Photo: Courtesy of Little, Brown, and Company
You probably know someone with a stack of steamy novels teetering next to her bed or cued up on her Kindle. And maybe that someone is you. Romance, after all, is fiction's big best-selling category, accounting for nearly $1.5 billion in sales in 2012—more than mystery and science fiction combined. And according to the Romance Writers of America, the average die-hard fan is far from the stereotyped sexless spinster. She's in a relationship and has a career while still a voracious consumer of romance books.
To satisfy readers' insatiable appetites, the category has expanded beyond the bodice ripper to include everything from contemporary sweet and sexy tales (Hot Buttered Yum, anyone?) to stories with a little more bite (The Vampire with the Dragon Tattoo). And today's heroines aren't the delicate flowers of yesteryear, says Sarah Wendell, cofounder of the Web site Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Wendell notes that the trend in a hot subgenre termed "new adult" is toward strong, independent young heroines. "They are neither innocent nor clueless—you won't find them running down an alley in their nightgowns because a guy with a knife is chasing them," says Wendell. And the male leads? They aren't necessarily the sort you'd bring home to Mom. "They are more antihero: not admirable, but fascinating," she says.
Paging Mr. Grey...
When we reached out to O's readers to find out whether they like their love stories mild, hot, or somewhere in between, we weren't surprised to find that, like romance heroines themselves, they're ardent and up for adventure.
"Romances reinforce the belief that true love is out there." — Mary Kawalek, 24
"Being an old romantic soul, I prefer my romances mild." — Gosia Piotrowska, 41
"I like my romance novels spicy, because I can try things out on my husband."
— Dorothy Ward, 40
"Everyone else saw only the sex in Fifty Shades of Grey. I saw a love story."
— Katherine Mills, 55
"I love smart, butt-kicking women who inevitably find some hot, smart, sweet guy to fall for."
— Heather Garcia, 36
Next: Perfect partners for every mood
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From the February 2014 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!