The romance genre featured in Mills & Boon is very under-rated. Yet romance is one of the most popular and best-selling genres in the literary world.
Mills & Boon romance novels (commonly referred to as ‘Mills & Boon’) have been around for more than a century. It was first published in the UK by Harlequin Publishers and branded as escapist romance novels for women. These novels became hugely popular in the UK, Australia, India, and South Africa. Written primarily by women and aided by a powerful brand, Mills & Boon have attracted millions of loyal customers.
Considered a guilty pleasure, society made women feel embarrassed for reading Mills & Boon. I used to read my sister’s books as a young teen. Imagine my surprise when my ninth grade male English teacher encouraged everyone in the class to read a Mills & Boon! He said that it would make our assigned readings for literature easier. I’m not sure if the boys in my class thought anything could make Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night an easy read! Yet, my teacher recognized the value of Mills & Boon in that it encouraged reading.
There are many reasons Mills & Boon remain so popular today.
Reason #1: Mills & Boon Novels Are Quick and Easy Reads
If you love to read but have a stack of unread books sitting on your nightstand, then maybe give a Mills & Boon book a try. It could spur your reading mojo! Mills & Boon are quick reads. People have read about 5-6 Mills & Boon books in a week. Personally, there are a few authors that I like, and I veer towards their titles. These books may be an easy read, but they are well-written and appealing.
For years, many women were embarrassed to let others know that they read these books. Literary snobs considered Mills & Boon taboo. Yet, many young women developed their love of reading from these books. Critics of Mills & Boon and romance novels overall, deem them to be too lowbrow to be real literature. And, since the books are easy and quick reads, critics do not perceive them to be intellectual.
Books geared toward women have always gained demeaning nicknames, like “chick-lit,” to reduce their value and importance. Critics have not treated Mills & Boon any differently. Despite that, Mills & Boon account for almost 75% of all romance books sold in Britain and Harlequin Publishers churn out 85% of all romance novels sold globally. They constantly outsell crime fiction.
Reason #2: Mills & Boon Novels Have Changed With the Times
It’s no secret that these romance novels seem to have an underlying formula: Alpha man and a seemingly submissive woman who goes through some hard times before finding happily ever after. However, Mills & Boon have changed with the times. Thirty years ago, these books featured many women who were secretaries, librarians, or schoolteachers. Today, female protagonists are scientists, doctors, and heads of companies.
Mills & Boon have several romance series: Modern, Dare, Medical, etc. It caters to various tastes, from socially conservative to erotica (more ‘erotica-light’ when compared to other romance books), and paranormal romances. It has also published multi-cultural and multi-ethnic offerings over the years. Books feature characters from all over the world. Mills & Boon also introduced Kimani Romance, which features African-American and other multi-cultural romances. This has attracted more readers.
Critics of Mills & Boon may consider the books to be misogynistic because of the earlier portrayals of women. However, these books reflected the reality of those times. Women did not run companies then. They only allowed women into the boardrooms to serve tea or take minutes. Mills & Boon never claimed to be ahead of its time. It reflected it. That’s one reason the books remain popular today. It’s escapist, yes, but in every book, it is the alpha male who has to change to get the woman!
Reason #3: Mills & Boon Are an Affordable and Accessible Read
The success and popularity of these books are due to its branding and marketing. The publisher has ensured a loyal customer base. You can subscribe to Mills & Boon and take physical delivery of a range of books each month. There are 2-1 and 3-1 books that provide valuable savings to the reader. Mills & Boon books have their own shelves in bookstores, thus maintaining its own brand. Women were once embarrassed to stand in front of these shelves. Not any more. Personally, I support well-written books by (mostly) women for (mostly) women.
The publisher of Mills & Boon has ensured that they price their offerings in a range that continues to be affordable. The affordability of Mills & Boon and the various promotional packages and subscriptions have made it a best seller the world over. The publisher claims that they sell a Mills & Boon book every 5 seconds in the UK. Can any “highbrow” literary novel make such a claim? Mills & Boon sell over a 5.5 million titles each year, in multiple countries and languages.
Mills & Boon are also available as e-books, which have substantially increased the number of romance novels sold. They release over 100 titles electronically every month, across the series. Mills & Boon also offer free e-books monthly, which makes books accessible to more readers. The prices of Mills & Boon e-books are relatively affordable. Special additions (for Christmas, etc) have become popular over the years. Readership of Mills & Boon continues to increase because of these reasons.
Mills & Boon books are no longer a guilty pleasure. There’s no guilt associated with actual reading enjoyment. These books remain popular and have a strong and loyal customer base. The publisher has an excellent business model, which ensures that the books are affordable and caters to various tastes. It may be light, entertaining reading, but the success of these books speaks volumes as to their importance and standing in the literary world.