When Jasmine Guillory announced her forthcoming retelling of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on social media, she recalls, “so many people were like, ‘Belle is my favorite—she loves books just like me.’ ” In By the Book (Hyperion Avenue, May 2022), Guillory reimagines Belle as Isabelle, a 25-year-old editorial assistant and the only Black employee at her publishing house; Beau is a reclusive, cantankerous memoirist who has failed to deliver his manuscript.
“It was a joy to write about a heroine that I know so many readers love, and who loves books and dives into reading and writing in a way that I always have,” Guillory says. “It feels natural to write a book about characters who love books.”
Guillory isn’t the only romance writer who feels this way. PW spoke with several authors and editors about the popularity and durability of bookish romances.
Sorry, I’m booked
Even among book lovers, romance readers are famously voracious. Author Rachel Lacey, for instance, says she’s met fans who read upward of 300 romance novels a year: “It’s the ultimate fantasy for a romance reader to fall for a person who shares that love and that enthusiasm for the books.” In Read Between the Lines (Montlake, Dec.), Lacey presents a sapphic reimagining of the 1998 bookish rom-com You’ve Got Mail. Online, bookstore owner Rosie Taft banters flirtatiously with her favorite lesbian romance author, Brie. In real life, the pair are at loggerheads. “Brie” is a pen name for Jane Breslin, who works for her family’s property development agency and who’s responsible for terminating Rosie’s lease.
Christian romance author Sarah Sundin centers the action on an English-language bookstore in her latest historical, the February Revell release Until Leaves Fall in Paris. Lucie Girard, an American ballerina living in France in 1940, buys her favorite bookshop so that its Jewish owners can escape. She meets Paul Aubrey, who runs a factory as a front to spy on his German customers for the U.S. Army. “The bookstore becomes one of the characters in the book,” says Vicki Crumpton, executive editor at Revell. “Lucie holds events for kids. Paul is a recent widow; his daughter loves books.” Though the child is shy, Crumpton says, Lucie, as a fellow book lover, is able to draw her out.
ISBN thinking of you
Author Emily Henry’s favorite romances have a sense of place “so strong it fills me up with longing,” she says. Her breakout rom-com—2020’s Beach Read, which has sold 280,000 print copies, per NPD BookScan—was set in the world of publishing and starred a romance author and a literary darling. “Libraries, bookstores, squashy reading chairs, bright offices filled with colorful bookshelves are all so innately romantic because of that sense of coziness,” she adds.
In her next novel, Book Lovers (Berkley, May 2022), cutthroat literary agent Nora Stephens joins her sister for a monthlong getaway to a small town and keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a brooding editor she knows from the city and has no love for. Spoiler alert: sparks fly.
“In fiction, we tend to see more bookworms of the shy, introverted variety,” Henry says. “I’m excited for readers to get to know two ‘book people’ of a different sort: ambitious, hard-edged, thorny.”
Other authors who see the romantic side of the book trade include Shauna Robinson, who set the forthcoming Must Love Books (Sourcebooks Landmark, Jan. 2022) at fictional Parsons Press. Nora Hughes, the company’s only Black editorial assistant, is barely getting by on her salary. After a pay cut, she takes on a second job moonlighting for a rival press. There, she crosses paths with bestselling author Andrew Santos, setting up a head-versus-heart collision.
In By Any Other Name by Lauren Kate (Putnam, Mar. 2022), ambitious romance editor Lanie leaps at the chance to work with reclusive, bestselling author Noa Callaway. Only one of the house’s editors, who is away on maternity leave, has ever seen or spoken to Noa, but Lanie and the author have been online friends for seven years—exchanging notes, playing virtual chess. The author serves as a mother figure to Lanie, who lost her mother at a young age. “Noa is the reason Lanie pursued a career in publishing,” says Tara Singh Carlson, executive editor at Putnam.
To earn a promotion, Lanie must help Noa beat her writer’s block and deliver a long-delayed manuscript. When Lanie finally meets the author in person, she turns out to be a man. “Their romantic journey goes from her being so angry at him to coming to fall in love with him,” Singh Carlson says. “The twist, the power dynamics of her as editor and him as author who needs her—there are so many bookish layers to this story.”
You’re just my type
Writer-protagonists abound in literature, and the romance genre is no exception. Juniper Blossom, the main character in Saranna DeWylde’s It Happened One Midnight (Zebra, Jan. 2022), is a romance novelist who fake-dates her best friend in the hope of stopping her meddling fairy godmothers from interfering in her love life. Third in DeWylde’s Fairy Godmothers, Inc. series, this romantic fantasy’s “strong focus on communication makes the leads’ transition from friends to lovers believable and resonant,” PW said in its starred review.
Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson (Thomas Nelson, Feb. 2022) stars Savanna Cade, an aspiring romance author who also works as an editor at a highbrow publishing house that wants little to do with genre fiction. By day, she edits books with titles like The Incredible World of Words: An Epistemophiliac’s Guide. Whenever she can, she plugs away at her novel, often in the secret turret room of her Victorian office building. When she finds critical notes in the margins of her hidden manuscript and, later, when those marginalia turn romantic, Savanna becomes increasingly curious about the identity of her shadowy editor. Could it be blue-eyed William Pennington, new publisher and son of the press’s romance-despising CEO?
In The Roughest Draft by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, due out from Berkley in February, protagonists Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen are coauthors of a runaway bestseller. They part ways over creative differences but are forced to reunite—to write a romance novel. “There’s this meta quality to the story that I hope that readers find enjoyable,” says Kristine Swartz, senior editor at Berkley. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka, high school sweethearts turned husband and wife, have previously coauthored YA romances; this is their first adult romance.
Kris Ripper’s Book Boyfriend (Carina Adores, May 2022) follows Preston “PK” Kingsley, a struggling writer who’s madly in love with a college friend named Art. PK attempts to win over Art by writing their relationship into his book. “Thinking about the books I read as a child, there were a lot of books about books,” Ripper says. “I read not just for adventure, but also, I wanted to be seen. I wanted to feel like there were other people who reflected parts of myself back to me. This kind of preoccupation of writers—with reading and with books—makes a lot of sense.”
Book Lovers author Henry, too, sees the appeal of bookish books as a reader and an author. “We big-time readers find joy just from being in our heads, immersed in other stories,” she says. “It’s fun, as a writer, to put a character like that front and center. As a reader, it’s instantly relatable and affirming to watch someone like you live their own great romance.”
Pooja Makhijani is a writer and editor in New Jersey.
Below, more about new romance novels of 2022:
The debut author of 'Getting His Game Back' (Dell, Feb. 2022), a contemporary romance, discusses toxic masculinity and depictions of mental illness in popular culture.
Forthcoming books aim to enchant readers with the magic of romance.