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Independent booksellers are ignoring some of the most popular books in the market: series romance

by Paula Eykelhof and Debbie Macomber -- Publishers Weekly, 7/31/2006

What do Jayne Ann Krentz, Barbara Delinsky, Janet Evanovich and Nora Roberts have in common? Besides the fact that they're all women and they've all been on national bestseller lists, each of these authors got her start in series romance.

The same is true of Lisa Jackson, Tess Gerritsen, Heather Graham, Sandra Brown, Linda Howard, Jennifer Crusie... we could go on, but you get the idea.

There's a simple reason for this: series romance has provided a way in for unknown female authors other publishers are not willing to take a chance on. Even now, bestselling authors of the future are honing their talent in series romance, publishing book after book, learning their craft, establishing their audience.

Unfortunately, they're doing it without the support of many independent booksellers, who refuse to carry series romance. It seems an odd decision, given that series romance is not only wildly popular, but also greatly influential in shaping commercial fiction.

Writers of series romance—like all writers of genre fiction—learn to write for their audiences. They negotiate the tricky balance between writing for themselves and giving readers the stories they want. Give 'em what they expect—and a little of what they don't.

Series romance has always been a proving ground and a source of fresh, innovative ideas. Launched in 1980, Harlequin Superromance expanded the possibilities of the popular women's novel by featuring strong female characters and story lines based on realistic and sometimes risky issues. Temptation, published in 1984, created a new kind of sexy romance; it pushed the boundaries of sexual explicitness and often did so with humor. Meanwhile, Silhouette Intimate Moments and Harlequin Intrigue continued the romantic suspense tradition of Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney and other writers many of us remember (and still read) with great pleasure.

A particularly interesting quality of these books is the way they can absorb other genres and types of fiction. Within the context of a romantic relationship, the story can include elements of mystery, suspense, police procedurals, westerns, comedy, fantasy, family sagas and paranormal. The first paranormal romance read by many contemporary readers was Rita Clay Estrada's The Ivory Key, a Harlequin Temptation published in the early 1980s. The hero was a time-traveling ghost. Any other publisher would have laughed at the concept. But no one's laughing anymore. Stories about vampires, ghosts, werewolves—they're all selling.

The publisher's—and the author's—bottom line doesn't rise or fall with one book. So, chances can be taken. As a result, interesting ideas evolve in category romance—ideas that can develop into trends. Each romance series has its own definition and parameters, but there's no question that innovation comes directly from the authors who write for it. And ultimately it's about story. Which is exactly what readers all over the world are looking for. A story that engages and entertains, that makes them feel, think, laugh and cry.

Oh—and one more thing—romance accounts for a whopping 40% of all fiction sold in the U.S.

Considering all that, it's unclear why so many booksellers don't carry the books, especially since they sell other genres, like mysteries, suspense and science fiction. We've heard some claim it's because the books have a "shelf life" of only a month or so. True, but there's another point to keep in mind—romance series bring loyal and informed readers into the bookstore each and every month. What business doesn't want to encourage regular customers? And while readers are rushing in for their monthly romance "fix," they'll be looking at other books and products as well.

And yet, many independents ignore some of the most popular books available to them. Stocking series is an opportunity for booksellers to expand their customer base—especially since the evidence shows that more women than men read fiction. In fact, one recent study said the ratio is two-to-one. And romance is fiction written almost exclusively by and for women.

In other words, selling series romance is a great way to court customers.

Author Information
Paula Eykelhof, an executive editor at Harlequin, has worked with Debbie Macomber for more than 20 years. Debbie Macomber is a bestselling writer of women's fiction who began her career in series romance and still writes series books, most recently The Wyoming Kid, just out from Harlequin American Romance.

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