How does a romance novel evolve from just a spark in the author’s imagination into a best-selling novel, loved by millions?
I’ve made a list below of some of the best-selling romance novels of all time, and part of the reason I’ve been studying this topic at the moment is that on Friday I’m doing a post called The Next Big Thing, all about my book, The Silk Romance, in which I’ll be interviewed by author Lynn Crain. Of course it would be brilliant if The Silk Romance DID turn out to be the Next Big Thing, but quite honestly at the moment I’m just happy that the editors at MuseItUp Publishing like it!
Anyway, I digress. Best-selling romances! I’ve found list after list of best-selling novels on the internet, and of course we all know what’s top of the list at the moment. Yes, E.L. James and 50 Shades of Grey. For a look at her astounding statistics, try this article in the Guardian Wow! If my book saw a tenth of those figures my publishers would pass out with excitement!
Best-selling romance novels
Most of the lists of best-selling romances on Google – such as this list here, on Amazon, for example – don’t include the classics. I find this a little frustrating, because I’d like to be able to compare the popularity of a classic romance with the popularity of a modern-day author. I know Jane Austen wrote more than two hundred years ago, but she still sells by the bucketload – how come she’s not on the best-seller list? I’ve come to distrust this type of list a little, and besides that, being top of this type of best-seller list doesn’t appear to be an indicator of a good book or longevity.
Have you ever heard of Marie Corelli, for example? No, I hadn’t, until I went to Stratford-on-Avon and came across her enormously OTT monument in a graveyard. The owners of the B&B we were staying at round the corner told me that apparently Marie Corelli was the best-selling British romance novelist of the turn of the century, and according to Wikipedia, ‘Corelli’s novels sold more copies than the combined sales of popular contemporaries, including Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Rudyard Kipling’ ! So there you go! Marie Corelli is now pretty much unheard of. I’d love to read one of her books and find out why this mega-selling author hasn’t stood the test of time. Maybe her prose was too Victorian and melodramatic for modern-day readers?
Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that one generation’s Marie Corelli is possibly the next generation’s E.L. James. Will people still be reading 50 Shades by the drove in a couple of hundred years’ time? Possibly not (although, to be honest, with figures like E.L. James’ I doubt she cares!)
A true best-seller, one that keeps on selling and selling for years and years until the author is a household name, is not just a page-turner but a book that has an element of genius to it. So my guess is (and I haven’t been able to find any statistics to back this up!) that the best-selling romances of all time would include:
- all of Jane Austen‘s novels (for definite),
- Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and Villette (pretty much a definite, too)
And these are all guesses, but I love these books and hope they’d make the lists in a hundred years’ time:
- Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca
- Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind
- Pretty much anything by Georgette Heyer
- Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle
- L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables
- R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone
- A.S. Byatt’s Possession
- F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
- Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End
- Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady
- William Goldman’s The Princess Bride
My list just scratches the surface. There are plenty more which could be added – works which are relatively unnown today but which were “best-sellers” in their time, such as The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, which is an ancient Japanese story written by a lady-in-waiting, about the love life of the handsome son of an emperor. This book is on my to read list. It’s survived centuries, and the hero sounds a devilish character, even after all these years.
I’ve been doing so much writing recently that I’m now out-of-date with current trending authors – and I need to catch up! Are there any you can think of that I should read, and that you think would still be best-sellers in years to come? Or any best-selling romance novels I’ve left off my list which you think should be on there? If so, please leave a comment – I’d love to hear about them!
And as for The Silk Romance – stop by my blog on Friday. Who knows, maybe it really is going to be The Next Best Thing!
One thought on “The best-selling romances of all time (And why I don’t like lists)”