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Monday, April 24, 2017

History of the Romance Novel

We’re all romance readers here, right? Did you ever wonder about their history? It might surprise you.

The story is as old as time: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl. Against all adversity, the couple finds their way to happy-ever-after. This is the description of all romance novels pared down to their essence.

The readership for the romance genre continues to expand. Romance is the highest selling fiction. According to Romance Writers of America, the total annual sales value of romance in 2013, the latest date available, was $1.08 billion. The romance novel share of the total fiction market is 34%. Eighty-four percent of romance book buyers are female, with an average age of between 30-44 years.

Romance is in our DNA. I wondered how long romance novels have been around. A long time, it turns out. With a little research I found this: Scholars cite Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded as the first modern romance novel. The story of a teenage maidservant courted by her landowner master, it was enormously popular when it was first published in 1740. Sound familiar? Young virginal girl, wealthy, older man.

While Pamela wasn’t the first novel about a romantic relationship, it was the first to be presented from the heroine’s point of view. The novel’s happy ending was also unique for the time.
Then, of course, there’s Jane Austen, beloved and revered by legions of romance authors and readers. I’m sure most of you Austen fans know this, but when Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, Austen couldn’t use her name as the author. The cover said only that it had been written “by a lady.” Writing a novel, especially one about relationships, was considered unseemly for someone of Austen’s upbringing. (We’ve come a long way, baby).
Austen paid to publish Sense and Sensibility herself, paying roughly one-third of her yearly income to publish 750 copies. Austen was an indie author! All copies sold out and she did a second printing. Yay, Jane! Austen’s beloved novels have inspired modern retellings like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and Seth Graham-Smith’s parody Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
Austen’s novels are unique because they are some of the very few romance novels considered “literary.” Unfortunately, romance novels have gotten a bad rap by people who don’t know them or read them and have judged them “trashy” or “bodice rippers.” Some of the criticism is misogynist as most romance readers are women. The novels have this bad reputation despite the fact that 75% of romance readers hold college degrees, with 39% holding advanced degrees. A very substantial number of romance authors hold degrees.
Harlequin, the publishing giant, has been around since the 1930’s. Their original covers were plain brown wrappers. In the 1970’s, in an effort to increase sales, Harlequin began stocking their books on supermarket and drugstore shelves. They also sponsored giveaways, putting their books inside boxes of sanitary napkins, cosmetics, and household cleaners. Their ideas paid off, and sales took off, both for Harlequin and for romance novels.
There are many sub-genres of romance, such as: romantic suspense, erotic romance, gay romance. According to the Romance Writers of America, to be a romance, a book must focus on a central love story and have “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Now, of course, we have ebooks and indie publishing, and the romance market is evolving again. Romance novels have often been on The New York Times bestsellers list. Don’t expect to see romance novels reviewed in that newspaper though. Even the reigning queen of romance, Nora Roberts, has only had two of her books reviewed in The New York Times.
There you have it, a capsule history of romance novels. The romance genre is here to stay and will only get better and stronger. Because who doesn’t love a good love story?
I'm proud and happy to announce the release of Brandywine Brides: A Blackwood Legacy Anthology. Available for pre-order now at the special price of 99 cents. Release is tomorrow, April 25.
We authors are friends who've met monthly for lunch for the last several years. We call ourselves The Writers Who Lunch. We decided to do an anthology together with stories set in our local area. I'm totally thrilled to be in a set with these talented women.

BRANDYWINE Brides ~ A Blackwood Legacy Anthology
One Family – Seven Generations – A Legacy of Love

Almost three centuries ago, a Scottish convict was sold into indentured servitude in Philadelphia and given a second chance at a life far from the country of his birth. In the years since, the farm secured by Finlan Blackwood’s efforts would grow and thrive in the Brandywine River valley just as his family and descendants did. Today, Blackwood Farm is one of the largest and most successful farms in Chester County. But it took the sacrifices and best efforts of each generation to make it so. 

1721 – In A Traitor’s Heart by Terri Brisbin, a convicted traitor from the Jacobite Rising must find a way to rescue a widow from an unscrupulous man’s plans for her. . . and for the lands she holds. 

1779 – In A Patriots’ Heart by Gwendolyn Schuler, a wounded British officer hiding a secret puts the daughter of Blackwood Farm’s owner in danger by his presence in their home.

1865 – In Wounded Heart by Martha Schroeder, a damaged Union soldier arrives home to find his childhood sweetheart is the one trying to save his family’s farm. 

1919 – In Heart’s Song by Georgia Dickson, when the current owner of Blackwood Farm returns from the Great War, everything looks different to him, even the possibility of love.

1943 – In Painted Promises by Kate Welsh, the Blackwood heir, working for the war effort at home, is the only one who can help a woman who fought with the resistance in Europe before she escaped the horrors of war. 

1971 – In We’ve Only Just Begun by Cara Marsi, the Blackwood son, suffering from the effects of Vietnam, meets exactly the kind of woman he needs, even if she doesn’t want to be the one. 

2017 – In Finn’s Legacy by Mariah Stewart, when a writer comes to Blackwood Farm to interview the family matriarch, the last thing she expects is a reunion with the man who broke her heart before he left for Iraq four years ago. 

Seven Blackwood generations. Seven loves worth fighting for!

 Get it before the price goes up. 

Print edition coming soon!


Melissa Keir said...

The anthology looks amazing! I love how strong Romance is because I believe we all need romance and happily ever afters in our lives!

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Melissa. I'm excited about Brandywine Brides. You are so right that we all need romance and HEA in our lives. I sure do.

Michele Zurlo said...

My mom has an entire set of wine glasses from her Harlequin subscription back in the day. Congratulations on your anthology!

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Michele. I'd love to see your mom's wineglasses. How cool!

Vicki Batman, sassy writer of sexy and funny fiction, blogger at Handbags, Books...Whatever said...

Hi, Cara! and thank you for sharing all the good stuff about the early romance novel. Somewhere, I had heard about Pamela. Wonder how it compares to today's. Congratulations on your new story. and HUGS!

Paris said...

These stories sound amazing! I can't wait to read this marvelous anthology :)

Cara Marsi said...

Thanks, Vicki and Paris.

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