The Harlequin Romance Novel

Romance novels have long been associated with a guilty pleasure –  covertly enjoyed by women who hide behind their sunglasses on the beach  or under the covers on a lazy weekend afternoon. Novels such as these  glorify the fantasy of falling in love – elevating the “knight in  shining armor” to a level of grandeur never to be experienced by mortal  men; bulging biceps, mysterious eyes, and desirable lips – the men of  the romance novel are entrusted to sweep the heroine of the book off of  her proverbial feet; and in so doing, sweep the masses of women who  cling to every word in an attempt to escape reality – off of their feet  as well. The romance novel is just that – an escape; and no one provides  a portal for better escape than the Harlequin romance novel.

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Interestingly  enough, the Harlequin romance novel began with a man; not a tall, dark  stranger of the novel’s pages, but a Canadian businessman eager to break  into publishing. Harlequin was founded in 1949 by Richard Bonnycastle  and immediately set about publishing books in a wide array of genres  popular in the day – such as mysteries and Westerns. It was not until  the late 1950s, when Harlequin acquired Mills & Boon – a British  romance publisher – that Harlequin made its first foray into the romance  novel industry. But by the mid-1960s Harlequin had made a decision to  focus solely on the publication of the Harlequin romance fiction novel –  based on the enormous popularity of the books (and a not-so-gentle  nudging from Bonnycastle’s wife Mary).

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Differentiating itself  further in the market, Harlequin shunned traditional marketing, and  opted instead to reach its audience through a non-traditional sales  approach. It is for this reason that the Harlequin romance novel can  most often be found for sale in drugstores and grocery stores – at the  time, frequent haunts of women who were the prime audience for  Harlequin.

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Just as popular as the fiction itself, Harlequin  romance cover art holds its own appeal for fictional romance  enthusiasts. The visual of the brawny hero and his damsel in distress  has become synonymous with the Harlequin brand; in fact, collectors  eagerly seek out vintage Harlequin cover art in a nod to the birth of a  brand. While the Harlequin novel covers have gradually changed  throughout the years to reflect a more modern audience, the cover art is  still just as meticulously created as it was at its inception.

The  company’s entrance into the online market in 1996 brought the Harlequin  brand to the next level, allowing readers to check in with their  favorite series and authors. Taking it one step further, Harlequin  launched eharlequin.com in 2000 offering an online library where readers  can read and shop at their own leisure.

Today, Harlequin remains  the largest publisher of romance novel series – publishing over 500 new  titles every month – in 25 languages – and with distribution in every  major market around the world. The company also encompasses the work of  nearly 1,500 fictional romance authors.