The Things She Says (Mills & Boon Desire)
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Sheikhs feature a lot in these million-selling novels, but are seldom found reading books in them too much wooing and stamping and looking cruel ; but were they to read Desert Rapture or The Moonlit Oasis or The Falcon's Mistress, would they be surprised to discover how often they fall in love with rather ordinary-looking British women, with coltish virgins and plain-but-plucky athletes?
Mills & Boon: These days, girls want a wizard lover...
Would they be interested to learn how invariably they're described as possessing strong jawlines, high cheekbones and jet-black eyes? So can other alpha-male stereotypes, especially cowboy ranchers, business moguls, billionaires mere millionaires need not apply any more and swarthy plutocrats of indeterminate employment, known only as "the Spaniard," "the Italian" and inevitably "the Greek". They're all at the heart of a publishing phenomenon which celebrates its centenary on Thursday, and can boast some extraordinary statistics.
Their books are translated into 25 languages and sell in international markets. They have a stable of 1, authors around the world, many of whom make millions but most of whom prefer to lurk behind noms de plume. A jaw-dropping 35 million titles are sold every year worldwide, seven million in the UK. Flying in the face of public condescension and mainstream publishing trends , they publish 70 new titles each month and pulp any unsold copies after three months. For an organisation concerned with melting hearts and stumbling moonlight confessions, they're ruthless as a sheikh.
Many stories attest to their efficiency. Harlequin, owners of the imprint, had watched the collapse of Communism with interest and calculated that, if there was one thing the newly-unshackled female population had missed over 25 years, it was romance. They've always known romance sells and they've sold it better — and with more focus and sophistication — than anyone else.
They meant to publish books on several subjects, including travel and crafts, but their first production was Arrows from the Dark by Sophie Cole — a romance. It sold modestly 1, copies in six years but history, of a kind, was made. The house published early work by PG Wodehouse and Hugh Walpole, and made a name for itself as the "Promised Land" for new writers, where the efforts of fledglings would, unusually be welcomed.
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By , Charles Boon had spotted where their natural market lay. The company discerned a growing appetite among women readers for escapist reading and decided to concentrate on hardback romantic fiction. They had two unique selling propositions: their brightly-coloured, eye-catching jackets, picturing lantern-jawed heroes and fleeing beauties swept on to galloping horses by desert bandits; and the fact that their target audience was middle- and upper-class women, who would never have sullied their eyes with the "mill-girls' romances" of the late 19th century.
Depression and the Second World War did wonders for the escapism market. Romances flew off the nation's shelves with the speed of Hurricanes. No more doubts! No more disappointments! With the decline of the circulating libraries, through which their early books were mainly sold, the company arranged for their books to be sold in newsagents all over the country. They also sold titles by direct-mail catalogue, and made a lucrative serialisation deal with Women's Weekly. Bookshops that stocked their titles consigned them to a ghetto shelf, as if embarrassed by them.
Indeed, they often seemed interchangeable commodities to their readers. When I worked for a summer in a London library in , I found a line of pencil marks inside the back cover of Moonlight Over Cordoba and told the boss someone was defacing books. Despite the image problem, the pastel tide of romance has become oceanic. From next week, they'll print books in India for the first time beginning with the irresistible Virgin Slave, Barbarian King looking to take a chunk of million English-reading consumers. They've established a romantic presence in the lucrative Japanese Manga market.
People read by life-stage and mood than for any other reason. When you find yourself at home with young children, and you can't get out of the house and you'll read anything with adult words in it. One woman said to me years ago, 'I love your books, I can put them down any time. The sea-change in the company's post-war fortunes was its decision to split its titles into genres, and to package and market them accordingly. Now, the mass market for romance is fragmented, and it's a matter of managing multiple niches.
Of the 12 niche imprints, "Modern" always features jet-set luxury, "Romance" deals in the now-traditional sheikhs, ranchers, billionaires and tanned Europeans their titles are hilariously interchangeable: The Spaniard's Captive Bride, The Italian Billionaire's Pregnant Bride, Wedded at the Italian's Convenience and my favourite, The Sheikh's Convenient Virgin. The "Blaze" imprint promises readers fairly explicit smut, even going so far as oral sex with ice cubes and hot lesbian action.
Just like a TV spinoff. They just wanted it to be more realistic.
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People do go on holiday and they do have flings. They'll have sex, but it would still end up as a committed relationship, and it's still character-driven so it's still a romance. Uniquely among publishers, the staff undertake to read every manuscript and treatment sent in by aspirant writers. Karin Soecker and a team of 20 editors take a day off each week to read them. You need a strongly constructed heroine to take you through the story and hero who the reader's in love with the minute he appears.
You can have a flawed character but you can show his good qualities and how he's affected by the heroine, and how he changes through the story. There was a time in the early s, when what we might call the beta male dominated. He was much more the guy next door, like Tom Hanks. He probably worked for somebody and had all the stresses and neuroses of someone like that. But you deal with the kind of person in real life. Most of their titles involved women being captured, or ravished, stolen or "taken" — generally imprisoned rather than courted.
That somebody else will make the decisions. The point of the hero is more about his having the power to make it happen, than his being ruthless and cruel. Really, it's all about the total abdication of responsibility. But all this endless repetition of being captured and taken Can that really be women's secret desire in ? Look, I said, Where is the fantasy about female empowerment? Why isn't there a title like The Virgin's Convenient Sheikh, when the tables are turned? He wants her and is thrilled by her and that's what people know they'll get out of the story. But, I persisted, wouldn't it be a brilliant sub-genre if the girl were the proactive character who imprisons the irate Spaniard?
This is not a fantasy for women any more. Lose that idea right now. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.
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Please continue to respect all commenters and create constructive debates. Want to bookmark your favourite articles and stories to read or reference later? Try Independent Minds free for 1 month to access this feature. Guilty as charged. In my story, the two lovers fall for each other before the hero disappears without a word, only to reappear at the end for a steamy reunion. This, according to Rice, is a classic example of disastrously bad sex scene.
I loosely based my synopsis on a true story, thinking it would make my characters more real, but apparently not. Building your characters convincingly will give you convincing sex scenes. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here. Please wait Business Awards. Future London. The Londoner.
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