Readers of romance are said to have expectations - the biggest being that the book will end with a Happy Ever After, or at least a Happy for Now. If it doesn't, it may be a love story, c.f. Romeo and Juliet, but it is not a romance. One of the lesser known but often debated issues amongst romance writers is the age of hero and heroine.
Convention suggests that heroines are within the range early twenties to early thirties and late twenties to late thirties for heroes. Old enough to have a bit of experience of life and ready to settle down and start a family? Hero needs to be slightly older so more established in his career, etc. Received wisdom is that that is what readers like and are reluctant to accept anything outside those limits, even if they are not themselves in those age brackets. I don't recall ever encountering any research into the topic - be interesting to know if there is any. It seems like one of those chicken and egg situations where readers rarely get offered alternatives because it's believed that that book won't sell.
The issue is in my mind at the moment because I am reading Nora Robert's Hideaway in which hero and heroine begin as children and then move on to late teens. I haven't finished it yet, but I gather from reviews that they don't go any further than that. I'm enjoying the book because well - Nora, but the fact that some reviewers picked up on the age thing suggests it is an issue. There are plenty of ensemble cast of all ages in the book and and the majority of relationships are strong, which is a big attraction and which is a plus as far as I am concerned.
I'm particularly interested in this one, as when I submitted my very first effort at romantic suspense to the Romantic Novelists' Association's New Writers' Scheme, after many experiments in other genres, I was called out on exactly that point. In the first half of the book the hero and heroine are both teenagers, although they are ten years older in the second half. I was told that a reader would not be interested in such a young couple. I put the book away in the bottom drawer, but over the years it has tugged at me and still does. I have an idea to revive it but yes, the teenage romance will be a shorter flashback middle section just in case.
What about a mature couple? Again this is meant to be less popular and to be honest I can't think of anything I have read where an older couple has centre stage, although that might say more for my conventional reading habits than the books that are on offer! Hundred year old vampires don't count.
For my own books I do like a slightly older heroine and in A Wedding on the Riviera Nadine is actually a couple of years older than Ryan, which felt very daring at the time, but no one seems to have noticed!
I'm wondering a bit about the WIP as for reasons of plot the heroine is twenty seven and the hero thirty six, which is a wider age gap than I usually have. Masie is very mature, so again, I hope no one will notice!