A young woman divides her attentions between her amorous suitor and a good book, circa 1799. Engraving by W Finden after Stothard, RA.

A young woman divides her attentions between her amorous suitor and a good book, circa 1799. Engraving by W Finden after Stothard, RA.

The romance novel industry is worth over a billion dollars.

Surprised? You really shouldn’t be.

In 2015, 75 million Americans said they had read a romance novel in the past year. The books fly off the shelves, and readers are constantly asking writers for more stories, even as many authors turn out novels at a rate of two per year.

The industry centers around women — in readership and in authorship — and stigma and shaming of romance fans persists.

From Cailey Hall, a PhD student at UCLA, writing in the The LA Review Of Books:

I have found that almost all of the romance novels I have read achieve something that sounds mundane, but remains quite radical: they model a form of female happiness and fulfillment still lacking in most canonical works of literature. Imagining stories for women (too often, but not always, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and monogamous) that end optimistically, these novels not only depict relationships that involve negotiation and growth, but also allow female protagonists to experience a kind of personal, sexual, and professional fulfillment that does not feel like an unattainable fantasy.

The industry has evolved, but it has a diversity problem. A black author has never won the Romance Writers of America top prize, the RITA, although the industry group has acknowledged the problem and says it’s working toward becoming more inclusive.

Hear more from Brenda Jackson, author of 120 books, about getting published as a woman of color in the episode of This Is Love below.

What’s so compelling about these novels? How are today’s works of romance different than a generation ago? And if so many people love them, why is it so hard for the literary world to take them seriously?

Produced by Gabrielle Healy. Text by Gabrielle Healy.

Guests

  • Alisha Rai Romance novelist; author, "Forbidden Hearts" series; @AlishaRai
  • Alexandra Alter Publishing reporter, *The New York Times*; @xanalter
  • Sarah Wendell Co-founder, "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books"
  • Leah Koch Co-owner and founder, The Ripped Bodice - the U.S.'s sole romance novel-centric bookstore

Recommendations From Our Panelists

If you’re new to romance novels, here are several suggestions about where to start, from our panelists, listeners and producers. 

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley

A Princess In Theory by Alyssa Cole

Third Son’s a Charm by Shana Galen

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Trade Me by Courtney Milan

Act Like It by Lucy Parker

Wrong To Need You by Alisha Rai

Bring Down the Stars by Emma Scott

Lukov with Love by Mariana Zapata

 

 

A Playlist That Celebrates Love

We couldn’t decide what music to use during this show. So we made you a playlist.

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