What Romance Readers Expect...#2

What The Reader Wants – The Mutation Factor

The original meaning of “Romance” was not a love story with a happy ending. The term originally referred to a medieval epic poem, a tale packed with knights and battles, often scattered about with magic and fantastic creatures. The Song of Roland? Gawain and the Green Knight? Romance. In some, but certainly not all of these tales, a love interest pops up with the emphasis on pure, courtly love. Readers of the day, more often listeners since only a small percentage of the population could read, expected action, grand, life-threatening mistakes, heroic last stands, and noble sacrifices.

Happy endings optional.

The word morphed through the centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, a Romance referred to a Gothic style tale—horror, dread, supernatural happenings. Hardly the love story we think of today, but the titillation factor was certainly there. Young girls weren’t supposed to read that stuff. Too exciting. In that respect, the Gothic has much in common with the modern Romance, that forbidden, wide-eyed, often loin-stimulating excitement.

Skip ahead a bit to the 20th century and the classic Harlequin style romance. What did readers expect out of these? A set, predictable formula with set, predictable character types. We lambaste this sort of thinking today (oh, heck, a lot of us did then) but the reader wanted this comfort, wanted to be able to shake off the real world and bask in a world where perfect men exist and the ending is always HEA.

While certain elements still apply, the modern romance has mutated like a virus over the past twenty years, reader expectations both leading and following this constant evolution. Today, the reader tends to be more experienced, more jaded, at least in a literary sense. We know the perfect man doesn’t exist. We don’t want perfect. We know happy doesn’t always last.

The expectations of today’s reader vary, sometimes the gulf between one reader and another enough to toss the well-intentioned author into the pit of despair. Becky wants yummy Alphas, but Max is sick to death of them. April wants only HEA, but Caroline’s content with a little HFN and will even condone a character death if done well. Tabitha wants more sex, less plot. Aaron wants more plot, less sex. More erudite language – challenge us! Less literary language – don’t make us look stuff up!

You get my point. The wonderful part about modern romance is that the reader can have it all. You just have to know what you like, understand where to find those things, and encourage those authors. What do I look for in a romance? I’m not a traditionalist. Give me something different. Give me damaged characters with quirks and twitches. Give me magic and extrapolations on science and society. Give me weird and wild. Just write it well, don’t get lazy, and for the sake of all that’s holy, please have a plot.

What do readers want? Everything. Good thing today’s romance offers a buffet instead of a prix fixe menu. Try a little of everything. Then come back for more.

Angel Martinez is the erotic fiction pen name of a writer of several genres. She loves beer and chocolate if you ever need a good bribe, writes mainly M/M fiction and is a geeky fan girl where several other authors are concerned. Her latest?

Semper Fae: Endangered Fae 3

Zack thought he had a strange job before. Marine medic in a secret government base was odd, but personal assistant to a sidhe prince is downright bizarre. Lycanthropy and loose cannon mages conspire to make a hellish mess out of things - but the real peril begins when Diego Sandoval, Human Consul to the Fae, loses an important piece of his mind.

For more info on Angel’s work, visit:


  1. Fascinating post. Love how you described what the readers want. Authors keep being told - this is what readers want so you HAVE to write it this way.
    But readers are as varied as authors. As you suggested - the readers will fine the authors whose style suits them.


  2. What do readers want? Everything. Good thing today’s romance offers a buffet instead of a prix fixe menu. Try a little of everything. Then come back for more.

    Exactly, Angel! The wonderful thing about e-books is we don't have to rely on what fits on the book store shelves any more-

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing Liz!

  4. Great brief history of romance. I enjoyed!


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