The Romance Genre 2/4: A Brief History of Romance Publishing

In the previous post I explained the reason behind the popularity of romance novels. In this post I explore the history of romance publishing - how it started. Please note, this post is not about the history of romance writing but about the history or romance publishing. For those of you who are interested in the history of romance writing I attach to this post a lecture on the subject. I end this post with information and links for people who want to submit their romantic stories to publishers.

Milestones in the History of Romance Publishing

Mills & Boon publishing house was established in 1908 in the UK. They started as a general publishing company, which brought out the work of authors such as Agatha Christie and Jack London, that also published romantic fiction.

Over the years the firm noticed that their romantic fiction was in more demand than all the other genres. In the 1930s Mills & Boon moved to publishing solely romance.

In the late 1950s, after noticing the success of Mills & Boon romances, the Canadian publishing company Harlequin Books began publishing Milles & Boon books in North America as Harlequin Romances.

In 1971 the Canadian company Harlequin Enterprise merged with Mills & Boon.

Between 1970-1976 Harlequin used Simon & Schuster to distribute their romance novels in the USA.

In the mid 70’s Harlequin noticed that the American readers were tired of the English romances of Mills & Boon. American readers demanded love stories with American protagonists and also contained more sexual content than what the English authors provided. To answer the demand Harlequin published Janet Dailey’s romances. Her stories took place in the US, had American protagonists (many cowboys), and were more sexual than the naive English romances. Harlequin rejected the manuscripts of Nora Roberts (later a top seller author), claiming that they already had their American romance writer.

In 1980 Simon & Schuster formed Silhouette Romance (to use the distribution infrastructure they had for Harlequin). Silhouette's romance novels became very popular; they provided American readers what they had been looking for – juicier American romances.

In 1984, Harlequin purchased Silhouette Romance.

In 2014 News Corp, the owner of HarperCollins publishing (established 1989), bought Harlequin.

Today Harlequin publishes more than 110 titles a month in 34 languages in 110 international markets on six continents. It is the world's leading publisher of books for women. In 2012 there were 92 Harlequin titles for a combined total of 313 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list along with four titles achieving the coveted #1 position. Since its inception, Harlequin has sold approximately 6.28 billion books.

Information source:
On Writing Romance by Leigh Michaels

If you would like to learn about the History of Romance Novels, I recommend watching the fallowing lecture by historian Susan Williams,

Other big publisher in the US who publish romance are:

HarperCollins - in addition to Harlequin, also owns Avon Romance 
Simon& Schuster
Forever by Hatchette
Montlake Romance by Amazon Publishing 
Other romance publishers you can find in this list

Submitting your romance novel to a publisher

Most US publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. The most common way to approach a publisher is through a literary agent.

Harlequin allows direct submission to some of their romance series. On their website you can find a detail submission guideline.
In the UK the romance publisher Harper Impulse also allows direct and more flexible submission.

In the next post in this series I will explore the characteristics of the Commercial Romance. 

If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in writing romance check out my romance writing classes at Bellevue College: