Last week the Book Binge linked to this piece from Twitter: “Romance for Non-Romance Readers.” The piece claims, “I’m going to examine the common reasons that readers bypass the romance section, and then suggest some titles that can ease the transition into enjoying the romance genre.” Seems straightforward enough! I scrolled down to the list. Wait a minute…Jane Eyre? Rebecca? Silence of the freaking Lambs?
With the exception of one or two books, this list is not made up of romance novels at all. They may be stories about love, but that’s not the same thing. And if a reader scorns romance and discovers she likes Jane Eyre, that’s highly unlikely to convince her she should check out the latest Tessa Dare.
I’ve tried to hook many non-romance-readers on romance, and I’ve found that there are some books that work well and some that don’t. That information is hardwon, and useful to share! So I’ve put together a shortlist here of (mostly historical) books that have worked for me, and I’ve also compiled at my blog all the suggestions I received on Twitter, organized by genre.
There’s an art to recommending books and I suspect many of you are skilled at it already. But if you’re not sure where to start, here are a few guidelines:
1. What does your friend already like to read? If they’re a devoted thriller reader, try romantic suspense. If they love fantasy or horror, start with paranormal.
2. Respect their preferences. If they just watched the Twilight movie and were bowled over by how much they loved it, don’t try to use that as a segue to push Jennifer Crusie at them. Give them a vampire romance even if that’s not your favorite. If they tell you they hate scary stuff, don’t say, “Oh, but this romantic suspense book is amazing, just give it a shot!”
You don’t have to believe them when they say, “Oh, I wouldn’t like romance,” because pfft. They’ve never read a romance, or they skimmed a bad one that they picked up at random in a waiting room. They’ve been brainwashed by how romance is used as an easy punchline in our culture. Probably the only romance writer whose name they know is Danielle Steel. (Nothing against Danielle Steel! But even accounting for her phenomenal popularity, she’s one writer in a huge genre.)
But they still know what they like in a story even if they don’t understand the ways romance can give it to them.
3. Some books make better intros than others. That cozy snowed-in book you love might be incredible, Pregnesia might be hilarious, but do they work best if you’re already affectionately familiar with romance tropes? Will they strike someone as special who’s pre-disposed to dismiss romance? Maybe! Just give it some thought first. I have had a lot of litsnob friends in my life, so my tendency is to give romance haters books that decisively smash their preconceptions about what the genre can be. I’ve found that once they’re sold on the exceptional book, they can ease into the everyday delights or cracktastic deliciousness on their own. YMMV. Be thoughtful and use your best judgment!
4. Give trigger warnings. For example, you may have read so many awesome abduction stories that it doesn’t register anymore, but it may take your friend completely by surprise. Let them know that there is sex without consent in the book and they can decide from there.
And now, my list:
1. The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. Heyer was a favorite author in college and I was constantly trying to hook my friends. But The Grand Sophy was the only one my friends consistently liked as an introduction to her. Hardly anyone could get through The Black Moth, my personal favorite, if they weren’t already feeling the Heyer love.
A note: there is a very anti-Semitic scene partway through the book. Check if that’s a deal-breaker for your friend. Sylvester has been suggested as another good starter Heyer (although for that one, warn for ableism!).
2. Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. This book is quirky, fun, different…and oh, the sex scenes! Back in the day, I used this book to hook friends who liked fanfiction but told me the sex in romances was boring. Luckily, with the growth of erotic romance the sex scenes in mainstream stories have really leveled up, but Welcome to Temptation is still perfection. (Bet Me is another great starter book, and someone told me that Tell Me Lies and Crazy for You worked well for them as a mystery reader coming into the genre.)
My BFF was impervious to the charms of Crusie. But I didn’t give up. She loves Westerns, so when I read this next book, I was pretty sure I had her–and I did!
3. Fall From Grace by Megan Chance. An amazing, daring Western that opens with the heroine running away from the hero–who is also her estranged husband–and when he catches her, she shoots him. This book is intense, emotional, and hard-bitten. The very first review on Amazon says “This is ‘the’ book I hand to romance detractors, male and female, and say ‘I dare you to learn otherwise’. Everyone I’ve given it to has been pleasantly surprised, including a male friend who stayed up until 2 in the morning because he ‘had to know how it ended’.”
4. Loretta Chase. For me, Lord of Scoundrels delivers the most intense emotional experience and I’ve had a lot of friends fall in love with it, but Miss Wonderful is the one that finally got my dad. He’d read other romances before, but after Miss Wonderful, he was addicted. He told me it was the best book he’d ever read about relationships. Mr. Impossible also got a lot of Twitter votes.
5. A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant. The heroine pays the hero to sleep with her every day for a month (she’s a widow who needs to get pregnant with a child that could plausibly be her late husband’s, because otherwise her horrible brother-in-law will inherit). The heroine refuses to enjoy herself at first, so the sex is awkward and excruciating (which just makes it hotter!), and the prose…the beauty of the prose is astonishing. This book is particularly effective for anyone who uses the words “generic,” “badly written,” or “cheesy” while explaining why they don’t read romance.
6. My above-mentioned BFF told me she’s seen a lot of people read and love The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan as their first romance. I agree, this would be a great choice, especially for someone who tells you that romance is a sexist or unprogressive genre.
As I mentioned above, I’ve also compiled all the “starter romance” suggestions I got on Twitter at my blog. Corrections and additions welcome!
Thanks for having me, Delilah.
About Rose Lerner
I discovered Georgette Heyer when I was thirteen, and wrote my first historical romance a few years later. My writing has improved since then, but my fascination with all things Regency hasn’t changed. When not reading, writing, or researching, I enjoy cooking and marathoning old TV shows. I live in Seattle with my best friend.