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Keeping Up with the Fans: Romance on the Web

by Becky Spratford

*This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of RA News.*


Love it or hate it, romance is consistently the highest selling genre in all of book publishing. As a result, all of those writers and readers keep us plenty busy in the library. That is why it is very important for you to stay on top of what's hot and popular in Romance on a regular basis.

The sheer number of titles over romance's wide range of subgenres means that even the most ardent fans can feel overwhelmed. However, by arming yourself with list of quality web resources you can get yourself up to speed with the biggest issues, trends, authors, and titles rather quickly, but more importantly, by returning to these resources on a regular basis, you will never fall far behind again, no matter how many new subgenres pop up in the meantime.

Let's Talk About Sex:

All Readers:

Before we get started, I want to address the 500 pound gorilla in the room whenever romance comes up -- SEX.  Specifically how much or how little of it your reader wants in a book.  Thanks to the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, we now know for sure what we have suspected for years, many people do not mind if a book gets steamy.  Yet, the popularity of erotica has not made the RA transaction any easier when it comes to assessing how much sex your reader wants in their next book. People may be reading it, but they don't want to talk about it, and especially not with the librarian!

So how do you tiptoe around such a huge appeal factor without addressing it directly? My first stop for detailed accounts of just how much heat is between those covers is the very unsexy All Readers. This site is not pretty; in fact, it is poorly laid out and often confusing to navigate, but it has one huge plus -- detailed descriptions of the exact type and amount of sex and violence you will find in the books that are reviewed.  Look at the review for Shame on It All by Zane. Scroll down to the box providing "Chapter Analysis."  Here you can find extremely detailed information, often using colorful language, about the level of sexual descriptions in the book [hint: it's pretty hot].

While All Readers provides this level of detail on sex (and violence) for thousands of titles, it is not nearly as comprehensive as the professional reviews in resources like NoveList.  However, at the very least, you can ask the romance reader in front of you to name some favorite romance authors, and from their list, you should be able to find at least one in the All Readers database.  Armed with that information, you can surreptitiously click through, read some of the reviews, and know exactly how much sex the reader can handle in their novels without ever having to ask directly.

The Writers Speak to Us:

Romance Writers of America:

Romance Novelists Association:

Writers associations are often overlooked resources.  Think about it, who understands the fans of a genre better than those who write in that genre? No one.  These are the people who make their livings entertaining the very readers you are trying to help. They also host the most respected genre awards, provide links to their favorite resources, and even have sections written especially to help librarians.  A quick peek at these sites a couple of times a year will go a long way toward educating yourself on the genre's biggest trends, hottest authors, and local events. 

Romance Community:

While you can check comprehensive professional review sources like Romantic Times, romance is a genre that speaks to its readers emotions.  For that reason, you need to look to the web resources run by the genre's biggest fans for the most heartfelt, honest, and knowledgeable information. Also, since they are written by fans for fans, these resources will come the closest to replicating your interaction with a romance reader, so following these resources provides you with excellent on-going readers' advisory training at your desk, for free.

However, just being a romance addict does not make someone a good writer or web administrator.  There are some truly terrible romance fan websites out there, but lucky for you, I have spent a lot of time wading through the muck so you don't have to.  Below, are my five favorite romance communities. All provide high quality reviews, opportunities for fan interaction, and useful insight.  I have come to trust these resources not only for the breadth and quality of the information they provide to me and my readers, but also for their sheer entertainment value .  These are sites run by people who love romance and have fun with it.  When looking at all five together, you will definitely see overlap, but since each has a unique voice, you may find you enjoy one more than the others.

All About Romance:

Subtitled, "The Back Fence for Lovers of Romance Novels," I have found this resource to be the most useful overall. Not only does it have thousands of well written and useful reviews, multiple blogs, author interviews, and readers' forums, but it is also extremely well organized and easy to navigate.

Smart Bitches Trashy Books:

With the tag line, "All of the romance, none of the bullshit," you can probably get the sense already this is a nontraditional and snarky site that is probably not for everyone, but rebels or not, the Smart Bitches, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, are some of the most respected women in the field of romance having been featured in impressive resources themselves, such as USA Today, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Kirkus Reviews They have also published a few books on the romance genre and moderate a weekly podcast. Some of my favorite topics they tackle regularly include, Classic Romance: Which One First?, Caption That Cover, and Good Shit vs. Shit to Avoid.

Smexy Books:,

Heroes and Heartbreakers:

Romance Reader at Heart:

These last three resources all provide a similar experience with reviews, reader interaction,  tons of suggested reading lists, and commentary, but each also has a unique specialty worth noting.  Smexy Books covers urban fantasy along with romance, Heroes and Heartbreakers provides links to original stories for readers to access, and Romance Reader at Heart is the best resource for historical romances (still one of the biggest subgenres).  They are all extremely well organized, easy to search, and chock full of useful information for librarian and romance fans alike.

This list is not meant to be complete; in fact, it is only a start on the most general of resources as does not include any subgenre specific sites.  What I like about the resources listed here is that they have proven themselves by helping me to stay up to date on everything romance, leading me to more specific resources (when needed), and, most importantly, making me look good as I am helping patrons looking for their next great romance.


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Becky Spratford is a Readers' Advisor for patrons 13 and up at the Berwyn (IL) Public Library. She is also a steering committee member for the Adult Reading Roundtable, which provides Readers' Advisory training in the Chicagoland area.  You can see more of Becky's work on her two popular and critically acclaimed blogs, RA for All [] and RA for All: Horror [], or in her book The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror, 2nd edition (ALA Editions, 2012). She is also a proud member of the Horror Writers Association.