America's love affair with romance novels

It’s a billion-dollar business that’s booming: Romance novels make up around 34 percent of the book market. But what is the appeal to both read and write stories that often fall victim to the roll of an eye or the harsh words of a critic? 

I went to the authors, who say, for most, it’s a love affair that started when they picked up their first romantic read. 

Author Barbara Devlin is part of a panel at the National Romance Writers of America Conference. The topic: Characters with disabilities. As a former police officer, Barbara suffered a life-altering injury followed by a lifelong disability. 

“The lowest point was not being able to walk,” she explained.

The accident ended Barbara’s career as a cop but opened the door to a new career. While going through physical rehab, Barbara says, “The bookmobile had dropped off books, and I found this pile of romance novels sitting on my bed.  And I’m thinking, ‘Why did you give me these books?  Is it because I’m a woman?’ I was a little irritated at first.  Then, I just picked one up and started reading, and then I couldn’t stop reading. They gave you hope, but they looked to the future, to something even better.”

Romance novels became a huge part of Barbara’s recovery. “I read a lot of books and thought, ‘I can do this.’ Maybe create something of mine and give other people hope, and that’s what I do.”

Liz Pelletier founded Entangled, a boutique publisher that releases 30 to 50 romance books each month. 

“Romance has proven to have the same effect on the brain as heroin,” she offered.  “It almost has an addictive quality to it.  You want to read another.”

Liz says, because of that drive to consume more, there continues to be a healthy appetite for romantic books -- from sweet to erotic. 

Why the sexy covers? And, do they really make a difference? Pelletier explained. “My first launch didn’t have a sexy cover. Then I said, ‘All right, let’s try sexy abs on the cover,’ and boom, bestseller. So I said, OK, all right. The market has spoken.” 

“When times are hard you can turn to a romance novel and feel hope,” said former trial attorney, now bestselling author, Alyssa Day.  

She says the market is also driven by what’s going on in our country. During divisive times, she says, sales go up because in a romance novel, “The good guys are going to win and you’re going to get the happily ever after."

And, now that Barbara Devlin has found her happily ever after, she makes it a point to help other aspiring writers find theirs.

- For more information on Barbara Devlin:
- For more on Entangled Publishing:
- For more on Alyssa Day:
- For more info on Romance Writers of America: