Adultery is wrong. Personally, I think cheating is one of the worst things a loved one can do to you. The pain it causes, the lives it ruins, the leftover broken trust and inability to trust again, and so much more... I wouldn't wish it on an enemy.
But it does happen. All the time. In all corners of the world.
A study in 2015 revealed that 45% of British men admitted to betraying their spouse or partner at least once, with 32% of women confessing to the same.
Rather high percentages! No wonder writers of all genres tackle the issue of infidelity in their books one time or another. Sometimes it's the main conflict in the novel, sometimes it's on the periphery. It's very tempting to include a sub-plot focusing on a main character's past or present indiscretions. A 'will-they-won't-they-be-caught/found-out' situation.
Adultery, in some shape or form, has featured in the majority of the books I've read in the last few years. I didn't seek out these books based on the content - they just happened to include a cheater or two. I didn't take offence at the inclusion of this topic. If it made the story more gripping, more entertaining, then I didn't mind it. And I didn't think anyone else would be bothered by the subject matter either.
Until the last few months.
I've been using Goodreads quite a bit recently. Skimming through reviews of books I've read and ones I'm interested in getting my hands on, I've realised that novels featuring cheaters are a huge turn-off for certain readers. Maybe I'm really naive, or hadn't read enough reviews of books including infidelity, but I was shocked by the extent to which certain people hated books in which the hero or heroine cheat on their partners.
Regardless of how good they thought the writing was, or how the story ended (i.e. if the adulterer learned the error in their ways and made amends), these readers wrote very negative (almost troll-like) reviews and gave those books really low ratings (mostly just 1-star) because of the adultery. Some of these reviewers said that they stopped reading the book once the cheating storyline began. One vowed never to read a book by the same author again, whereas another said they would stop reading one of their favourite authors because one of their books dealt with infidelity! These reviews got tons of 'Likes' and comments agreeing with the reviewers' sentiments.
Of course, it's their choice, their right, to stop reading a certain book or author, but for a while, I was quite taken aback by this attitude. I've mentioned already that I don't discriminate against authors and books based on adulterous characters, but many obviously do. I've noted a number of comments where readers say that they won't even pick up a book if there is a cheating plot-line in it. One even stated that they prefer books in which the hero and heroine have never had previous relationships with anyone else and don't have subsequent ones with others after meeting each other.
If I narrowed down my preferences like that, I'd think I was missing out on some entertaining reads and good writers. I prefer to read an eclectic mix of books, featuring a wide range of characters that experience a variety of emotions and hardships. Sure, I might not enjoy the fact that a character that I've become attached to gets cheated on, but I don't stop reading because of it.
This doesn't mean I approve of adulterers, in the same way that reading lots of crime/murder mystery/detective novels doesn't mean I approve of murder or have a soft spot for criminals. If I think adultery is one of the worst crimes a human being can commit, then murder is the worst of all. But I still read about crime.
So this begs the question of whether readers that refrain from books about cheaters also refrain from reading crime fiction? Maybe they don't read crime novels, but if they do, I guess it could be argued that the hero in these books is the detective working 24/7 to catch the killer before they strike again. The murderer is the villain of the story, the antagonist.
So, why will certain people (like me) read books including cheaters while others won't? I don't know about you, but I read fiction for a number of reasons. The main ones are:
-Learn about what reality is for a lot of people around the world (and adultery happens in all corners of the planet).
-As a writer, I learn more about my craft by reading the works of others, improve my writing, grow my vocabulary and also find inspiration.
To be honest, I'd get bored reading about the same types of characters in the same kinds of stories, the goody-two-shoes that never make mistakes. Humans make mistakes all the time, some bigger than others, some with more disastrous consequences than most. And I wouldn't learn a whole lot about my profession if I kept reading the same-old, same-old.
When I discussed with my husband the negative reviews left on books where the characters cheat on their partners, he joked that some people might not like reading about adultery because it makes them insecure about their partners and they don't want to think about it happening to them. I don't know if he has a point, but I do know that it's tempting to believe that bad things that happen to others won't happen to us. A 'not-in-my-back-garden' belief.
But it would be inaccurate to say that insecurity is the main reason certain readers will steer clear of books featuring adulterous protagonists.
You might wonder whether I'm discussing a troll situation. Could be, but what if it isn't? What if a significant segment of the audience, especially of the romance genre, really won't read books with a cheating story-line? Should authors be cautious when taking their novels down those routes?
I don't think they should.
My opinion is that readers have a right to choose what they read and don't read, what they like and hate (hopefully you've noticed that I haven't been preaching to everyone to keep an open mind and read all kinds of stories). In the same way, authors can write what they want. With so many books out there, both print titles and indie e-books, writers are always trying different things, seeking original angles that will make their books stand out from the ever-growing crowd. If you remove the option of an adultery story-line from all your romance novels, especially if you plan to write loads of books, then you're left with one less way of diversifying your projects.
So, keep doing what you're doing, just bear in mind that you might lose a reader or two if you weave in a cheating scenario in your book.
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