Put it in Writing

Virtual Book Festival: Event 13 – Age Matters in Romantic Fiction #VirtBookFest #amwriting #amreading #romanticfiction

Books for Older Readers

Today’s event is a joint one. It’s a Virtual Book Festival event and it’s also part of a Blog Blitz which has been organised by author  Claire Baldry who set up and runs the popular Books for Older Readers (BFOR)  website and Facebook group.

Claire set up the group and the website as places to highlight books which had older/mature main characters and which would therefore most likely appeal to older/mature readers. In doing so she was responding to the fact that older/mature readers often seemed to be finding it difficult to find such books – even although she – and lots of other authors she knew of – wrote them.

The initiative has proved popular and successful in matching books to readers who describe themselves as no longer young and the group and website have lots of members/followers from both the reading and writing communities – including myself.

So I thought in today’s event I’d like to explore and share with you what the concept of books for older readers – both writing and reading them – means to me.

Age appropriate reading

The Publisher Definition

Publishing is an industry and like any industry it needs to make a profit to survive and so it goes where the money is and it targets its customers. Therefore authors of commercial fiction have to follow the rules and conventions of their genre. Two genres in particular are mainly defined by the age of their intended readership – and these are: children’s fiction and its age specific sub-divisions, and Young Adult fiction. But for most of the other genres it’s not age but content that defines them. It’s taken as read (pun sort of intended) that readers will be adults.

And for the most part that works. But sometimes age, and attitudes to ageing, does seem to be an issue – especially when it comes to romantic fiction – and most especially when it comes to female characters

My Author Perspective

When I first sought publication for my debut novel – Change of Life – in 2009, I got lots of nice, but encouraging, rejections. I was told there was no doubt I could write, I could tell a good story, the characters were well drawn.

BUT, they said, the fact that my two main characters were in their forties meant it wouldn’t work as romantic fiction. I was told I could possibly get away with having the male character in his forties but definitely not the female one. She would need to be under thirty-five for readers to find it realistic.

I disagreed. And I’m now the proud author of three successful, independently published (including that first one) contemporary romantic novels with main protagonists who are in their forties or fifties. It turns out there is a market for what are now sometimes classed as second-chance romances. And I should also point out my readership spans the ages – from people in their twenties to their nineties.

Having said that, I don’t want to rule out the possibility that I might in future write novels that have younger main characters, but what I am advocating is an open mind when it comes to age and main characters in romantic fiction.

My Reader Perspective

Unsurprisingly, one of the genres I most enjoy reading is contemporary romance.

And, even although I’m more of an autumn chicken than a spring one, I’m still quite happy to read books where the protagonists are young. This year alone I’ve read several superb romantic novels where the lead characters have been in their twenties and thirties. And there will be more about them and their writers later in the festival.

However, I also like to read books where the main characters are in their forties, fifties and beyond who continue to live full lives – and who are definitely not too old to fall in love, enjoy sex, and begin new long term relationships. And these can be harder to find.

And just as a wee side note, I must say it brings out the grumpy old woman in me when women – and it does mainly seem to be women – over forty are portrayed as past it, frumpy and baffled by technology.

Things Are Changing

However, things are changing. And, as is often the way in publishing nowadays, it is the indie publishers who have made a significant contribution to satisfying demand. Authors such as Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, and the aforementioned, BFOR founder, Claire Baldry, all write successful and first-class romantic fiction with older protagonists. And the big traditional publishers are at last catching up 🙂

But I think there is still a way to go in raising the profile of books with older protagonists or ageing-related issues at their heart. And that’s where groups like BFOR come in.

I don’t believe ‘older’ readers only want to read about ‘older’ characters, just as I don’t want to restrict myself to only writing about them, but I do believe life after thirty-five can be as challenging, surprising and rewarding as it was before – if not more so. So the lives of characters in the older age groups can provide fertile ground for all sorts of fiction. And surely having the full spectrum of adulthood – especially perhaps female adulthood – represented in fiction makes sense. After all the biggest group of book buyers is women over 45.

Age is just a number and is only one factor in our personalities and interests. It shouldn’t be a barrier to inclusion or enjoyment when it comes to our reading. And I’m hopeful things will continue to change for the better in that regard.

So, I’ll get down off my soapbox now and hand over to you.

What do you think about ageism in fiction? Is it something you’ve noticed or care about? And would you read/enjoy a novel where the romance happens between older characters? And, as I said, groups like the BFOR one are good for helping readers find books they’d like to read – so, where do you find your next good book?

Please do leave your comments below.

And please do come back to the festival tomorrow when, also as part of the BFOR Blog Blitz, I’ll be sharing an extract from one of my novels.