Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Centenaries and Birthdays

Yesterday I mentioned the important anniversary coming up for Harlequin Mills and Boon - the centenary of the founding of the company in 1908 by Gerald Mills and Charles Boon. They started it with just £1,000 capital.

It's come a long way since then. Though if you read some press or other media reports you'll be convinced that things haven't changed a bit since that long ago day when Mr M and Mr B got together and decided to publish some books! Take a look at some of the facts about the sheer amount of sales and distribution that the company now achieves:

50 million readers worldwide

200 million books sold per annum worldwide = 6.6 books per second

3.2 million regular readers in the UK, 13 million books sold per annum in the UK

UK Market leader with a 74% share of the paperback romantic fiction market, which in total is worth more than £54M each year

Romantic fiction accounts for 20.5% (vol) of all fiction books purchased at retail in UK

95% awareness of Mills & Boon brand in the UK

Over 3 million women in the UK regularly read a Harlequin Mills & Boon book.

57% of buyers spend 3 hours or more reading during the week

1500 authors worldwide; 200 authors living in the UK, 600 new titles per annum; 50 per month

If you stacked every book sold in a single day on top of each other, the pile would be 35 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower.

If you set out to read all the Harlequin books sold over the past ten years, averaging a little over two hours per book, you would be reading for the next quarter of a million years.

The weight of all Harlequin books sold last year would equal the maximum carrying capacity of more than 169 Boeing 747 cargo planes.

Over the last forty years, Harlequin characters have kissed each other over 20,000 times, shared about 30,000 hugs and headed for the altar at least 7,000 times.

(Figures taken from the Mills & Boon website.)

Media interest in the company has already started and I'm sure all the UK authors and anyone else who has access to BBC Radio 4 at 11.30am UK time on Thursday (www.bbc.co.uk/radio4) will be listening to this: Guilty Pleasure: a Hundred Years of Mills and Boon.

And I have to admit that they have caught me on the raw already, with that one word in the title - Guilty. I've never felt guilty reading, writing or talking about - or, damn it, enjoying a Mills and Boon or Harlequin category romance. And I don't believe that any woman should .

After all, those figures quoted above speak for themselves - all those readers - all those (mostly) women - they haven't been forced into reading and buying these books. All that enjoyment (they have to have enjoyed them or they wouldn't be back for more) all that relaxation - 'me time' - as busy women everywhere read books that they had chosen, that they wanted to read. How can that be a bad thing?

And there's that 'all the same' argument , the tired old 'formulaic' dismissal of the books. Well yes, they are all a love story - the story of the development of an emotional relationship between a man and a woman. And what's wrong with that? Love is somethng every person in the world can - or should - be able to relate to - love is something we all hope for, a satisfying emotional relationship is part of what makes life worth living. It's not advocating a sexist, paternalistic society to claim that a woman - no - scratch that -

. . . to claim that we all - woman or man - can be happier, more confident, more able to fulfil our potential and just damn well enjoy life more in a secure and loving emotional relationship.

I know I am. Like most women, I don't need a man to make me whole, to make my life worth living and most definitely not to provide for me - but life is definitely enhanced by having a co-pilot.

I was supposed to have been part of the Radio 4 programme. The recent Write Away course Beyond the Hearts and Flowers that I taught with Julie Cohen in Leicester was originally planned to have been included in the topics, but the timing wasn't right. Pity - I think that the producers might have had a few surprises at some of the topics we taught. Julie's Writing the Sexy Bits definitiely comes to mind here as I still meet people who think that the books are mired in the 1950s and never dare to open a bedroom door, preferring instead those three little dots. You know the ones . ..

"He swept her up into his manly arms and carried her towards his bedroom. Kicking open the door, her planted a punishing kiss on her willing lips as he took her inside . . . "

And of course I know many of the contributors, authors, probably editors and executives - and a good few of the readers they have interviewed.

But still, like Natasha Oakley, I'm braced for the snide comments, the 'badly -written' accusations, I'm expecting the 'formula' to be trotted out - and I'm definitely expecting the passages from individual books to be read in that wierd, breathless 'romance' voice that actors always feel they have to use to convey emotion. Or maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised. Maybe for once there will be a balanced report on just how popular the books are, why they're so successful (start with good basic storytelling for one thing), why women want to read about emotional relationships so much, and why - the question no one every really looks at - they are so hugely international.

Because one of the problems in the UK is that they will insist on focusing only on the Mills& Boon brand in the UK and not seeing the international company that Harlequin is.

Look at those figures above again - 50 million readers worldwide - my own Neo counter has clocked up visitors from 113 different countries. What other publishing company has such a huge international appeal to women in all walks of life, all creeds, colours, ages . . . Are we seriously meant to consider that all those women are totally brainwashed into reading our books just because they're unhappy in their own relationships?

And what other company, what other books are a household word, a brand with 95% instant recognition? Does anyone read ' a Hodder Headline' or a 'Piatkus' or even 'a Penguin'. But they do enjy reading 'A Mills and Boon.'

To quote PHS founder Trish Wylie on her blog this morning -

Isn't it about time interviewers and the press did their research properly and realized that the Category Romances we all love so much have come a long way since the Seventies and Eighties?????????? I mean - sheesh! And who really has the right to tell fully grown women what they can and can't read?

And talking about the PHS gives me a nice segue into my other topic this morning - the other important celebration that's going on right through this month - the Pink Heart Society 1st birthday celebrations.

If you've visited the Pink Heart Blog then you'll know that the Birthday Treasure Hunt is running through September - just follow the trail to all the blogs to find the Treasure Hunt icon and see what gift the owner of each site has offered to the Little Dancing Guy on his special day.

Today it's my turn to give the Little Guy a gift and I think I've found the perfect one for him - it was a little expensive, but I reckon he's worth it. In fact, I'd say he was a little diamond - so L P D Guy - here's my present to you a perfect heart shaped pink diamond. I just hope it's not so big that it's going to weigh you down and restrict all that dancing you keep doing.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY PINK HEART SOCIETY - here's to many, many more!


Kate Hardy said...

Well said, Kate.

I for one am PROUD of the fact that my books put a smile on people's faces. I've had letters from readers telling me that when they've had the day from hell they pick up one of my books and it makes them remember that the world is a good place after all.

That's what I'd call real job satisfaction.

And usually the "badly written, formulaic" sneers are by people who haven't read one. Shame they're missing out on a treat: and also shame that their own self esteem is so low they can only feel good by sniping at others. (Tall poppy syndrome.)

Trish said...


I have to say I'm sick to my back teeth of literary *snobbery*. No-one who reads or writes Mills & Boon thinks to criticize me for reading Wodehouse or Shakespeare or Pratchett or Koontz so why in the 21st Century are we told a Mills & Boon should be a *guilty* pleasure??? It's LAZINESS on the behalf of the media to not report a balanced view - so I'll def be there to listen to what they have to say. You'd think in a wolrd like the one we have today that anything that still promotes HEA should be APPLAUDED rather than RIDICULED wouldn't you???


lidia said...

Kate -- you have a way with words!

I still maintain that most of the criticisms are written by people that have never read a M&B title.

And while I can honestly say that there were books out there that I didn't like/or pushed my hot buttons (Kate -- you can attest to that statement) I still love reading them. With my TBR pile growing taller by the minute, I will still go back to one of my treasured "keepers" when I need a "pick me up."

I just heard today on another website that HPs will be increasing to 12 titles per month in 2008. That says something about the popularity of the books.

Keep writing ladies (especially those of you that have posted on this thread -- Kate W., Kate H and Trish) and I'll keep on reading!!!

Cheers to all of you!

Did I mention that my daughter wants a pink diamond for an engagement ring?


Home Bio Books USA Readers Writers Contests Events Blog Links

Join Kate's Newsletter

Email Kate

Modified and Maintained by HR Web Concepts