Monday, April 23, 2012

Musing on Alpha Professions

I recently came across some interesting statistics.  Two female psychologists, Maryanne Fischer and Tami Meredith, analyzed the titles of over 15,000 romance novels published by Harlequin from 1949 to 2009 and came up with a list of the most common hero professions.  And the results?

                 1.   Doctor
                 2.   Cowboy
                      3.    Boss
                 4.   Prince
                 5.   Rancher
                 6.   Knight
                      7.      Surgeon
                      8.      King
                      9.      Bodyguard
                 10.  Sheriff
                 11.  Soldier
                 12.  Lawman
                 13.  Pirate

All ultra alpha professions, with the possible exception of #4 and #8.  I certainly don’t think of Prince Charles as an alpha-type, although admittedly the role of royalty has changed over the years and it’s safe to assume that historical royals had an abundance of alpha-ness. 

But why so much alpha?  As a single gal, I have to say I’d much rather meet a veterinarian than I would a doctor.  I’d choose a landscape architect or even an organic farmer over a rancher.  A soldier would always be away, as would a pirate (hehe).  And the idea of a surgeon romancing me… according to a close family member who’s also an ER doc, surgeons have the most impossible egos.  God complexes even.

Granted, the study involved books that were published as far back as 1949 when most women didn’t have career ambitions of their own.  Back then, maybe the alpha pull was stronger than it is today, I thought.  But then I read the second set of statistics.

For their book, A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam analyzed the romance titles on Amazon at the time.  Although I haven’t been able to find the total number of titles they included in the study, they revealed that they found 415 millionaires, 286 billionaires and 263 sheiks in the titles alone.  Yikes!

I understand the appeal of a romantic hero who’s loaded.  I do.  I’ve spent my fair share of time daydreaming about Christian Louboutin heels and jetting off to the Caribbean to escape the winter blues, so I get the whole Cinderella fantasy.  However…

Maybe it’s to do with my Midwest upbringing, but I’ve got a fiercely strong work ethic.  I take great pride in being able to provide for myself (which hasn’t always been the case, hence…) I can’t accept help without a heaping of self-imposed guilt.  And I know I project my own issues on the characters in romances I read.  And on the ones I write.

In Fashioning a Romance, I didn't want to stray too much from the norm, I gave my hero, John, one of the top alpha jobs (#3 Boss), and he’s got heaps of money too.  Caitlyn, my heroine is a hard working seamstress-slash-fashion-designer who’s uncomfortable with the kind of money he wants to spend on her.

Once I’ve got another few books signed, sealed and delivered, I might experiment by giving a future hero a very un-alpha profession.  Would readers root for a romantic hero who works in a bookstore?  What about one who works in construction?  Would these men have to be secret millionaires in order for readers to fall in love with them?

Perhaps this is naïve of me, but I think readers would be open to unconventionally, non-alpha heroes.  If the romance is strong enough, it shouldn’t matter if the hero is a cowboy or a horse trainer, should it?  I would LOVE to know what you think. ;-)



  1. I read a construction hero recently... but I'm trying to remember where . . . Oh Trish Wylie's Mar'12 HQN Romance -- Inconvenient Laws of Attraction.

    There's a catch though. He's mega loaded and living a simple life after having walked away from his family, and she's the will executor assigned to track his hunky arse down and make him take control of the empire. She finds him drinking bear in a dive pool hall and then later stalks him to his worksite and he's all.. go away, I's sawing wood and being normal. Or something.

    It's much better than I am portraying it ;D

  2. also, he didn't say I'S. god, I meant I'm, but now I have a really funny picture in my head of a dude thinking that's how the common folk talk.

    I's sawin wood and bein normal...

  3. Hehehe, thanks for the I's laugh! Sounds like a good story. I do wonder if there are any around, though, where the hero isn't either uber macho OR dripping with money (or soon to be dripping with money) and if not, does that mean that people aren't really interested in those types of heroes. Hm.

  4. Actually, there are. I had to think outside my usual categories/genres for a second. It's just alive and well in certain subgenres.

    Like in the lines that are love for everyday folks, Superromances. Or maybe they have an exciting job and lots of action, like Intrigues -- those heroes don't have to be wealthy but they have to have something fantastic going on about them--the misunderstood detective who has to protect this woman who witnessed a mob hit... Cops aren't rich. Unless they're dirty! Or hit the lottery. Or running from the family fortune.

    It is strange though. I don't know that I've ever read a flat-broke hero before, but maybe that would interfere with the escapism. Most folks know what it's like when money is tight, reading about someone surviving on Ramen noodles and Kool-aid isn't awesome and escapist. Unless it's some kind of test, or a diet that gives them SOOPER POWERZ. I'd totally live on Ramen Noodles and Kool-Aid for sooper powerz.

  5. Ah, but detective and police officer are both pretty macho careers, don't you think? Or perhaps I just watch too much crime drama on TV. :-) I'm wondering if there's a market for a hero who is for instance a schoolteacher or maybe one who works in a homeless shelter (and doesn't have millions of bucks either stashed away or about to be bequeathed to him) I must admit, I've hardly read any Superromances, so maybe that kind of hero would fly in SR.

    I totally agree that a broke hero wouldn't work, no matter how lovely he was, but I wonder if said hero (schoolteacher or whatever) could manage his schoolteacher-type salary and live comfortably but modestly, would readers be cool with that?

    Am so with you on the Ramen, Kool-Aid regiment in exchange for super powers!

  6. Oh! I was going the other way. Yea, I don't know why it couldn't work. But, I do think that there has to be something special about the school teacher. But then, I think that most people want to read about special folks over regular joes.

    I haven't read many Superromances either, but I did read one the other day and the hero was a cake decorator, and owned a catering business with his sisters... and was pretty much mortgaged to the gills chasing the dream. And the heroine was a teacher who got fired for extreme public intoxication. And her sister was a flakeyflake who kept starting new businesses and going out of business and who currently ran a sex toy shop.(I haven't read many Superromances, but this one caught my eye because it was so out there. Called Just Desserts)

  7. I think it's all about the 'fantasy' of bigger than life characters to some extent. Having said that, it also depends on the line and subgenre these were taken from. I write fantasy and must admit to having a prince as a character, and a king, and my version of a knight. LOL. It's a trope thing.

  8. Amalie, Just Deserts sounds fabulous! Right up my alley - I love quirky characters. That one's definitely going on my list. Too true about the special factor. I shall have to ponder this one.

    Eleni, good point about the fantasy aspect. I would love to get some stats on romance readers and how many of them are coupled up. Am thinking that if the average romance reader has a solid/dependable man at home, of course she'll want to read about the dashing prince or pirate or what have you. Whereas for readers who are single, perhaps something more attainable could work - a super romantic, thoughtful (but obviously super sexy) regular guy could BE the fantasy. Hm.

    For some reason that song about growing old together from The Wedding Singer is going through my head, or this one line in particular: "I'll carry you around when your arthritis gets bad". To me, this is so romantic! :-) But it's most definitely not a fantasy.

    Anyway, I'm loving this discussion!

  9. Actually, I'd like to amend that. Anything can be a fantasy and I think finding someone you love enough to grow old with is a perfectly valid fantasy for many people (self included).

  10. I enjoyed it. It holds the title of Only Superromance I Got Thru in 10 years. If I had to classify what kind of hero he was, I'd say Beta with a couple Alpha tendencies. But really he was predominantly Beta.

    I <3 The Wedding Singer. What would Robbie be, in the grand scale of Alpha, Beta or Omega? I have no idea. Beta maybe? But I also think he has exceptional qualities that take him outside Average-Joe-ness. He's extremely funny. He's a nutty kind of musician, but talented. He's also got some ex-fiance damage. I guess it all depends on the definition of normal-dependable-not-a-billionairesuperhero-machmachoman... At least for me. I could go for a librarian-hero, as long as there was something unique and compelling that took him to the next level, anything besides ordinary.

    Good discussion!

  11. Just Desserts guy sounds Beta for sure but I'm interested in seeing what kind of alpha tendencies he has. Seriously, sounds like such a fabulous book.

    Robbie from the Wedding Singer... I though Beta no question, but I liked the sound of Omega (hadn't heard the classification when it comes to romance writing) so I googled and found this article (Just in case you haven't seen it.) I wonder if this gal coined the term?! Anyway, yeah, I think Omega probably for him. Robbie would definitely be a purse holder. That was such a lovely description...

  12. Gotta love SmartBitches. That is a cool article and description! Love it.

    I was reading one of my craft books today and came across something that made me think of this thread... so I've got a wee excerpt that I've typed up! The book is The Story Within, by Laura Oliver.

    "Whatever you want to portray--beauty, kindness, danger, fear, strength, violence--take it to the max. We don't want a runaway train; we want a runaway train with a deadly toxin on board, without a conductor, barreling toward a village full fo sleeping children. We don't want a wave; we want a tidal wave caused by an asteroid. We don't want rich; we want super-rich. Uber-rich. Not just intelligence, but genius. And give us Dr. Evil, not your everyday dictator. Think about it. Which is more intriguing: a murder, or a perfect murder?

    We read about ordinary people, but we're more interested if they're in extraordinary circumstances... The extraordinary circumstances can be quintessential without being a matter of life and death. We also like reading about extraordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives(the game-theory genius played by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind or the savant played by Dutin Hoffman in Rain Man). What you are not likely to read is a story about someone ordinary doing something mundane. In other words, you will never read a story about most people. Why would anyone read that story when they can look in a mirror? Instead, we love entering a world where we get to live out things that are not likely to happen to us. We probably won't discover we're the heirs to a billionaire's fortune or that we carry a mutation that allows us to fly, but we like to read about people who do."

  13. Thanks for posting that! It's great advice. I will definitely keep it in mind.