Why Are Romance Authors Better at Marketing & Promotion? [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I curate new smart reads about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams

Today’s edition is abbreviated since I’m at PubSmart in Charleston, SC.

Female Authors Dominating Smashwords Bestseller Lists by Mark Coker

The founder and CEO of Smashwords, Mark Coker, recently realized that his author bestseller list is dominated by women. In fact, for the last four months, the list of Top 25 Smashwords-distributed ebooks were by 100% women.

Factors at work:

  • Romance is the No. 1 bestseller genre at Smashwords.
  • Romance is written primarily by women (or by men with female pen names).

Also, and Coker mentions this, romance authors kick ass at marketing and promotion—and have always been better at it than authors in other genres.

On other bestseller lists, particularly traditional publishing bestseller lists, you won’t find such a high percentage of women. It tends to be 50-50 or 60-40 in favor of men.

Questions raised:

  • Assuming the Smashwords stats are meaningful, are women writers better at self-publishing than men—perhaps better at the marketing and promotion required?
  • Why are romance authors so much better at marketing and promotion, and can other authors be more like them? Or is it too genre-specific to be widely applicable? I recently spoke on a panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book—focused on romance writers and readers—and this was the theme. Why should romance authors be more progressive and successful in using new tools and digital media to reach readers and sell books? I’m not sure if we came up with a definitive answer.

What questions do you have? Share in the comments.

Posted in Smart Set.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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The Educational TouristMarsha DurhamRachel MareeGreg StrandbergWhy Are Romance Authors Better at Marketing &am... Recent comment authors

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Ed Cyzewski

I’m not an expert by any means on romance books, but I’ve worked at a book store while in college where I shelved thousands of romance books and I’ve worked on marketing my own nonfiction books, and it has consistently struck me that romance writers have a clearly defined market with a defined set of expectations. There’s a clear set of expectations for each book, and authors who are skilled enough to tap into that will find a ready group of readers. Not to take anything away from them. It’s just that most nonfiction authors I know have to look… Read more »

Porter Anderson

Agree completely, Ed. To take nothing from the good and hard work of so many romance writers, the “shirtless men kissing beautiful women” parameters are perhaps clearer than for just about any other classification, and this does carry a certain logic and direction of consistency, an infrastructure of a kind, that might make it less difficult to at least see some workable patterns of connection than other writers will get. This year at The Muse in Boston, I’ll be leading a Town Hall session, in fact, on the question of how literary writers can try to move forward in digital,… Read more »


My theory: Romance writers write about relationships so it makes sense that they’re very good at establishing and maintaining relationships with their readers. Those excellent relationships result in loyalty—and sales.


Keep in mind that the romance category was traditionally over 50% of the units sold in a bookstore, so Coker’s observations are not surprising. Historically, romance authors have had to work harder for discoverability. * Before digital, the category was driven by mass market and the “churn or burn” theory. There was no long tail except in used book stores. Your book was on the shelf four weeks, then the cover stripped off and thrown away if it didn’t sell. * Lots and lots of authors in the category. * Romance Marketing budgets have never been large with promotion primarily… Read more »

Cindy Sample
Cindy Sample

As a new indie author of a humorous romantic mystery series, I’ve found the romance authors to be extremely generous with their time and tips on promotions – what works and what doesn’t. It’s a huge friendly group of professionals who work day and night to produce and promote their books.

KJ Ammerman

What a wonderful thing! Every industry could all benefit from having that attitude. Thanks for sharing your positive experience.

Cynthia Hartwig

Romance writers tend to work together (a female thing) under the theory of “a rising tide floats all boats.” Big writers blurb smaller or newer writers’ books. They share marketing info and tips on free trials and recommend each other’s work all the time. I’m not a romance writer but I perceive it as a welcoming club where the theme is collaboration. Since the typical buyer buys a lot of books, tending to finish one author and her collection, then moving on to the next, this “writers selling writers” pays off for everybody.

AC James
AC James

What Ruth said is very true but I think that can be the same for almost any audience you’re building. It’s simply a matter of engaging with them on a meaningful level. It’s true that literary fiction is a tough sell for self-publishing but I disagree with Ed about non-fiction. I’ve seen a lot of self-published non-fiction that sells really well but it would be marketed quite differently and more specifically than romance.

Robert Schobernd
Robert Schobernd

One big factor that helps romance writers is that it’s primarily a woman’s field, and according to a news blub I heard some weeks ago on TV 80% of all books are bought by women. I don’t recall if that included all published books or was specific to novels. In my family I’m only aware of one other man who routinely reads novels and he doesn’t read romance. I do occasionally, not because I enjoy them greatly, but simply to be aware of their content and my competition. Most of the males read magazine articles on hunting, fishing, shooting, golf,… Read more »


[…] Oh, sure—world domination may not be on your agenda, but a more focused and conscious approach to your career, whatever it may be, will give you benefits beyond the immediate future. Things are tough out there and we all need to be smarter about our paths and clear about our goals. The good news is romance writers tend to be better at this than other kinds of folk. […]


Ed nailed it, I think. I can remember the phenomenon from way back, my school days, when Mills & Boons and Barbara Cartland and Denise Robins ruled the roost.


[…] Welcome to The Smart Set, a weekly series where I discuss some of the most interesting questions being raised by astute minds in writing, publishing, and media.  […]

Greg Strandberg

Gosh, I’m surprised no one mentioned ARC reviews, or the penchant for some authors to virtually copy someone else’s story and put another cover on it.

Greg Strandberg

I guess talking about ARC reviews and copying work was just too much for this blog, sorry.

Rachel Maree

I am going to sound like such a fence sitter, but I think everyone is right…to a degree! I believe that women do buy more books, and perhaps romance writers are able to market and build fan bases easier as they use the same skills to write their books. However I don’t agree that romance is easier to write due to the defined set of expectations that each romance should entail. Doesn’t this make them harder to write? Rather then letting the creativity flow, the writer has to reign that in to ensure they hit all the right notes that… Read more »

Marsha Durham
Marsha Durham

Like Ed, I have had bookshop experience. Years ago, when I was a bookshop manager, I soon learned that romances meant solid sales. One customer bought the 12 new M&B releases each month. One day she returned soon after picking up her month’s quota, complaining that the story was a repeat of one published earlier. I was surprised she could remember the differences.
Last year, when I was in the USA, I noticed a greater segmentation of the romance market. I’m puzzled by the popularity of Amish romance!

The Educational Tourist

Well, isn’t that interesting! I was especially love that the main writers are either women or men with a female pen name. Hmmm…..