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Romance - perfect on e-reader

10 January 2011

Amazon Kindle sales in the US and UK last year were eight million, making it their biggest selling product ever. An article in the UK's Daily Mail put this down to 'spinsters' buying romance to read on their Kindles (and other e-readers) because they were too embarrassed to be seen reading romances in pubic in book form because of the covers.

There are two things wrong about this image, which is not to say that some readers may not be influenced by this consideration. The truth is more interesting though and throws more light on reading habits and trends.

In recent years Mills and Boon/Harlequin have flourished and have had many more competitors because the Canadian company gives readers what they want. The old idea of sentimental and formula-driven romances of the sort produced by Mr Mills and Mr Boon has been replaced by a highly efficient publishing machine which has an exact idea of what readers want and long ago set about delivering it. Many of the books they publish now would have scandalised the 'spinsters' of the past. New series deliver a much more raunchy read and their books are avidly consumed by a wide-ranging, almost totally female, readership of all ages and from all backgrounds - and across the world, with new markets like India developing fast.

Romance Writers of America define a romance thus: 'Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there's a romance novel waiting for you! Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.'

According to Nielsen BookScan, just two per cent of all printed books sold in the UK in 2009 were romantic novels, compared with 14 per cent of all e-books sold. So in the midst of this romance success story a greater percentage of romances than of other genres are being sold as ebooks. This is because the books, perfect escapism for our troubled times, appeal to a market which is highly addicted to its romance fix. Mills and Boon's great success in recent years has been their book club, a subscription service which enables members to choose what kind of romance they want and then they will receive typically four books a month.

Most people would consider this a lot of books to consume in a month, but not romance readers, because one of their particular characteristics is that they read a lot, compulsively and all the time. This sounds like a perfect audience for an e-reader, especially if the books themselves are cheap - and Kindle offers a range of romance for £1. This is perfect for the reader who just wants to get their fix and move on to consuming the next one, and isn't particularly bothered about possession of the physical book.

Never mind about what other people think about their reading matter, these readers want their fix and romance publishers have become highly efficient at delivering it. They are the most market-driven of fiction publishers because what they produce is books in tightly defined sub-categories of romance - and that's what their audience is looking for. Today's women readers don't need to hide behind an e-reader, but they do know what they want and are buying it in large quantities.

For writers this offers a particular opportunity and one which is easy to research on the publishers' websites, which are very specific about what they are looking for and their criteria for taking work on. Many highly successful authors have started by writing romances - and many are still doing so whilst making a very good living.

Writing romance

Mills and Boon/Harlequin

Mills and Boon's Information for aspiring authors