Sexily ever after: how romance bookstores took over America

From The Guardian:

Five years ago, there was just one. Now bookshops exclusively stocking romance novels are everywhere – aiming to ‘undo generations of shame’

When Jonlyn Scrogham decided to open a romance novel bookstore last year in Louisville, Kentucky, the 37-year-old had modest expectations. The space she rented was tiny; her annual sales projections were small, too.

Though she had been an avid romance reader for decades, she wasn’t sure how many others shared her excitement. She worried that people would think the concept was silly, or that not many people would visit.

But not long after A Novel Romance opened in July, she said, customers were showing up from Tennessee and Virginia, saying they had traveled three or four hours just to visit. Within two months, Scrogham was already halfway to what she had projected would be her annual sales total. And all of this happened without her spending “a single dollar” on marketing.

“It’s all been driven by Instagram, TikTok, word of mouth and Facebook,” she said. “People coming in, and the romance community talking to each other.”

Scrogham is part of a quiet but rapidly growing trend. At least eight other dedicated romance novel bookstores opened across the US in 2023, in cities from Wichita, Kansas, to Belfast, Maine. At least three more have opened so far in 2024, in Florida and in Utah, with another planned in Portland, Oregon.

“People are driving from states away – people who are seeing us online and want to come,” said Jaclyn Wooten, the founder of Blush Bookstore in Kansas. An employee said that one customer described flying in from Baltimore on a private jet. “All the businesses around us are like, ‘What is going on over there? What are they doing?’”

As a genre, romance is defined by its focus on a central love story, and by its promise of a “happily ever after” for its main characters – or at least, in more contemporary novels, a “happy for now”. Romance connoisseurs often refer to the amount of sex in the novels as a book’s “spice level”, which from ranges from quite mild to very spicy indeed.

Six years ago, there was only one romance bookstore in the US: the Ripped Bodice, in Los Angeles, named after the “bodice ripper” historical romances of the 80s and 90s. But as romance publishing has boomed, with US print book sales increasing 117% over the past three years, romance fans are opening up more brick and mortar stores to meet the demand.

Annual print sales of romance novels more than doubled in the past three years, from 18m in 2020 to 36m in 2023, driven in part by BookTok, according to Circana, a consumer analytics firm.

Over the same time, the number of romance-focused bookstores in the US grew from just two to at least 15, with a handful more in Canada and Australia. Many of them have names that play on favorite romance tropes, like Grump and Sunshine, Meet Cute and Slow Burn Books. Their decor – often heavy on the pink – is playful and celebratory, designed as a backdrop for TikTok and Instagram content.

The stores stock a wide variety of popular romance genres, from the Regency-era love stories that inspired Bridgerton, to contemporary novels about hot hockey players, to “romantasy” series like A Court of Thorns and Roses, to a wide range of LGBTQ+ romances. Despite book bans in some US states, 1m LGBTQ+ romance novels were sold between May 2022 and May 2023, a 40% increase compared with the year before, according to Circana.

When the sisters Leah Koch and Bea Hodges-Koch began raising money for the Ripped Bodice in 2015, the idea of a romance-only bookstore had plenty of doubters. Some family members and friends thought the idea was too “niche” to succeed, Leah Koch said. A few older romance novelists criticized the store’s cheeky name, arguing they were portraying the genre in a bad light. Some critics suggested a bookstore focused on sexy romance novels was an affront to religious values.

But the idea also struck a chord among romance fans: the sisters raised more than $90,000 from supporters on Kickstarter to make the Ripped Bodice a reality.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

She’s the Queen of Football Romance. (No, It’s Not Taylor Swift.)

From The Wall Street Journal:

The queen of the football romance is not Taylor Swift. It’s Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Phillips, whose tenth lusty NFL novel comes out next week, is widely credited with starting the sports romance genre more than three decades ago. She is a 79-year-old grandma who lives in Naperville, Ill., “where the Chicago Stars have their headquarters,” she says. The Chicago Stars don’t actually have a headquarters because they aren’t real, but that’s immaterial to the Americans who’ve purchased more than 2 million of these gridiron books.

While scrutiny of the relationship between Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift buzzes around the stadium when the Kansas City Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers at this Sunday’s Super Bowl, in the alternate universe of football romance novels, their love story is hardly that exceptional.

“I was ahead of Travis and Taylor,” Phillips says. “They’re copying.”

Phillips isn’t the only one writing football romance. Big hits include “The Wall of Winnipeg and Me” by Mariana Zapata, a 2016 enemies-to-lovers story about an NFL defensive end’s assistant who gets tired of washing his “extra-large underwear” and quits. Romance novelist Alexa Martin, wife of former NFL defensive back Derrick Martin, modeled her hero after Travis Kelce in her 2019 novel “Fumbled,” the story of the Denver Mustangs wide receiver “T.K. Moore.” (“His world is football, parties, and women.”)

In Phillips’s Chicago Stars series, quarterback meets opera diva, quarterback meets feisty detective, quarterback meets portrait painter, quarterback meets particle physicist—different quarterbacks, same meet-cute energy. “Simply the Best,” her upcoming novel published by the HarperCollins imprint Avon Books, pairs an NFL agent with a failed chocolatier.

Simply the Best” arrives two days after the Super Bowl and a day before Valentine’s Day. It is fitting timing for Phillips, who has turned imaginary NFL pairings into a bestselling career. The author, with 25 books translated into more than 30 languages, pegged the book’s release to the holiday. Tay and Trav were a bonus.

Phillips, whose literary spiciness ranks at more than one chili pepper but less than three, is a fan of the outlandish encounter, like a romp with former Chicago Stars wide receiver (first name Bobby Tom) involving Neapolitan ice cream (“Heaven, Texas,” 1995). She put one heroine in a beaver suit on a lonely road in a move that grabs a football star’s attention (“Natural Born Charmer,” 2007). She stranded her backup QB in the snowy Colorado mountains with a pair of boxer shorts, sneakers and a shivering naked lady (“When Stars Collide,” 2021). She even had a girl detective with “blueberry Pop-Tart eyes” steal her love interest’s Super Bowl ring and plant it on a corrupt prince’s yacht (“First Star I See Tonight,” 2016).

. . . .

“I wasn’t interested in writing the soldier or the cop or the cowboy, but the athlete just struck me as such a great thing to write about because I could play with the stereotype of the dumb jock,” says Phillips, who has also written non-sports historical and contemporary romances. Her first sports romance was a 1989 novel, “Fancy Pants,” about a pro golfer and a fallen society belle.

Phillips started in romance writing when the genre was viewed with more casual snobbery within the book industry. There were no authors on Instagram asking their fans for suggestions or TikTok readers sobbing over the ending of their favorite book. People with a guilty pleasure for romance couldn’t keep saucy titles hidden on a Kindle on their morning commutes. 

Early on, she says, the accepted wisdom in publishing was that sports, actors and rock stars didn’t sell to overseas romance readers. But she wasn’t traveling in insider book circles. “I was writing in ignorance,” she says. “It was such a blessing.” 

The mother of two boys loved reading all genres and tried her hand at romance writing with a friend when the kids were young. Once she started getting published, she joined other romance writers who were collecting street addresses and building mailing lists for their newsletters. “We started interacting with readers long before the publishers caught on,” says Phillips. 

Now such close fan relationships are a key to the blockbuster genre. Nearly 40 million romance novels were sold in print last year, up 8 percent from the previous year and on top of 52 percent growth the year before, according to the market researcher Circana. 

Sports romances are a part of the story, with ice hockey especially popular right now. “Icebreaker” by Hannah Grace—the pen name for an author who keeps her face secret from her readers—is a 2023 blockbuster about a figure skater and an ice hockey team captain that has sold almost 1 million copies in print. Golf takes the spotlight with next week’s release of “Fangirl Down” from bestselling author and TikTok fan favorite Tessa Bailey.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Romance Books Made Me a Feminist

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

This is the story of how I discovered my feminism through reading romance novels, and how that discovery ultimately led me to make writing them my career. 

I still remember when I read my first romance. The year I moved to Montreal, I got a job at a raw juice store in an industrial part of the city. Since the business was mostly based on deliveries rather than in-store purchases, I had a lot of spare time. Too much. My duties for the day took all of fifteen minutes, and the rest of the time I was only needed for the rare instances that someone wandered into the shop. As a result, I quickly slipped into mind-numbing boredom… Until I had the bright idea to read a book.

I was a voracious reader as a child, but with the various demands of life, I had forgotten that passion. I hadn’t read a book from cover to cover in almost a decade, because I hadn’t found anything that grabbed my attention. I’d spent a lot of the last years traveling and focusing on music—my first creative love—and it didn’t feel like I needed another hobby. I concluded that I just didn’t care for reading anymore, and that I’d left that particular pastime behind with my childhood.

In reality, I just hadn’t been reading the right books.

The real reason I had abandoned my reading pursuits became clear the day I stumbled upon my first romance novel as I sat behind the till at that juice bar. It was a paranormal romance—vampires, of course. My eyes were as big as saucers as I read the first spicy scene, and I remember thinking, “I didn’t know books could be like this!” From that day, an obsession was born.

As I sped through multitudinous series, I was amazed time and time again at how relatable the stories were, even those with fantastical settings and supernatural characters. The authors seemed to understand me and what I found exciting and sensual. The female protagonists had struggles I related to—fears, hopes, and desires I understood. The male protagonists were actually enticing to me, and the love stories were compelling.

I quickly found a new appreciation for my day job. Now, I resented when customers came in, because it meant I had to put my book down. (Though I was sure to paste on a smile and be polite, despite my voracious need to read.) I read on the train to and from work. I read when I got home at night, until it was time to go to bed. At which point, I stayed up too late reading some more. I hadn’t known it was even possible to be so obsessed with something.

Throughout this period of single-minded fixation, I thought deeply about why these books affected me the way they did. I had read plenty of fantasy and adventure in the past, even the occasional love story, but none had piqued my interest the way these had. They were exciting, they were binge-able, they were sexy…but it was more than that.

Then it came to me. These books were written by women, for women. All the subtle descriptions, references, humor, and scenarios were written from the female perspective. They told women’s stories—women’s desire, women’s fantasies, women’s pleasure. The simplicity of this realization shocked me as I considered the implications.

It was no wonder I hadn’t been interested in many books or movies in the past, because the entire media world is presented for the male gaze. We’re taught to regard things with a female focus to be silly, contrite, and embarrassing. If you like rom-com movies, you are subject to eye rolls and groaning. If your favorite color is pink or you played with Barbies as a child, you’ll be lumped in with “other girls” as if being “like a girl” is somehow a terrible fate to befall a…girl.

As for me, I’d been unable to enjoy most supposedly female-centered movies not because of some internal bias, but because those films are primarily written by men who don’t understand or care what it is to be a woman. It’s due to that unbalanced perspective that Hollywood is full of such blatant misogyny. Though I had stopped watching films with crude jokes at the expense of women long ago, I didn’t fully realize the magnitude of the imbalance until I found romance. 

Reading romance became more than just an escape for me; it became a rebellion. It became a place to gather with other like-minded, empowered women. It became a way to support women-owned businesses and women entrepreneurs. It became a place to explore the female perspective and expand my horizons without fear of judgment. It became a place to support others, and to feel supported. 

Did you know that romance novels are a 1.4 billion-dollar-a-year industry? Did you know the next best-selling genre, mystery, earns only 700 million? So why is it that most bookstores have a pitiful romance section in a dark and lonely corner in the back? Why is it that romance novels are considered “trashy” and women are often shamed for reading them? 

Based on those statistics, it seems to me that the patriarchy—and the need to disregard and ridicule women’s pleasure—is an even stronger force than capitalism itself. Which says a lot.

Let’s bust the myth that romance novels are trash. To write romance, not only do you need an interesting plot like any other novel, you need to have a deep understanding of human nature and dynamics. In another genre, you might be able to get away with writing a series of thrilling, suspenseful events being experienced by a fairly two-dimensional, static character, but in romance, character development is everything. It’s imperative to explore their deepest motivations, fears, and desires—otherwise the romance itself won’t feel believable.

. . . .

The deeper I get into the romance world, the more I realize the revolutionary nature of the genre. Romance is inherently feminist, not because it’s trying to be overtly loud and defiant, but simply because it exists. Women write these books for other women to read. Of course, men are welcome if they want to be part of the community, and we embrace them. But we don’t exist for them, and many men find that threatening.

But guess what? We don’t care! We’re too busy reading our spicy books to care. And damn, that’s liberating.

The income earned from book sales goes to women, the industry is primarily run by women—from publishers, agents, and editors, to cover designers, publicists, and of course, authors and readers themselves.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

10 great openings to romantic novels – and can you place them all?

From Helena Fairfax:

How important is the first line in a romantic novel?  In these days of “Click to look inside!”,  if the book you’re thinking of buying doesn’t have an immediately arresting opening, does that make you put it back on the cyber-shelf?  If you can get a free sample download for your e-reader, is the opening passage more important than ever, before you commit to buy?

I’ve been wrestling with this dilemma for what seems like forever, since I’m just putting the finishing touches to my contemporary romance.

. . . .

I’m happy with the rest of the book, pretty much, but just struggling with the first page and stressing that people will look at the first paragraphs and put it straight back down.

So that got me thinking about great openings to romantic novels, and how others have succeeded where I am singularly failing.  Below is a list of ten great openings to a romantic novel – and note, all of these were written in the days before the internet.  The pressure of an eye-catching start wasn’t even on for these authors, but to masters of the pen like these it was all part of their craftsmanship.

Can you place all ten novels?  Some are easier than others.  You’ll find the answers below!

1.      Dr Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse.  He had attended a surprisingly easy calving, lanced one abscess, extracted a molar, dosed one lady of easy virtue with Salvarsan, performed an unpleasant but spectacularly fruitful enema, and had produced a miracle by a feat of medical prestidigitation.

2.      I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.  That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board, which I have padded with our dog’s blanket and a tea-cosy.

3.      Ennis del Mar wakes before five, wind rocking the trailer, hissing in around the aluminium door and window frames.  The shirts hanging on a nail shudder slightly in the draft.  He gets up, scratching the grey wedge of belly and pubic hair, shuffles to the gas burner, pours leftover coffee in a chipped enamel pan; the flame swathes it in blue…he is suffused with a sense of pleasure because Jack Twist had been in his dream.

4.  On they went, singing ‘Eternal Memory’, and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing.  Passers-by made way for the procession, counted the wreaths and crossed themselves.  Some joined in out of curiosity and asked, ‘Who is being buried?’

Link to the rest, including the answers, at Helena Fairfax

Anna Biller on How the Gothic Gives Voice to Women’s Pleasure—and Pain

From Electric Lit:

“There are rules for contemporary literature, and I’m breaking a lot of them for a lot of people,” filmmaker Anna Biller told me by phone. Her debut novel, Bluebeard’s Castle, rejects the minimalism that recent fiction sometimes conflates with seriousness: nowhere, here, will you find the anesthetized protagonist, the dead-end job, the lukewarm relationships, or the “cool first person” tone used of late to capture the alienation of the modern subject. Instead, Biller’s book embraces excess from cover to literal cover. Its heroine Judith’s feelings are almost as enormous as the gowns she wears to breakfast and the English castle she buys on a whim with her hunky but probably evil lover. Costume balls are thrown. Daggers are wielded. And just look at that cover!

. . . .

In reviving the delicious manias of 18th-century Gothic novels and 1960s dime-store romances, Bluebeard’s Castle pays homage to genres that were often (and often pejoratively) associated with female readerships in their day. Indeed, the pleasures and perils of womanhood have always been the twin obsessions of Biller’s oeuvre. As a filmmaker, she painstakingly recreates the dreamy costumes, sets, and cinematography of bygone eras, from ‘60s Hollywood (The Love Witch) to the sexploitation movies and mags of the ‘70s (Viva). The result is a gorgeous, distinctly female gaze—but one unafraid to depict the mainstays of women’s suffering, from objectification to assault.

Even against that backdrop, Bluebeard’s Castle is Biller’s darkest work to date. Her reimagination of the French fairytale follows modern-day mystery author Judith as she falls hard for Gavin, a member of the peerage who promises her the world. But once they marry, Gavin’s charms sour, his worsening acts of cruelty seeming to channel the femicidal history of the medieval estate they call home. As Judith begins to fear for her sanity—and her life—Bluebeard’s Castle indicts a society that dares to call itself modern while violence against women remains routine.

. . . .

Chelsea Davis: The Bluebeard legend is hundreds of years old. I was curious what attracted you to using it as the blueprint for a novel set in the present.

Anna Biller: It was actually a tragedy that happened to somebody that I know who got involved with a very, very bad man. And her life ended.

I was thinking about all the research on how many women are killed by their partners today—it’s such a high number. There was a story last year about a couple that went hiking. The woman went missing and they did this big search for her. When they combed the woods for her body, they found four more bodies that they weren’t even looking for. Their killers were all their boyfriends and husbands.

Growing up, I was always really interested in fairytales, and in the connection between the Bluebeard fairytale and the modern serial killer thriller. The Bluebeard stories were originally from the point of view of the woman, and it was only maybe in the ‘60s that it shifted, especially in movies. Suddenly, the point of view is all from that of the killer—especially in the Giallo films, like those of Mario Bava, and then in Hollywood films. It became very, very sadistic, and that’s still what we have: it’s the slasher, or the thriller. They say these movies are feminist, because there’s one woman who survived at the end, but in those older movies, you didn’t have to see a bunch of your friends be brutally murdered. I don’t think that’s a happy ending.

So that’s all in the book.

CD: What you’re saying is that femicide is still the status quo, not the exception. We’d like to think of extreme violence against women as being a thing of the past, but it’s not.

AB: That’s partly why I wanted to set my book in the modern age: I don’t want people to think “Oh, this is how it was in the 1950s or the ‘40s.” That lets us off the hook.

People also think of feminine women as dated, of femininity as being out of fashion. But I see more and more young women who really want to doll themselves up. They’re not doing it for a man; usually they’re doing it for fun with their friends, or to make themselves feel good. It’s in pop culture, it’s in music video culture, it’s on TikTok, but it’s still not in recent movies or books.

CD: I wanted to ask you about feminine fantasy more broadly. You’re so committed to a traditionally feminine aesthetic in your films, and now also in this novel: the lavish clothing, the sweet food, the hunky man. And each of these pleasures is actually really fun to read about. But they also end up having a dark side—the sugar crash after the desserts, or the man who ends up being, you know, completely evil. Do you think that women’s fantasy is doomed to endanger us?

AB: No, I don’t think it’s always doomed to endanger us. But do I think the Gothic is about women being entombed within a castle that’s owned by a man, under his rules and regulations. So, the Gothic is about being imprisoned within patriarchy, and about the woman either making peace with that, or escaping it.
That’s why those old-style novel covers are so evocative—the kind of cover that I copied with my book jacket, which shows the woman fleeing from the castle. It already tells the whole story, that cover: she’s fleeing from this wealth, this security, this pleasure, this dark fantasy that’s exciting. The man means pleasure, but he also means control. Are you willing to play the role of the little perfect doll to a man, and have all the money, have all the pleasure—but also be under his control? Or do you want independence, which could also mean poverty and loneliness?

Jane Eyre is a perfect example of that. Jane can go back to the castle in the end and be with Rochester because he’s maimed and blind, and therefore, they’re equal. He doesn’t have power over her because he has to depend on her to be his eyes. But if he weren’t maimed and blind, well, she couldn’t stay there with him because he’d continue to dominate her.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

PG checked out the publisher of Ms. Biller’s book and discovered Verso Books.

Since PG, living a sheltered life, had never encountered Verso, he checked out the publisher’s website.

Verso Books is the largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world, publishing one hundred books a year.

. . . .

Brief History

“Anglo-America’s preeminent radical press.”—Harper’s

“The scale of the achievement of New Left Review and Verso, which turns forty this year, is now clear.”—Nation

“A rigorously intelligent publisher.”—Sunday Times

New Left Books was launched by New Left Review in 1970, and took as its logo the Tatlin Tower—a planned monument to the Third International. Focusing initially on translating works of European political and social theory, economics and philosophy, the list during that decade included Theodor Adorno, Louis Althusser, Walter Benjamin, Lucio Colletti, Henri Lefebvre, Georg Lukács, Ernest Mandel, Herbert Marcuse, Jean-Paul Sartre and Max Weber, as well as major original works by Perry Anderson, Terry Eagleton, Tom Nairn and Raymond Williams. NLB’s list challenged established opinions both in the United States and the Soviet Union, and their respective satellites, as well as providing important critical analyses of China, India and South America. The publishing house was always intended to be far broader in its reach than NLR. An early bestseller was Against Method by Paul Feyeraband.

Verso—the left-hand page—was launched as a paperback imprint at the end of the seventies. Since becoming NLB’s sole imprint, Verso has published landmark books by Tariq Ali, Benedict Anderson, Robin Blackburn, Robert Brenner, Judith Butler, Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, Mike Davis, Isaac Deutscher, Paul Feyeraband, Norman Finkelstein, David Harvey, Eric Hobsbawm, Fredric Jameson, Edward Said, Rebecca Solnit, Ellen Meiksins Wood, Erik Olin Wright and Slavoj Žižek. New translations have included Jean Baudrillard, Régis Debray, André Gorz, Jürgen Habermas, Rigoberta Menchú, Roberto Schwarz and Paul Virilio.

The New Left Review rang a heavily-muffled memory lurking in the foggiest part of PG’s brain.

He checked Wikipedia and discovered the following:

As part of the British “New Left” a number of new journals emerged to carry commentary on matters of Marxist theory. One of these was The Reasoner, a magazine established by historians E. P. Thompson and John Saville in July 1956. A total of three quarterly issues was produced. This publication was expanded and further developed from 1957 to 1959 as The New Reasoner, with an additional ten issues being produced.

Another radical journal of the period was the Universities and Left Review, a publication established in 1957 with less of a sense of allegiance to the British communist tradition. This publication was more youth-oriented and pacifist in orientation, expressing opposition to the militaristic rhetoric of the Cold War, voicing strong opposition to the 1956 Suez War, and support for the emerging Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).


New Left Review was established in January 1960 when The New Reasoner and Universities and Left Review merged their boards. The first editor-in-chief of the merged publication was Stuart Hall. The early publication’s style, featuring illustrations on the cover and in the interior layout, was more irreverent and free-flowing than later issues of the publication, which tended to be of a more somber, academic bent. Hall was succeeded as editor in 1962 by Perry Anderson.

In 1993, nineteen of the members of the editorial committee resigned, citing a loss of control over content by the Editorial Board/Committee in favour of a Shareholders’ Trust, which they argued was undemocratic.

. . . .  The journal was again relaunched in 2000 . . .

Of course, The Age of Aquarius and “Far Out!” Drug-addled aesthetes wielding Marxist theories who were going to change the world! A heady mix of flower children, Vietnam, napalm, getting high and dropping out.

PG was wondering what sort of intellectually pretentious publisher would regard a “femicide” book and its author as worthy of serious attention when she creates lurid paragraphs like the following:

“The man means pleasure, but he also means control. Are you willing to play the role of the little perfect doll to a man, and have all the money, have all the pleasure—but also be under his control? Or do you want independence, which could also mean poverty and loneliness?”

The Queen of Romance in AI

PG promises this is the last of today’s AI writing posts.

Prompt: Provide a fictional plot outline in Danielle Steel’s style and themes.


Title: “Shadows of Yesterday”

Plot Outline:

  1. Setting and Introduction:
    • The story unfolds in modern-day New York City.
    • Introduce the protagonist, Isabella, a young, ambitious, and successful magazine editor facing personal and professional challenges.
  2. Isabella’s Background:
    • Isabella comes from a wealthy, but emotionally distant family.
    • Flashbacks reveal her struggles with her demanding and critical mother, shaping her relentless drive for perfection.
  3. Career Challenges:
    • Isabella is up for a major promotion, but faces stiff competition and workplace politics.
    • Her professional life is a whirlwind of high-profile events, glamorous parties, and celebrity interviews, masking her inner turmoil.
  4. Romantic Entanglements:
    • Isabella’s love life is complicated, caught between a comfortable but unexciting relationship with a longtime friend and a passionate, unpredictable affair with a charismatic entrepreneur.
  5. Family Crisis:
    • A sudden family tragedy forces Isabella to reevaluate her life choices.
    • She returns home to confront unresolved issues with her family, particularly her mother.
  6. Self-Discovery and Growth:
    • Through these trials, Isabella embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
    • She begins to understand the importance of balance in life and starts to question her relentless pursuit of success.
  7. New Love Interest:
    • Amidst her personal growth, Isabella meets a new love interest – someone who challenges her perspectives and offers a more authentic and supportive relationship.
  8. Climactic Decision:
    • Faced with a pivotal career decision, Isabella must choose between her lifelong ambition and a chance at genuine happiness.
    • This decision is complicated by a surprise revelation related to her family’s past.
  9. Resolution:
    • Isabella makes a bold decision that prioritizes her personal happiness and true self over societal expectations.
    • The story concludes with her embarking on a new path, finding a balance between her career ambitions and personal life.
  10. Themes:
    • The narrative weaves through themes of self-discovery, the complexity of family dynamics, the pursuit of success, and the search for love and personal fulfillment.
    • It highlights the often difficult choices women face in balancing career, family, and romance.

This fictional outline is inspired by Danielle Steel’s style, known for her emotionally rich stories that explore family, relationships, and personal growth set against the backdrop of contemporary life. The plot combines elements of romance, drama, and self-discovery, typical of Steel’s bestselling novels

End of ChatGPT4

Since PG is not an expert on the works of Ms. Steel, he’ll leave comments on the accuracy of the plot outline to those who are.

For PG, this series of “Provide a fictional plot outline in (well-known author’s) style and themes” AI experiments is the first indication that AI might be a potentially-useful tool for authors.

It strikes him that AI might be helpful for beginning authors writing in various genres. PG checked the Romance Writers of America website and this is part of what he found:

The Basics

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there’s a romance novel waiting for you!


Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. 

A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as they want as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction. 

The same types of expected elements can be found in all the genre fiction that floats into PG’s mind – fantasy, sci-fi, YA, horror, mysteries, etc. His is impression from his personal AI experiments is that one of the things AI can do is generate some interesting ideas for rules-based subjects.

Genre Juggernaut: Measuring “Romance”

From Public Books:

Late this past summer, The Ripped Bodice, a dedicated romance bookstore in Culver City, Los Angeles, opened its Brooklyn location, and fans of the genre swarmed in as if for a Taylor Swift concert. Braving 90-degree heat in Park Slope, a diverse mix of mostly millennial readers formed a line all the way down to the corner just to get into the shop. When preparations began for a book signing by bestselling nonbinary romance author Casey McQuiston, readers bearing copies of McQuiston’s books created an even longer line, reaching halfway around the block an hour before the author arrived.

The immense interest in romance fiction and the diversity of authors and readers driving its current success have become increasingly apparent. As Melanie Walsh discussed in this series last year, the publishing industry keeps much of the most important and revealing data about which books people are reading “purposefully locked away, … basically inaccessible to anyone beyond the industry.”

But while the producers of books like to guard their secrets, readers are often willing to share. At the University of Pennsylvania’s Price Lab for Digital Humanitites—where our team studies contemporary tastes and habits of reading—we’ve been using the Goodreads social book-collection site to access data about books and reading from this more open side of the field. Among other things, the reception-side approach lets us classify books the way readers do themselves, rather than simply accepting the genre labels assigned by publishers or librarians. We’ve studied thousands of avid readers and the hundreds of thousands of books in their collections. And what we’ve learned is that romance is not just one literary genre among others.

Instead, romance is the juggernaut of contemporary literature, standing out from all other genres in its sheer scale and in the wild diversity of its subgenres. Scholars and teachers have long dismissed the genre as a narrow, hypernormative form of fiction catering to happiness addicts. But, in the world of the genre’s actual readers, romance is a vital part of the literary system: large, complex, and dynamic.

. . . .

Why look to Goodreads for this kind of information? It is an ancient site, at least by social media standards. And, since its acquisition by Amazon a decade ago, Goodreads has managed to alienate even some loyal users with its cluttered format, creaky site architecture, obtrusive parent company advertising, and persistent vulnerability to bad actors abusing the review system to advance their own careers or trash the careers of others. Even so, its membership has kept growing, recently surpassing 100 million. It remains the world’s richest repository of self-reported information on reading: what people read month by month and year by year; how their tastes become broader or narrower over time; and how they respond as readers to new trends in publishing or to broader social and political developments like Black Lives Matter and the COVID-19 pandemic.

A defining feature of Goodreads is that it lets users organize their books into whatever groups, or “shelves,” they like. Their collective shelving preferences often differ significantly from industry labels. Our team gathered the user-generated shelving data for some 600,000 books, corresponding to the libraries of 3,200 highly active Goodreads users.

What jumps out immediately from this data is the enormous scale of romance. Users file books on their romance shelf nearly as often as they do on the shelf for fiction itself (and far more often than on that for nonfiction).

Table 1: The top six genre shelves on Goodreads, based on user-generated shelf data for 600,000 books.

These numbers count books as, say, fantasy, even if they only land on the fantasy shelves of a few readers who use the shelf feature in Goodreads. To focus on the books that readers associate most closely with a genre, we set a rule only to count books when that genre claims at least 10 percent of their top 10 shelf assignments. That may sound like a low bar, but it actually rules out all but the most strongly genre-related books. In the romance category, for example, Ian McEwan’s sweeping metafictional love story Atonement is excluded, since its romance shelving score is only 9%. Pride and Prejudice, the most canonical of all marriage-plot novels, achieves only 14% romance shelving. Even the purest or least hybrid romances one can think of—books like Emily Henry’s Beach Read or Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date—are only shelved as about 50 percent romance.

Classifying all the books into genres based on this 10 percent rule, we still found that the romance category contains far more books than other leading genres: twice as many as fantasy, and three times as many as mystery. Nothing else comes close.

Table 2: The top six shelves on Goodreads, using the 10 percent filter described above.

Romance is not only the largest genre category but, according to our analysis, the most distinct and well-defined. We constructed a network based on the top 10 genre-shelf assignments of all our books, including everything from Australia and college to gothicroad trip, and football. We then ran a community-detection analysis, which helps us find shelves that tend to cluster together: for instance, college and football connect to each other more often than they connect to Australia. We used a computational tool called Louvain detection to look at all of these connections and cross-shelvings, studying each closely to see what sorts of shelves comprise the detected groups.

Link to the rest at Public Books

Lessons in Love: Romance Authors and the Power of Labor Solidarity

From Publishers Weekly:

Love is in the air for publishers. As I write, five of the top 10 New York Times fiction bestsellers are romance. In the first half of 2023, print unit sales of romance titles soared 34.6% over the same period last year, while in 2022, romance unit sales grew 52.4% over the previous year, according to Publishers Weekly.

Publishers are scrambling to explain love’s new bloom. Is it the BookTok bump? The Colleen Hoover effect? The Big Five’s belated recognition that characters of all races, sizes, and sexual orientations deserve their happily ever afters?

Maybe. But after studying romance authors for nearly a decade, I believe the surge is driven by romance writers themselves, and their unique solidarity as a labor force.

It might seem counterintuitive to think of romance writers—or any authors—as a labor force. Writers work alone. They don’t have a regular employer or paycheck. Nevertheless, romance writers realized long ago that there’s strength in numbers. In the late 1970s, these writers—mostly women, mostly white, almost universally disrespected by the book world—sought each other out by letter and phone call to share scarce industry intel.

In 1980, Black romance editor Vivian Stephens formalized this grassroots network into Romance Writers of America. For 40 years, the group dramatically improved conditions for romance writers, pushing for better contracts, transparent royalty statements, and on-time payments.

Sadly, not all writers benefited equally: RWA’s failure to fully include diverse authors contributed to the group’s spectacular implosion in 2020. Nevertheless, for four decades, RWA spread an ethic of mutual support that still infuses the romance writing community. My research found that an astonishing 74% of romance authors connect with each other online, over the phone, via email, or in person at least once a week. Half connect every day. This tradition of close, frequent connection means that advice and innovation spread like wildfire among romance writers.

Labor law forbids solo contractors, including authors, from sharing compensation figures: it’s considered price-fixing. Indeed, to avoid antitrust suits, RWA devotes a page of its website to explaining antitrust law and discouraging members from discussing rates.

No matter. Romance writers have openly shared royalty rates and contract terms for decades. Today, on social media, email chains, and elsewhere, romance writers frequently share best practices for promotion, marketing, and reader relations. Other genre authors tell me this kind of openness is unusual. One SF writer said getting others to share income data is “like pulling teeth.”

Of course, other author organizations lobby for better contracts. But these groups typically restrict membership to traditionally published authors, which limits innovation. Romance writers famously welcome newcomers: RWA admitted unpublished authors from the very beginning. And a commitment to training new authors still pervades Romancelandia’s countless online groups and the many smaller romance organizations that splintered off from RWA.

This sense of solidarity benefits established as well as aspiring writers. Based on guidance from newcomers (often authors of color shunned by the publishing industry), traditionally published authors adopted the tactics of self-publishing, helping drive the indie romance explosion. The boom drained revenues from mass market publishing and empowered romance authors to demand better treatment from publishers.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG doesn’t know if “labor solidarity” is an entirely accurate term to describe RWA and similar organizations. Authors are not employees of romance publishers. They are independent actors who are not protected by labor laws, nor are they under any obligation to show up at a workplace designated by a publisher, spend any specified days or times writing for a publisher, etc., etc.

Typically, if a business entity is hiring someone to perform work as an independent contractor, the business cannot tell the contractor how to produce the goods, services, etc., that the contractor is delivering to the business entity AKA Principal.

If someone hires a carpenter to build and install a set of cabinets in a garage, the carpenter buys the wood, nails, screws, etc., to be transformed into cabinets and uses his/her own tools to build the cabinets, makes the decision to hire, whatever additional help the carpenter believes will help finish the job more efficiently or complete the job without any additional help.

If the homeowner hires the carpenter as described, the carpenter does not become an employee and the homeowner is not subject to the various laws and regulations that an employer undertakes when an employee is hired, including filing wage reports with government agencies, deducting and paying state and federal taxes from the employee’s compensation, etc., etc.

PG has gone on too long, but romance writers, for all their many virtues and accomplishments, are not laborers working for an employer. They are self-employed entrepreneurs creating a product and selling it to the highest bidder or otherwise utilizing their creations in any way they think best.

Labor solidarity got PG thinking of some of the classic working-class songs Woody Guthrie wrote.