When it comes to male romance readers there isn't much out in the world in terms of information. Google showed me a handful of decade-old interviews and a few infographics with varying statistics that informed me that male romance readership is anywhere from 10% to 18% of all romance readers (one such graphic is shown below).
A staggering maximum of eighteen percent. Can you believe it? I have been a romance reader for the majority of my life and I have never once come across a male romance reader. Not once. I went to a romance conference with over four hundred romance readers and there was one man there and he was accompanying his mother, who was in a wheelchair (so I don't know that I really count him among the numbers).
Male romance authors, while rare, do exist (I'm featuring a few of them in an interview series) but where are these male romance readers that statistics claim make up nearly one-fifth of our total population? Are they an urban myth or do they actually live among us? I became determined to find out and spent nearly three hours scanning my followers, the internet, book forums, and more, for any male romance readers.
In the end, I tracked down four male romance readers who were interested in being interviewed for this piece. I asked the questions I was dying to know: when did they start reading, why did they start reading, and who are they reading. I had planned to compile these all into one blog post, but I've decided to break it up into parts for ease of reading (as some of the answers I was given are truly insightful and deserve to be seen individually and not crammed into one extremely long post). I hope you enjoy reading the first of these installments, featuring answers from newly turned romance reader, Adam Bowman.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: What age were you when you first began reading romance novels? What led you to pick up that first book and, if you remember, what book was it?
Adam: I was a late bloomer when it came to romance. I was (am) 30, nearly 31, when I picked up my first legit romance novel. It began with my wife, and her sudden obsession with the romance genre. She began beta reading for an author and fell deep down the rabbit hole. It did wonders for her mood and helped her discover truths about herself that greatly benefited our relationship. With such a dramatic response I couldn't help but have my curiosity peeked. She introduced me to The Heaving Bosoms podcast and played me a few of their episodes. I found the natural rapport of Erin and Melody so captivating and their total love and admiration for these works so sincere that I have been going methodically through their catalog of episodes and making note of the books that I want to read along the way.
The first book I read was a supernatural vampire romance/mystery called A Bite to Remember by Lynsay Sands. We stumbled upon this book in the lobby of the management office of our apartment complex and asked if we could take it. She read it first and enjoyed it enough, and bugged me until I finally read it. I didn't need much prodding though. It was a fun and easy read with some great characters, decent plot, and some stellar sexy times. After I read that, we received a care package from the author that my wife had been working in. It included a smattering of books, one of which I snagged called Never Deny a Duke by Madeline Hunter. That was the first book I read without any prompting and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: What do you think are some reasons that men choose to not read romance or choose not to admit to reading romance? Do your friends and family know that you read romance?
Adam: I've battled my whole life with what was expected of me as a man. Appear tough, suppress emotions, hit things, be mean, be unfeeling, etc. The masculine ideal has changed throughout history, but it's not much better than any of the chauvinistic dribble that has existed in the past. If anything, there's a violent swing away from being more in touch with emotions and showing vulnerability.
Something about the current social and political climate gives me the creeps and I want nothing to do with any of that lot. Most men view romance novels as a "girly" thing. With their over-the-top covers with soft colors, tender embraces, and eloquent fonts, it's like a blaring siren of femininity. They probably don't want to be hassled, abused, or bullied. They don't want their manhood or sexuality called into question and be forced to defend themselves and their decisions. It's a heavy question with a lot of implications, speculations, and personal biases.
Only in the past few years have I stopped caring what others think or expect of me. When questioned I just shrug it off, because their opinion matters little. I'm doing what I want, living how I see fit, and not giving two damns about the chitter-chatter that takes place behind my back. On up to who you are and what you like without remorse and people will see how fruitless their poking and prodding will be, and eventually they'll grow tired. My reading romance isn't just a known, it's a point of conversation currently.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: Have you ever experienced negative reactions to sharing that you're a romance reader with friends, family, or strangers? Have you experienced a positive reaction?
Adam: If any negative reactions have occurred since I began reading romance, I've either deflected their negativity away or have disregarded it completely. I'm sure jabs have been taken, but I manipulate around them so well that the person lobbying these attempted attacks gives up, and their initial response to make fun devolves into ideal curiosity. That's been the major reaction I've encountered. They mostly just want to know why, how, etc.
All of these reactions are from my coworkers, some of which I've known for the better part of three years now. My reputation at work is that of a quiet, cynical, esoteric individual. I have tattoos all over that include, but are not limited to, a David Bowie/Great Gatsby mashup, a comic book character named 'Johnny the Homicidal Maniac', Harold from Harold and Maude hanging himself, and a cartoon version of Orson Welles holding up a jug of wine. I'm known for reading weirder books and watching weirder movies, so imagine the surprise on their face when I pulled out a brightly colored paperback called Never Deny a Duke. Their confusion and interest was so thick and rich you could've poured it over pancakes. I answered their questions, told them about how the books are not a dime-a-dozen. How they possess soul, warmth, and interesting characters and plot.
I'm regarded more warmly at work now, and if anything else the mystery around me has only grown. I mostly keep to myself, and now a rogue element has been thrown into the mix by the inclusion of romance novels. It's been a delight.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: In your opinion, is the romance community welcoming to men? What are some ways in which you have felt welcomed? What are some ways that we could do better as a community to encourage male readership?
Adam: I'm relatively new to this scene, so I haven't been in the community long enough to make an accurate assessment as to whether or not the community is welcoming to men.
During my life I've always been aware of the stigma around romance novels. I remember seeing them filling racks and shelves in the most mundane places, such as gas stations and grocery stores, and always wondered about them, with their covers showcasing perfect specimens of human physique with their hair blowing in nonexistent wind. I grew up a child of the 90's so I saw a lot of Fabio on the shelves. I think the genre is neither welcoming or unwelcoming to men in general. They just don't make an effort to cater or market to them because at this point in the genre's history the reputation as being only for women permeates every facet of the ability to sell. What I failed to realize--and what I figure most men do as well--is that they are well-crafted, carefully thought out and captivating pieces of literature. I do not stray from that word, either. They are literature, regardless of how many bad boy werewolves, shirtless Scotsmen, and debauched Dukes exist out there.
Since the market is so saturated, it's impossible to know where to begin. Contemporary? Supernatural? Historical? Science Fiction? Erotica? Each category branches off into a plethora of choices for the reader. That's why forums like your [Romantically Inclined Reviews] blog and podcasts like Heaving Bosoms are great starting off points. They help narrow the field and allow readers, men and women alike, find what interests them and go from there. My snowball has just started rolling and it is picking up steam fast. My network is small, but extremely supportive. I'm always given suggestions as to where to go next, and asked opinions on what I've read so far.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: What are some of your favorite romance novels? Do you have an favorite author or two... or three...or eleven?
Adam: I'm still getting my feet wet, but so far I've thoroughly enjoyed Tessa Dare and Madeline Hunter. I wasn't expecting to be so captivated by historical romance and those rakish Dukes, but here I am, and I have every intention of going through the other two books in the Decadent Duke series. I must know about the Duke of Langford.
After I've satisfied my needs for Duke love, I have every intention of devouring the works of Rosalind Chase, Tiffany Reisz, Sierra Simone, Ruby Dixon, Anna Burke, and Talia Hibbert, just to name a few. My wife has consumed a lot of their works and I'm anxious to dig into their masterful works.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: Anything else you'd like to add, i.e. advice, a funny story, or other recommendations?
Adam: As far as advice for male readers goes: just read the damn books.
As I stated, there are so many options out there. You absolutely will find something that caters to your tastes, your kinks, something that will hit all your buttons. Once you find that book, I guarantee you there will be dozens more out there like it. Will they be as good? Maybe. Maybe not. They might be worse. They might be better. You might find an author you're going to follow on social media and count down the days until their next book is released. Just give the genre a try. They're not overly saccharine and lovey-dovey. A lot of them get down and dirty and will make you pull a fan out of nowhere and start fanning yourself. How did that fan get there? Don't question it, just go with it.
If you are so concerned about pulling out a paperback and being judged, might I suggest e-books. There are too many options to count when you wander over to Kindle. A lot of them happen to be free as well. Those tricky authors, luring you in with a free taste of what they're capable of and then making you watch the clock tick by agonizingly slow as you wait to get your mitts on their next book that you've already pre-ordered, both digitally and in paperback.
I've mentioned it before, but the podcast Heaving Bosoms with Erin and Melody is a great place to start. They are absolutely delightful to listen to. They're funny, interesting women with different backgrounds and personalities who happen to be the bestest friends and share a deep love for romance books. They have their own likes and dislikes when it comes to the genre and are unabashedly honest about how they feel about the books they've read. I highly suggest giving them a listen
Thank you for reading the first installment of The Lives of Male Romance Readers. Stay tuned for future posts in both this series and the Meet a Male Romance Reader series.
Many thanks to Adam Bowman (pictured here in a picture I stole from Instagram like a creeper) for his open and honest answers regarding his experience as a romance reader and a newly inducted member of this awesome romance community! (And many, many thanks to his wife for luring him into our romance trap).