It’s Valentine’s Day. Romance, hearts, flowers, bubbly drinks, chocolate, aromatic bath oil, candlelight, poetry; and all of that is just to set the stage for my favorite novel category – romance.

Don’t roll your eyes. You know you are reading them. And here’s a secret – we’re not alone.

Romance novels sweep the industry in sales right now. According to the Romance Writers of America – better known by its initials: RWA – it accounts for more than a billion dollars a year in sales.

RWA reports 2012 as having more than $1.4 billion in sales, and 2013 has been estimated to exceed $1.3 billion. This isn’t too shabby for an industry being batted around by all of the publishing changes and bookstore closings.

Two more statistics from RWA:

•Romance was the top-performing category on the best-seller lists in 2012 (across the NYT, USA Today, and PW best-seller lists).

•74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008. (source: RWA Reader Survey)

And why not? Even Oprah has posted an article about it titled: ‘Why People Love Romance Novels’. There’s sure to be a subgenre within the romance category that will pique your interest.

There are so many subgenres within the genre labeled – ROMANCE. Mystery/suspense, contemporary, futuristic, science-fiction, historical, paranormal, inspirational, young adult, fantasy, and erotic are a few, with LGBT on the rise.

Think romance is something new?

Think again. According to Wikipedia – and I’m quoting directly here – “one of the earliest romance novels was Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which was revolutionary on two counts: it focused almost entirely on courtship and did so entirely from the perspective of a woman protagonist.”

Wow. Who knew?

Jane Austen has an entire following still swooning over Mark Darcy and the nineteenth century mores of the day. Authors keep rewriting versions of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ by Helen Fielding to name one, which is currently on its third book of the series. Many of us know it from the movie, made popular by Renee Zellweger, Colin Firth, and Hugh Grant.

courtesy of Wikipedia
courtesy of Wikipedia

Excuse me while I nibble chocolate and conjure images of their fight in the fountain to the tune, ‘It’s Raining Men.’ Mmmm. Oh yeah, back to work.

I recently watched Austenland, the movie based on a novel by Shannon Hale, which is another of the retakes on Jane Austen’s work. (That’s what you do when laid up with knee injury – rent movies and read books in between interesting events of the Olympics, but I digress.) I thought it was a fun movie, but I’m taking medication. Rent it at your own risk.

Charlotte Bronte gave us ‘Jane Eyre’ and Mary Ann Evans, writing as George Eliot, gave us ‘Middlemarch.’ In the early twentieth century we got D. H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’ Although it was published in Italy in 1928, the language was too risqué for mass publication. It didn’t become mainstream until the sixties. Of course, there was the private printing of it and it was kept as a ‘dirty little secret’ in many a boudoir. Sound familiar to any ‘Fifty Shades’ fans?

courtesy of Goodreads
courtesy of Goodreads

The British have given us many great romance authors. Georgette Heyer is haled as the forerunner of the historical category. Dame Barbara Cartland (can we think of her without conjuring the color pink or the fact that she was Princess Diana’s step-grandmother?) wrote more than 700 romance novels, which were translated into 36 languages. And my personal favorite – Victoria Holt – transported me to many Welsh moorlands, Scottish highlands, and old English castles where danger lurked for a heroine with little going for her except spunk.

courtesy of goodreads
courtesy of goodreads

Another statistic about romance novels – and my last, because who wants to ruin Valentine’s Day by reading a bunch of statistics – according to Wikipedia, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature, accounting for 55% of paperback books sold in 2004 and appears in ninety languages.

But going a bit further back in history is another Englishman, Shakespeare, whose ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has come to epitomize the tragic love story. We can’t give him the official title of ‘romance’ novelist, since he was a poet and playwright, and didn’t adhere to the HEA – happily ever after – contract with the reader. He was more of a ‘death becomes her’ and ‘leave them in tears’ kind of guy.

And even further back, the Bible is full of romantic tales. King David and Bathsheba to name one. And The Song of Solomon is full of romance and intimacy. Don’t believe me? Read a bit of it again. Here’s one passage. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth; for thy love is more delightful than wine.”

But what is a valentine without a gift? Here’s mine to you. The Weather Girls with ‘It’s Raining Men.’ Click and enjoy! The men in this video are so hot, I swear they’re melting the snow off the porch rails!

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.   


  1. Wonderful article. There’s something about a well written bittersweet romance that beckons the heart’s curiosity and wistfulness.
    Happy Valentine’s Day!
    I hope your day is filled with sunshine & smiles! 🙂

    By the way “It’s Raining Men” is one of my favorites.
    It’s just good fun, I don’t care who you are. 😉

    1. It’s one of those songs that just cheers me up the instant I hear it. And the video with all of the hunky men in it felt like a true Valentine’s commercial. I hope you have a lovely day too!

  2. Another well written and timely post. I wish I were a fan of romance literature. Although, I admit that I like Tolstoy and his work is decidedly romantic.;-) Hope you get a fine bottle of wine and a heart shaped box of your favorite chocolates today.

    1. Most really good stories – even heavy literature like Tolstoy – have an element of romance to them, even if we don’t understand them all. People always want to know about others’ love lives. The first pages we turn to in biographies and autobiographies tend to be the ones dedicated to love interests. It’s so natural isn’t it?

      I hope you have a lovely day Linda, and that it might hold a surprise or two for you.

  3. Ah, a kindred spirit! I knew it! I grew up on Georgette Heyer and Victoria Holt. Still love their novels, and now and then re-read one. Always a pleasure! And Colin Firth!
    Did you know there are several books on Georgette Heyer’s life and career? I’ve ordered through Amazon. She was an interesting woman! ~ Sheila

      1. BTW – Purchased a bio of Georgette Heyer based on your recommendation. Am currently reading the autobiography of Edna O’Brien which is amazing! As soon as I’m finished with it, Georgette’s is next on list. I’ll get back to you.

  4. I wrote one years ago that Mills and Boon liked but wanted revisions. I was too busy at the time but am keen to get back to it now!

  5. Romance regardless of packaging and expression brings excitement to anyone. Just yesterday, I had to smile cause pretty much all the guys at the stores look just as confuse and daze as I am. That moment she gets her Valentine surprise present is priceless. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  6. I enjoyed reading this – It is nice to finally find a fellow Victoria Holt fan, I have most of her books by the three names she wrote by. It was her books that started my interest in history and reading in general.

  7. Renee, I don’t read them now, but I used to read a lot of chick lit, with one of my favorites being the Shopaholic series. But then I got tired of them, and they felt like empty calories. Now, in my teen years I was a vociferous reader of Victoria Holt and the like. Any new book she came out with and I’d pounce on it like nobody’s business. But I did draw the line then–and now–at Harlequin Romances. Hated them, and this lady I’d babysit for would devour them every week and give them to me. I was too shy to say no, thank you, but still, I didn’t read them. I think I liked Victoria Holt for her historical romance. Plus hers were a good read.

    1. I think that’s the beauty of the genre – something for everyone! The historical line speaks to many readers, as those of us who love Victoria Holt’s work can attest. Besides historical, I particularly like mystery/suspense. Romance is just the spice!!!

  8. omygosh,

    I admit it…

    I am closed minded. I’ve always assumed romance novels were all the same genre, but I was wrong.

    Pride & Prejudice. Romeo & Juliet. Jane Eyre.

    I never imagined those classics in the category of Romance!!

    Okay, I’m a dork! xx

    1. You’re anything but a dork! I think we all have images in our minds about things and then are surprised to find out how broad the categories are. I keep saying I don’t like reality television, and then lo and behold, find out ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is considered part of that genre. I suppose it’s just a matter of finding which subgenre fits us best.

  9. I have started reading romance novels written by men. Although they are kind of disguised in a lot of cases, but I think they depth to them is better. It’s not the common romance novel and I really don’t read many of those. I would recommend Vadim Babenko, that is where I found that male authors can really write some great romantic suspense. He has a book called A Simple Soul and it’s just so good. vadimbabenko.com all of his books have excerpts on his site. He’s just unique in his premises and he writes with a great balance of romance and suspense!

  10. Renee – I went through a real reading slump this past year. It truly scared me, with my usual read being 2 or 3 books a week in women’s fiction and non-fiction. I couldn’t seem to land my fingers on anything I wanted to read from start to finish. I went through dozens of novels wherein I’d read 30 to 50 pages and put the book down or send it on to the library for donation.
    One day, while browsing at B&N, I spotted a novel with a compelling cover. Book covers rarely influence me one way or another but this one was in muted shades of ivories and browns and a beautiful but simple wedding gown wanted to walk off the page.
    I broke all of my book buying rules, I picked the book up and didn’t bother to see who published it or read any of the hype or the back cover until I’d closed the last page of the novel.
    You could have blown me over. Not only had I been seduced by a romance novel but a christian, historical romance novel. The book, ‘The Wedding Gown’ by Rachel Hauck made it to my top 10 list for 2013.

    1. What a lovely story. I too have had an issue with several books this year, one of the them the must hyped ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown. I love his work normally, but this one just didn’t do it for me. More than 100 pages in I laid it aside. I used to force myself to finish books once started. I now allow myself the luxury of admitting it isn’t working for me. Edna O’Brien’s autobiography has me gripped though. What a life!

  11. What a wonderful Valentine’s Day post! Such a great idea to bring up the subject of romance novels. They do still hold a certain taboo — though of course we all enjoy them, as you said. I remember the first romance novel I bought. It was called something like The Princess and the Barbarian. I was 16, and dating my first boyfriend. My mother said the tile was perfect. 🙂

    1. Thanks Daisy. I think we see them as taboo because society has told us that and I think society holds it as such because it is mostly by women and for women. Yet, when Nicholas Sparks writes a romance novel, a movie is made of it. Hmmm.

      Isn’t it funny that you remember the first one and its title. There was a whole bad boy/good girl era of those. I recall one named ‘The Flame and The Flower’. These are such powerful titles, truly seductive aren’t they? Your mother was right!

  12. I think people are lonely inside. In today’s fast paced world, people get alienated and expressing endearments are sometimes just cliched. I think people seek private inner romance, and experience it through these novels. I am guilty of reading one or two romantic novels 😄

  13. Romance keeps us young and make us feel like we have wings and can soar anywhere, any day. It’s beautiful to wake up everyday all inspired and glowing. Febuary is ending but I hope the passions it inspired keeps burning. A blessed day to you & your family.

  14. Hi Renee – I just found this lovely essay as I was doing research for my own romance post. This romance advocate approves! If you’re interested, you might to check out ReadARomanceMonth.com – lots of great author there talking about why romance matters.

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