The first romance I published had a 50-year-old heroine. When I shopped Dating A Cougar around trying to get it traditionally published, I got the nicest rejection notes an author could ever hope to get. Lots of acquisition editors loved the story and premise. They liked Book 2, Dating Dr. Notorious even better. No one said I was a terrible writer—no one. However, no publishing house thought they could sell what I was writing either.
Being one of those late-blooming Baby Boomers at the time I published, I was convinced a large target audience of older readers existed. So I went Indie with the first two books, but I was so afraid the books wouldn’t sell that I gave Book 1 away and charged for Book 2. Over the next couple of years, Dating A Cougar got downloaded over a million times. To this day, Dating A Cougar is still free and I’ve become a proponent of offering a free series starter when I can.
But my selling success didn’t wipe away the stigma of writing storylines outside what readers typically got in the mainstream. Every time I tried to talk to an industry professional about how well the readers had responded to my older characters, my explanation always sounded like I was in a twelve step recovery program for rebellious romance authors.
Hi. My name is Donna McDonald and I’m a rebellious romance writer. I write sexy, hot romances with older characters in them. Older than 25? Yes. In most cases, they’re over 40, which is still young to me since I’m over 50. Do I write them having sex? Well, of course. My grandfather had a sex life well into his 80s. Why wouldn’t I?
I usually paused until the whispering and gasping stopped before explaining the story further.
My heroine is a 50-year-old ultra-successful businesswoman who’s mostly happy with herself but has somehow failed to find Mr. Right-For-Her. The hero she ends up with in the story is a 38-year-old medically retired Marine. The ‘older woman, younger man’ theme is comedic, rather than serious. Both have been divorced. She has a daughter nearly 30. He raised his younger cousin who’s 30 and dating the heroine’s daughter, which is how the main couple accidentally meets. The hero has that whole military male ego thing and he’s definitely an alpha male, but she’s quite the alpha female, so… yeah, they fight a lot.
I paused here for the head shaking. Did I know I was breaking all kinds of romance tropes with that storyline? The age difference. The woman being older than him. Him being a wounded veteran. There’s graphic language… and explicit sex. And why would you make her 50? I actually had an editor ask me to make her a lot younger and I thought about it. But I was well over 50 when I wrote these books. I have clothes older than the galactic average twenty-something heroine. What am I supposed to do? Write about twenty-year-olds until I’m 90?
Yes—there is sex in my books. The heat level in my romances is fairly high and I let readers come into the bedroom. My older characters have a lot of sex and a lot of fun. There is a lot of laughter in these books. I call them romantic comedies, but like romances in the truest sense, there is no ambiguity or lack of closure. There is love, sex, and an honest-to-God happy ending in each.
Ignoring the “50-year-olds have hot sex?” question hovering on their often barely-30-year-old tongues, I would smile reassuringly once I finished my explanation. What I wanted from them—no, what I expected from them—was that someone would agree that I was being creatively brave. Or that someone would agree with me that it was about time authors wrote romance for the older reader.
That didn’t happen. What did happen though was that readers read them and wrote to me. Readers shared my stories with their sons and daughters. They shared my stories with their husbands and wives. They shared them with their mothers and fathers. Younger people barely over eighteen were reading them and I worried a little. Why? Well, I’d written them for older romance readers like me. The idea of my sexy romances having mass family appeal was intimidating—still is, frankly.
For 8 years now, I’ve been writing these kinds of stories. In the last 2 years, I’ve found a whole tribe of authors writing them as well. Turns out, there were lots of us hiding in our writing closets.
The hardest part for all of us seasoned romance rebel rousers—I may have to put that description on my business card—is getting books into the hands of interested readers. This is why I created the Later In Life Romance website. I’m hoping you like this website enough to keep coming back to see all the work featured here. I’m going to be introducing you to a lot of new authors that I’m sure you’re going to love.