French publishers embrace romance and seduce new readers

Romance novels have long been looked down on for their undemanding language, basic story tropes and of course, sex scenes. But French publishers are taking note as a new generation of authors, inspired by English-language bestsellers, are writing for a growing audience of young women, many of whom are choosing to read books for the first time.

The French publisher Hugo did not start out with romance novels, but today, the books represent about 60 percent of its business.

“It’s a big part of the business, it’s huge,” says Benita Rolland, who is in charge of the publisher’s international romance division.

But these are not the romance books of the past, with their euphemistically described sex scenes and covers featuring long-haired, bare-chested men.

New romance, or young adult romance, is a recent phenomenon – books most often written by self-published young women, many of whom started as readers.

Reader to writer

“I'm a big fan girl,” said CS Quill, a popular French romance writer, who still sees herself as a reader first and foremost.

She has always been attracted to love stories and started writing her own as a teenager. The work she posted on an online self-publishing platform drew notice from a publisher, which launched her career.

She insists that romance is more than sex scenes – though they do feature in her books.

“Romance is more complicated than you think,” she says, pointing to character development and plot twists that she believes adds depth.

And she pushes back against those who look down on romance as fluff.

“When I saw what Anna Todd did in the States, I thought we should give it a try,” she explains.

Fans say the books offer intrigues and mysteries, along with the sex.

Read more on RFI English

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