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Romance - a rave for readers

17 August 2009

The romance genre is doing very nicely, thank you, in spite of the recession. When conglomerate publishers such as HarperCollins and Simon and Schuster have been announcing sharp downturns in sales (see last week's News Review ), Harlequin/Mills & Boon (the US and UK companies respectively) just go from strength to strength.

The publisher thinks that readers are actually turning to romance to escape the recession, which is why 2008 was its most successful year to date. Digby Halsby of Mills & Boon says the company: 'is recession-proof, as people seek joyous relief from the gloomy news headlines. Everyone loves a happy ending and Mills & Boon always deliver that.'

The company, which was set up in 1908, has just celebrated its centenary in rude good health. By 1981 it was the world's largest publisher of romance, with 80% of the global market, translations in 26 languages and sales of over 200 million a year in 100 countries. It has a UK readership of 1.3 million, which means one book is sold on average every 3 seconds.

120 titles a month are published worldwide each month and Harlequin/Mills & Boon have 1300 authors. The secret of their great success is that they know what their audience want and tailor what they offer to a specific market. Thus historical and medical romances have long been popular, but they are now joined by imprints such as Blaze and Desire, which introduce a sexier plot, opening up the rather bland romance category to younger readers.

The Mira imprint is reserved for their bigger authors but all their numbers can get seriously large. Penny Halsall, a former shorthand typist who lives in Cheshire, has sold about 80 million books, meaning that she is in the same league in terms of numbers as Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming. Nora Roberts' books have sold 280 million copies (although not all are romances).

The company is not afraid to innovate. It has recently launched a social networking site and its well-tooled online sales approach means that books are exclusive to the Internet first, where you can get your monthly fix of new books in your favourite series. E-books are offered at the same price as print versions and there is a good and growing market for them. US research suggests that busy women - and the audience is overwhelmingly female - are prepared to read their romances on computer, with a suggestion that their families will interrupt them less readily if they think they are working, rather than reading a book.

A recent competition in India to find Indian writers was won by Milan Vohra, a 44-year-old advertising executive who wrote her 2,000 word winning entry in one night. A big new market is expected to open up amongst India's burgeoning middle classes.

Mills & Boon/Harlequin are of special interest to writers. They actively look for new authors and provide full guidelines on their websites to help writers produce work for one of their series. Any writer in search of a category could do worse than studying their website carefully. Romance may not be fashionable but it is lucrative, backed by a well-organised publisher and of universal appeal.

Mills & Boon


Writing Romance (part of WritesServices' series on different categories)