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Romance Novels Sweep Readers Off Their Feet With Predictability

Romance novels are a $1.4 billion industry, dwarfing the literary book market by millions.

Last summer, Harper's editor Jesse Barron attended the Romance Novel Convention in Las Vegas. Emceed by a handsome novel-cover model named Jimmy, the event helped professionals and novices alike to pool resources, share ideas and generally have a love fest.

Barron wrote about the gathering and the industry in this month's issue of Harper's. He tells NPR's Arun Rath that readers of romance novels have specific expectations, particularly about the heroine.

"She's gotta be tough, but she can't be cold, she can't be whiny ... and if she's got those walls up, you must show her vulnerability," Barron says. "She is just like the reader."

Authors have even figured out what kinds of cover poses are more likely to make customers swoon.


Interview Highlights

On the craft or romance writing

One thing that you have understand if you're gonna get into writing romance is that the things that are valued in that genre are not the same things that are valued when we read something like literary fiction. So you're gonna want to hone your prose until its extremely clear, it's very, very fast, the dialogue is funny and the plots are really engaging. ...

Heroes and heroines in romances never, ever cheat ... it's really about the relationship between two people and the way that they gradually become more vulnerable to each other over time.

On romance e-books

It's estimated that about 60 percent of all romance novels are e-books, and that's compared with about 40 percent of trade fiction. I think one thing is that literary fiction does not get along well with e-books and self-publishing because it takes too long to write, and e-books are cheap. So e-books will favor writers who can write schematically, quickly.

On male models in a woman's business

Romance is published, written, edited, bought by women. Ninety to 95 percent of romance readers are women. The one exception in the industry is male cover models. These are guys who sell stock photos to writers directly or sometimes custom photos or sometimes to editors to put on the covers of these e-books. And the stock photos sell anywhere from maybe $15 bucks to $300.

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