by Teresa Kopec

#61, 6 Feburary 2006

Romance 101: Part I

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Women with heaving bosoms, virile men with shirts ripped open, vows of undying love ... all of these images probably pass through your mind when you think about romance novels. Yet, for those of you who automatically sneer when passing the romance section at your local library sale, consider this: The modern romance novel can be directly traced to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Written in 1813, Austen's beloved book features many of the same elements that most modern romances do: a plucky, intelligent heroine; a misunderstood, handsome hero, and a variety of misunderstandings which keep the hero and heroine apart until they reach a happy ending in the last few pages. This and other classic romance novels such as Emily Brontė's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Brontė's Jane Eyre are widely taught in college English classes.

But let's be honest - most romances don't quite rise to this level. I won't try to argue that Janet Dailey is going to be taught in English 101 a hundred years from now. Nevertheless, romance novels constitute over fifty percent of paperback sales in America each year, and on any given day a hefty percentage of books at your local thrift store consist of romance novels. This two-part series will look at how to turn those paperbacks into easy cash. Today I'll look at the basic structure of the romance publishing industry and the types of books published. Next month, I'll focus on flashpoints and specifics to help you become a paperback profiteer!

All genre fiction has its basic formulas, and romance is no different. Two elements are necessary for every romance - a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and uplifting ending. The pleasure of genre fiction, whether it is mystery, westerns, or science fiction, is not in the formula. After all, romance readers know they will get a happy ending just as mystery readers know that the killer will be caught. The pleasure comes in finding out how the author plays with that formula and earns the ending.

Don't make the mistake of underestimating romance readers. Many have high standards. There are numerous web sites devoted to reviewing the latest romance releases, and reviews can be harsh. A common acronym used to describe a heroine is "TSTL" (translation: "too stupid to live.") Many sites sponsor "purple prose" contests mocking the worst writing the genre has to offer. These sites can be a good place to start researching books that hold potential resale value. Often they feature Top Ten lists of favorite books or wish lists of out of print books that the blogger would love to get her hands on. (And if she wants to get her hands on a copy, you can bet her readers do too!) Good web sites to check out include

The Romance Reader

Laurie Likes Books

Both have extensive links to related sites.

Currently, romances are published in two forms: category romances (also called series romances) and single title romances. Category romances are typically thinner books (250 pages or so) that have a number and/or date on the spine. They are published monthly and generally never reprinted.

Category romances are further divided among different lines. A line is a series of books with a distinct identity. The books in any given line share similar settings, time periods, levels of sensuality, or types of conflict. Publishers of category romances provide author's guidelines for each line to insure that readers know what to expect when picking up a particular book.

A growing trend in the last few years is to feature steamier and steamier sex scenes in category romances. Series with titles such as Blaze, Harlequin Temptation, and Silhouette Desire all reach somewhat advanced degrees of explicitness. The Blaze line, for example, often features light bondage, spanking, sex in public places, and oral sex (in graphic detail). I mention this because older, less explicit romances are sought after by certain eBay shoppers. Series can be easily identified by cover styles. The series line name will appear on the cover, and covers will be similar in style - i.e., all red spines or all white covers with a circle on the front. Cover art on series books often features the happy couple - or at least the hero or heroine.

Harlequin/Silhouette is presently the only major publisher of category romance, but Avalon and Avon are starting to push their own lines, which include Christian or inspirational romances - definitely not featuring bondage!

>>>>>Click here for page two>>>>

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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