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Romance Novels and Book Publishing

Updated on July 30, 2012

Romance Novels and Book Publishing

The romance novel industry is hardly the lightweight it's often taken for. In fact, it is a powerful force in book publishing, comprising half the paperback market. It’s often assumed that American society no longer values books or reading for fun, as so many electronic hobbies are beckoning for our free time.

While it might seem like everyone is watching TV or surfing the Internet, Americans really are reading books. A full three quarters of all Americans read books regularly. But, most of them aren't reading classics. Overwhelmingly, Americans are reading romance novels.

At least half of all the paperbacks on the American book market are romance novels. And, a recent poll showed than one in five Americans regularly reads romance novels, which far out paces the rate at which they read literary classics. Far fewer classics are printed and far fewer are sold in today’s book market as more and more romance series lines are developed by the major romance publishers.

Category Romances

Gone are the days when romance novels could be called “bodice rippers” and dismissed as being interchangeable. Today’s romance genre encompasses supernatural romance, romantic thrillers, chick lit romance and countless specialty subcategories. One such specialty is the vampire romance, which has been exploding in popularity in recent years. Other readers prefer cowboy romances or historical romances set during the Regency.

There are category romance series' for young adult readers, romances that cater to single women, divorced women, mothers and to members of the baby boom generation. There are even Christian romance novels that cater to the religious sensibilities of their readers and have strict rules about what their characters can and can’t do.

The Power of Category Romance Publishers

The largest romance publisher is Harlequin, based in Canada. Harlequin is known for the many romance series it publishes. A Harlequin romance novel is almost a stereotype for books that are considered light reading. But, there’s nothing light about the power that Harlequin has over the North American book market. The publisher puts out about 120 original romance novel and other titles every month, selling over 130 million books a year. And it’s not just romance- from Harlequin’s romance beginnings has come a global empire with imprints for mysteries, fantasy and literary fiction titles. Those imprints are then further blended into hybrid imprints, such as the horror-romance imprint Nocturne and one of the more recent hybrids- Harlequin NASCAR.

While it was once easy to dismiss the romance novel genre, romance novels are now one of the most powerful forces in book publishing. The romance book publishing industry not only provides what readers are looking for, it also influences reading habits and tastes. It might not be ideal that more people are reading romance novels than great works of classic literature, but the genre is keeping people reading and the book publishing industry alive and thriving.


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