Romance, Recession, Bosoms, and a Book Giveaway


While Wall Street is crumpling, businesses are folding, and pensions are evaporating like puddles in the afternoon sun, one area of the economy which seems to be thriving is the romance fiction industry. The New York Times recently reported that “Harlequin Enterprises, the queen of the romance world” saw “fourth-quarter earnings [2008] up 32 percent over the same period a year earlier.”

How can this be true? The rest of the book industry is imploding, much like the wider economy, yet romance readers are buying more books than ever and the industry appears to be doing nicely, thank you very much.

Clearly the romance world has tenacity. “Bodice-rippers,” “soft-porn for bored housewives,” “trash,” “fluff,” and “drivel.” Such labels and such derision have been continuously hurled at romance novels over the years. Yet in spite of being considered the dog-do on the shoe of the literary world, one in five women still read these books and the industry continues to make over one billion dollars in sales every year.

But why are readers turning to romance fiction now? Why are they giving up their hard-earned and increasingly disappearing dollars on tales of love, sex, and dashing heroes?

For an insider’s insight into the tenacious and thriving world of romance, I turned to Sarah Wendell, blogger for the immensely popular “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” blog and co-author of the new book Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels. I just finished reading this delicious, irreverent, and actually very thoughtful book and loved every page. Wendell and her co-author Candy Tan are true experts and fans of the genre. They love and appreciate romance but, with wit, intelligence, and delicious snark, they also point out its idiosyncrasies.

Why do you think romance does well in a recession?

When everything is bad news, and I mean everything, taking a moment to yourself to read something that you know will feature a happy ending to any adversity can make you feel better. Happiness isn’t trendy or stylish or sexy, but all of us want it and assign it priceless value. Romance reminds us that happiness is possible, and reminds us that in all likelihood, readers probably have some already in hand.

Why do you think it does well not in a recession?

Books, unfortunately, are a luxury for some people. For me, personally, they’re a necessity but I bargain hunt with the best of them. So when someone is watching every dime, spending $8-14 dollars on a book can seem like a huge extravagance. That might ultimately harm some genres. But because romance is about happiness, fulfillment and comforting reassurance, I think romance will come out of a recession just fine. Plus, romance is a familiar feature of bad economies – Harlequin started during the Great Depression, and they probably know better than any of us how much the promise of a happy ending can reassure any reader.

Women are the biggest readers of romance, as they are for fiction in general. Do you think they are hit harder by the recession and thus turn to romance more?

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the amount of stress both men and women are under in a bad economy. From salary stress to home values to the myriad roles men and women play between work and home and family and budgeting and providing and parenting and being an adult child of elderly parents – there’s a lot to worry about. Speaking specifically of women, we have precious little free time to do nothing but read. I think women turn to romance because they know everything will turn out ok in the end – and if it’s not ok, it’s not the end. That kind of reassurance in your leisure reading is a comfort and a welcome respite from the stress that everyone faces.

And women are not the only readers of romance. I receive more than a few letters from men who tell me they love romances, and are so pleased to read the recommendations on my site as it steers them to authors they wouldn’t have discovered — because romance isn’t typically marketed to men. But the men I meet who read romance are incredibly smart, savvy and curious people. Ideal heroes if you ask me.

What kind of romance books sell the best?

The ones with excellent word of mouth reputations, which are usually the ones with solid plots, memorable characters, and real, nuanced emotions at work between the protagonists. In short: good ones!

Which books would you recommend for a recession-wearied reader?

I can recommend a slew of books that are wonderful reads, but for specific books that feature adversity and triumph with truly marvelous happy endings:

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Instant Attraction by Jill Shalvis

Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl

Flat Out Sexy by Erin McCarthy

Those are all contemporary romances as in they feature real people in the here-and-now with real problems, real conflicts, and truly happy endings. Jane from Dear Author ( and I recently featured them in our Save the Contemporary campaign designed to highlight contemporary romance.

My thanks to Sarah for agreeing to answer questions on this topic. I was actually lucky enough to meet her in person last week at an academic conference about romance fiction held at Princeton University. I’m going to post an article about this fascinating conference on my Huffington Post blog later this week.

If you’d like to win a copy of Beyond Heaving Bosoms, just leave a comment. Closing date for the draw: May 4th.

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88 Responses to “Romance, Recession, Bosoms, and a Book Giveaway”

  1. Ann says:

    It sounds perfect for a summer read!

  2. Renee G says:

    would love to read this.


  3. Jennifer says:

    I would love to read this, thanks for the giveaway!

  4. Ellie W says:

    Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the giveaway. Please enter me.

  5. Karen H says:

    Met Sarah at Romantic Times Book Fair last week. I love the blog and I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  6. Christina Brunetti says:

    I would love to read this.



  7. Sharon A says:

    I was a huge romance novel fan when I was younger and want to learn more about why.

  8. Gesina says:

    Thank you for the awesome contest! And the interesting blog, as well :]

  9. Deedles says:

    I just seem to never have too many good books. Please enter me.

  10. SB Sarah says:

    I want a copy!

    No, wait, I’m not eligible. Just kidding.

    I’m so giddy that folks are curious about the book – I hope whoever wins enjoys it!

  11. Binjali says:

    Got here from the SBTB blog. One thing that I really like about Candy and Sarah- they’re always putting up links to things that interest me. So, hello, and I may lurk around here in the future :)

  12. Angel says:

    Harlequin started during the Great Depression

    Whoa. I didn’t know that! I wonder what the most popular heroes/settings were back then.

    Thanks for the book recs!

  13. Ariana says:

    I’m a bookseller and can comment on the continuing popularity of romances in my store – yay!

    And I’d love a copy of the book.

  14. Thank you for this insight!!! I found myself feeling extremely down a month, two months ago, as I finished up my 3rd manuscript. As an unpublished author, seeing the economy take a nose dive really worried me. But after reading this article, I am feeling very hopeful! Romance rules!! LOL!

  15. Lisa says:

    I’d love to win a copy. It sounds like a good book.

  16. Lyvvie says:

    When money is tight, it’s just fun to read about someone having lavish adventures where money is no object. We become the heroine (or hero) for those moments within the pages and it’s a lovely escape from the reality of casserole, misbehaving kids and 12 hour work days.

  17. Kayleigh says:

    I think during times when money is lacking, you need to improvise with things. There are some fantastic amateur stories on the net if you’re willing to dig through the crap stuff, the delicious snarkiness of romance readers is never not entertaining and it might just push you into writing your own stuff, if only for the laughs.

  18. this look like a great book

  19. Heidi says:

    My husband heard about this book on NPR while I was enthralled in my first Harlequin romance. (Frankly he was more excited about it then I was) When I went looking for it I realized there was a blog as well and was thrilled to be able to find some place that will tell me what is trash and what is a decent read.

    I enjoyed reading your interview and would love to be in the contest as well. Thanks so much!

  20. Kathy says:

    What a wonderful interview! I know that books are an absolute necessity for me (never a luxury)… which is why I keep many, many old favorites to pull out and re-read when I can’t afford a new one or nothing is out there that interests me. I do want to read Heaving Bosoms and appreciate the chance to win a copy.

  21. Alicia says:

    This books sounds fascinating. Please enter me!

    bluebyrd24 at gmail dot com

  22. Heather K. says:

    Good article, thanks to Sarah for pointing the way. A chance to win a free book I want to read means more money for other books. Win win! Anyway, my friends and I save money by sharing our favorite books. Worried that the book might wander off? Slap one of those free address labels that show up everyday in the mail onto the cover and eventually it finds its way back to you. Viva la romance!

  23. Emilie S says:

    What a great sounding book — thanks for the chance!!

    emvark at gmail dot com

  24. Rhonda says:

    Dinner and a date: $35 (add another $30 if drinking alcohol…Ok, $50)
    Movie and a date: $20 (add another $20 for the super value popcorn combo, which you don’t really need because you just had dinner, never mind the fact that you consumed so much alcohol and now miss half the movie because you have to pee every 10 min.)
    Receiving the romance novel you found on line while getting side tracked from paying your bills because you opened up a news letter from one of your favorite authors and their latest book just came out: PRICELESS

  25. Maya M. says:

    Nice interview! I haven’t read any of the recommended titles yet, but who can resist a story fit for the recession-wearied? The Bosoms themselves sound like a huge amount of fun.

  26. misswendiki aka wendy says:

    I’m not a fan of traditional romance novels, but I’d love to learn more about them, and figure out why others do.

  27. Diana says:

    Thanks for the interview. I am looking forward to reading this book.

  28. Susan says:

    What a great title!

  29. Karen W. says:

    I enjoyed the interview, and the book sounds amazing! Thanks for the chance to win a copy.

  30. maygirl7 says:

    Hi, please enter me in the contest. I am curious to read the book.

  31. Sherry says:

    Yes, thanks for the contest. I hope I can win ^^ I’ve been wanting to read “Beyond Heaving Bosoms” since it came out!

  32. jorendell says:

    Wow, the response to this giveaway has been great. I’m sorry I haven’t been on top of the comments (my son and I are both suffering from a hideous cold) but thanks for entering and especially for those who’ve said why they love reading romance – and why they “need” the HEA’s during a recession! Joanne

  33. Summer says:

    I think that a lot of the things discussed in this article are true. I know that I read romance for a happy ending.

  34. Anne Fescharek says:

    My usual “pleasure reading” was always historical fiction –I was really big on medieval realism such as The Black Death, the Spanish Inquisition, etc.,

    Then it suddenly dawned on me why my doctor felt I needed Cymbalta! That’s when I picked up a copy of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ “Natural Born Charmer” and read and laughed my @ss off.

    Soon after I found “Smart Women, Trashy Books” and EXONERATED myself! See, I can be smart and pick up a book for fun!

  35. Stephanie Z, says:

    Thanks for the contest and the interview. I just bought a handful of romance novels the other day, after having been on a book-buying freeze for about two months. It was worth every penny.

  36. Abby says:

    Thank you so much for the contest! Also, I had a great time reading your blog. :)

  37. Val Pearson says:

    I have heard so much about this book, thanks for the awesome contest!

  38. Tami says:

    Thank you so much for the contest, and for blogging. I find myself buying books even when I don’t have money, It’s a great escape!