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Good Question: Why Are Romance Novels So Hot?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- For 10 weeks, the New York Times fiction best sellers list has been topped by a trilogy of books that some call "mommy porn." One book, E.L. James' "50 Shades of Grey," has set the publishing world on fire; it's arguably the biggest-selling erotic romance in decades.

But why are romance novels so hot?

By a previously unknown author, "50 Shades of Grey" has sold an incredible 3 million copies, in just a couple of weeks.

"It's not just your mom's romances anymore," said Jessica Moyer, PhD., a literary education assistant professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has taught classes on romance novels.

She says the romance novel is being rediscovered.

According to the Romance Writers of America, a largely female audience spent nearly $1.4 billion on romance novels in 2010. That's more than double the amount spent on mystery novels, according to the group.

"There's been books like this for ages," Moyer said. "They've just been really small. This particular type of romance with a strong domineering hero and submissive heroine, are very reminiscent of the 1970s historical romances, which used to be called the bodice rippers."

"50 Shades" started as an online story, posted on a fiction site for fans of the "Twilight" novels, called "Master of the Universe." One year later, it was self-published as an e-book, where romance makes up half the books sold.

The lack of racy cover art is a bonus with a Kindle, Moyer said.

"Because you could read whatever you want without people making fun of you," she added.

Now, like a heroine leaping towards her long-lost lover, the publishing industry is going all-in on erotic romance novels.

Moyer said there are romance novels with more graphic sex scenes, and novels with better written storylines. So why did this one blow up?

"If I knew, there's a publisher in New York that would pay me a lot of money"" she said. "Everybody's trying to figure that out."

For people interested in the "50 Shades" series, Moyer hopes they'll explore other romance novels. She recommends the works of Maya Rodale and Anne Calhoun.

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