At the Back Fence Issue #195Dabney2017-06-23T08:29:52-04:00
Treat yourself to the AAR bookbag!
From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:
At the Back Fence Issue #195
February 1, 2005
Last year I had an interesting discussion with Mary Novak, who used to write wonderful reviews for us at AAR. While she was no longer able to review at the site, she wanted to continue to be a contributor. Since she was one of three staff integral to the AAR Style Poll conducted in the summer of 2002, my thought was to ask that she do another survey for us, one that was comprehensive and “important.” Mary thought this sounded good and suggested a demographic survey. Given that one of my goals since beginning to write online has been to focus not only on reading and books, but on readers ourselves, I agreed immediately.
Support our sponsors Mary developed a lengthy survey encompassing a whole range of demographic arenas from physical location to education to economic status to a variety of reading preferences – nearly 40 questions were asked and an astonishing 697 of you took part in the survey. Let’s discover ourselves together and continue on to the results.
All About AAR’s Readers (Mary Novak)
I’d like to thank everyone who participated in our demographic survey, and I hope you find the results as interesting as I do. Until now, I had always thought of surveys as rather cold and clinical, but I wasn’t prepared for what an emotional experience managing this survey would be. There was something about being entrusted with so much deeply personal information that humbled me and made me feel a sort of generalized but heartfelt affection for everyone who participated. (It helped to balance out my bouts of deep loathing for Excel.)
In all, we received almost seven hundred responses, although not every respondent answered every question. We are quite the eclectic group of individuals, but to find out more about us as a community, read on!
Who We Are – by Gender Women: 693 (99.4%) Men: 4 (.5%)
Under 21: 3%
71 and up: <1%
Who We Are – by Age
The majority of our respondents were between 21 and 50 years old. Considering the number of college students on the Internet, I’m a little surprised that we had only twenty responses from people under 21. I wonder if these numbers would have been the same a decade ago, or if this is a sign that romance is losing touch with the youth market?
Average age: 39
Youngest respondent: 15
Oldest respondent: 86
Where We Live – in the World
As I watched the surveys come in, one of the things I found the most striking was how many different countries were represented – 31 in all. Unsurprisingly, the USA led the pack at 82%, but several other countries were strongly represented, including Canada (5%), Australia (3%), and the United Kingdom (3%).
The first four nations listed provide 93% of the total:
Where We Live – in the U.S.
Our US responses were geographically diverse, as well – we got surveys back from 45 states and the District of Columbia. The results were not evenly spread by region, however – 33% of our responses came from the South, 25% from the West and 23% from the Midwest, but only 18% from the Northeast.
More than a third of all our U.S. respondents reside in just five states. which include a power-house on each coast, as well as two large Mid-Western states, and the largest state in the Southwest:
The Size of Our Cities
Of all the places I’ve lived, I had the hardest time finding used romance novels in New York City, so I was a little surprised that the<
largest number of respondents live in communities of a million people or more, although the distribution is pretty evenly spread between small, medium, and large cities. Considering the number of romances that use very small towns as a setting, I’m not sure what to make of the fact that so few of our respondents (only 7%) come from communities of 5,000 people or less. Does this reflect the total number of people who live in such small communities, the availability of romance novels there, or perhaps the ideal of the small town to authors and/or publishers?
Under 5,000: 7%
5,000 to 50,000: 24%
50,000 to 250,000: 23%
250,000 to 1 million: 20%
Over 1 milion: 25%
Our Marital Status
Does reading romance make us more likely to get married or to be involved in long-term relationships? Or are those who are married or involved in long-term relationships more likely to read romance? According to 2000 census figures, 58% of the general U.S. population is either married or cohabitate (52% married – 6% live together). Our results are somewhat higher: 62% of our respondents are married or live together. 6% of our respondents are currently divorced, compared to almost 10% of the general population.
Married or in long-term relationship: 62%
Single, never married: 31%
Single, divorced: 6%
Single, widowed: 1%
About Our Children 49% of us have them 51% don’t
I left the question of “ethnicity” open to interpretation, and we received a rich variety of responses. Unfortunately – I’d been warned this might happen – with no boundaries the variety was a little too rich to interpret fully. I channeled the data into a rough approximation of a race table.
Our Religious Affiliations and Level of Spirituality
The majority of our respondents are Christian. The next largest set of respondents claim no religious affiliation, followed by those who failed to answer the question. Members of other religions formed the smallest group of all.
Christian = 60%
Claim no religion, are Agnostic or Athiest = 22%
No answer provided = 11%
Jewish = 3%
The remaining percentage is broken out into a variety of religions, none of which equaled at least one percentage point:
We did not provide a check-list for respondents, which means that the results are not quite as wrapped up in a bow as they could have been. On the other hand, how people deem themselves is instructive on its own:
Protestant = 39%
Catholic = 28%
“Christian” = 28% (also includes Non-Denominational Christians and those calling themselves Lapsed Catholics)
LDS/Mormon = 4%
Greek Orthodox = 1%
23% of Protestants did not specify their branch of Christianity. The remainder did:
Lutheran = 17%
Presbyterian = 6%
Methodist = 16%
Unitarian = 3%
Anglican = 3%
Episcopalian = 7%
Baptist = 21%
Evangelical = 4%
In terms of how spiritual or religious we feel we are, think “bell curve.”
Level of Spirituality
Not at all = 26%
Somewhat = 52%
Very = 23%
Our Sexual Orientation
It may be a sign of the times that this was not treated as one of the most personal questions asked – virtually everyone answered it, while many people avoided the “religion” and “income” questions. I was a little surprised that we didn’t turn out to be more diverse. Laurie was surprised as well, but suggested as a possible explanation that because most romances feature love stories between the two sexes, they may not appeal to those involved in single-sex relationships. But some romances starring gay characters have strong female followings, and one or two gay men I’ve known greatly enjoyed conventional romance novels.
With so many respondents, naturally there was a very wide range of careers named, including many unique ones. Some interesting trends did come to light, however. Unsurprisingly, many book-adjacent occupations such as writer, editor, teacher, student, and librarian were strongly represented, as were computer jobs. I was surprised by the number of romance fans who work in accounting and finance, however, and also surprised that doctors were quite under-represented, although other medical positions such as nurse-practitioner and researcher made a better showing.
Just three percent of our respondents don’t work (they are retired or on disability). Here’s how the remainder break out:
The number of hours our respondents work per week is pretty widespread, with less than a third working the traditional (at least in the U.S.) 40 hour week. Most of the votes for 24/7, came from homemakers and stay-at-home moms.
1 – 10
11 – 20
21 – 30
31 – 39
41 – 49
50 on up
Our Annual Income
Considering our range of careers, it’s no surprise that the range of incomes is widely spread, too. These figures may be a little off because the survey question did not specify whether the income was household income or individual income. While most respondents assumed that household income was intended (which it was), some did not.
Less than $20,000: 14%
$20,000 to $39,000: 23%
$40,000 to $59,000: 23%
$60,000 to $79,000: 14%
$80,000 to $99,000: 10%
$100,000 to $120,000: 7%
$120,000 and up: 8%
We asked the following three questions about the educational level/achievements of our respondents:
What is the highest level of education you received?
If you attended college, what was your major?
If you attended graduate school, what was your field?
Overall, we’re quite the educated bunch: almost 90% of us have been to college, and more than one-third have been to graduate school.
Less than high school: <1%
Graduated high school: 5%
Some college credits: 14%
Tech/Vocational school: 5%
Computer Science: 2%
Art History: 1%
Home Economics: 1%
International Relations: 1%
Of the third of us who attended graduate school, Library Science was the highest-represented field of study, followed closely behind by Education. It’s curious that equal numbers of people specialized in Accounting and Medicine – yet we seem to have many more accountants than doctors. I’m also surprised that we got so few responses from psychologists (not even enough to appear in the percentages). Laurie’s biggest surprise was the Political Science/Law connection – or in this survey, the lack of one.
Our Issue Orientation
At the time I prepared these survey questions, two areas I wanted to devle into were where our readers stand on economic and social issues, particularly as they are so often discussed on the Potpourri Message Board. This was a tricky question since definitions of “liberal” and “conservative” mean completely different things in different parts of the world, and even to those of us living in the U.S.
While we are fairly evenly spread over economic issues, with a slight leftward tilt, the slant is considerably more pronounced on social issues, in which the greatest number of respondents identify themselves as “very liberal.” That’s rather interesting given that romance novels and their readers are considered conservative and traditional, don’t you think?
Our Books: Buying & Reading
You can buy books just about anywhere – CVS and Walgreens. Costco and Sam’s, Target and KMart, your local grocery store, the airport, brick and mortar and independent bookstores, bookstore chains, used book stores, and online (new, used, or a combination). We asked respondents where they buy their books, and if they buy them new or used.
Your answers reflect many trends: the continuing popularity of chain bookstores; the small number of independent bookstores that can keep large stocks of romance novels; as well as the strength of online bookselling
I was surprised that so many of our respondents buy most of their romances new. AAR’s – and other online – readers are savvy about what’s being released (and when). This increased awareness, combined with an inveterate reader’s zeal to read certain books the moment they are released, may be responsible for our not waiting until books to filter down to the UBS. I know that for me, many of the new romances I buy are inspired by word of mouth at AAR.
In addition to asking readers where they buy their books and whether or not they buy them new, we also asked respondents how long they have read romance, the amount of time they spend reading romance, and how much money they spend in a year buying romance.1 year: 1%
1 – 3 years: 8%
3 – 10 years: 25%
>10 years: 66%
Fully two-thirds of all respondents have been reading romance for more than ten years? Gosh! Laurie, btw, just “celebrated” her tenth year of romance reading a few months ago, and I’ve been reading romance even longer than that.
Reading Time Spent Reading Romance
Reading Time Spent Reading Romance
Less than 25%: 8%
25 – 50%: 20%
50 – 75%: 35%
More than 75%: 38%
As for the amount of time spent reading romance, well, considering that an AAR survey is somewhat self-selecting, it’s not a shock that few of us spend less than 25% of our reading time on romance. But I’m a little surprised, though, that the more-than-75% group is so large – in fact there are more of us in this group than in any other.
Also surprising is that so many of our respondents spend at least $250 a year buying romances, until Laurie reminded me that the average price of a mass-market paperback is $7.99. If a reader bought just three single title historicals or contemporaries a month, they would spend more than $250 a year. Those of us buying one single title romance per week are spending more than $415 in a year. Does this mean we have marketing clout? How can we use our powers for the betterment of romance readers everywhere?
Money Spent Buying Romance
Money Spent Buying Romance
Less than $50: 8%
$50 – $100: 14%
$100 – $250: 24%
$250 – $500: 30%
More than $500: 23%
Number of Romances Read per Year
Less than 10: 2%
10 – 50: 22%
50 – 100: 26%
100 – 150: 20%
150 – 200: 13%
200 – 250: 7%
250 – 500: 10%
More than 500: 1%
My own personal Statistics Goddess – my sister Sarah – helped me compose this survey, and this question was the only one that took her aback. “More than five hundred? That’s more books than there are days in the year!” But I knew there’d be a few of y’all out there. Overall, though, it seems as if this is a hobby that we each spend time with as we can, all the way from one or two books a month on up to one or two a day.
Our Favorite Romances & Who Writes Them
Respondents in our survey were asked to name their three favorite romance authors. What’s most striking about the most popular among them is their longevity. Only a scant handful have been published for less than ten years. Perhaps it speaks to an ancillary of Laurie’s First As Favorites theory, that our all-time favorites are often those who first brought us to the genre. Perhaps it shows how long it takes, and how many books, before an author really becomes a favorite.
Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb
Suzanne Brockmann 1st Pub
Of the four authors who appear to be the first among our favorites – Linda Howard, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, Mary Balogh, and Suzanne Brockmann – each has been published for at least ten years. The “newbie” author of this elite group was first published in 1993. Each of the other three has been published for at least 20 years. All four authors received more than one hundred “votes” by respondents in our survey, and in AAR’s recent Top 100 Romances poll, these four authors accounted for just under 1/4 of titles in the poll.
Howard – 6 titles Roberts – 5 titles Balogh – 6 titles Brockmann – 7 titles
Howard and Roberts have maintained their popularity for a number of years with our readers; both Balogh and Brockmann have seen their stars rise. Additional analysis of our recent Top 100 Romances poll reveals that Nora Roberts received the greatest number of votes both in 2004 and 2000. Linda Howard was in third place both in 2004 and 2000. Mary Balogh moved up from 6th position in 2000 to the number two spot in 2004. Suzanne Brockmann jumped a similar number of spots – from tenth to sixth.
A number of authors received at least fifty mentions by our respondents – an even larger group received at least 25. And (nearly) all also did well in our most recent Top 100 Romances poll:
Top 100 Titles
Top 100 Votes
JAK (and aka’s)
Mary Jo Putney
A whole slew of additional authors received at least five mentions in our survey. They are listed in descending order, beginning with Madeline Hunter, who received 23 mentions:
Madeline Hunter (23)
Loretta Chase (22)
Rachel Gibson (20)
Stephanie Laurens (19)
Sandra Brown (12)
Marsha Canham, Emma Holly (11)
Susan Andersen, Jude Deveraux, Christine Feehan, Gaelen Foley, Eloisa James, Elizabeth Lowell, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Anne Stuart (10)
Jane Austen, Elizabeth Chadwick, Christina Dodd, Roberta Gellis, Lora Leigh, Deborah Smith (5)
Our Favorite Types of Romance
It’s interesting to watch the rise and fall of sub-genres over time. Since I started to read romance in 1993, the single title Contemporary and Romantic Suspense novel have both taken off, and, more recently, Chick Lit and Romantica have come into being. There are fewer and fewer Medievals and American Historicals to be found today than when I got into romance, and while it may seem that there’s less diversity among European Historicals (and we’re mostly talking about Regency-set Historicals, although it seems that more and more Victorian-set Historicals are being published, doesn’t it?), it remains the number one draw for readers. Although, if you combine the Contemporary and Romantic Suspense results (and the latter is truly a sub-set of the former), it’s just about a tie. But now that so many former historical authors have jumped ship to Romantic Suspense, are that any left who still want to take the leap?
Also notable about this ranking of sub-genres is how much, relatively speaking, our readers like traditional Regencies even though its deathknell is tolled every few months – are Zebra and Signet listening? Series Romances account for more than half the print titles published each month, and we may be reading them, but a whole lot of us don’t really seem to like them. And I suspect Paranormals will continue to grow in popularity, particularly now that there are so many “hybrid” authors bringing new blood into the romance fold. Laurie surmises that Paranormals and Romantica are definitely the “next big thing”. She thinks they’re well on their way to hitting like Chick Lit did some years ago (Iwonder, though, where is it now?), and in that in some ways the market is being driven by the success of small publishers and e-publishing…do the names MaryJanice Davidson and Angela Knight ring a bell?
I learned a lot from this survey, and not just about AAR’s readers. I also learned how to better frame questions for further surveys. On the survey, we listed the 13 categories that appear under “Our Favorite Types of Romance,” and asked the question: Which of these romance genres do you enjoy?
Uh…yeah. A lot, as it turns out. More than I could figure out any practical way to process in a meaningful way and still meet my deadline. Go. Leave me to my shame. Let’s just move on.
Our Favorite Books other than Romance
As illustrated earlier, almost three-quarters of us spend at least half our reading time in the reading of romance novels. That said, our other reading tastes are all over the place, although we read a lot of Mystery novels and Non-Fiction.
*Non-Fiction includes History (at 6% of total) and Biography (at 5% of total)
The “User-Friendly” Quotient
Because romance has long been considered the “ugly step-sister” in the publishing world, and as it’s still so darn easy for those who don’t read them to make fun of them, I wanted to learn a little about how we think our romance reading is perceived by the market, the public, and our family and friends. I was curious about the availability of romance in local communities, how supportive family and friends are of romance reading, and whether or not we read romances in public.
How available is romance in your local community? Three options were given to respondents, ranging from “Strong – there are shops with knowledgeable employees that carry a wide range of titles and host events like author signings” to “Weak – the selection is limited to bestsellers and clerks are disinterested or downright hostile.” We can be thankful that more readers live in “strong” romance communities than “weak” ones, but the majority of respondents actually live in “moderate” communities, where “there are acceptable shops with helpful clerks and a midsized selection, but it’s hard to find more obscure titles.””How supportive of your romance reading are your family and friends?” wins the prize for the most questioned question. I suppose 2% of respondents replying by asking why we should ask, or declaring the issue irrelevant, isn’t all that earth-shattering. Still, considering that none of the really cheeky questions garnered that kind of response, I was a little surprised.
Not at all supportive: 11%
A little supportive: 23%
Somewhat supportive: 29%
Quite supportive: 27%
Extremely supportive: 9%
Why do you ask? 2%
Most respondents are somewhere in the middle, but it’s interesting that roughly 10% get either a strongly positive or strongly negative response to their reading. I’d love to know more about what people at both extremes had in mind when they answered; what constitutes lack of support, or total support?
Yes, but I hide covers: 27%
As to the question – Do you read romance novels in public? – it turns out that more of us read romances in public than don’t, but a substantial percentage who do only do so after hiding the covers. Several people specified that they mainly hide the tackier clinch covers, which leads me to wonder: are most people who hide the covers hiding the books themselves, or strictly the cover? Is it the romance inside, or the clinch outside, that’s being hidden? And are the majority who don’t hide covers as likely to wave around a clinch cover as they are a cover sporting some pearls and seashells, or a really nice castle?Our Views on Spoilers
There are readers out there who are passionate about avoiding spoilers. Interestingly enough, there are just about an equal number of readers who are passionate about seeking spoilers. Most of us, though, are somewhere in the middle.
I frequently seek out spoilers: 18%
I don’t mind reading spoliers but don’t seek them out: 63%
I avoid them at all times: 19%
Our Secret Gardens (or Do You Read Erotica?)
Ever since completed questionnaires began to arrive via email, my fantasy title for this article has been “We read a lot more erotica than I’dve thought.” I’m not sure how blue we’re collectively talking about here, but I’m tickled that more than half of us (two-thirds if those who expressed reservations are counted as “yes” votes) are out there reading the hard stuff. I feel all empowered now.
Dabble with reservations: 13%
What is Fanfiction?: 7%
Our Thoughts on FanFiction
Are AAR’s respondents fans of fanfiction? It’s…erotica oui, fanfiction non. For the 7% of you who don’t know what fanfiction is, it’s stories written by fans using characters from an existing fictional universe: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, and Harry Potter all have untold thousands of stories written about them. A lot of it is just as bad as you’d imagine, some of it is an interesting or disquieting look at raw fiction with all the filters turned off, and some of it is remarkably good.
For anyone who’s interested in a sample, here’s a link to an unusually selective archive that, as serendipity would have it, features one of our collectively favorite TV shows: Better Buffy Fiction (see next question).
Yes…we do more than simply read in our spare time. There’s lots of variation here. I’m especially pleased to see that there are so many writers among us. In order of popularity, with some of the most common replies:
Crafts: knitting, quilting, scrapbooking
Outdoor Recreation: walking, hiking, swimming, biking
Music: performing and listening
Sports: playing and watching football, soccer, golf
Pets: dogs, horses, cats
Fine Arts: painting, drawing, photography
Our Favorite TV Show
Respondents split about evenly between naming current favorites and all-time favorites. The current top shows all made the list, including a real powerhouse showing by the various CSI incarnations. Of all-time favorites, Buffy broke far ahead of the pack. Another popular choice was “Don’t watch TV,” which was listed by 8% of readers, the same percent who chose Desperate Housewives. More time for reading, I expect. The chart below provides percentages based on all shows receiving at least five votes apiece.
CSI (combined): 17%
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (syndicated only): 9%
Desperate Housewives: 8%
Lost : 8%
Law & Order (combined): 7%
The West Wing : 6%
The Amazing Race: 4%
Friends (syndicated only): 4%
The Daily Show (cable only): 3%
The Gilmore Girls: 3%
Sex and the City : 3%
The Simpsons : 2%
The X-Files (syndicated only): 2%
Stargate SG1 (cable only): 2%
Arrested Development: 1%
Farscape (cable only): 1%
Seinfeld (syndicated only): 1%
Six Feet Under (cable only): 1%
Our Favorite Movie
The most popular choices tended towards the romantic, including recent hits and old-time classics, but some interesting things got included and left off. The number one choice was all three of the Lord of the Rings movies, romantic but not conventionally so. Second on the list was the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (I’m not sure how everyone independently labeled that one a “movie” rather than “TV”, but it was virtually unanimous). Two surprising near-omissions were Titanic and Sleepless in Seattle, which only received three votes apiece. As with our TV chart, the movie chart below provides percentages based on all shows receiving at least five votes apiece.
The Lord of the Rings movies: 16%
Pride and Prejudice: 10%
The Princess Bride: 9%
Gone With The Wind: 7%
Star Wars: 6%
The Shawshank Redemption: 4%
Love Actually: 3%
The Philadelphia Story: 3%
Last of the Mohicans: 3%
Sense and Sensibility: 3%
The Sound of Music: 3%
When Harry Met Sally: 3%
While You Were Sleeping: 3%
Pretty Woman: 2%
Dirty Dancing: 2%
It’s a Wonderful Life: 2%
Notting Hill: 2%
Raiders of the Lost Ark: 2%
Bringing Up Baby: 2%
Ever After: 2%
Moulin Rouge: 2%
Singin’ in the Rain: 2%
Strictly Ballroom: 2%
And…well…that’s it! Whew! Thanks to everyone who sent in a survey and made this project possible. For everyone who’s made it this far, I hope this little exploration of the innerspace of the AAR community has held your interest or caught your imagination. See you on the ATBF Message Board!
Time to Post to the Message Board
We believe this was an “important” survey, and the type of thing that sets AAR apart from other romance novel websites. In addition to reviews, interviews, and general commentary, we like to think we present information of significance to the romance community via our special columns, such as those detailing the romance family tree (the bodice ripper, the gothic novel, the historical novel, and the influences of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer), our three reader/publisher surveys (2004, 2000, and 1996), our site-wide style poll, and looks at great works of romantic fiction such as Jane Eyre and Gone with the Wind. We hope you agree.
We know that we’ve just presented a tremendous amount of information, and the idea of asking you specific questions to spur discussion seems…well, wrong. We do want to hear from you on the ATBF Message Board, though, but want you to direct the conversation. Whether it’s the results themselves or conclusions we’ve drawn, we look forward to your posts.
A friendly reminder: you have until midnight, February 15th to vote in our annual reader poll (you can see the first set of interim results by clicking here), and until midnight, February 10th to enter our Isn’t it Romantic? Contest. (each of these three links are “jump” links which open a new window in your browser.)
Survey and results by Mary Novak
Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Board