Romancing the Publishing Industry

Why romance is hotter than ever—and what you need to know to make it in the genre today. by Brenda Novak
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It never fails. Every time a news program—even one as widely viewed as the “Today” show—covers any aspect of the romance genre, the producers cue some corny music and the anchors snicker through the segment. This always surprises me. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but I tend to believe that the people who deliver our news should know better than to perpetuate such dated stereotypes. According to the most recent Business of Consumer Book Publishers, 74.8 million people read at least one romance in 2008—and that figure has nearly doubled in the past decade. With numbers that large, these news programs are making fun of their own audiences.

In spite of—or, some might argue, because of—the economic downturn, romance is thriving even as consumers cut back on spending. In recent years, it’s been the top-performing category on the New York Times,
USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. Although 2009 figures were not available at press time, in 2008, romance fiction created an estimated $1.37 billion in revenue, compared with $800 million for religion/inspirational, $668 million for mystery, $551 million for science fiction/fantasy and $446 million for literary fiction. Last year’s numbers are expected to be similar. And as recently reported in The Washington Post, Time magazine and other sources, Harlequin, the biggest publisher of romance worldwide, boasted steadily growing profits in 2008 and 2009, even as much of the industry floundered in the weakened economy.

Clearly, this often maligned genre has something to offer. For writers, that’s opportunity. All told, nearly 7,500 romance novels are released each year. And the potential for crossover to mainstream appeal is evidenced by the success of writers like Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich, Debbie Macomber, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jayne Ann Krentz, Sandra Brown, Tami Hoag, Iris Johansen and Linda Howard.

Bodice-rippers are a thing of the past, and it’s only a matter of time before the stereotypes about people who read—and write—romance novels will go the same way.

Here's how to make your make your romance novels reasonate with agents (and readers):


Finally, writers hoping to make it in today’s market need to bring a high level of commitment and consistency to their work. Plan to be prolific. “I think more and more writers need to be able to deliver two books (at least) a year to be able to build reader recognition and establish a name,” says Shauna Summers, a senior editor at Random House who has worked with such popular authors as Suzanne Brockmann, Karen Marie Moning, Mary Balogh and Laurell K. Hamilton. “Beyond that, success in this business is a magical blend of voice, storytelling and luck working together at the right time and in the right way.”

The competition in every publishing realm is fierce, and it’s no different in romance. It’s not easy to break in, or even to remain published. The story and the writing have to be unique and top-notch. But for writers who are passionate about the genre, there are incredible opportunities in this increasingly popular segment of publishing—and you may just find your very own happily ever after.

Want to write better romance scenes and develop stronger characters? Consider:
On Writing Romance

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