Shelf Love

Harlequin’s New Sexy Contemporary Line: Breaking News!

Short Description

Breaking News! Harlequin Associate Editor John Jacobson is here to give the scoop on Harlequin’s newest, currently unnamed line of sexy new contemporary romances. We talk about Harlequin’s intentions, hopes, and dreams for the line, and also talk about the unfulfilled… gaps in the market, especially for younger readers who want to imagine their own unique, personalized, non-normative happily ever afters.


contemporary romance, business of books, category romance, genre discussions

Show Notes

Breaking News! Harlequin Associate Editor John Jacobson is here to give the scoop on Harlequin’s newest, currently unnamed line of sexy new contemporary romances. We talk about Harlequin’s intentions, hopes, and dreams for the line, and also talk about the unfulfilled… gaps in the market, especially for younger readers who want to imagine their own unique, personalized, non-normative happily ever afters.

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Guest: John Jacobson



Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape, desire. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I am joined by John Jacobson, associate editor at Harlequin Desire to discuss Harlequin's new sexy, contemporary line.

Andrea Martucci: John, thanks for being here.

John Jacobson: Thank you for having me. I'm so excited to talk to you today, Andrea.

Andrea Martucci: I am so excited to talk to you again. And listeners may know John from their previous turn on Shelf Love when they were here to talk about problematic favorite tropes, which in that case was women in pants in historical romance. And you may also know them by their Twitter handle. Femme Trash. Love it.

Andrea Martucci: So John, I asked you on here today to talk about some exciting news. So what is the scoop? You heard it here first, Folks (breaking news music starts)

John Jacobson: Yes, I'm so excited to share the news. So as some folks may have already guessed we're introducing a new sexy, contemporary romance line that's gonna be launching in January of 2024. We've been doing a lot of reader research and we're really excited to bring this into the market. It's going to be, as the title suggests, a sexy contemporary romance line.

John Jacobson: So the goal is that it's going to be high heat throughout, whether it's a slow burn or whether it's an f first feelings later kind of situation. Strong chemistry, strong character interactions, and then a grounded character driven kind of story and narrative perspective. So this is going to be a new shift for us.

John Jacobson: And we're just really thrilled about it because we feel like there is a space in the market for this kind of story. Contemporary Romance has been having another resurgence in the last couple of years, thanks to, Covid and TikTok and the sales of so many, wonderful authors that are writing contemporary stories.

John Jacobson: And as contemporary romance has found its footing, especially in the trade sphere, we feel like there is an opportunity to introduce something that's done with the Harlequin thought and style, but is aiming at that kind of newer, younger romance reading audience that wants to find contemporaries that speak to their experiences.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. And just in case people are not aware of this, John, what is the difference between trade and category romance?

John Jacobson: When we think of the difference between a conventional category romance to a trade, romance, a trade romance are those larger tall paperbacks that are usually, I don't know, like $15, $16, $17 USD.

John Jacobson: They usually have maybe a wider variety of cover types as far as like soft touch velvet or sleek and smooth. And, a lot of people now might associate them as well with the illustrated cover trends and that sort of thing. And then the traditional category romance is a standard mass [00:03:00] market size.

John Jacobson: So in the past Harlequin's category romances have all been traditional mass market, which are the, short and small and compact romances that you might find at Walmart or, someone's parent might remember once upon a time buying at their grocery store or somewhere else. We personally at Harlequin throughout all of our imprints publish a variety of things in trade and hardcover in mass market and in mass Market Max, which is a new and upcoming format for paperback romance.

John Jacobson: And for those who don't know what Mass max is, mass max is it's in between, it's a little bit taller and a little bit chunkier than your mass market but still not the full size of a trade paperback. So if you go into a Walmart or a bookstore now, you might see that those books are they stick out from the shelf a little bit more and they feel more substantial, and they also have a better tactility with hand movements.

John Jacobson: If anyone's ever tried to read a small mass market book in their hands, like if you have any tendency towards arthritis or your hands just get mad at you for holding something for that long. It's very painful.

Andrea Martucci: Especially when they start getting to be really fat books and heavy which, which, when you have shorter 50 to 75,000 word books is less of an issue, but you still have to , hold it open with your hand which can be difficult.

John Jacobson: Exactly. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. And so then when we say category, of course we're talking about lines where readers can expect a certain type of romance within that line that is distinct from the type of romance that they will find in another line.

Andrea Martucci: And for a company like Harlequin, you have these lines and the focus is on creating a cohesive experience within that line so readers know what to expect. Whereas in trade or in single title formats, the focus is more on the author brand, let's say. Say you have Avon historicals, you're gonna expect different things from different authors. It may not be a wholly consistent experience, even if they're all Regencies or whatever, or mostly Regencies.

Andrea Martucci: So can you tell us about the existing lines at Harlequin right now, and how you all in the editorial team and maybe also the business team started to think maybe there was a new opportunity?

John Jacobson: Yeah, that's a great question and great insights on category lines versus imprints. So yeah, Harlequin has a variety of category lines at the moment. Our probably most well known, there's the classic Harlequin Presents, which a lot of people think of when they think of a classic Harlequin over the decades,

John Jacobson: we have the white cover with that little circular image. And it's very lux. It's usually taking place in an international location with some very wealthy man at the helm. We also have Love Inspired and Love Inspired Suspense, both of which are Christian inspirational romance lines that are contemporary.

John Jacobson: There's Harlequin Intrigue and Romantic Suspense, [00:06:00] both of which kind of straddle those areas of romance and suspense or mystery. We have Harlequin Heartwarming, which is a low to no heat contemporary line that's not religious. There's Harlequin Romance, which is I would say a middle ground between Heartwarming and Presents where it's a little shorter, still has wealth and locations, but a little bit more flexibility as far as some of the storytelling.

John Jacobson: And there's Harlequin Historical. And then of course where I work Harlequin Desire, which I would say it's a slightly more soap opera style version of what we see it Presents, so it's based currently in the US for the most part and, you have the same kind of wealth and drama, but it's a little bit more differentiated in terms of what Presents does.

John Jacobson: So I'm, I might be missing something as well. I like to think I remember everything, but there's a lot, and if you're a reader, you're hearing there is a lot. So especially when there's already a lot, there's a valid question in wondering , why do you need a new thing? You already have all of the things like what is the point of a new thing?

John Jacobson: And for me and I think for a lot of the team at Harlequin, what we've seen is that we have such a great variety of lines, but something that we don't currently have within our mix is something that is intentionally higher heat. Right now, Desire and Presents are both the highest heat level that you would find in a Harlequin category line, and they do get very sensual, but that sensuality isn't necessarily explicit in terms of using explicit terminology, in terms of using slang.

John Jacobson: The sensuality and the physical experiences aren't necessarily experimental or maybe playful in the way that we would see in contemporary romances, especially those that are put out in the self pub or the indie space that are high heat.

John Jacobson: It's a very different kind of experience. It's a little bit more euphemistic, it's a little bit more ethereal and aesthetic and less of that kind of grounded in reality experience of sensuality and sex that we're used to.

John Jacobson: So we were like, this is a hole, and it's a hole that we think it's a really good time to fill.

John Jacobson: And people who have been fans of Harlequin for

Andrea Martucci: Oh my God. I'm sorry. M sorry.

John Jacobson: Oh,

Andrea Martucci: Oh my God. I'm keeping

John Jacobson: I didn't think about that at all.

Andrea Martucci: Oh my God.

John Jacobson: No

Andrea Martucci: I was like, Wait a second. Okay. All right. All right. No, that was genius. I'm sorry,

John Jacobson: You can tell that I'm a verbal thinker. Yeah. Okay.

Andrea Martucci: You're filling this hole. You're filling this empty craving hole.

John Jacobson: This empty hole with big, warm, throbbing book.

John Jacobson: Oh my God. Yeah. Okay.

John Jacobson: So if you're a Harlequin fan, you might remember lines like Harlequin Temptation, Harlequin Blaze, Harlequin Dare. These are all lines that we've [00:09:00] previously had as our high heat line. So it's, I would say in very much within Harlequins history to have at least one line that's

John Jacobson: filling... (John is thinking very carefully about how to finish this sentence now) that's filling that kind of niche, within what our readers want and what readers within the romance market want. And I'd say the kind of, this is to me a mixture of Blaze and Super Romance, both of which are not with Harlequin anymore right now.

John Jacobson: So Blaze was very much a flirty, fun, fresh kind of line. It was high heat. It explored a lot of sexuality, it explored a lot of chemistry with the characters. It was contemporary. It occasionally had themes that were maybe in the suspense arena or the slight magical arena, but it was by far and large contemporary, and it usually didn't have characters that were overly wealthy.

John Jacobson: It featured a lot of characters who were in middle class or working class situations. And it was, especially for the time that Blaze launched, it was very progressive compared to what was out there within the kind of trade and mass market, single title romance market.

John Jacobson: And Super Romance was a slightly longer contemporary romance line that was very character driven. And then similarly had that kind of grounded in reality vibe, there were a lot of family dynamics, a lot of difficult topics were explored. We got to see greater environments and experiences because the word count was a little longer. And for context, Blaze was about 50,000. Super Romance, I think was probably 65 to 70,000 words, although do not quote me on that. Anybody who knows the history of that better than I do, because it was before my time.

Andrea Martucci: To put this in perspective from a physical book standpoint, if we're looking at mass market paperbacks, your standard, Avon historical romance by Beverly Jenkins or I don't know if Lorraine Heath is Avon, is she

John Jacobson: I think so.

Andrea Martucci: Those might be a 100,000, words.

John Jacobson: yes. So a single title romance, and at least as far as my idea of what a single title romance is typically at least 80,000 words. Some would call that a long novel I guess if you're going by certain industry categories. So that's why category romance is what it is,

John Jacobson: because category romance is typically 50 to 70 or 75,000 words. So it's intended to be shorter. It's not intended to be so short that it's forgettable, but it's intended to be shorter in the sense of meeting a different need for a readership. Because sometimes you don't wanna read a hundred thousand words.

John Jacobson: And to be frank, sometimes a story doesn't need to be a full longer single title story. I'm sure we've all read stories where we felt like it could have been a little bit trimmed or a little bit more sleek and it would've given the same message or given a better message because it was honed in.

John Jacobson: So I think that's where category can meet the need.

John Jacobson: And I also, for myself think that the rise of independently [00:12:00] published, self-published romance, especially in the digital sphere, has actually shown that a lot of readers want a wide variety of story lengths. When we're looking at what's in trade right now, the story lengths have to be a minimum of, at least those 80,000, sometimes longer. I'm sure it depends on the publisher and what they want to do.

John Jacobson: But if you look at indie a lot of stuff that's in Kindle Unlimited, a lot of stuff that isn't in Kindle Unlimited, but still sells well in digital is actually on that shorter end. A lot of readers want 50 to 70,000 words.

John Jacobson: And I think Harlequin has seen that these readers that are clearly enraptured with contemporary romance enraptured with contemporary romance that's a wide variety of heat levels that wants to explore what it means to be a person today in terms of this kind of physical and romantic relationship.

John Jacobson: The audience is there and they want it. And so many of them I think are especially in this digital space or they're on the other end in this trade space or they're between both of them. And it seems to us, or at least to me this line is this beautiful, exciting middle ground,

John Jacobson: because it's something where it's this slightly shorter length, but it's still gonna be satisfying. It's still gonna be character driven and it's going to have all of the heat that you could get in something that maybe you would otherwise have to go to digital for. But it's still going to have a single title approach and energy like you're getting in your trade paperback.

John Jacobson: And the bright side is, we're still talking about exactly what format it's gonna be in, but we've talked about potentially Mass Market Max for instance. And the benefit of something that's not in a trade format, especially right now when we might be going into a recession, is that the cost to the consumer is lower,

John Jacobson: so we might be able to offer you the kind of exciting, unique, character driven story with all of the sexiness, maybe even more sexiness than you might get out of a trade romance at a price that's actually more favorable to experiment and try out while still in a beautiful print package.

John Jacobson: And something that still looks and feels unique and special. So that's what has me excited about it is I think it's an opportunity to show a lot of the newer romance readers that they can still have this excitement of reading a lot and discovering and finding themselves in these stories without having this price tag that's steadily creeping up and is making it harder to read more or to experiment with new authors and see what they like.

John Jacobson: Cause that's part of the fun when you discover that you're a romance reader, is that you want to play around and you wanna see what matters to you and what excites you. So we're hoping that this can be that for people.

Andrea Martucci: And I think, I mean you mentioned Kindle Unlimited and so obviously, the benefit for readers of Kindle Unlimited is it's $10 a month and it's an all you can read buffet. The problem with that is that it's, for the most part, uncurated, so unless you know the authors that you want to read you have some tried and true authors who have books in Kindle Unlimited [00:15:00] or you are willing to read a lot of duds, which I think we've all been there.

Andrea Martucci: Or you have really good curation channels such as you're really tuned in to reviews or following accounts of people who read a lot of stuff and can push you in the direction of things you might not have discovered otherwise. Now, it feels to me that this is helping solve that problem where you are curating the work because it's in this line.

Andrea Martucci: However, it's giving people that predictable experience that they're looking for, where they know that if they come to this line, they're going to get a specific thing and they don't necessarily have to go out and discover those authors for themselves. They're going to come to the line to discover those authors and their work

John Jacobson: I would agree. I think that's a really beautiful way of thinking about it. I think every publisher, every category line, every imprint, that is the goal, is that we're curating something. And I think for this line in particular those of us on the editorial team, I've been thinking of it as it's a category line, but with an imprint, single title mentality.

John Jacobson: So it still has this consistent experience, the consistency is going to be that, it's going to be a high heat, sexy, contemporary romance, it's not going to be maybe what some other readers are experiencing where the cover is very cute and it could surprisingly be very, sensual or it ends up being fade to black. You know that no matter what we package in this line, you're going to get that chemistry, that connection. And you also know that it's going to feel contemporary, you're not gonna be met with a bunch of billionaires, you're not gonna be met with everybody being a celebrity or from family wealth.

John Jacobson: You're going to get a diverse array of identities and experiences of people of all races, gender, sexualities, et cetera, having, real life challenges and discovering themselves. So I think that's why I like what you're describing it as cuz that very much is the goal, is that it's this curated experience where it's still consistent enough that the reader is going to enjoy what they pick up and they're going to know if they try something new, that it's going to have those components.

John Jacobson: But it's still going to be experimental in the way that I think a lot of contemporary romance, especially in the indie space, is being experimental right now, having diversity, experimenting with, various emotional experiences that feel specific to what people are dealing with now,

John Jacobson: and some of these things are things that we've always dealt with, things like family trauma or navigating mental health or uncertainty. And then also we want to have this as a space where we can tell stories that, maybe haven't had a space within the category lines we've currently had.

John Jacobson: We'd love to explore concepts like what does it mean to be a heroine who is willing to get an abortion, especially in today's society. Or what does it mean to be a queer couple navigating any of these specific relationship challenges and I think that's the excitement of it is that it's, it still [00:18:00] has that consistency, but it's going to have the breadth that contemporary romance readers are seeking right now.

John Jacobson: Cause I think now more than ever, readers want a variety and they want to feel like every book operates on its own unique intention and personality. And I think the perceived authenticity of a book being allowed to, I think, shine on its own and on what it's doing specifically is really important to readers.

John Jacobson: So we wanna bring that experience, but just at that, more exciting price point.

Andrea Martucci: More exciting price point. I love that. Look I get excited about price points that are lower than other price points. Okay. So I wanna come back to talking about the diversity of stories that are going to be in this line, in this new, sexy, contemporary line.

Andrea Martucci: But first I wanna address, I used the word predictable and in the romance space, predictable has been used against romance readers as, Oh, it's formulaic, it's predictable, whatever. I don't think predictable is a bad word, because I think predictable means that your consumer knows what to expect when they pick up your product, which is exactly what you were talking about with, you pick up a book and you think you're getting one thing and then you're like, Oh, this is not at all what I expected.

Andrea Martucci: That is an unpredictable experience, which is a bad experience, even if the book itself isn't necessarily, poorly executed. It's just not what you were expecting. And so if we think about predictability in romance, and also in purchasing any product is a good thing, but things can be predictable yet also unique and distinct from other things within those expectations.

Andrea Martucci: This is a statement you could say about all romance, but also certainly you can say about lines that are intentionally trying to give readers a consistent experience.

John Jacobson: Yeah, I think it's great to call out predictable because it is a double edged sword in romance and I think the way that I would say this line specifically is going to be predictable is that it's going to be predictable in the ways that you want it to be, and it's going to be unpredictable in the ways that you hope any kind of book or reading experience will be.

John Jacobson: So the predictability here is that you know it's going to have a certain heat level, you know that it's going to be a contemporary romance that really explores the emotional lives of these characters. And it's going to handle topics that, might sometimes be light and might sometimes be heavy, but are going to have a kind of core relatability or understandability, a core kind of human experience.

John Jacobson: But it's not gonna be predictable as far as like necessarily how each author is going to approach that. So I'd say compared to other kind of prestige Harlequin lines that people know about that have been here for a long time that do what they do phenomenally well it's not going to be consistent necessarily in how every author handles every trope,

John Jacobson: when there's going to be much less that's off the table. So I think we're going to see a lot of those stories [00:21:00] very much being influenced by the identities and the experience and the perspectives of the people writing them. And that's something that we want to encourage because now more than ever people are wanting a diversity of experiences that gives them a chance to actually see themselves within the text.

John Jacobson: And that's something we want to be a core part of this line. Diversity is a core part of everything at Harlequin, and I love, and I appreciate that as someone who is there. So it's not that the diversity itself is setting us apart, but I think it's the fact that this line is structurally going to give an opportunity to have a lot more playfulness and experimentation with what can be done versus other lines there's much more of a structure and then the playfulness and experimentation is within the structure itself.

John Jacobson: Versus this is more it's a really broad kind of umbrella that you're under. And what's really fun is seeing what you make under it, and whether you prove that it can continue to be expanded or changed. That's what I think is exciting about it and romance in general,

John Jacobson: is that you can have both, you can have something that's predictable enough to be comforting and safe, but also challenging. And I think that's the excitement of something like this, is that we can bring that experience to people in a way that I don't think we currently are able to do at this capacity with our preexisting lines

Andrea Martucci: Mm-hmm. And on that note, potential criticisms of Harlequin over time could include things like, so at the same time, Blaze got shut down in 2017, Kimani also was closed, and Kimani was the line of multicultural romance, which is where the majority of Black Romance was being published and romance by people of color.

Andrea Martucci: And so at the time, the idea was, okay we're not gonna segregate multicultural romance in its own line. We're going to incorporate this into all of our lines. I haven't sat down and counted and said, Okay but is Harlequin up to the same number of authors, with BIPOC identities as when Kimani was? I don't know. That's one potential criticism. However, I think it's really refreshing to see a very intentional move towards, saying explicitly this line is focused on this.

Andrea Martucci: Similarly Carina Press, which is the digital-first line at Harlequin is where the majority of queer romance is published right now. And was it the first queer Harlequin was published by Roan Parish? That was in which line?

John Jacobson: Special Edition.

Andrea Martucci: Special Edition. Okay. So that was basically the first time a Harlequin print book had a same sex couple. Is that correct?

John Jacobson: I would say that was the first time an explicitly category romance with a queer couple was published because I can't remember the timeline, but I think by that point, Carina Adores would've been out in the market. And it's a trade paperback, but it's still technically under the Harlequin umbrella and under the Harlequin series umbrella.

John Jacobson: Yeah, I think that's, I think that's the clarity there. But of course I am not a hundred percent. I wish I was a Harlequin historian [00:24:00] because that would be a really cool job, but it is not mine.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. If there's any Harlequin historians, please call the number on the bottom of your screen. And, but so I think that what it looks like is happening from the outside is that the things that we wanna see incorporated, enmeshed into these lines, there's a move away from segregating them and I think it sounds like this line has a very intentional directive, you're actually starting from the point of this is baked into the premise that these stories are by their very nature reflecting human experiences, which are diverse.

Andrea Martucci: And it's not gonna be, 90% cis het, white couples, and then a dash of something else.

John Jacobson: I'm glad that's the feedback and the perception cause that's definitely what we're going for. And every Harlequin line, we're all dedicated to DEI, we are all dedicated to continuing to , improve year over year. The amount of BIPOC authors that we're publishing as well as authors of other diverse backgrounds. Whether it's disability, whether it's gender, sexuality. Religion, et cetera.

John Jacobson: So it's it's not like we would have any one line where it's this is the line that's explicitly looking for diversity, but it's more that I think when we were thinking about this line, when we were talking about it with readers who were coming into contemporary romance and, reading so much of it in so many different areas that desire for connection, for seeing oneself, for seeing experiences that feel modern and relevant, that is a part of diversity at kind of a new level,

John Jacobson: because it's not just about representation at that point. It's really about, how that representation actually translates to lived specific experience. And that's, I think what we're really excited about with this is by the nature of what we want this line to be, it's going to have to be extremely diverse because that is the reality of all of our lived experiences,

John Jacobson: specificity breeds something that's really beautiful and organic and complex and that's what we want to go for. And I do think that's something that our team in particular, we care about it. And if you've looked at least even what I've been able to buy for the line so far, we have several queer romances.

John Jacobson: We have a queer romance coming from Timothy Janovski, which I'm really excited about cause it's really thrilling when we see a cis male male romance by a cis gay man. Cuz that's not as common as one would expect in the industry.

John Jacobson: We have a black sapphic romance coming out from Meka James that features women's basketball, which is really exciting.

John Jacobson: We also have another Black sapphic romance on deck that's going to be, I think coming into the announcement soon. I think even just from what we're acquiring at these early stages, it's apparent that we're trying a lot of things that I think even trade across the industry is not necessarily trying and that's the [00:27:00] benefit of category,

John Jacobson: that's the benefit of something where we publish four books a month for this line and it's going to be, this consistency and this variety. And at this kind of more accessible price in space is that we do more and we can play because we're not beholden to selling one really big book.

John Jacobson: Cause that is the danger of publishing is when you put a lot of effort into one really big book. You have to think about how you can get the most amount of people to buy that one really big book. And with that comes a lot of the challenges of the industry that are, ingrained with white supremacy culture and all of these other things.

John Jacobson: So I think it's a fun space to start to dismantle that because we have that flexibility.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And so I wanna come back to your wishlist, what you're looking to acquire you and your colleagues. But first, let's talk about this is a thing I've noticed. I'm not the only one who has commented on this. When it comes to sexually explicit content in romance novels anecdotally, it feels like TikTok there's this idea that things are real spicy, that heavy romance readers are like what are you talking about? That is vanilla.

Andrea Martucci: So there's that, and then there's books that seem to promise that there's gonna be explicit sexuality on page, and then don't really follow through on that. And then of course, there, there's the other thing where some readers who maybe are not wanting to consume sexually explicit content are like, this had a cartoon cover. Why is suddenly, is this happening?

Andrea Martucci: I think listeners of the podcast know that I like content with explicit sexuality on page. I tend towards that end of the spectrum more so than closed door romance. That is just me. Obviously different reader preferences are gonna come in here, but I'm gonna talk from my perspective here.

Andrea Martucci: I totally agree with what you said earlier, I think that trade has become really unpredictable and also has seemed to be trending towards less sexually explicit. Obviously, that does not apply to every book. And there are obviously some very popular books with explicit sexuality on page.

Andrea Martucci: However, I would say as a trend, I have noticed it coming down and I'm like, Ooh, this feels like the onslaught of prudery where people are pushing back against this kind of culturally and maybe internally at publishing houses. And it feels safer to not do that. Versus of course we've talked about indie publishing is doing a lot of really awesome experimentation. Not just with sexually explicit content, but also with sexually explicit content. You can more predictably find really hot stuff in indie self-published work.

Andrea Martucci: So I'm curious from your perspective if you're seeing this, if you and your colleagues are talking about this and how that came into play with how you're conceiving of this line, and I think, Meka James is somebody who started self pubbing before working with Harlequin, right? So I think obviously these self pub authors are proving themselves and then being acquired by [00:30:00] Harlequin and other publishers.

John Jacobson: Lots of great questions there. So I think, I'm gonna take off my Harlequin editor hat for a second and put on John, the romance reader hat, but as a romance reader who has been reading this genre for a very long time and who's been editing in it for a long time in different capacities.

John Jacobson: I definitely have personally, individually felt like across the board, across every house, every kind of major publisher in the industry that, yeah, I think that trade romance has become slightly unpredictable and I think that there's probably a lot of reasons for that.

John Jacobson: We're getting a lot of new romance readers in, and something that I think that seasoned romance readers forget about is that the deconstruction of what it means to be a romance reader is something that happens over time as you get comfortable with the genre and the fact that you like it.

John Jacobson: Because there are a lot of problems with the genre and one problem that the genre faces within the larger industry, that cis sexism is there, and especially around romance when it's perceived to be sexually explicit.

John Jacobson: So a lot of newer romance readers, I think, are still in that space where they're finding a lot of empowerment and excitement in reading these stories and loving them and engaging with them, with other readers and with authors. But there is still this societal challenge around the fact that other people who don't understand romance perceive it very differently and they perceive you differently if you are reading it in public on the train or at the park or at school or whatever.

John Jacobson: And. part of it is I see that the industry, and I think these larger trade releases are probably trying to be really conscious of the fact that these new readers are still navigating that emotional space.

John Jacobson: So if you have something that's too overt you run the risk of some of those readers not being comfortable enough to read that out in public or, especially if it's super explicit and maybe it's also queer or has another element to it that might be challenging to some people, there's a lot of thought that the individual reader has to go into as to whether that's something they're comfortable showing.

John Jacobson: And I don't want to judge any of those readers at all, cuz it's a valid thing, a lot of us have been reading romance for 10 or 20 or more years. So to us it's whatever. But to somebody who is new, it's a very different world.

John Jacobson: So I think that's probably part of where it's gone and maybe also why we're seeing those stories. Maybe focusing less on the physicality and the chemistry and the sexual exploration and much more on, broader emotional strokes, broader stories.

Andrea Martucci: women's fiction (pretends to cough)

John Jacobson: Yeah. And, And women's fiction. . And I think it's it's interesting cuz you're right, indie has a wide variety and there are also a lot of indie self pub titles that are low heat or no heat.

John Jacobson: Harlequin has been doing low to no heat for a very long time, our Love Inspired Lines are, they're inspirational, they're very chaste. [00:33:00] Heartwarming is similar. I think Intrigue is also the same, there's a lot of readers for that too. And it's very valid.

John Jacobson: What I think that we're struggling with is that especially in trade, it's scaffolded so much to meet a lot of these newer readers and these crossover readers who are reading women's fiction or who are reading fantasy, or these other genres. In order to be a bridge, you can't really explore everything about the genre in great depth and complexity, because not, all of your readers are going to understand that or be ready for it.

John Jacobson: So yeah, I think that's why it's there and it's great, but especially for all the new readers that are getting picked up by all of those trade books. Once they wanna start pushing the envelope and exploring new things, the trade space that was once very, I think exciting and comforting can become, I don't wanna say it's not enough, but sometimes it can feel that way as a reader, cause you're like, okay, I find out that I love romance and I do like it when it gets really steamy, but then I'm hitting a wall.

John Jacobson: And I think that's why indie has become so successful, because it can go so far in the other direction, you can go all the way to dark erotic romance where the hero is a stalker, or they're serial killers or whatever. And it feels really extreme. But once people get comfortable, they want to experiment and play and they want to see what they like.

John Jacobson: And that's why when things get really binary, a lot of folks struggle. Because they really want things that are in the middle. And it's fun to have a middle space. As a non-binary person, I revel in middle spaces.

Andrea Martucci: middle spaces. Yes. Yes. Yes. And I don't wanna be stereotypical about young people these days, but I can no longer claim to be a young person. I was talking to noted young person, Dame Jodie Slaughter, in an episode over a year ago at this point.

Andrea Martucci: We were talking about her entrance into romance, obviously now she's a romance author. And we were talking about Twilight fan fiction and how that was her way into romance and understanding that what she was reading even was romance. And I wonder, it does feel like a lot of readers, younger readers are finding their way into reading via things that feel less traditional to older people.

Andrea Martucci: So reading a lot of fan fiction, reading novels worth of fan fiction and maybe gravitating towards the more sexually explicit or the queer romances, or even just content that is just more focused on the romance than the source text, and then they're like, Oh, it turns out that the thing I like about this isn't that it's about Twilight or isn't that it's about One Direction. It's that I like to read stories that think about romantic relationships and maybe delve into sexuality, have more diverse characters than the source text, et cetera.

Andrea Martucci: That definitely feels like a well trodden path at this point. And then you also have these people coming in via these blockbusters, like Sarah J. Maas, who's, is it YA, is it adult? Is it fantasy? Is it romance? It's in [00:36:00] this very weird amorphous space. And then people maybe start identifying the thing they liked about that was the emotional journey and the sexuality. And okay, great. Now where do I go to find that more predictably?

Andrea Martucci: Because Sarah J Maas has only written so many books and so I don't know if I'm being stereotypical here about the Youngs. Is that what we call them?

John Jacobson: I don't know if that's what I would call them

Andrea Martucci: What should we call them?

John Jacobson: I don't know. I don't know. The youth or just younger readers.

John Jacobson: I, I mean, but then younger Readers might sound very middle

John Jacobson: grade

Andrea Martucci: is younger? Give, let's give an age group to this. What are you thinking?

John Jacobson: I would say. Maybe I don't want to bring back the New Adult revolution, but I feel like that is at least part of it, is I think we're looking at this kind of new to Younger adult, not young adult, teenager, but just this younger adult, I would say 18 to even mid thirties I think is really still in that space.

John Jacobson: Yeah, and I also think that it's especially for folks like you and I, we've been reading romance since we were very young, so to us, I think we got used to reading romance novels that are written in a variety of ways versus the folks that you know, are maybe even in our age category, but read a lot of fan fiction. They're not used to genre romance as much as they are used to romance fan fiction, which is a totally different writing style. It's a totally different vibe and experience.

John Jacobson: Yeah, and I think you're on point with talking about that as an entry point, several of the biggest bestsellers right now are books that started as fan fiction. And that's not a coincidence. And part of that is because they have an audience, but part of it's also because, you're right they were a discovery point for people in terms of realizing that they like stories that have a really specific voice and approach and allow those character types to exist in a space that is contemporary, that is this alternative universe where they're not superheroes or battling the dark lord or whatever, but they are, science professors or baristas or hockey players or what have you.

John Jacobson: And it makes sense that is an entry point into romance cuz that's just what it is. It's what it's been built on I think for quite a long time.

Andrea Martucci: And in the last episode uh, I was having a conversation with Renee Dahlia and Philippa Borland. And we we're talking about fairy tales as like, well, fairy tales are familiar, and so you can play with them in these new interesting ways.

Andrea Martucci: And that's what fan fiction is, right? It's essentially just instead of talking about fairy tales, Cinderella, whatever, you're like Well, you know, Twilight now let's take that let's play with some things here. So I think it's a very human thing to take familiar things and then want to play around with them.

Andrea Martucci: And in today's mass media environment, what is familiar? Almost everybody has seen a Marvel movie. Almost everyone has seen Star Wars almost. Not me. I don't watch movies, but also most people have, so it becomes like a common touch point that then people wanna play around in that sandbox.

Andrea Martucci: So I [00:39:00] think it's really interesting to see, particularly as younger people start to become the dominant audience or a larger segment of audience in romance, how their tastes and the ways that they have come into romance or just the different flavors of the ways that they have come into romance are gonna start influencing their tastes, how people are creating it, because the writers are also those readers, or coming from those platforms like they're Wattpad writers, or they're writing on fan or whatever.

Andrea Martucci: The romance genre has to and will and is, evolving to accommodate those consumer preferences and also the creator influences.

John Jacobson: Agreed. Romance has done a great job of keeping up with things in a lot of capacities, but something that people forget about within romance, it's just a reality, that as people age and things change, and the cultures that people grow up in shift, that the perspectives and the approaches are different.

John Jacobson: I think that's also something that we're starting to see in contemporary romance, we're starting to see that there's a bit of this shift in which writers are coming into the genre now versus which writers have been there for a while and we're seeing that there are different tones, different approaches, different ideas.

John Jacobson: I will sometimes get contemporary romance submissions from people who have written for a long time. And I love their work, and their work is wonderful in its own way, But then they'll write a 30 year old character who's feeling like they're on the shelf and that they have to get married. And I'm like, most people that I know in their late twenties or early thirties are in a very different place, we're all worried about being able to pay for our medical bills. We're worried about student loan debt. We're experimenting with being in open relationships and polyamorous relationships. We're not getting married until we're 35. We don't even wanna get married half the time.

John Jacobson: The culture has shifted so much because of so many things. I think it's good that people want to continue to push their understandings of what the contemporary mindset is and the experience. But I think that's also something that these readers are seeking is that they do need people who can intrinsically understand that all of what we feel is a normal approach to what's happening around us is situational to our specific experiences and what we've grown up in and what we understand.

John Jacobson: And I think that's why fan fiction is so relevant, because fan fiction is often being written by other people in that same age group. Fan fiction is written by a wide variety of ages, but a lot of people who are younger start by writing fan fiction because the threshold is just being old enough to have a Wattpad account or a fan account which is very different from publishing a book.

John Jacobson: I think that's also part of it.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think also there's not just the literal barriers, but there's the psychological barriers of well, I can't write a book, but I can post this on fan So it's, it gets over that imposter syndrome feeling.

Andrea Martucci: And you started getting into this too. I [00:42:00] think that it's really interesting what you're talking about, which is essentially what does Happily Ever After mean? What is a hopeful story? What is a fulfilling romantic relationship? Those are not, set in stone. If you were talking about romance in the 1970s, I'm sure guidelines are literally like, well, happily ever after looks like you're in a monogamous, long term heterosexual relationship. Also, you're white, you're able bodied, or any of those things have been solved, quote unquote by the end of the story. And you're gonna get married and have a baby, and you're rich.

Andrea Martucci: That was, if you wanna get published, you have to reflect that version, that idea of what happiness means, what a fulfilling romantic relationship is. What is going to satisfy a reader's desire there? And that's not necessarily what readers wanted, but that was the idea.

Andrea Martucci: And I think that, you know, you were talking about student loan anxiety and different ideas around what a fulfilling romantic relationship is. You could say, I actually be perfectly happy in a polyamorous relationship. That is my idea of fulfilling long term relationship, or you're a reader who maybe doesn't necessarily want that for themselves, but wants to go along on the journey with characters who want that and find that to be their happily ever after.

Andrea Martucci: So it sounds like again, what you're baking into this is an open mindedness of what Happily Ever After is that is reflective of perhaps younger audience's experiences, not just like their anxieties, not just what is materially going on in their lives, but also how those things have changed their mindset. How exposure to new ideas and greater acceptance, obviously not wholly, but greater acceptance and understanding of things have shaped people's desires.

Andrea Martucci: But how the world we live in is actually changing what we want. And it feels like not only are the stories that you're acquiring meant to reflect those things, but also to perhaps inspire people to expand their horizons in terms of what they imagine happily ever after to be.

John Jacobson: 100%. I think that is such a great way of looking at the kind of happily ever afters that we want in this specific line. And we've been talking a lot about how you know, when we see tropes, we wanna see them subverted. We want to see new approaches to stories and ideas.

John Jacobson: Part of it's because Harlequin, we do such a great job. We have 11 lines right now, in 11 lines. You can tackle a lot of stuff. You can address a lot of stories. So we have so many other stories and happily ever afters and structures that are already operating. And it's so that's why this needs to be different, in order to give something new.

John Jacobson: And I think for at least for myself as a reader, as somebody who's working on this from the editorial end it's also. It is this reality that Happily Ever After is looking different. And I think people also perceive how they want to get to their happily ever after differently.

John Jacobson: One thing that we've talked about with this [00:45:00] line is that it's very much that the romance in this line is not a solution.

John Jacobson: The romance is not the primary or the singular conflict through which both of these characters are working. It's not oh, I don't think I can ever love again, and guess what I can. And that's my come to Jesus moment. Excuse me, for anyone who does not want me using that phrase, I'm sorry.

John Jacobson: It's this oh, and then everything's great, rather, it's the romance is the central story, but that story is specifically about two individual characters who are navigating their own challenges, their traumas, their wounds, as well as the things that make them happy.

John Jacobson: And it's about both of them growing to a place where they can meet that happily ever after with each other and be fulfilled, it's really about we both need to grow and we want to grow in this certain way that feels good to us and gives us a satisfaction in our lives.

John Jacobson: And then, oh, isn't it great that we can do that while making a relationship and then because we both have grown, we can actually achieve being in that relationship together in a way that allows us both to be who we are.

John Jacobson: So I think it's a subtle, but I think important shift in feeling like the romance is much more about both or more than two if it is a poly romance, all of the parties having that level of growth and fulfillment to be able to achieve a romantic relationship that is healthy and sustainable and feels good to them and allows them to live the way they wanna live. Rather than maybe previous narratives that have assumed that, part of romance is that you inevitably have to do a certain thing like get married or have babies or part of romance is like, you always have to sacrifice XYZ thing in order to get this great love of your life that's worth it all in the end.

John Jacobson: And it's why can't you achieve both of those things? Why can't you be in love and be satisfied, with what's going on? And I think that's what people want now because that satisfaction feels very far away, in a kind of messy way, it's almost a fantasy at this point to just imagine being satisfied with your day to day life.

John Jacobson: And I think that people want to see that because it's achievable. We want a bit of a roadmap or a bit of an inspiration to remind us that's feasible.

John Jacobson: And maybe this is my being a cynical person in their late twenties, dealing with the world that we're dealing with right now. I certainly identify with it and I think that's why I'm attracted to this line and to these stories.

Andrea Martucci: Well, and I think, that is the place we are in and I think that, no matter your age, if you have lived through the last 10 years, at least you know you've experienced it. And maybe you're in that place. And I think that what you're speaking to is, not only are you talking about expanding the idea of what HEA could mean, you're also saying, and this line doesn't predefine what that is at all. It's very much an individual unique story.

Andrea Martucci: I think that there has been a lot of questioning of how are we as people going to be fulfilled in the world that we live in? There's [00:48:00] obviously been a ton of things happening economically, socially, environmentally, et cetera, in the world in the last several years, especially, that are completely out of our control.

Andrea Martucci: And I think have had a lot of people questioning wait a second. I had a certain idea of what was gonna make me happy, and that's not making me happy. And somebody else is saying, this is what's gonna make me happy, and that's not making me happy either. There's no answer out there that I can get from somebody else.

Andrea Martucci: I actually need to discover that for myself. And it's going to be a personal journey. There is no predefined answer that I just need to find.

John Jacobson: Exactly. And all of that to say is there's obviously a place for the fantastical, there's obviously a place for romance that's about the fantasy, that's about removing these barriers that we face on a day to day basis. It's why people love a lot of the Harlequin lines.

John Jacobson: It's why people love a lot of what's getting published in trade and in single title across the market. Billionaires have not gone away. None of these things have gone away. But I do think it is a slippery slope where I think anybody, especially people who are consuming contemporary romance specifically, if all that you're reading about are experiences and people that don't have the same barriers that you do, that fantasy can almost sour a little bit, if you're getting too much of it because it takes you from this place where it's escapist to suddenly it starts feeling like it's just unattainable.

John Jacobson: And I think that's something we really don't want this particular line to go into is we don't want it to feel unattainable. We don't want you to leave it feeling like, that was a great story and I really loved it, but I can't do that all the time because I'll never have the family wealth to give me the ability to leave my job or I'll never be able to do this without struggling in this way because it's about white people and I'm a person of color or because it's about straight people and I'm queer.

John Jacobson: It's really about keeping that groundedness that allows the romance just still feel like a fantasy in the sense that it's giving you the excitement, the flutters, the joy, the relationality of the people getting together.

John Jacobson: But that it's still is something where you're like, Yeah, that could happen. I could do something similar and also get a great romantic relationship with great sex out of it if I want to. And that's real and I don't have to think of that as just something totally out of the realm of possibility.

John Jacobson: I also just think that there's a lot of romance that already fits the desire for the fantastic right now. I think a lot of what's in trade is doing that in different ways. Both in contemporary and in paranormal fantasy romance, we're seeing a lot of that for a reason.

John Jacobson: but

John Jacobson: Historical

Andrea Martucci: is essentially a fantasy. It's

John Jacobson: going to a fantasy world.

John Jacobson: Exactly. And historical is a fantasy too. So we have a lot of these spaces that I think more intentionally feel like fantasy. And it's so wonderful. And I think that's why readers are seeking this other space, because they want to have that variety. And I think most of us do. It's really hard to find an avid romance reader who doesn't read with variety in some capacity.

John Jacobson: So [00:51:00] I think that's why it's important, and I think we can appreciate those fantasies more and I think we can be more creative and subversive and compelling with them if we're juxtaposing them with things that are feeling very real and representative and complex. And, without that kind of interrelationship with the genre, I think it does lose something a little bit, because it can almost start feeling like everything is too similar and it can start feeling like everything is sitting in a space of comfortability with where it's at, rather than continuing to push with where readers want it to be going.

Andrea Martucci: Right. Yeah. And what you were speaking to earlier, given that this is a new sexy, contemporary line, that when it comes to literally sexually explicit situations, that there's also immense value in the experimentation that it sounds like you're looking for on the pages there where, similar to life scripts about what happiness looks like, I think that the scripts that we get around what good sex looks like have, I will say on the whole, the majority of romance that I have read with sexually explicit content has very predefined sexual scripts that do not allow a ton of room for individual variation in terms of how you achieve pleasure or just trying different things that aren't just light BDSM

Andrea Martucci: Which, which was oh, look at us being new and different in romance publishing. I'll always come back to Strange Love where you have an insectoid alien and a human woman having sex and having to figure it out from scratch because they do not have any scripts to start from.

Andrea Martucci: They need to figure out new ways to use their bodies and new places that might be interesting and fit together in new and interesting ways. And I that, it was so refreshing to read that. I'm really excited what you're talking about in this line that there will be that experimentation and that there's an intentional desire to move away from those standard scripts around, this is what sexual pleasure is, and if that doesn't do it for you, I don't know, I guess you're weird. We're not gonna give you any other ideas either.

John Jacobson: Yeah it's definitely about eliminating those scripts and I think recognizing that part of why I think some of, I wouldn't call it classic romance cuz I don't know if this kind of wave of romance that we're slowly moving away from is classic in style, but there is a consistency to the script and I think what a lot of readers have encountered over the years with it is exactly what you're experiencing, where it's one way and it get, it perceives pleasure and fulfillment as one way. It's not the fact that it's pleasurable, it's not debating that it does in fact center cis white, het women's pleasure.

John Jacobson: But it's just, it does so in only one way. And the reality is that fantasy can be appealing to a wide variety of people, even if they are not that particular person experiencing that particular orgasm or whatnot, but their version of happiness might look really different [00:54:00] from that.

John Jacobson: And sometimes it's great to have a fantasy version of happiness that isn't yours because you can enjoy it in its own way. But I think you're right in that a lot of people are, doing a lot more reflection about what that happiness looks like for them, what does sexual fulfillment look like?

John Jacobson: And that's why I would say that while it certainly has these qualities that we associate with older Harlequin sexy lines like Blaze or Dare, I think a big difference is that the sexual chemistry, it's less about this ooh oh, it's BDSM. Or Oh, we're playing with toys.

John Jacobson: And it's more: oh, we're having more explicit in depth explorations of what do these characters actually want? What is a good situation for them? And it might be vanilla, it just might be super hot vanilla because it's what they want. Or maybe it's a queer romance between two cis men, but they're both sides, which means they don't want penetrative sex. And they both get a lot of fulfillment and eroticism out of things that wouldn't be normative for what we associate with male/male, for instance.

John Jacobson: There's so much there that I think we can do if we let those scripts go and instead we say what feels authentic to these two characters in this time, in this place?

John Jacobson: I think readers also respond better to that cuz readers can tell when you're writing from a script after a point. I think that readers like scripts in their own ways. But there is always a balance, if you rely on it too much, it goes from feeling maybe your own take on it and it starts to feel a little bit trodden.

John Jacobson: I think having the stories feel much more organic to the characters and their positionalities and really thinking about what happiness, what sexual fulfillment, what romantic fulfillment means to them, aids in that authenticity.

John Jacobson: And I think that we need to be encouraging romance writers to experiment with more authenticity and experiment more in general because, I found at least so far when I've been acquiring stories and when I've been talking to people and encouraging them to write, the things that they're the most excited about that are often the things that are maybe out of left field for what's in trade right now or what is in other category lines end up being very compelling, because it's authentic in a way that , I don't think eliminates the fantasy, but just maybe gives it a different perspective.

John Jacobson: And I think that's where the industry is at a bit of a crossroads is that when people are too engaged with what romance used to be, it's hard to see these authentic different fantasies for what they are.

John Jacobson: And instead it's going off script. I don't know if people will like that. Versus saying Oh, this is going off script in a way that is a whole new representation of people and will make them excited because they haven't seen it before, in this way, in this space.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So you and I have talked a little bit about what is liberatory romance before, and I know you've done a talk on this, but so think about this, like how do you liberate romance from its harmful elements? These are systemic [00:57:00] cultural issues that we're talking about, and at least one of those things - and you can talk about, ableism and racism and all the other isms -but cis heteronormativity is essentially baked into the romance genre. There are romance novels with same-sex couples that are very cis heteronormative. There can be romance novels between a cis het woman and a cis het man that are very queer.

Andrea Martucci: And I take a very broad use of the word queer, which is essentially just something that deviates from the h egemonic script of how we are supposed to behave. And I think that literally cis heteronormativity is a script. It is saying you are this, you play this role, this person plays this role. You fit together in these ways. This is how you're gonna be happy. This is what your life looks like, blah, blah, blah. These are the relationship milestones.

Andrea Martucci: And when you start deviating away from those things, that's what queerness is. And again, it's not necessarily do you identify as gay or bisexual or whatever.

Andrea Martucci: It's literally just saying, I refuse to live my life, act in a way that only follows this script about how I need to behave based on my identity or based on how other people perceive me.

Andrea Martucci: And in romance tropes are essentially a script. It is essentially saying we believe we can elicit this reaction in you by presenting you with these variables.

Andrea Martucci: So I mean, It's the same thing as saying well, you're a woman, so this is how you find pleasure and these are the parts that you have and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Right? We know that all of these things are socially constructed, and what's keeping it all together is the fact that we continue to reinforce by our own behaviors and the stuff that we consume, that this is the only way to do it.

Andrea Martucci: And so how do you start to break that apart by starting to accept that there is something outside of that and start to try different things.

Andrea Martucci: And I guess where I was going with that is in romance, there is this like, Oh, we wanna be diverse. And it's you can't actually support work by people with identities that fall outside of those that are traditionally in power. You can't actually support those things if you're actually still asking people to follow those same scripts because they are incompatible. They will never meet audience's predicted expectations.

Andrea Martucci: Because they're like, Well, that's just a little strange. That's not what I was expecting. So it's you have to break the wheel, sorry, that was my rant of the day.

John Jacobson: No, but it's a very, it's a very valid rant. And it's not to say that every single book that this line is gonna put out is going to be extremely liberatory or extremely different in that way. We're going to be putting out a variety of things that meet a variety of needs for readers in the contemporary space.

John Jacobson: But I think what's different and what we editorially are doing that's different, that I think is really exciting is that we are very much encouraging people to get rid of the scripts that are not serving them right. I think something that happens is that a lot of romance writers actually are like, they're so [01:00:00] smart, they're so flexible, they're so talented.

John Jacobson: And what's really hard about writing and producing in an industry like romance that does have so many scripts, besides the element of diversity that isn't supported by being so reliant on all of these scripts, is that writers also get used to reducing their own identities, their own needs for different scripts, their own approaches, in order to fit what is expected of them.

John Jacobson: It's been exciting to say screw the script. We want it to be contemporary. We want it to be sexy, needs to be between 65 and 70,000 words. And that's it, and this guy has to have an HEA , and, but that HEA can be whatever makes sense for these two people,

John Jacobson: It can be a happy for now. It doesn't have to have marriage at all. It doesn't have to have a baby at all. It can involve not having a baby intentionally. It can be with different types of people and circumstances. And I think asking people to open those doors is just always gonna lead to new things.

John Jacobson: And I think what I've learned editorially is that when you get rid of scripts, people are intrigued. Getting rid of a script may not always give you the biggest, best seller that you've ever had in your life. And that's a reality of capitalism. right? That is how art and media gets produced.

John Jacobson: And that's true. But one, I mean it can still sell really well cuz you don't know, but also, it gives you a whole new audience because there's so many people that don't find the scripts that romance is using over and over appealing, right? There are a lot of people that would love to be more of a romance reader, but haven't been because it's been so regimented in some ways,

John Jacobson: I mean I definitely have noticed it when I saw D'Vaughn and Kris release. D'Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding was a book that I edited for Carina Adores. There's internal and external conflict, but the main characters don't have a lot of internal conflict with each other that is unnecessary.

John Jacobson: There isn't a traditional third act breakup. It's Black, it's sapphic, there's a lot of representation, but it also influences the struggles and the traumas that these characters are working through. Some folks were aware that it was not following scripts and not everyone liked it, but a lot of people loved it because the scripts were different, because not only is this a different setup, but it's actually a different approach because these people are not the same. And that resonates, that resonates and brings in a whole new group of people and then those people keep reading or maybe they start writing.

John Jacobson: And I think that's just the other bit, is that by eliminating those, we're bringing in the future of romance, not just with who's currently producing it, but with the people who are gonna produce it next. And I think that's important, and it also just helps us deconstruct. I don't know if we'll ever fully liberate it. Probably not cuz we're in a bunch of systems that are interlocking in every single way.

John Jacobson: But, I think it's a good start. It's pretty fun.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And look, you've done, you have done [01:03:00] amazing work in your in your career so far. And there's a million years left of John Jacobson's editorial career of course.

Andrea Martucci: But as you mentioned you have worked with, acquired and or edited people like Chencia C. Higgins, and Penny Aimes, and May Peterson, Yes. So many authors. And I'm really excited about what you are going to be doing in this line, along with the other editors on this line.

Andrea Martucci: You've talked about a lot of things about what you are envisioning for this line. Is there anything you wanna call out explicitly about your wishlist?

John Jacobson: I mean we have a really broad wishlist right now, both for myself and for the other editors. And the other folks that are working on the line editorially are Stacy Boyd, who's our senior editor, and Errin Toma, who is our assistant editor. And Stacy and Errin are also super phenomenal and I think have very similar perspectives.

John Jacobson: It's a pretty broad wishlist. We wanna see people of marginalized experiences who are writing these stories. We wanna see subversive tropes, we wanna see different ideas of what that happily ever after is. We're noticing that there's a gap for things that are middle class, that are blue collar, or just that are doing the kind of work where you have to hustle.

John Jacobson: I think we wanna see characters that are really engaged in pursuing what happiness means for them, what satisfaction means, and characters that I think are really willing to look in at what the world is giving them and what they're feeling about it. We want complex conversations to come up about race, gender, sexuality, about end of life care, about abortion access, about polyamory and ethics and relationships and all of these things. Body diversity, a thousand percent disability diversity, religious diversity, cultural diversity.

John Jacobson: We want it all. And we don't want folks to feel like they have to give us representation, but then that they have to match that representation to what scripts are already in the market. We want to feel that identity that you're exploring within the story is not just authentic, but is doing what feels accurate to that character and to what they need and to how they've experienced the world.

John Jacobson: Even if it's messy, even if it's complicated, even if it's not something that every, white cis het person who might pick up your book will easily understand, it's really about that specificity.

John Jacobson: Within that we're looking for so much. We would love to see things with athletes, with sports, we wanna see things with a diversity of jobs.

John Jacobson: I'm not a sports girl, but yet I weirdly love a good sports romance. And there's also sports that are not as celebrity oriented. When I acquired Meka James' upcoming title with women's basketball, there's obviously still money and celebrity, but it's not like it's this giant , over accentuated situation.

Andrea Martucci: I just pulled a, I followed the script of what I thought sports were and I was picturing male football players and the big, NFL, whatever. And [01:06:00] you're right, sports is so much more, my eyes have been opened.

John Jacobson: Yeah. And that's what we're interested in, we're interested in what those things that people might not expect, but that are going to be really interesting.

John Jacobson: Gosh, I want so many things that it's really hard to pin them down.

John Jacobson: I think anything inspired by interesting media properties is always really interesting. I'm obsessed with Selling Sunset.

John Jacobson: If anybody wants specifics, I ask for a new book on Twitter, almost every day at this point. But yeah, it's we really just wanna see the creativity. And I think the one thing that I would encourage is not to fall onto the tropes that you would expect for other Harlequin lines.

John Jacobson: We're not saying no to cowboys. We're not saying no to people who are in uniformed jobs or anything like that. We just want it to feel different and complicated. And I think allow the fantasy to exist with reality. Don't feel like you have to give us something that's overly, smoothed over or something that doesn't address the challenges.

John Jacobson: We wanna see them, we wanna see the mess. To quote Marie Kondo from her TV show, I love mess. I really love mess us

Andrea Martucci: And yeah, people love mess and, but also give us the fantasy. Make it hopeful, readers still wanna feel good,

John Jacobson: Yeah, exactly. Still make us feel good, but just make us feel good in a way where you're like, Yeah, my partner could actually do that. My partner does actually do that. Like, we have sex, but we laugh a lot during it and a lot of random stuff comes up. Or our bodies are not normative bodies, so we do this thing differently or whatever.

John Jacobson: Allow us to feel like that fantasy can be something that we can actually have, because then we're more likely to pursue it. There's a lot of hope and inspiration in romance being something that we can use to push our own self-growth forward with in a way that's liberatory, that's productive, that's asking us to shift our perspectives, rather than just, reaffirming the scripts that were already taught in a lot of other area.

Andrea Martucci: Agree. Love it. I'm excited for this line. Y'all. This is not a paid promotion from Harlequin. John said something on Twitter about this new line and I was like, give me the scoop. And John gave me the scoop, cuz again, breaking podcast news. Podcasts, where you go for all of your breaking romance news?

John Jacobson: How many times can we say breaking news?

John Jacobson: We're acquiring right now and we wanna acquire a lot. And as you can tell, I love many things. And my other editors also love many things. We all are just very open-minded. So we would love for folks who are interested, who have a story that would fit to read the new writing guidelines that are posted on It's under the new sexy, contemporary marker.

Andrea Martucci: Hold on, do you want me to say it? New sexy contemporary line.

John Jacobson: We might have to talk to you about being the voice. We'll just release an audio clip of you saying new sexy, contemporary line [01:09:00] over and over.

Andrea Martucci: I'd be happy to talk to your people about that.

John Jacobson: So yeah, go to that submittable, check out the guidelines and you could submit directly through there. Or if you're agented you could submit through your agent to an editor. We are currently planning to publish four books each month in this new series both in print and in ebook. And it's going to again start in January of 2024.

John Jacobson: And that feels really far away to some folks, but to anyone in publishing that is soon.

John Jacobson: The launch of this is going to coincide with Harlequin 75th anniversary.

John Jacobson: So we're also, I think, just really pumped to bring something to current Harlequin readers as well as I think a lot of younger romance readers that think of Harlequin as what it used to be . I think so much of it is actually what these readers love.

John Jacobson: We're really excited to introduce that part of ourselves and hopefully get folks to see that, the stories that we're publishing now are still applicable. Granted maybe not everybody has an Amish best friend next door that they're gonna fall in love with, but it will be applicable nonetheless.

Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for, again, giving me the scope. I'm joking here because podcasts as a format are just not really well designed for scoops, but let's call this a historical artifact. I think this is super interesting because right now you're at the stage where a lot of decisions and a lot of the tangibles have yet to be figured out.

Andrea Martucci: We're at the beginning of a new relationship here and then we're gonna see what the day to day is and who empties the dishwasher and stuff. But right now, everything is full of hope and we're riding off into the sunset. And I think that's a really exciting place to be.

Andrea Martucci: And also I can't wait two years from now to come back to this conversation and look at it and be like, and what actually happened?

John Jacobson: Yeah, I think that's the feeling for a lot of things in publishing and we are still , hammering out a lot of the details. We are working on it really hard. It requires a lot of thought.

John Jacobson: As an editor, I don't take lightly the fact that I'm asking folks to join in this adventure with a lot of unknown ahead and, there's always a level of mutual risk there, but we're really making sure that it's going to be something exciting and different I mean, anything can happen.

Andrea Martucci: John, obviously I'm gonna put the link, to the new sexy contemporary line guidelines. Where can folks find you online so that they can see your daily requests for books?

John Jacobson: My primary home is on Twitter at @femme_ trash. That's where you can find my ramblings. And on the Harlequin submittable as well as You can also find where you can access my beautiful colleagues both in the Desire line as well as in the other lines at Harlequin on Twitter or emails or whatnot.

John Jacobson: So definitely and keep an eye out Write for Harlequin is a great website for anyone who's interested in writing for us, whether it's for this new line or the other ones. There's a lot of great advice, feedback and I'm sure that we'll have other things coming up over the [01:12:00] horizon for folks that are interested.

John Jacobson: And honestly, the biggest thing that I can recommend is just if you have something that you think is the right fit, take a leap into faith because publishing is very surprising and it's very unpredictable. And I can tell you right now that the only thing you can do to guarantee knowing where you're at is if somebody just looks at your stuff and tells you what they think.

John Jacobson: So I would love to be that person for anybody listening who thinks they have something that would be a good fit for this line.

Andrea Martucci: Good. Okay.

Andrea Martucci: Thanks for being here today to talk about filling a hole in romance.

John Jacobson: Thank you. It was so great, Andrea. Thank you for having me, and thank you for giving us at Harlequin a chance to share something that we're just super thrilled about. So for everyone that's interested, just, keep eyes and ears open because we're going to have more information coming and I think that it's going to be levels of excitement until launch in January of 2024.

Andrea Martucci: Thank you so much for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe, rate, or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out ShelfLovePodcast.Com for transcripts and other resources. Or you can find me @shelflovepod on Twitter or @shelflovepodcast on Instagram. Or you can always email me at Andrea at Shelf Love Podcast dot com.

Andrea Martucci: If you want to join the conversation about the topics that we discuss on Shelf Love, I'd encourage you to check out Shelf Love's Patreon at Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, Frederick Smith, and John Jacobson.

Andrea Martucci: See your name listed as a Patreon supporter on the Shelf Love website if you join at any level. That's That's all for today. Thanks so much. Bye.