Driven by social networks, New Romance is shaking up the publishing world

Appearing in France around ten years ago, this genre, which renews the romantic novel, is attracting more and more readers, or more particularly female readers, and they are younger and younger. The Culture Pass contributed to the success of the sales of these works.

France Télévisions – Culture Editorial


Reading time: 3 min

The New Romance show in Lille, November 2, 2019. (PASCAL BONNIERE / MAXPPP)

Captive, Toxic… Online or in bookstores, it’s impossible to miss these covers decorated with roses, chains, bare torsos…: “New romance” and its sulphurous subgenre “dark romance” are enjoying growing success with a readership younger and younger. Hundreds of young women, mostly aged 13 to 30, who wait in line for more than an hour before rushing to get the latest releases: this crowd, which would make any editor green with envy, was the local one. dedicated to “New romance”, at the Paris Book Festival last April.

Imported from the Anglo-Saxon world, this genre which renews the romantic novel while breaking the rules of traditional publishing, arrived in France in 2013 in the wake of the series Fifty Shades of Grey, romance with BDSM overtones (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism). The giant word of mouth of the TikTok network, where readers recommend their favorites to each other and exchange ideas with authors, boosts the sales of texts, often born on “fan fiction” platforms like the Wattpad site.

Captive, best-selling series by Sarah Rivens, brought in fifteen million euros in turnover in 2023. “We quickly understood that we were addressing communities, with codes modeled on those of the networks,” declared to AFP Arthur de Saint Vincent, head of Hugo Publishing, leader in the sector which has registered the terms “New romance” and now publishes 150 titles per year on average, for a turnover of 22.6 million euros in 2023.

Over the years, Hugo Publishing has acquired a team of around fifteen communicators, responsible for running the networks, physical meetings very popular with readers, Discord voice servers around the series… and even a platform dedicated to the writing of romances, where competitions are organized allowing the most popular texts to be published.

If the readership is made up of an overwhelming majority of women (95%, according to the company Hugo Publishing), it is also increasingly younger. “Until 2021, we were more around 18-40 years old”, testifies Arthur of Saint Vincent. “Now we have an audience that starts around 12 to 13 years old.”

Another factor explains this craze: the Culture Pass, which gives adolescents and young people aged 18 a credit – in the amount of 300 euros for adults – allowing them to acquire books, among other cultural products. With certain success since the genre of “New romance”, and more specifically “dark romance”, is boosting the sales of novels made thanks to this system supported by the Ministry of Culture.

With its procession of female characters captured, assaulted or tortured by a man with whom they are madly in love, the style is accused of promoting a retrograde image of male-female relationships. Joyce Kitten, author of the successful series Toxic And Borderline, defends himself. “I think we should let women read and write what they want,” declares to AFP the one who calls herself a convinced feminist. “I make the difference, in my life as a woman, between what is fantasy or reality,” she adds. “We rarely criticize men for their fantasies or their consumption of pornography, or we hide the fact that the female imagination is pervaded by male domination… We should not be surprised that this comes out in our literature.”

The young author, who regrets that the entire genre is reduced to a handful of works, nevertheless believes “that certain misogyny trials are justified” and says he will integrate this reflection into his future writings. And to imagine that certain reissues could be purged of scenes with overly sexist connotations. Her main concern: the age of her readers, who she would like not to see open her books “before 25 years”. She is not the only one: in bookstores, the books are covered with stickers warning unwary readers who could be shocked by the violence of the scenes.

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