It might come off as surprising that we celebrate Romance Awareness Month in August instead of February. But when you think about it, August is perfect for Romance. The unwinding haze of summer coming to an end, the cooling nights, the perfect sunsets … what’s more romantic than that?
This new 5×5 brought to you by Bookstr is an exclusive Romance Awareness Edition, featuring five amazing authors, here to share their take on reading, writing, and selling romance in the book industry. So without further ado, let’s get to know our authors!
1. Jill Shalvis
“My name is Jill Shalvis, and I’ve been telling stories since before I could hold a pencil. My mom likes to call it lying. I write romance/romcom/women’s fiction and live in a small town in the Sierras full of quirky characters. Any resemblance to the quirky characters in my books is mostly coincidental.”– Jill Shalvis
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jill Shalvis writes warm, funny, sexy contemporary romance and women’s fiction. An Amazon, BN & iBooks bestseller, she’s also a two-time RITA winner and has more than 15 million copies of her books sold worldwide. Her most recent book, The Forever Girl, (Book 6 in The Wildstone Series) was released in January 2021. Shalvis lives with her family in a small town in the Sierras, and she frequently blogs about her city-girl-living-in-the-mountains adventures.
2. Kathryn Starke
Kathryn Starke is a literacy consultant, former elementary school teacher, author, and the founder of Creative Minds Publications. Starke is the creator of Tackle Reading, an annual educational initiative supported by the NFL. Her first contemporary romance novel, The Perfect Blend, was published by Satin Romance in 2021. The Perfect Blend celebrates family, community, and the power of love.
3. Annabelle Knight
“I’m Annabelle Knight, I’m a sex and relationship expert, lover of French Bulldogs and vegan food enthusiast. My book, Chasing Clouds follows the story of a young woman with a thirst for adventure. With the help of her two best friends, and a chance encounter with a handsome stranger, she begins to change her life and satiate her longing to escape. But all isn’t smooth sailing, and she soon finds herself pushed to breaking point. She’s torn and must make some difficult decisions that could have high costs – and not just for her.”– Annabelle Knight
Annabelle Knight Bsc Dip is one of the most relevant experts when it comes to dating, sex, and relationships. She’s a certified couples counselor, a qualified life coach, and has a diploma in psychosexual therapy. She has helped many civilian and celebrity couples personally and is currently presenting Channel 5’s ‘The Good Girls Guide to Kinky Sex.’ Her debut novel, The Endless Autumn is now a number one bestseller. Listed as Cosmopolitan’s top raunchy read, and is available in paperback, on kindle, and audiobook. Her second novel, Chasing Clouds is out now!
4. Jenna Guillaume
“I’m a lifelong pop culture obsessive, first turning my passion into entertainment journalism at publications like BuzzFeed, and now creating my own stories inspired by my fave cultural icons. My first book, What I Like About Me, has Dirty Dancing influences with a unique Australian twist and a focus on self-love. My second book, You Were Made For Me, is a modern feminist and fun twist on Weird Science, in which two teen girls have their lives turned upside down when they accidentally create their perfect guy.”– Jenna Guillaume
Jenna Guillaume was the editor-at-large for BuzzFeed Australia, where she wrote about very important things like pop culture, identity, feminism, social media, and Chris Hemsworth’s biceps. Previously, she spent more than half a decade in the features department of Girlfriend magazine, editing the sealed section (yes, all those questions are real), and writing about everything from bullying and body image to bad kisses and boy bands. She was also a contributor to Girlfriend Life Hacks, an essential guide to navigating a girl’s completely awkward but totally awesome teen years. Jenna’s most recent book is You Were Made for Me, a hilarious rom-com where she uses her signature humor and relatable voice to explore themes of body image, friendship, and sexual identity. Her books are sure to thrill fans of Jenny Han!
5. RaeAnne Thayne
“I live in the mountains of Northern Utah with my husband of 35 years. We have three amazing children. I spent ten years as a newspaper reporter and editor, scribbling fiction in my off-hours, before turning my attention full-time to writing. My newest release, Sleigh Bells Ring, comes out Oct 26. When a ranch caretaker provides a temporary home for her young niece and nephew for the holidays, she never expects the long-absent owner of the ranch – and her childhood friend and hero – to choose this year to return, dredging up old secrets.”– RaeAnne Thayne
New York Times, USA Today and #1 Publishers Weekly bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne finds inspiration in the beautiful northern Utah mountains where she lives with her family. Her stories have been described as “poignant and sweet,” with “beautiful, honest storytelling that goes straight to the heart.” She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.raeannethayne.com.
1. Let’s start easy: why do you write romance?
Jill: I love a good happily ever after. I just can’t help myself. I want to believe there’s love out there for all of us.
Kathryn: I am a fan of magic and happy endings. Writing romance allows me to create the ideal romantic connection and story for the reader to fall in love with throughout the entire book.
Annabelle: I love ‘love.’ It really is that simple. I enjoy reading it, I enjoy nurturing it, and I enjoy writing it. There are few things more satisfying than a good love story. I have a weekly radio show and every show features a ‘love story of the week,’ that’s how much I love it!
Jenna: Romance has always been my fave part of any story, and the romance genre is where I turn to for comfort reads, so it felt like a natural starting point when I got writing. I love the hope, happiness, and total swoon-worthiness that is inherent in the genre. It’s just so fun, and it also centers emotions and feelings in a way few other genres do — which is rich grounds for storytelling.
RaeAnne: I have been a reader of romance since a very young age, when I used to sneak books out of my mom’s room. I love writing stories that making people feel renewed hope in community, relationships, family. I have a sign in my office that reads “I may not change the world but I can change someone’s afternoon.” That’s my goal with every book, to write stories that will lift and inspire and leave my readers feeling better about the world.
2. If you could define the Romance genre in your own words, how would you do it?
Jill: I think there are many definitions of the romance genre, but for me, it’s the idea of a quest for adventure, self-improvement, bravery, strong values, and last but not least love that draws me right in.
Kathryn: I believe that romance is passion, emotional, hard, easy, and something everyone is seeking even if they don’t admit it.
Annabelle: It’s a genre that focuses on relationships. Romance novels, for me, need two things – love and optimism, especially when it comes to the ending. I also like to read about self-love as well, if a character grows for the better then that’s great!
Jenna: The ultimate happy place.
RaeAnne: The romance genre is a huge umbrella that covers many sometimes-disparate subgenres, from erotica to historicals to sweet small-town stories. The common thread linking them all is a focus on the central relationships in people’s lives and the emotional journey toward accepting and embracing love.
3. Did you always know you wanted to write romance or is it more of a genre you kind of fell into?
Jill: I didn’t always know. My first book was what I thought was suspense. My editor pointed out the love story within the suspense and said that was the most compelling part. Once I realized that I was indeed writing romance, lol, I never looked back. It’s that happy ever after thing, I just really like it :)
Kathryn: I started out writing children’s books and educational materials. Based on the types of books I most enjoy reading and movies I enjoy watching, I fell into writing contemporary romance.
Annabelle: Absolutely! It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, I cried when I typed ‘the end’ after my first novel, I couldn’t believe I’d finally bitten the bullet and written a romance book, it was such a big moment for me.
Jenna: I knew I wanted to write romance. I just wanted to create something that would make me smile, that I could have fun with. And that’s what I did! Hopefully it makes others smile and have fun, too.
RaeAnne: Always! Because I was such an avid reader of romance, I talked about writing one as far back as high school and even used to brainstorm pseudonyms with others who worked on the college newspaper staff with me. It wasn’t until I was home with our oldest child on maternity leave in 1990 that I actually tried to put pen to paper. I sold my first book in 1995 to Bantam Loveswept and am currently working on my 70th. It’s been an amazing journey and I’m so very grateful I have the chance to spend my days writing books that make people happy.
4. What’s your take on the stigma surrounding the romance genre in the literary world? It’s not news to anyone that Romance has always had a negative reputation in the publishing industry, often being discarded as “trashy” or “smutty.”
Jill: There are different genres for a good reason, and I think that people who don’t like romance, don’t need to read it. There’s no need to put other people’s choices down. We can all be happy with what we’re reading! I’m just happy people ARE reading!
Kathryn: Interestingly enough, romantic comedies and sweet romances are some of the most popular movies in the entertainment industry. The Hallmark network has capitalized on this concept, and most of the movies are based on books. I believe that thanks to social media and romance book clubs, the positive conversations around the romance genre are increasing. As a community of romance readers and writers, we have the power to change a negative stigma.
Annabelle: The genre is underrated by a lot of people, which just isn’t fair. Crafting a great love story with a satisfying ending, and layered love scenes is really difficult. I think anyone thinking it’s easy should give it a go!
Jenna: The stigma is definitely driven by misogyny. Romance has always been a genre predominantly created by women and for women, and anything that is of interest to women is automatically stigmatized or seen as “lesser” in our society. But the people who dismiss it usually have never read romance, so their opinions don’t remotely count.
RaeAnne: I don’t think this stigma is as prevalent as it was when I started writing romance. Those who cling to those old perceptions likely haven’t read a romance lately. They’re basing their opinions on old ideas of what romance novels used to be, with trembling virginal heroines and masterful, domineering heroes. Today’s books are in general smart, insightful and thought-provoking. The very best writers of the genre write circles around many who pen “literary” fiction .. and they sell hundreds of thousands more copies of their books and appeal to a much wider audience! I think those passionate about the genre should celebrate that instead of feeling defensive about what they love to read and write. What do the opinions of a few literary snobs matter? We know we’re writing stories that matter deeply to our readers.
5. Why do you think many people lump Romance and Women’s Fiction in the same category?
Jill: I think there is a lot of cross-over, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I love writing a combo of romance and women’s fiction, and I’m hoping readers love it too.
Kathryn: My first novel was classified as women’s fiction, and my most recent novel was classified as contemporary romance. However, some people think they are similar because a romantic relationship is often part of a central storyline.
Annabelle: Because traditionally it would have been women reading the books. I like to think my books tick a few boxes. There are elements of women’s fiction, chick-lit, erotica, and romance in my stories. I like to keep the reader turning the pages, eager to find out what comes next.
Jenna: Women’s fiction tends to have heavy romance themes, but is itself a kind of othering of women’s stories. Why is it just “fiction” if a man is the protagonist — ie neutral, the standard — while if it’s a woman’s story it becomes a whole other category outside of the “main” one? It’s just another example of misogyny. People lump these genres together in order to further dismiss and undermine their richness and nuance.
RaeAnne: They both explore relationships and emotions. Yes, we’re leading businesses and building careers. But we’re also mothers, daughters, caregivers, friends. Women’s Fiction novels explore the nuances of all those relationships while Romance novels tend to have a more linear focus on romantic relationship. While many, if not most, Women’s Fiction novels have a thread of romance running through, it’s not the exclusive focus of the story.
Romance is so much more than just meet-cutes and kisses. It’s joy and sadness, tears and laughter. Romance is intrinsically human and real. And it should be celebrated every day. We hope you enjoyed our latest 5×5. Stay tuned for more surprises before the end of the month!