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Romance Novels Get Sexual

Feb 20, 11:29 AM

Romance novels for women get frankly sexual
By Carol Memmott, USA TODAY
Plain old courtship just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. At least not with readers of romance novels.

More women want more fiction about what’s going on between the sheets, book publishers say.

"If you had said five years ago, ‘erotic, hot, sexy romances,’ people would have said ‘What, are you crazy?’ " says Kensington editor in chief John Scognamiglio. "Publishing goes in cycles. Erotica now seems to be the new hot thing."

Kensington introduced its erotica line, Aphrodisia, in January. Harlequin’s Spice imprint hits stores in May, and HarperCollins will publish the first two titles in its Avon Red line in June. Berkley was a pioneer with its Heat line last May.

"Over the past few years, romances have gotten sexier," says Liate Stehlik of Avon Red, "And with the advent of Sex and the City and more sex in movies and online, there’s a sexual aspect to all forms of entertainment that women are feeling more entitled to than they have in the past."

Mainstream bookstores also are finding erotica attractive.

Since Borders began carrying women’s erotica in summer 2004, growth has been in the double digits, spokeswoman Beth Bingham says. "The customer is predominantly the existing romance customer."

But that doesn’t mean customers fit a stereotype.

"They really appeal to a wide variety of women — 18- and 19-year-olds as well as women into their 50s and 60s," Harlequin’s Susan Pezzack says.

Mainstream erotica has its roots in the romance genre, but these are not your mother’s romance novels.

"There doesn’t need to be that period of wooing, the developing of emotions," Scognamiglio says. "If the heroine sees a guy she wants to sleep with, she’s just going to go after him."

Says Pezzack: "Spice novels are fiction, not romance. They can have a romance in them, but the stories themselves are not about the romance."

Erotica can be chick lit, paranormal, literary fiction or thrillers.

"Any genre will work," Pezzack says, "just so long as it has really good erotica scenes."

The heroines may have different personalities, Scognamiglio says, but they are all "very take-charge, very in control."

And about those book covers? Forget Fabio-like men and helpless-looking buxom women. Erotica covers, Scognamiglio says, are "elegant and upscale, but sexy … (Aphrodisia covers) all show some sort of body part — a man and a woman or part of a man and a woman or a very hot, sexy guy."

© Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc