They're no longer your grandmother's romance novels—in most cases, they're not even your mother's. In the ongoing quest to broaden their audience and to attract new readers, romance publishers' categories seem to be going through a major period of addition, multiplication and diversification. In the words of Kensington editorial director Kate Duffy, "Where we used to have historical and contemporary, we now have many more strings to our bow."
At Pocket Books, editorial director Maggie Crawford says, "Ten years ago when authors started introducing more suspense into the books it broke open the genre and proved to writers that they could take a book in many different directions—into contemporary, paranormal, romantic comedy—and as long as they had a good love story and appealing characters, they were going to find readers for it."
These days, romance novels can be subdivided to a hair-splitting degree. Kathy Baker, assistant manager at the Waldenbooks in Hurst, Tex. (and Romance Writers of America Bookseller of the Year in 1999), believes the new varieties of romance are drawing new readers. "Romance is so diversified that mystery readers are coming into romance, suspense readers are coming into romance and even science fiction/fantasy people are coming into romance now," she says.
"The diversity disproves one of the biggest myths about romance fiction, which is that 'those books' are all the same," says Charis Calhoon, communications manager for the Romance Writers of America, who sees the growth as a natural result of the category's sensitivity to its readers. "Romance offers a guarantee to the reader: You are going to get a certain type of story if you read this book. You are going to feel good. Characters are going to receive emotional justice and villains will get their due." Breaking the category down, she continues, takes that a step farther. "It's publishers saying, 'We will make it really narrow so that you can pick exactly how you want to spend your money and the two to 10 hours it will take you to read this book.' "
So publishers are, in a sense, talking to readers, and readers are certainly talking back. Intense Internet usage has given romance readers an increasingly strong voice and continues to support growth in the category. In the words of Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher of St. Martin's paperbacks, "Reading has become much more of a group activity through reading groups and authors' Web sites. That's key to the expansion of the genre."
And the feedback, whether positive or negative, is instant. "Publishers who go on the Internet and look at these message boards," says Kensington's Duffy, "have a great deal more information at their fingertips, and they have it as soon as they publish a book." It's evidently a good thing those readers are so chatty, because without their input it would be hard to get a bead on such a varied audience.
Berkley senior editor Cindy Hwang says, "There are literally millions of romance readers out there but, as with any large group, there's no way to please every reader all the time. The key is to not only develop the authors who appeal to the broadest base, like Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz, but also to develop authors for readers who want something different." For example, she adds, "right now there's a growing segment of readers who like paranormal, which used to be considered a harder sell by many publishers. Branching out from this genre are different subcategories, including sexy paranormal, funny paranormal, suspense paranormal and even futuristic."
In this vein, Berkley published Christine Feehan's Shadow Game in September and has scheduled her Wild Rain for February. In December, Bantam Dell will publish Karen Harbaugh's Night Fires, described as "a historical paranormal delving into the world of fantasy and horror." And next month, Harlequin will launch its new Luna imprint of fantasy books with Mercedes Lackey's The Fairy Godmother.
Another trend that's new in romance may seem like a natural outgrowth of the subject—sex. "This genre cycles in and cycles out, and right now we're in a steamy part of the cycle. Readers seem to be clamoring for the sexier books," says Pocket's Crawford. Baker of Waldenbooks says, "After 9/11, hot and sexy started taking off again. Either readers wanted hot-hot, or they wanted funny-funny."
On the flip side, chaste Christian-themed romances are claiming a large chunk of the audience as well. "You've got what we call 'romantica' on one end and inspirational romance on the other," comments Calhoon of the RWA. Both Christian publishers such as Tyndale House and mainstream publishers, most notably Harlequin, which has just launched an inspirational series, are offering contemporary Christian romances.
Where romance will go from here remains anybody's guess, but Kensington's Duffy feels that whatever the direction, authors will be leading the charge. "As inventive as these authors are, it's in publishers' best interest not to limit their endeavors," she says. And Pocket's Crawford notes that there's only one rule of thumb: quality will win out. The trend, she declares, "is towards good writing. That's where it's going."
To learn in what ways the category is branching out, PW asked the major players in the romance field just where their various lines are headed.
Atria—Movin' to a New Beat
"With a new imprint [Atria was launched in 2002], the challenge was to find fresh markets in which to be successful," says publisher Judith Curr. "To do that, we decided to follow our own rules rather than conventional wisdom." And there's certainly nothing conventional about the niche Atria created—hip-hop romance. In Curr's words, "They're gritty, steamy and reflect a side of contemporary life not really dealt with in other romantic fiction."
The queen of this new genre is Zane, whose erotic African-American romances might well give Hugh Hefner the vapors. Originally self-published, Zane made her Atria debut in October of 2001 with Addicted. A trade paper reprint of her New York Times bestseller Getting Buck Wild: Sex Chronicles II is just out, and a new novel, Skyscraper, is due later this month. A new writer in this niche, Shannon Holmes, reports Curr, "has just made a fantastic debut for us." His Bad Girlz, about young women who turn to the streets and strip clubs in order to survive, sold 50,000 copies in its first three weeks and hit the top 10 at Waldenbooks.
As might be expected, marketing hip-hop romance involves more than the standard author appearances and bookstore signings. "We're taking it to the streets, using a grassroots approach to marketing," reports publicity director Seale Ballenger. "Our plan for the hip-hop titles is not unlike what record companies have traditionally done—hosting events at nightclubs and in private homes and handing out invitations on the street to book signings."
Atria is also aggressively pursuing a male audience for these authors by advertising on venues like Playboy Radio. And it's paying off, says Curr. "When Ruben Studdard, this year's American Idol winner, was recently in the offices, we offered him some of our titles to take with him. What did he want? Zane—and he took a copy of every one of them."
Avon—Multicultural Is In
Gone are the days when romance was the exclusive territory of bosomy, blond young virgins and dashing cavalry officers. These days, women of color are increasingly appearing as heroines in bestselling romances, and multicultural love stories are garnering raves from readers of all ethnicities. Their popularity comes as no surprise to executive editor Carrie Feron, who's receiving nothing but positive feedback for Kim Wong Keltner's The Dim Sum of All Things (Jan.), about a young Chinese-American woman and the "white devil" she loves, and Sonia Singh's Goddess for Hire (July), which is set in Los Angeles's Indo-American community. "There's a commonality of experience in American women's lives—all of us are trying to figure out how we fit into the world, find an identity separate from our parents and struggle with our careers and love lives."
Even Avon authors within traditional genres are striking out into new territory. Eliosa James (whose A Wild Pursuit and Your Wicked Ways are due in March and April, respectively) is expanding her readership by broadening the scope of the traditional Regency romance. "So many Regencies are set around young girls making their debut into society," says Feron. "Eliosa's books talk about marriage, about women who are already 'out' and the kind of lives they live. Writers are always trying to find a fresh slant on a favorite topic and I think that Eloisa has a new take on the Regency. Writers need to give an established genre their own spin and readers are really responding to Eloisa."
It's not only the contents of Avon titles that are being revitalized; many covers are sporting a new look, as well. "We're using a lot more photography on our contemporaries and hardcovers," says Feron. "We're even doing some cartoon covers. They reflect what's current in popular culture and already they're attracting readers who might not pick up a book with a traditional romance cover."
Ballantine—An Element of Mystery
"Expansion," believes editorial director Linda Marrow, "always comes out of what our most talented writers are doing." At Ballantine, romantic suspense is the choice of superstar authors Linda Howard, Julie Garwood and Suzanne Brockman as well as a crop of talented up-and-comers like Mariah Stewart (Until Dark, Dec.), Michele Jaffe (Bad Girl) and Cherry Adair (Out of Sight).
"With romantic suspense growing as fast as it is, we're committed to marketing our titles to a wider audience that reads thrillers and crime novels," says Marrow. To that end, Ballantine has packaged a number of titles to "have the look of a standard thriller—darker colors and eerie special effects." This change hasn't gone unnoticed—when Bad Girl was reviewed in the New York Times, reports Marrow, the first paragraph of the review mentioned the thrilleresque cover. Ballantine is also encouraging its romantic suspense writers to join not just the RWA, but the Mystery Writers of America. "Michele Jaffe attended this year's Bouchercon," Marrow tells PW, "and received a great reception from booksellers." Following up on this crossover promotion, Ballantine sales reps are pitching romantic suspense titles to all of their mystery accounts and an increasing number of appearances and signings are being scheduled at mystery bookstores.
Ballantine is also taking aim at readers looking for something, says Marrow, "beyond the clichéd 20-something heroine. Nancy Thayer's The Hot Flash Club [Dec.] is the first women's fiction novel we've published that features protagonists in their 50s and 60s." Due in 2004 are novels from two romance veterans that feature 30- and 40-something characters—The Things We Do for Love by Kristin Hannah (June) and The Goddesses of Kitchen Avenue by Barbara Samuel (Feb.). The market for these more mature romances, according to Marrow, is significant. "The characters are dealing with realistic issues like divorce, teenage kids, infertility, aging parents—issues that make these characters and their stories resonate powerfully with readers."
Bantam Dell—Author, Author!
At Bantam Dell, growing the market is all about the writer. "We're looking to expand the audience for individual authors," says senior editor Wendy McCurdy, "not a specific category. Just because we have an author who is very successful writing Regency romances doesn't mean we want to create a line of Regencies—you just end up signing titles to fill up the line rather than looking for great books and writers. Each of our authors is published on their own merits and we're expanding the audience for each of them based on the unique quality of their voice."
Among the authors benefiting from these individually focused expansion programs are Karen Harbaugh, Jane Feather and Madeline Hunter. For Harbaugh, whose historical paranormal, Night Fires (Dell, Dec.), is set during the French Revolution and features a Scarlet Pimpernel-ish vampire heroine, the publisher is reaching out to SF and fantasy readers. "We're advertising in science fiction magazines and the cover has an almost horror feel to it," explains McCurdy. But, she adds, "with a very intriguing man to attract our romance readers."
Marketing plans for bestseller Jane Feather's upcoming Matchmaker trilogy (The Bachelor List, Feb.; The Bride Hunt, Mar.; The Wedding Game, Apr.) will include an intriguing point-of-sale piece, a faux Mayfair Ladies Gazette. Hunter, the current entry in Bantam Dell's "Get Connected" program, has a quartet of novels hitting the stores in rapid succession—the first two, The Seducer and The Saint, were released in October and November; coming this month and next are The Sinner and The Seducer. Helping to keep the momentum going for these Regency romances will be radio promotions running in six major markets.
"As a house," says McCurdy, "we don't tend to jump on bandwagons but stick to the basics. Timing, packaging, author and concept all working together to make a splash—that's what demonstrates our commitment to expanding the genre."
Berkley—No Slave to Fashion
"We've always been very proud at Berkley of publishing to all readers and not being so slavish to trends," says executive editor Gail Fortune. She emphasizes that even the house's new Sensation line, which launched in June and forms the core of Berkley's romance list, tries to choose four very different types of romances each month.
At a time when, as Fortune sees it, "the market seems to be fragmenting," the diversity of stories on Berkley's list gives it an edge. "We've got a lot of new authors," notes Fortune. "We're looking for people with fresh voices and fresh ways to tell a story. We're buying some brand-new people and people who published before who are now writing romance." For example, in September mystery author Meg Chittenden tried her hand at her first stand-alone romantic suspense, More than You Know. Bestselling author Nora Roberts added paranormal elements and real-time plotting (each book covers the same four-week period in which it is set) for her Key trilogy—Key of Light (Nov.), Key of Knowledge (Dec.) and Key of Valor (Jan.).
And Sensation launch author Rebecca York came over from Harlequin Intrigues and created her recently published trilogy—Killing Moon (June), Edge of Moon (Aug.), Witching Moon (Oct.)—which is her first to combine paranormal and romantic suspense. For Fortune, part of what makes the trilogy so successful is that "Rebecca built that world so completely. The characters and the setting make it feel real."
In fact, world building, or connected novels, are part of what Fortune regards as an important trend. "Whether they're trilogies or part of a series, connected books are really popular. People love revisiting their friends," she says, noting that Lynn Kurland (A Garden in the Rain, Sept. 2003) does such a good job at making the families in her connected novels real, that all of her books are still in print going back to 1996, which is especially unusual in romance.
Dorchester—Strong Women Rule
Love may be eternal, but that doesn't mean it stays the same—and neither should the books that celebrate it, says Dorchester editorial director Alicia Condon. "The romance business is always mutating in a kind of gradual way," she tells PW, "and you have to respond to what readers are looking for. I think they're always interested in romance, but the specifics change over time as the public's interests change."
The publisher's latest mutation is already exceeding expectations. In September it introduced a line of teen romances, Smooch, anticipating sales of about 30,000 copies for each title. But the books have been selling at about twice that volume, says Duffy, so in July Dorchester will begin publishing two books a month instead of one.
Another way in which the publisher is responding to changing interests is by introducing romantic suspense titles, starting in May with More than You Know by Evelyn Rogers. Plans call for three suspense titles next year, with one book per month coming in 2005.
Dorchester is also experimenting with another hot category—exemplified by kick-butt heroines of movies and TV shows such as Tomb Raider, Charlie's Angels, Alias and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "We love the idea of an action-packed character who doesn't need anyone to rescue her," says Condon. Those girl-power heroines will star in a five-book series, 2176, which will launch in April with The Legend of Banzai Maguire by Susan Grant.
Condon credits Grant, who published her debut novel, Once a Pirate, with Dorchester in 2000, for nudging the company into the subgenre. "She came to us with a proposal that was going to be just two books," explains Condon, "but we liked it so much we said, 'This would be a perfect series, let us work with you finding others.' " Grant is no stranger to strong female characters or playing around with categories. Once a Pirate was a time-travel story in which the heroine is a fighter pilot from the future. A real-life commercial airline pilot and former Air Force flight instructor, Grant, like her characters, reflects a new archetype in romance novels. Says Condon, "Now women are not afraid of being powerful."
Genesis Press—Issues About Race
Romance publishers are venturing smoothly into novels that feature vampires, karate-chopping heroines, devout premarital virgins, space travelers and explicit sex. But play around with race and things get tricky.
Genesis Press discovered that when it tried to develop a line of novels focusing on Hispanics, Tango Two, and another on Asian-Americans, Red Slipper. The publisher, which releases African-American and multicultural romances under its Indigo Books division, found there just weren't enough good manuscripts coming in to support Tango Two and Red Slipper as separate lines. It has since merged the two into its Indigo Love Spectrum imprint, which focuses on interracial relationships.
Senior editor Niani Colom believes it may be several years before enough Hispanic and Asian-American authors feel comfortable placing their stories within the borders of a romance novel.
"I think it's going to follow the same pattern African-American books followed in that if you have a minority group the first thing they want is nonfiction—they're thinking they have a struggle to overcome so everything is focused on that," says Colom. "It's not until later that they feel like they can do the fluffy stuff, that they think, 'I can be light about my culture.' "
In the meantime, Genesis is stretching its program in other directions. Next October, it will launch an inspirational romance line, Mount Blue. Its existing imprints include Indigo, contemporary romances featuring black characters, and Indigo After Dark, which is more sexually explicit. Colom says Indigo's readers are mostly black women who want to read about African-American heroines.
The publisher's sensitivity to that shows in its Love Spectrum line. "African-American women still are not too happy when they see a black male with a white female, so we've done a lot more with a white male and a black female," says Colom. Spectrum made an exception in November with Shades of Brown by Denise Becker, featuring a white heroine and a black hero. Says Colom, "We have a book club and there have been some people who have said, 'I don't want this one.' "
Harlequin—Something for Everybody
Harlequin estimates that its readers, on average, go through six of its own titles and six of other publishers' books every year. At that pace, says Donna Hayes, publisher and CEO of Harlequin Enterprises, even the most devoted romance reader needs variety. And Harlequin intends to give it to them, with several recently introduced or forthcoming lines.
"We always want to keep our loyal fans happy," says Hayes, "but we like to bring them something new, too." She adds that "attracting new readers is always a focus at Harlequin," and that expanding into subcategories is one way to go beyond the existing fan base for romance novels.
For readers who like their love on the lighter side, Harlequin's romantic comedy series, Harlequin Flipside, made its debut in October. The series replaces the Duets line, which packaged two romantic comedies into one book. Hayes says the humor in the new series is "edgier and more ironic, less dependent on physical comedy." Flipside, a mass market line, is launching with two titles a month. October also marked the first release of the Steeple Hill Books inspirational romance series, which is publishing trade paperbacks at a rate of one per month.
Harlequin is attracting new romance readers by tapping into the popularity of other categories. Romantic suspense, for example, is selling so well that in October Harlequin increased the output of its Intrigue line from four to six books a month. It's also marrying romance and another popular genre by introducing a trade paperback science fiction/fantasy romance imprint, Luna Books, in January.
Nothing's hotter right now—not just in romance books, but in movies and television—than action adventure stories. So in July 2004 the company will introduce Silhouette Bombshell, featuring female protagonists who are, according to the publisher, "tough, courageous and 100% guaranteed to blow you away." The mass market series will be the first introduced by Silhouette in 20 years.
Harlequin is still the queen of series romance publishing, but in recent years single-title, author-driven novels have become increasingly important to its publishing program. In August 2004, it will address that issue by merging its Harlequin and Silhouette imprints into the new HQN Books imprint. Says Hayes, "As long as women's interests and lives are changing we will reflect these changes in our books."
Kensington—No More Hunks and Babes
On seeing the covers of Beverly Barton's Every Move She Makes or Lisa Jackson's Cold Blooded, readers who aren't familiar with the authors would likely not peg these books as romance novels. There are no bare-chested hunks clutching buxom babes, just bold type over ominously shadowy images. They give little hint of the passionate encounters smoldering between the pages. And that's more than okay with their publisher, Kensington's Zebra Books.
Romantic suspense—Jackson and Barton are two of the genre's biggest stars—has huge potential to bring in the multitudes of readers who think they don't like romance novels, says editorial director Kate Duffy. So Zebra has changed the way it packages Barton, Jackson and other romantic suspense writers to appeal to a cross-over audience.
"There are a lot of people who don't respect the content of the books and are turned off by romance," Duffy says. "We try not to give them a reason to walk away from the book. We try not to telegraph anything that would turn them off."
Kensington is among the publishers discovering that a key benefit to expanding the romance category is the chance to attract new readers. In some cases—as with its courting of suspense fans—it's a matter of going after a clearly defined audience. Kensington, which hasn't published African-American romances since it sold its Arabesque imprint to BET Books in 1998, is getting back into the market with a new line from Dafina (the publisher's African-American imprint) that will debut next summer. It's also gearing up to increase the output of its erotic Brava imprint. The imprint, which debuted in 2001 with one title a month, will release three books a month beginning next August.
Not all of the romance category expansion is as formal. Humor doesn't have its own imprint but romantic comedy is becoming increasingly prevalent in Zebra and Brava. Vampires are also big. As for what's next, Duffy says, "I just signed a romance where the characters are shapeshifters."
NAL—Voices We Love
"We're not a programmatic publisher. If you're on the list, it's because you have a voice we love," says NAL editorial director Claire Zion. "I don't sit down and think I have to have a lot of different romances for different readers, or I have to do a paranormal because they're hot right now." That said, Zion acknowledges that "we've been making a conscious effort to round out the NAL list, which was heavy in historicals."
Increasingly, the voices of NAL, which includes the Signet and Onyx imprints, vary from contemporary romances like Lisa Wingate's trilogy set in the Texas Hill Country, which launched with Texas Cooking (Onyx, Sept. 2003) to historicals that are not your mother's romances. For example, Zion notes, Sasha Lord's sexy historical Under a Wild Sky (Signet, Feb.) "shocked some early readers because of its vivid action scenes and graphic lovemaking."
Other writers have gotten rid of those pencil-thin heroines who could have walked straight out of the pages of Ebony or Vogue. "We've had great success with romances featuring 'real-life sized' women," says Zion. "Our African-American anthology earlier this year that featured plus-sized women, Living Large (Signet), was so successful we're planning a sequel, A Whole Lotta Love (Signet, Jan.) by Donna Hill, Brenda Jackson, Monica Jackson and Francis Ray."
But perhaps the biggest change Zion has observed is the split between baby boomer romance readers and those of generations X, Y and Z. "We as publishers need to recognize that the generations after the boomers have distinct tastes," says Zion, who attributes some changes, like first-person romances á la Jerri Corgiat's Sing Me Home (Onyx, Feb.), to chick-lit. "We've seen that chick-lit voice emerge in romance. It's funnier and sexier. The content is the same but the voice is different." She regards the chick-lit influence as an encouraging one. "It's a good sign to us, because it's helping to bring that younger reader. She's been a little elusive for everybody," says Zion.
St. Martin's—Emotionally Intense
"There've always been subgenres. But we've never been a publisher to buy 10 books in a subgenre just because it's taking off," says Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher of St. Martin's Paperbacks. "We try to buy people who are really strong. We're more interested in readers knowing the names of our authors than of St. Martin's. That's the key to successfully breaking out an author into bestsellerdom."
In today's competitive market, Enderlin finds that the most popular books are those written with an intensity of emotions. "I have a theory," she says, "that everything comes off four basic emotional responses—humorous, sexy, tear-jerking or scary. The authors who sell the best are intensely sexy, intensely scary, intensely humorous. If they were three-hanky books before, now they're four." Among the writers she singles out who capture that intensity are established names like Jennifer Crusie, who is "almost in a class by herself," and rising stars such as Sherilynn Kenyon (Kiss of the Night, Apr.), who writes intensely funny and sexy paranormals; Cheryl Holt (Deeper than Desire, Mar.), who pens sexy regencies; and Maureen Child (Some Kind of Wonderful, Jan.), who writes contemporary romances that are both sassy and tear-jerking.
The biggest trend Enderlin has observed, however, is the way people read romances. "Reading is more of a group activity than in the past. We've seen that in the rise of reading groups. Reading used to be solitary. Another way reading has become a community activity is through author Web sites. Now you read a book, you go to the Web site, you chat with the author, you chat with your friends." She views today's heightened interest in series and continued books as an extension of that group activity. "In the same way Anne Rice creates a world with her books, romance authors create a world. Readers are interested in secondary and tertiary characters," says Enderlin, who believes that discussions about these characters help fuel reading groups.
Tyndale House—A New Outlook
Boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl may seem like the oldest story in the world, but romance is relatively new to the Christian market, reports Anne Goldsmith, senior acquisitions editor for women's fiction at Tyndale House Publishers. "In the Christian market it's unusual to have romance at all," she explains.
In fact, when Tyndale's HeartQuest line launched in 1997, it was a hard sell. According to Goldsmith, "We had to convince our marketplace and our own company that it is possible to have Christian romance, because a lot of people assume that 'romance' means 'erotica.' What we focused on is that the Bible is a romance—a love story between God and his people."
Because it is so new, HeartQuest sticks to basics, with the 10 titles published annually split evenly between contemporary and historical. (Tyndale publishes 80— 100 books per year, not including Bibles.) HeartQuest books typically see first print runs of 10,000— 15,000 copies, and there are now over a million copies of all the books combined in print. A pair of contemporaries by Susan May Warren—Happily Ever After (Apr.) and Tying the Knot (Oct.)—have been particularly strong sellers.
Goldsmith is aware that Harlequin, the 800-pound gorilla of the category, has just launched an inspirational line, but maintains that Tyndale is unlikely to suffer from the competition, as it sells through different channels. "We are getting into places like Sam's Clubs and Wal-Mart," she says, "but the majority of our sales are in Christian stores."
In response to the needs of Christian bookstores, all HeartQuest books are trade paperbacks. "With mass market you have to load in a huge number," explains Goldmsith. "Christian stores don't follow that model. They're into the long-term—keeping things in and moving them through."
Although HeartQuest currently has no plans to expand or subdivide, it is hoping to cement reader loyalty with a new Web site (www.heartquest.com) and a new logo, as well as an e-newsletter and ongoing contests.
Warner Books—Sticking to Basics
"The way we see it here at Warner Books, the reader wants to choose from a diverse list," senior editor Karen Kosztolnyik tells PW. To round out its offerings, last January Warner launched the Warner Forever line, which publishes two romances a month. In spring 2004, it will add a separate brand designed to appeal to 20- to 40-year-old readers, with with no name but a distinctive high-heeled shoe logo on the spine.
For Kosztolnyik, branding is much more important than individual subgenres. "Romance has always embraced subgenres, both hotter, sexier stories and sweet stories," she says. As part of its marketing efforts, each Warner Forever mass market is priced low ($5.99) and given its own look. Hardcover Warner romances are also priced to sell. Carly Phillips's first hardcover, The Heartbreaker (Sept. 2003), for example, has a suggested retail price of $16.95. Her next novel in the trilogy, Under the Boardwalk (June), is packaged to reflect the light-heartedness of the series and features a row of umbrellas—think "beach read." In addition, to hook new readers Warner is printing a teaser chapter in the back of each of Phillips's books. "I have heard from reader mail," says Kosztolnyik, "that they absolutely do read it."
Warner is trying to make sure that more than just the packaging makes each book stand out. For Leanne Banks's just-released When She Is Bad, the house bound in a raffle entry form to win $100 worth of makeup at Sephora. For Kimberly Raye's Kiss Me Once, Kiss Me Twice (Feb.), which features a NASCAR driver, Warner is raffling off a trip to Daytona Beach, Fla.
But what really drives sales is voice, says Kosztolnyik, and Warner is willing to look to new writers to find light-hearted romantic voices, sexy voices and suspenseful voices. Between March 2003 and September 2004, Warner Forever is publishing six debut writers. It also publishes established authors writing in other subgenres, such as Sandra Hill, who temporarily forsook historical romance to pen her debut contemporary, Tall, Dark, and Cajun (July, 2003).