Thursday, August 20, 2009

Genre-Specific Sales, Part 8 of 8: Romance

Uh, so, it seems I've also been nominated for "Best Publishing/Industry Blog" and "Most Eclectic Taste Blog" (I'm blaming that second one on Laura). A big thank you to everyone and anyone who nominated PMN, and remember to vote here between September 7th and September 12th!

And now, gentle readers, we come to the end (at least, of this genre-specific sales mini-series). Romance: you know it sells (don't you?). But what are the sales figures really like?

Well, there's a good rundown from 2007 here. You'll note that romance was 12.9% of the market at the time, and I can only surmise that this market share has increased, since the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the Huffington Post all report that romance sales are up as a result of the recession. Some numbers:

• BookScan tracked romance sales as being up 2.4% against a down market in the first three months of this year;
• Harlequin has been doing particularly well with Q4 earnings up 32% ($3 million) over the same time last year, indicating both series and non-series romance are going strong;
• Romances generated $1.375 billion in sales in 2007 (according to RWA);
• Someone in the world buys a Harlequin romance novel every four seconds (also according to RWA);
• The U.S. News and World Report lists romance novels #3 on their list of recession winners.

Now, I chalk most of this up to three primary factors:

1.) Romance buyers typically buy more books, particularly more books at a time, and exhibit more brand (read: author) loyalty than readers of other genres.
2.) Romance novels are almost always released (either immediately or a year after their hardcover release) as mass market editions, the low price points of which ($4.99 - $7.99) are very attractive to consumers, especially during a recession.
3.) The recession drives consumers toward escapist fiction, and the reigning queen of escapist fiction is romance (followed closely, in my opinion, by fantasy). Thus, paranormal and historical romance are seeing exceptionally good sales right now.

Additionally, it seems you romance readers and writers are also on the cutting edge of the e-book market. From the New York Times article, above:
Romance novels have also captured a larger proportion of the electronic book market than other categories. Whereas most publishers say that about 1 percent of sales come from e-books, Harlequin says that digital editions make up about 3.4 percent of its sales.
So, not only are romance novel sales performing admirably in the physical book market, but they're doing well in the e-book arena as well. Bravo, romance. Bra-vo.

Now, let's say you're currently working on your bodice-ripping, time-travelling, vampire-and-werewolf-battling historical romance. What kind of advance can you expect?

Well, to be honest, this one is tricky (aren't they all?), but not for the reason you think. Rather than there being a paucity of data, there's just too much data that aren't easily distilled into a narrow range; the best I can come up with is RWA's figure of "$3,000 to several million." Accurate? Well, yes. Helpful? Not really. But I'm afraid it's the best I can give you. While my oft-cited "$5,000 - $7,500" range is probably more or less the case here, you really can make a killing in romance if you do it right (then again, that's pretty much true everywhere, except maybe for poetry).

So, in summary:

• Romance is beating the pants off the recession right now. If you write a killer one, you'll be in a very fine position indeed.
• Again, with all my usual caveats, I expect paranormal romance, historical romance, and romantic suspense to lead the pack, with contemporary romance trailing but by no means performing poorly.
• Average advance: hard to tell, but somewhere between $3,000 and... uh... millions. I'd err on the $3,000 side, though.


  1. Accurate but not helpful. lol. That pretty much describes a lot of things in my life.

    I suppose, if I must, I could turn my sci-fi/fantasy novel into a romance one by adding in a love story. Hmmmmmm........

    How would you classify Romance? I'm curious. Anything that has a smooch? Or is it the books that purposefully conjure feelings of romance and longing in the reader?

    Word verification: quilte = the thing I produced when I started a quilt but never finished.

  2. It's good to know that when I cast my paranormal romance manuscript out into the choppy waters of publishing, that there might be some interested fish.

    Thank you for this frank and interesting series!

  3. Also should probably be noted that the Romance epubs work on a non-advance basis, for the most part.

  4. At last, my subject, and I'm glad to hear it's doing well (then again, I already knew that, since I read everything on the topic). Reesha, romance has a very distinct formula, but the most important part is that it MUST have a happily ever after ending. The "romance" can be anything from a smooch to any combination of body parts and people you want, but it must end well. There's also a category called general fiction with romantic elements, in which the ending simply has to be "satisfying". Start by going to and read up on it. There's also a great book, believe it or not, written by a romance editor, called Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies. It's not as weird as it sounds and clearly spells out what makes a romance a romance (and how to market one!)

  5. hahaha. That's awesome that such a title exists. Thanks for the resource, Kat.
    I never thought I'd buy a book with both Romance and Dummy in the title.

    Word ver: reding = Getting ready to read, but not actually reading. I do this constantly.

  6. You can find excellent advice about Romance advances at Brenda Hiatt's "Show Me The Money Page" at . Brenda has been collecting this information for many years.

    I usually love this blog, but this post betrays the same kind of casual contempt for romance that we see a lot in the media. Try writing your own "Bodice ripping, vampire- and werewolf-battling historical romance" and see how easy it is to sell it.

    Successful romance writers tend to be highly educated, hard working women who spend years perfecting their craft. The first step toward success in Romance is to drop the distain and start learning about the genre. The second is to write a couple books and see if you can figure out how to get your reader so wrapped up in your story she can't put it down.

  7. Jenny--

    Thanks for the link.

    And this could be simply because this post pertains to your area of interest/expertise and previous genre-specific sales posts did not, but if you hadn't noticed, I tend to treat most (if not all) aspects/categories/genres of and within the ancient clattering coal-engine that is the publishing industry with a certain amount of disdain. Such is the effect of working within it. I also try to have a sense of humor, which from time to time is misinterpreted or exercised to ill effect.

    Additionally, PMN is not a romance novel blog (although if you're looking for an excellent one, I recommend Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), so I'm not (and I don't pretend to be) an expert on the subject. Like everyone else here, I've got a lot to learn.

    Finally, there are also several highly educated, hard-working men who spend years perfecting the craft of romance writing, so I hope you don't think I've slighted the genre by dismissing it as "women's work" (and I still wouldn't do that even if all romance writers were, by coincidence, women).

  8. Many romance writers consider "bodice ripper" the "N" word of the romance industry.

    The type of novel that really was the standard bodice ripper hasn't existed for over 25 years either so using it is equivalent to pasting "I don't know anything about romance" on your forehead.

    In other words, use it at your own risk, humorously meant or otherwise.

    The romance numbers sound wonderful to anyone wanting to sell, but romance is an extremely hard market to break in to because of the intense competition as well as the high level of craft required because of the RWA's training programs for new writers.

    If you don't love romance and read lots of romance, forget trying to break into this market because romance readers can spot the insincere a mile away.

  9. I will put on my Amazing Emkin hat and predict that the number of men reading romance (I hear that 1 in 5 readers ARE men currently) will INCREASE as e-book popularity increases. I think the biggest hurdle for selling romances to men is the trashy book covers. Can I get an AMEN?

  10. I was wandering around the book section of my local Wal-Mart the other day and happened upon the romance section (I was waiting for them to finish the oil change in my car). There was one entire section of Harlequins that were stickers 3/$10.00. Talk about having to move some volume!

    At the last writer's conference I attended, one of Harlequin's steady writers was there. She's done about 40 for Harlequin and typically goes from zero to first draft in three weeks all the while adhering to the draconian word count and formula rules for HQ romances. I was in awe of her ability.

    When I was a young teen I came across a shopping bag full of Barbara Cartland books. I devoured them. Gotta love anything that gets a kid to read and dream.

  11. I really enjoyed this genre series you did. Partly because you brought such good news about my genres, but mainly because the posts have been a great source of info. and have been fun to read. Thanks.

  12. Many romance writers consider "bodice ripper" the "N" word of the romance industry.

    That's it exactly.

    The type of novel that really was the standard bodice ripper hasn't existed for over 25 years either so using it is equivalent to pasting "I don't know anything about romance" on your forehead.

    There are, however, several exceptions to this, the most recent being Anna Campbell's Claiming the Courtesan. That being said, these exceptions aren't exactly the same as the old school bodice-rippers. In the originals, heroes usually raped the heroine because she was so beautiful that they couldn't control themselves. Authors could also go the "Oops, I thought you were a prostitute, and raping them is okay" route, though that still has its roots in the heroine's beauty.

    If you want to get a bodice ripper published these days, you've got your work cut out for you, because despite the fact that some readers want rapist heroes back, most don't. Writing a book with a rapist hero isn't for someone new to the genre or to writing in it. Modern readers know that rape is about power, not love, and expect you to come up with a plausible explanation for his actions that shows you understand the psychology behind the act, too. Your hero had better give the best damn grovel you've ever seen and treat her like gold once he realizes just how badly he's screwed up. Campbell got away with what she did because her writing is brilliantly executed, Kylemore's sanity is questionable at times, and while there's no doubt whatsoever that what he does is rape, fans felt his past and his actions afterwards made up for the initial act.

    When it's done right, you can write a wonderful book with a rapist hero. Patricia Gaffney's To Have and to Hold is the ultimate example of this. While I would've thrown my copy of The Flame and the Flower at the wall if I hadn't been reading it on my computer, the Gaffney is one of my favourite romances.

  13. This makes me happy that my WIP is a romance (no bodice-ripping involved ;) )

  14. Massive congratulations on all the "Good on ya, mate" nominations. I've been reading and enjoying your blog since you won the guest slot on Nathan's blog.

    Good job, Eric and Laura! Good luck with the voting. I'll be there.


  15. Reading all the comments here, I'm encouraged as a new romance writer.

    Its a lot of work but well worth it.


  16. Umm... you're going to flay me alive, but I need to ask... does romance sell so well because it's... well... sort of... soft porn under a respectable cover? I'm not a romance reader and that's the impression I get of the genre. Do any authors (outside the Christian romance sector) get away with just a kiss? I ask only in the spirit of enquiry.

  17. Jane-
    Not all romance novels are loaded with sex.
    They vary in heat level. It's kind of like going on a date, sometimes it's purely anticipation without contact, other times it's hot and heavy. Either / both can be great.
    Erotica books have plentiful, graphic sex.

    This might surprise you, but romance/erotica novels (can) have rich characters, great locales, and strong plotlines, too!
    As in any genre, the quality of romance books varies from fantastic to wretched. If you're planning to give one a try, talk to some avid romance readers for a recommendation that will suit your personal taste.

  18. Jane -- I think romance sells well because (1) it ends with "happily ever after," which is usually nice; (2) a lot of people read for the escape factor, which it provides; and, (3) it's empowering to the female reader.

    Read up on what Jennifer Crusie has said about it and it makes a lot of sense. While there may be some romance books that start with a male protagonist, most start with a woman with a problem. In the course of the book, she solves the problem(s), gets the great guy, and finds herself in a much better place than when she started. Often, the best romance includes her helping to solve the great guy's problem too -- it isn't just a one-way street.

    That's nice to see, nice to read about, nice to wish it would/could/can happen for you too.

    I think that definitely affects their popularity.

    That, and the fact that they are sold at the grocery store.

  19. @Buffra

    "(1) it ends with "happily ever after," which is usually nice;"

    The appeal of the HEA goes well beyond "usually nice" for many Romance readers. It's not (necessarily) that we can't handle endings that aren't all sunshine and lollipops. It's that *sometimes*, when we pick up a book for a few hours entertainment, we want a guarantee that it's not going to end in depressing tragedy.

    Sometimes, we're in the mood for that - or for the unknown. But other times, when we're reading for stress relief or escapism, we want the comfort of knowing that the couple we spend the whole book rooting for will get together in the end, and that neither will get tragically squished under a rock in the final reel. How they get from A to HEA could play out a near infinite number of ways, depending on the subgenre, but with Romance, you know that you won't be getting a depressingly vague downer of an ending. Sometimes, at the end of a hard day, I don't want a difficult lesson about man's inhumanity to man or the delicate angst of modern ennui or whatever. I want the story of a couple getting together against all odds. Genre Mystery fans get to follow the progression a mystery that gets *solved* at the end, their version of a HEA. Romance fans get to follow the progression a romance that gets *fulfilled* at the end. Justice and/or love triumph, the good guys win, and - in this 300 page corner of the universe, at least - the world makes a little sense for a few hours.

  20. So I'm biased (of course) but I think that Romance has the most devoted and loyal fans of any genre.

  21. Jane -- beyond the huge variety of "heat levels" in romance books, there is also a variety of reasons readers like them. I could take two very similar books, with similar "heat levels," and one could have characters who are "erotic" (i.e. more of the "porn" aspect), while the other could have the same amount of sex in it and come across as intense, deep characterization but not being particularly arousing to the reader. Most books won't do just a kiss anymore, but there are still many, many different ways to "close the bedroom door" on the reader, so you can insinuate there is sex without actually describing it.

  22. "Most books won't do just a kiss anymore"

    True for most, but there are still opportunities for those books that are just a kiss. From the Avalon Publishing writers' guidelines:

    "There is no graphic or premarital sex or sexual tension in any of our novels; kisses and embraces are as far as our characters go."

    So really, if it's about two people's emotional journey to a HEA, and you write it well, you can find a home for it. :) [Why yes, I am an incurable optomist, thanks for asking. :D]

  23. This post inspires me, especially since I write Paranormal Romance (Originally, I thought I fell strictly under fiction). My focus is to continue to improve and be informed. Thanks for posting.

  24. With a romance, it's about the emotional journey for the hero and heroine. If that culminates in the hero and heroine making love, the love scene NOT PORN should reflect their emotional journey.
    The Mills and Boon Sweets, those with the blue rose do not show the love scenes, the Sexy line does. This is because some readers want to read love scenes and some don't. On a sales level, the Sexy line sells more than the Sweet line.
    Once the word Bodice ripping comes out, it shows the person knows little about the genre. Anna Campbell didn't think the scene was a rape but there were plenty that disagreed.

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