When Harry Met Sally*

Ministhy Dileep | May 30,2011 10:25 am IST

There is one business saga that never fails to astound me - the success of the romance novel industry. The origin can be probably traced back to the time when Eve decided to write her autobiography**.

On how she saw TDH Adam (Tall, Dark, Handsome for the uninitiated) coming across the sunlit boulevard, tenderly skirting the apple trees. The rest is not history - and there lies the success of this industry. And boy, do women love them! From Benazir Bhutto*** to Yours Truly, women are game for this particular business. We devour romances, not just enjoy them.


If Marketing is all about the 4Ps - especially positioning, along with variety, adapting to customer expectations and customer delight… you have a clear winner here. From the staid Mills and Boon romances of the Nice fifties and Naughty Sixties - the industry has changed its contents to suit the changing tastes of Eve. Seductive Eighties and Provocative Nineties followed Enchanting Seventies. Like the woman, her best friends changed hue and content. Only, the theme remained eternal - Love.


The creativity of women authors who cater to the diverse tastes, are unimaginable (no pun intended) .You have for example, "Doctor Series****" - wherein the theme is the romance between the medico and the nurse. I know Gertrude Stein will have a heart attack, but the nurse is often the woman and the man, the doc. Now, what the heck is there to elaborate upon in a hospital environment, you may ask. You see, apparently the hospital has tremendous potential - in one novel, the doc is a pediatrician, and the nurse is a blonde. In the next the nurse is bothered about her brunette looks and the doc is from Arabia. (Yo man!) You get the innumerable permutations, combinations? And there will be the "other woman" (a doc/a nurse/a reptile) and vexing chapters later, voila - the reader is fulfilled and wipes her tears. The doc proposes and wins the nurse. Next one, please.


There are series like 'Man, Woman, Child" (No, that is not lifted from Erich Segal), "Temptation", "Historical Romance", "Masquerade", "Modern Romance"… I can even coin some of my own. Invariably, the authors are women*****, the editors are women, the readers are women and the publishers are men. What an irony! I have it on record that the maximum business in Lending Libraries arise from the simple M&B. Whoa there - I am sure Harvard has a case study on that one.


Which makes me wonder - how many of our smart aleck Marketing professionals have read an M&B? Let alone explored the wondrous learning and benchmarks they can obtain from the selling - of romance and marriage. I have seen some common reactions in my own male kith and kin. (My brother suggested that I give him an anti - nausea pill and my husband threatened divorce if I bought one more romance). Tut! What do you do when Men are from Mars? The dunces don't even understand our psyche, let alone develop marketing strategies. Which leads to the next question - If so, could it be, Oh God, could it just be, that the wonderful success story of the romance industry is the exclusive brainchild of women?


Check out the canny intelligence that suggests the names of authors (pseudonyms). You have Emma Goldrick (my favorite), Betty Davies, Penny Gordon, Margaret Summers…. The correct mixture of the exotic and the ordinary. Not too elegant to make us poor readers diffident, not too ordinary to stun our ambitions. Still better, check out the luscious promises offered to a wan, tired woman of forty when she picks up a copy of "The Night of the Eagle" from the nearby lending library. The dog-eared copy fulfills her dreams of love, romance, good food, exotic locales and gorgeous dresses. She is young once more, and is perfectly enchanting that the TDH falls for her. Something that a crass Harold Robbins or a prurient Sheldon cannot compete with. The next day she is back for "The Winter Dream" and on the following for "Dark Angel". Oh, goody!


My history has improved on reading Historical Romances that meticulously research the Tudor and Victorian eras. And my vocabulary with the "Modern Romance" series. (I learnt about Mark Twain's diary from there. The savvy nineties woman reads Twain after she cooks pot roast for her man, didn't you know?). Hence my humble appeal to all ye unbelievers and scoffers, of either gender (especially if you are doing Marketing) is to explore this particular industry - where the sun always shines. You might pick up something on creativity and more on creative marketing from here.


Meanwhile, let me sign off. There is this absolutely irresistible title inviting me from the desk. And, I haven't said my nightly thanks to God. But I am sure She will forgive me for enjoying this treat first. You see it is called "The Saint on Prowl".

* Yeah, yeah, I know - I 'flicked' it from the Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan starrer.
** Incidentally, Mark Twain wrote "The diary of Adam and Eve" - a humorous take off, based on his own warm relationship with his wife.
*** No, I don't expect to be sued. Read William Dalrymple's "In the Court of the Fish Eyed Goddess", a travelogue based on India and Pakistan. The first chapter is on Benazir's many loves - including Mills and Boon.
**** Nothing to do with that other classic Doctor Series by Dr. Richard Gordon.
***** "Camellias for Caroline", a historical romance for M&B, was written by an Indian IAS Officer. Don't even guess - a woman.



Ministhy S. is PG (PM&IR) from XLRI-Jamshedpur, and currently, an IAS officer working in the UP cadre. She has written five books - 'Unequal Equations', 'Learning with Tippy Tortoise: Tales for Kids', 'Happy Birthday: Poems for Kids' and a novel published by Dronequill Publishers, Bangalore....