At its peak from 1969-1972, the romance industry produced about [TJL11]thirty-five novels a month (Radway, 33). However, in the period of 1972-1974, numbers began to drop. There are different theories into why this happened. Some feel the market just had too many romance novels. Other [TJL12]feel that the visibility of the feminist movement created this decrease. Whatever the reason, the demand for gothic romances dropped off. Publishers began to reevaluate their publishing practices. However, then, in 1972, Avon Books published a novel that would change the romance industry and their publishing practices.
In 1972, Avon published The Flame and T[TJL13]he Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Longer then [TJL14]a gothic romance, this book included more explicit sexual passages and near rapes. Through an aggressive publishing campaign usually reserved for best-selling hardback books, The Flame and the Flower was an incredible publishing success. Following Avon’s lead, publishers began to publish similar books in a similarly aggressive manner. Called by different names, including “sweet savage romances” and “erotic historicals,” the bodice ripper genre was born (Radway, 34).
Overtime, publishing houses began to market mass-produced romances in a different way. They continued to work with the bodice rippers, giving them aggressive marketing. However, publishers started developing “line” or “series” romance. These books, sold in grocery and drug stores, book stores, and other venues, worked off the popularity and reputation of the publishing house’s name rather than off the novel title. This practice brought in loyal readership, especially for companies like Harlequin which specialized in romances and romance series exclusively (Radway, 40).
Over the years, the romance industry has also worked to increase its readership. They have created romances for teenage readers, a market untapped until around the 1940’s. These novels, usually centering around the romantic exploits of young girls, lack the sexual content of the other books. These romances tend to send the message that “genital sex” is reserved for adults. They tend to also serve as vehicles to advertise different makeup, clothing, etc. products that appeal to young women.
The romance industry also tries to increase its readership by following political and societal trends. In her book, Becoming a Woman through Romance, Linda Christian-Smith explores the different messages given out by teenage romance novels and what they reflect of the period in which they were written. In periods where the country was more conservative, such as in the period of 1942-1959, the novels reflected these conservative ideas. Sex was absent, women’s main concern was in making themselves beautiful, and life was beautiful. These ideas were again present in the 1980-1982, when the country was returning to a conservative nature under President Reagan. However, during the 1963-1979 period, when the country was more liberal and progressive in its ideas, the novels tended to be more liberal as well. Sex was evidenced in these novels, women were not as concerned with making themselves beautiful, and lives tended to be more conflicted and disappointing (Christian-Smith, 16-17). In each period, the romance novels were only following the opinions espoused by society in order to attract more readers.
Today, the romance industry is one of the most prolific in terms of titles and authors. It has created different genres, each tailored to specific fantasies or situations. There are sub-categories within sub-categories, guaranteeing that every reader will be able to find what she like[TJL15]. Romance about doctors, lawyers, cowboys, and pirates fill the shelves. Series romance and single-title publications (novels that stand independently of any other book or author[TJL16]) sell by the thousands. In 2001 alone, the romance industry generated $1.52 billion in sales[TJL17], not including the lucrative used book sales. That is over 2,000 published titles in that one year alone, and over 51.1 million readers. (http://www.rwanational.org/statistics.stm).
Part of this success is because publishers give readers what they want. Romance novels tend to be heavily patterned, so the reader will know what she is [TJL18]getting before she buys [TJL19]the book. Romances, throughout the different genres, follow the same pattern: hero meets heroine, a conflict arises both between the two protagonists and in their outside lives, the two protagonists solve their problems and fall in love. There must always be a happy ending. And, for all this clichï¿½ and patterning, [TJL20]these books sell and sell well.
To aid in this patterning, publishing houses will detail what they will and will not publish in terms of a romance novels. Most of the romance publishers, such as Avon and Harlequin, have websites where a potential author can find the guidelines for getting published. The instructions for writing a book for the Temptation series for Harlequin Books, to show one example, appears as this on their website: Length: 60,000 words. Senior Editor & Editorial Coordinator: Birgit Davis-Todd
Editorial Office: Toronto, Canada. Temptation is sexy, sassy, and seductive! This is Harlequin’s boldest, most sensuous series, focusing on men and women living – and loving – today! Almost anything goes in Temptation: The stories may be humorous, topical, adventurous, or glitzy, but at heart they are pure romantic fantasy. Think fast-paced, use the desires and language of women today, add a high level of sexual tension along with strong conflicts, and then throw in a good dash of “what if…” The results should sizzle! (http://eharlequin.com/harl/books/alcove/guides/20hltp11.htm)
This is only one such example of how publishing houses guide their authors into writing [TJL21]books that will sell. In addition to the publishing houses themselves releasing these guidelines, there are different groups that also make them available. Some groups, like the Romance Writers of America, also have these guidelines available for would-be authors. There are also “How-to” books devoted to writing a romance novel and getting it published[TJL22]. For example, on such book would be How to Write a Romance for the New Market and Get Published by Kathryn Falk. In this guide, Falk and other romance writers have composed short essays on how to write a romance novel, what to include, what publishers want, and more. Some of the advice given out by these published authors is to outline first, use action and descriptive words frequently, and to write from the heart.
Publishing houses have also learned how to market certain books to certain readers in certain areas. Research is done on romance readership, typically by outside groups like the Romance Writers of America. Publishing houses and authors can easily find out not only who [TJL23]is reading, but also what they like and look for in romance novels. In terms of readership, most readers fall into certain categories. Most readers of romance novels are married females, ages 35-44, living in the South. These are women living in areas or 50,000 or less, who have high school diplomas, and who make between [TJL24]$50,000 and $75,000 a year. However, most of these women are not in the labor force. Most romance readers are white, and probably read their first romance before [TJL25]the age of sixteen. (http://www.rwanational.org/statistics.stm)
This average readers [TJL26]also enjoys certain aspects of the novel more than others, and looks for these aspects when choosing a new book. The typical reader looks for a heroine that is intelligent, has a strong strength of character, and is attractive. The expectations of the hero are that he be muscle bound, handsome, and intelligent (in that order of preference). Most readers want a romantic suspense story (http://www.rwanational.org/statistics.stm) [TJL27]. Readers are interested in different things in novels, and read them for different reasons.
In the early 1980’s, Janice Radway conducted a series of focus groups and interviews in the Midwest, trying to discover what women want to read and what women like in their romance novels. In her book, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, Radway discusses her findings. She reveals that most romance readers can attest to the repetitive nature of romances. However, readers actually look for this in their novels. Radway discovered that romance readers read these novels to help them escape, and that they like knowing that everything ends happily. The patterning of the romances allows the readers to know that, even when reading a new novel, the story will end happily. They also said that, despite the patterns, romance novels are very different. The situations and locations can vary drastically, bring a new reading experience each time. Women read these novels as an escape from their own lives, so they look for adventure and fun when they read.
Radway’s research also revealed what these readers look for in their romances. Overly explicit sexual intercourse tend to be a turn off for female readership. Also, a huge misstep on the way to romance, such as the death of a main character in the novel, can cause readers to put down the book. The women in Radway’s research were primarily looking for a “reading experience that leaves them feeling hopeful, happy, and content (Radway, 119).” They wanted a heroine who was virginal and selfless, beautiful but not vain, independent and intelligent, and nurturing. And they wanted a hero who was handsome, promiscuous, honest, indifferent, courageous, emotionally reserved, desirous of sex, but how undergoes a full reversal in his attitudes by the end of the book (Radway, 132).
Radway’s research also reveals the presence of a strong romance community. During her research, Radway worked closely with a book store employee identified as “Dot.” Dot often recommended titles to the romance readers who came into her store. Later, she began publishing a newsletter which had titles of suggested readings, and information about what was coming out and what not to read. Today, romance readers still look for this kind of advisement. However, today people are not only restricted to the advise of their local community. The internet has opened up a whole new avenue for the exchanging of opinions and information.
Most romance publishers have websites which cater to the needs of their readership. A reader looking for a particular title can log on and find and buy that title. In addition to the sales aspect of the sites, there is also a component of fun. Most of the sites visited will have a series of games (such as Chinese Horoscope Compatibility Tests) which related to love. The sites will also have interactive stories. Readers read a chapter, and then can vote on what should happen next. The publishers will also sponsor contests through the sites, and offer readers previews of chapters for soon-to-be-released novels.
However, the websites have another role. Romance readers often feel looked down upon because of their choice of reading material. The internet sites, both those run by the publishing houses and independent sites, offer a community of people who understand. These sites provide chat rooms where readers can discuss their opinions of books, ask for advice on further readings, and just chat about romances in general. These sites can also be used to help find romance titles that are out of publication. They can also just help find a favorite novel whose title the reader does not remember. These romance communities on the Internet are strong and understanding, and help encourage further romance reading. Reading groups, both those held in private homes and in bookstores, serve a similar purpose.
Romance readers come in every ethnicity, age bracket, and life style. Romance publishing makes up about 18% of all [TJL28]books sold (though it is unclear if this included the used book sales), 54.5% of all popular paperback fiction sold in North America, and 35.8% of all popular fiction (including paperback, hardcover, and trade sized paperbacks). The publishing industry has a long and complex history of publishing romances. All the different circumstances have shaped the industry into what it is today, and that affects what is published. But what affect [TJL29]does what is published have on perceptions of rape in society?
In the previous section, the research of Janice Radway was discussed. In her interviews with romance readers, Radway discovered what readers will and will not read in terms of romance novels. Most of her interviewees voiced objections to books that included violently forced sex. However, there were instances in which this typed of forced sex was accepted. What readers would and would not accept fell into a sort of “gray” area. While the readers did not was “rape sagas,” they were willing to accept novels such as The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss which included several rapes. This ambiguous stance on rape in romance novels can be seen in American society as well.
Most Americans would agree that rape is one of the most horrendous crimes that can be committed. The psychological and physical effects on the victim can linger for life, and these wounds will never truly heal. Rape can intrude into all areas of life, destroying trust and self-confidence and security. It can even affect the closest of relationships. [TJL30]Rape destroys peace of mind. Some rape victims even remark that death would be kinder than having to live after a rape, and many victims contemplate suicide to end their pain.
The pain of a rape victim can be understood from looking at Cathy Winkler’s account of her own rape. Through an examination of her own rape as a case study, Winkler is able to show just how rape can invade all areas of life, and how it can isolate the victim from society. She describes how rape victims often feel as if they are raped multiple times as they undergo the physical examination and the prosecution process. Winkler’s life was completely changed by her rape- she no longer felt safe on her own or in the company of others. She had a difficult time relating to former friends and co-workers. In the end, because of her rape, Winkler moved and changed jobs. Such experience are reported by many other victims of rape.