would you like to see more realistic romantic heroes? Are you writing about one? I’d love to hear your thoughts.