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.
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).
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.
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.