St. Martin’s Press is making a very big bet that Americans are still hot and heavy for romance novels.
The publisher has just agreed to pay an eye-popping eight-figure advance to Sylvia Day, a romance writer, for her next two books, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
The books, a series called “Blacklist,” are a follow-up to Ms. Day’s “Crossfire” series, which has sold more than 13 million copies since its release began in 2012.
Erotica and romance titles, particularly the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy by E L James, temporarily lifted the industry out of the doldrums after it was published in the United States in 2012. Millions of people who didn’t normally pick up romance novels clamored for Ms. James’s explicit stories of a dominant-submissive relationship between a rich businessman and an insecure, college-age naïf.
Random House, whose Knopf Doubleday division published the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, posted record profits in 2012 and awarded each of its employees in the United States — even warehouse workers — a $5,000 bonus. Barnes & Noble reported a rare strong quarter in August 2012, citing “Fifty Shades” as a significant source of revenue.
Ms. Day, 40, has been a professional novelist for the last decade, writing more than 20 books that were released by a handful of publishers.
But she achieved blockbuster success in part because of the so-called “Fifty Shades” effect in publishing, which sent readers of Ms. James’s series looking for similar books. (Headline writers have also used the phrase “Fifty Shades effect” to describe a spike in domestic handcuff-related mishaps, particularly in Britain.)
Ms. Day’s three “Crossfire” books, released by Penguin, were clearly packaged to attract a wide crossover audience. They feature sleek dark covers strikingly similar to the “Fifty Shades” books, and are frequently placed directly next to the “Fifty Shades” series in bookstores.
The immense sales that followed — and her inclusion on The New York Times’s best-seller list, a career first — got the attention of other publishers, which suddenly began competing for Ms. Day’s attention.
Jennifer Enderlin, a publisher of St. Martin’s, said that she had been an admirer of Ms. Day’s work since 2006, but that she approached her only last year to discuss the possibility of publishing her next books.
“We sat down for drinks, and she said, ‘Let me just put it on the table: I want to publish you,’ ” said Ms. Day, who lives in Las Vegas but keeps a pied-à-terre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Ms. Day, in a telephone interview, rejected the suggestion that her success was primarily attributable to the enormous sales of “Fifty Shades” and the widespread interest in romance in 2012. “The majority of readers say that they don’t believe they’re reading romance novels,” she said of her books. “For them it’s just a story.”
“Maybe people started realizing that you could buy romance in mainstream locations — drugstores and Wal-Mart and that kind of thing,” she said.
Ms. Enderlin said she believes Ms. Day’s books transcend categorization.
“I’m making a pretty big bet that she will be the person that is talked about in mainstream terms like James Patterson or Janet Evanovich,” she said. “I see this as blockbuster fiction. That’s how I view it. I don’t view it as ‘Are people going to read this kind of book?’ ”
The “Blacklist” books follow the story of a young couple in Manhattan — she is a student at Columbia, he at Fordham University — and the ups and downs of their relationship over the years
The new series acquired by St. Martin’s will be released beginning in 2015. Penguin UK bought the rights to the “Blacklist” books in a seven-figure deal. Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin, has already acquired the rights to the fourth and fifth titles in the “Crossfire” series; their release date has not yet been set, Ms. Day said.
Some publishing executives speculated that another boom in romance books could occur when the film version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” is released early next year. The movie is currently being filmed in Vancouver, with Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson as its stars.
While the “Fifty Shades” and “Crossfire” books proved that there is a large cross-over audience interested in romance or erotica, booksellers who enjoyed the sudden boom in foot traffic wonder if those readers have already moved on.
Carolyn Anbar, a buyer at Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., said that while hundreds of shoppers enthusiastically bought paperbacks of “Fifty Shades” in 2012, now sales have dwindled to a few copies each month. Ms. Day’s series sold well last summer, she said, but have sold very little since then.
“I think what was great about ‘Fifty Shades” for us, because of the very New York-y crowd that we have here, it was like, ‘Yay, let’s read it,’ ” she said. “We had an 85-year-old man come in because his wife’s book group was reading it. There was no shame. But at this point, the whole genre has definitely died down for us.”