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Single title romances are usually thicker, stand-alone novels that are not part of any particular line and average around 350 to 400 pages. Covers tend to be more abstract, featuring, for instance, an illustration of a flower or gate. Familiar bodice ripper style covers are harder to come by these days because most readers prefer something more discreet when reading in public. (No doubt there is a master's thesis in our future that will correlate tamer cover art with steamier contents!) Single title authors tend to be those who proved popular when writing series romance and have graduated to bigger and better things. And therein lies money making potential for the bookseller. I'll look at how to exploit that potential in my next column.

Although single title romances are not part of a line, popular authors often write books that are loosely connected to one another. For example, regency powerhouse writer Mary Balogh recently finished her Bedwyn series, in which each sibling in the aristocratic family finds the love of his or her life. All of the books could be read on their own, but recurring characters appear in all of them. And titles in these series tend to be similar - for example, Balogh's Slightly Wicked, Slightly Dangerous and Slightly Tempted. Similarly, Nora Roberts produced a series last year centering on three friends who owned a garden shop. Titles included Black Rose, Blue Dahlia, and Red Lily. Putting together book lots of related books is another way to profit from romance as a bookseller. I'll examine this process next month as well.

Publishers of single title romance novels include Kensington (under its Brava and Strapless imprints), Penguin-Putnam (Berkley, NAL, Jove, Onyx and Topaz imprints), Dorchester (Leisure and Love Spell imprints), Random House (Ballantine, Bantam, Dell, Del Rey and Ivy imprints) and Harper Collins (Avon imprint). Harlequin also publishes some single title romances under its HQN, Signature, Silhouette, and Mira imprints.

The recent boom in "chick lit" has blurred the lines between traditional romance and popular fiction. At its core, traditional romance focuses on couples and their relationships. Invariably, the story is told from the woman's point of view, and the man's motivations are often hidden from both her and the reader. (Is he using her for sex or is he in love? Is he a serial killer or just the victim of circumstantial evidence? Does he really come from the Middle Ages or does he just like dressing in doublets?) While Chick Lit heroines may eventually dump a boyfriend in favor of self-improvement, the traditional romance always brings the hero and heroine together at the end - and epilogues depicting them happily married with cute kids are common.

Crossing both category/series lines and single title books are sub-genres of romance. Important examples include:

Contemporary - set after the World Wars

Ethnic - romances featuring characters of different ethnicities

Historical - set before the World Wars

Inspirational - romances containing spiritual themes

Paranormal - romances featuring magic, science fiction elements

Regency - set in England in the early 1800's

Romantic suspense - romances featuring mystery and intrigue

Western - set in the 19th century American West

Time travel - featuring travel between two time periods, typically with the hero either coming forward in time or the heroine going backwards

Western - romances set in the American West, can be contemporary or historical

A working knowledge of these sub-genres is a necessity for putting together book lots on eBay. Most romance readers tend to like one sub-genre or another and are not interested in purchasing books that fall outside their area of interest. Fortunately, it is often easy enough to determine which sub-genre a given book falls in with a quick glance at the cover or from reading the plot summary on the back of the book.

Romance books are big business. Market research sponsored by Romance Writers of America (RWA) in 2005 showed that romance fiction accounted for $1.2 billion dollars in sales in 2004. Over 2,000 romance titles were published in 2004 alone. In 2004, 54% of ALL paperbacks sold in America were romance titles. Every week, the New York Times bestseller list features names like Jude Devereux, Fern Micheals, Nora Roberts, and Debbie MacComber.

A profile of the typical romance reader also may surprise you. According to the RWA's research, 42% of romance readers hold a bachelor's degree or higher. 40% of readers are between the ages of 35 and 54. What does that mean for you as a bookseller? Potential buyers have reasonable levels of internet savvy and lots of disposable income. Next month I'll look at how to tap into that potential.

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Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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