From September, Harlequin Romance will become just plain ROMANCE with new covers and some fabulous new names joining the list of favourite authors. Not just new authors but writers familiar from lines such as Silhouette Romance, Special Edition, Steeple Hill.
I imagine one of the most pressing questions that readers will have is whether the books have changed in any way. The answer is both yes, and then again, no.
This line is the foundation on which the series romance publishing business was founded. While, in a difficult publishing world, other lines have come and gone, Harlequin Romance has always been a best-seller worldwide.
It started a long time ago. Early books explored the plight of women trapped in loveless marriages, raising awareness of the need for divorce law reform. They told stories about women who cared for the damaged men returning from war. Authors acknowledged the changes the sexual revolution of the sixties brought to women’s lives. Within its pages, the single mother evolved from a girl that “good” women shunned, to a liberated, self-supporting, responsible young woman. The feisty heroine became a woman who could stand toe-to-toe with her hero in business as well as the bedroom. His equal, partner in all things. Jay Dixon has written a fascinating account of the history of the genre in her book The Romance Fiction of Mills & Boon 1909 to 1990s, something of an eye-opener for me as I suspect it will be for many people.
More recently, the authors have taken on Bridget Jones and offered the reader first-person, chick-lit heroines – ones who didn’t whine anywhere near as much as their mainstream rivals.
So here’s what I’m saying. The series is not static. It’s not, never was, set in 1950s aspic. It has constantly evolved, moving with the times to meet the new expectations and lives of the women who read romance. Our heroines are modern women, the kind of women you know, the kind of women you are and they have a place on your keeper shelf alongside the heroines of such Jennifer Crusie greats as Anyone But You, Alison Kent’s Temptations and Blazes, the fabulous Presents titles of Sara Craven, Robyn Donald, Kate Walker, Sandra Marton. The friendship books of Debbie Macomber. (You wouldn’t only eat one kind of ice cream or pizza or chicken dish, would you? Some days you want sexy, some days you want to laugh, some days you want a warm, emotionally satisfying read that leaves you with a warm glow.)
So, to return to the question. Is ROMANCE, different to Harlequin Romance? Has it changed?
Referring to the answer I gave earlier, yes and yes and yes. It remains a publishing success because it has never stopped changing. And then again, no. It will still deliver the kind of story that those of you who never left us, but pick and mix their favourite authors from across the lines to meet their mood, have come to expect, demand, cherish.
And maybe that’s the secret. Story.
As one of my colleagues – the amazing, award-winning Marion Lennox -- put it, we don’t do as much sex as other Harlequin series, so our characters have to talk more. To sustain conversation, great conversation, requires real depth of conflict and emotion, great characters.
Story, emotion, characters who live and breath, are the ingredients that bring readers back again and again to Harlequin Romance, but while we hope to move you to tears, we want to make you laugh, too. All the ingredients you know and love are there; witty urban stories, Outback heroes, women and men struggling through to find not some clichéd happy ever after, a story that ends when you close the book, but a life that continues into the future, a partner to share the burdens and the joys.
In relaunching this series, the editors have squeezed us all until the pips squeaked to write the best books we know how, to give the reader deeply-felt emotion, heroines who sparkle, heroes who can make the knees go weak with a smile and above all, sexual tension to make the air crackle. Stories, in other words, that will grip from beginning to end and make this a must-read series for anyone who loves the charge of romance as women find it in the twenty-first century.
Alongside my own book, The Sheikh’s Guarded Heart, the September line up includes,
Raye Morgan, with the third book in The Brides of Bella Lucia series – the first two books by Rebecca Winters and Linda Goodnight are available now – and titles from Lucy Gordon and Natasha Oakley.
You can check out brief excerpts at the Harlequin Authors Blog where you’re welcome to ask questions, leave comments and chat amongst yourselves!
Finally, for budding authors, to help launch the series in the UK, look out for a Mill and Boon short story competition being run in conjunction with WOMAN'S WEEKLY magazine during the first two weeks in September. If you haven’t already checked it out, this might be a good time to read my own short story, THE CINDERELLA VALENTINE, which is online at eHarlequin.