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Romance reinvented for new readers

14 May 2007

The romance genre has traditionally been rather looked down on by the publishing industry and thought to have an ageing market, but there are signs that it is rapidly reinventing itself for the Internet world.

In the US figures from the 9,500-strong Romance Writers of America show that romance is achieving $1.2 billion (£6.06 million) sales each year and that romance sales comprise 54.9% of popular mass market fiction sold.

In the UK sales for 2006 were up on the previous year and in the year to 17 September 2006 book-buyers had purchased 5 million romantic fiction titles with a value of £21.3 million ($45.58 million), with an increasing number of American imports. The UK Romantic Novelists Association team made the 2005 University Challenge finals, dissipating the image of romance writers as fluffy romantics, rather than clever and successful writers.

One aspect of romance will never change. Alison Byrne, Marketing Manager at Mills & Boon says: 'Romantic fiction is escapist fiction. Women read it to be swept away for a few hours.' The Romance Writers of America define romance as having two elements, a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

The huge growth in popular writing for women could easily fit into this description, although many of these books would not call themselves romances. Historical sagas are still popular with an older generation. Bridget Jones started a trend for chicklit and publishers are now successfully launching paranormal romances. Romance has proved adaptable in the British market too, with a growing demand for writing for younger readers. Headline's new Little Black Dress imprint is marketed as 'romance for the Topshop generation', with snazzy covers to match.

Readers want stories that tackle modern issues, but they still like the escapism and happy endings of traditional romance. Mills & Boon author Kate Walker says: 'today's women want to read about other women in all the variety of their experiences: woman with sex lives and failed marriages, women who have children or who are without, women with high-powered or menial jobs, and women who stay at home'.

Surprisingly enough, perhaps, romance readers in the States are proving early adopters of e-books, possibly because low cost and ease of download over the Internet makes them attractive. At a recent conference on technology in New York, Pam Laycock from Harlequin said that her company's target e-readers 'love e-books for their immediacy and easier storage - and they love to read online.'

Many consumers of romance are compulsive readers, and that is the secret of their the genre's continued success and ability to adapt to provide what readers want. Readers are king, and romance, quite simply, goes to a market which loves to read.

Romance Writers of America

Romantic Novelists' Association