The Sensual, Successful World of Harlequin Romance Novels

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In the May issue of TheWalrus, Don Gillmor explores the continuing rise of the world’s thriving (or is it throbbing?) center of romance: Harlequin Enterprises, which has shipped more than five and a half billion bodice-rippers during its 60-year tenure.

The piece is a great read, filled with lots of interesting analysis and history–in the 1970s, a new president zeroed in on the romance-novel audience and went to hilarious lengths to get Harlequin novels into women’s hands–and, ultimately, it seems that the company has succeeded because of its adherence to its own tried-and-true formula. Gillmor describes “editorial guidelines for each series that lay out the theme, the profiles of the hero and heroine, the acceptable amount of sex, and the number of words.”

The specs for the Desire series describe the hero as powerful and wealthy, “an alpha male with a sense of arrogance and entitlement. While he may be harsh and direct, he is never physically cruel.” The heroine, on the other hand, is “complex and flawed. She is strong-willed and smart though capable of making terrible mistakes when it comes to matters of the heart.” Other series are described as being “grounded in reality” or “heartwarming” or “what it means to be American,” or focus on “breathtakingly charismatic alpha-heroes who are tamed by spirited independent heroines.”

Gillmor also takes a brave trip to a Harlequin cover audition–the publisher “shoots 120 covers a month,” he writes–to take in an array of firefighters, carefully managed body hair, and Fabio-esque manes. (Check out the Walrus‘ highly entertaining gallery of Harlequin cover images.)

Source: The Walrus

Images courtesy of The Walrus, a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for best writing.

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