What is it with Billionaires, Anyway?

  I know a dirty little secret, and it’s one that many of the most career-oriented women I know will admit to even as it makes us cringe.  And here it is: Those Harlequin Presents Billionaire/Tycoon/Prince/Dingdongdillionaire books tap into a mighty potent fantasy.  It feels terribly wrong to admit that, given the right set of circumstances, I just eat these books up like candy.  But I do – and so do a lot of us.

Everything in my education and upbringing tells me that I should at the very least pity anyone who dreams of being whisked away and pampered by a rich man.  I should want to stand on my own two feet, earn my own way and be dependent on no man.  And I do agree with that – though that belief must coexist in my brain with the retro fantasy at times.   Apparently, others walk this line, too.  No matter how far women advance in the workplace, the desire to have a more successful mate persists. It has been commented upon in studies as well as in anecdotes here and there.  Just do a search online – there’s plenty of information out there addressing everything from women’s desire for men with resources to the fact that men who have high end cars attract more women . At a recent roundtable addressing the role of a man’s salary in dating, the notion of wanting a man who is financially able to care for his woman definitely seemed alive and well. And who better to care for the family than the gorgeous billionaire?

 Given the prevalence of this fantasy (and I suspect it’s just as prevalent as those who denigrate it), it seems no accident that Harlequin Presents is the most popular of Harlequin/Silhouette’s series lines.  My conscious mind shudders at the thought of a constant diet of books featuring sweet, pliable women whisked off their feet by business tycoons and princes who will pamper them and give them a secure life of plenty. Still, I have to recognize there must be something to it.  Harlequin releases a steady stream of these fantasies every month into the very willing hands of readers, so there is obviously a desire being met here. Could it really be that we fantasize about being The Ruthless Billionaire’s Virgin? Apparently so.

Though Presents still have a somewhat retro feel to them and some feature over-the-top alpha heroes who probably wouldn’t play too well in real life, the line has still caught up to the modern world enough to make it relatable.  The women aren’t all working in traditional female jobs and they aren’t all childlike anymore.  While I still encounter traditional heroines in my HP reading, I’m also starting to find small business owners, doctors, a professional singer, at least one pilot that I recall and many more. Still, even the more independent, successful heroines melt at the sight of their strong, rich men.  Education and career apparently don’t dim the allure of the alpha male in HP-land – and the readers love it.  And Harlequin knows a good thing when it sees it – in 2008, they increased the number of monthly titles from 8 to 12, more monthly output than any other series line.

It’s a gamble that seems to be paying off.  Even with the increased number of books(and the truly cringeworthy titles – I almost hurt myself when I saw The Timber Baron’s Virgin Bride on shelves recently), readers still eat these fantasies up as soon as they can be released, showing the publisher very obviously knows what it’s doing and is tapping into a sizable market with this fantasy. Heck, they’re even keeping up with inflation. The millionaires of old all seem to be billionaires now! As much as it makes my egalitarian self uncomfortable, I have to admit that I enjoy the occasional visit to this fantasyland, too.  With the economy going to hell a little bit more each day, the notion of a life of love, security, and basically being able to have my cake and eat it too has a certain sparkle to it – at least for a few hours.

Now if only I could figure out whether people read these books because of their frightful titles or in spite of them…

-Lynn Spencer

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30 Responses to What is it with Billionaires, Anyway?

  1. Cindy W says:

    I may be in the minority, but I have NO desire to read these books, and steer clear of them.

  2. Lea/AAR says:

    Sometimes there’s nothing like a HP. I read about 6 a year and have a stack in a hidden TBR crate at the back of a closet. I’m getting better about my family seeing the romance titles I read but I cringe at the thought of something happening to me and upon discovery of said crate, my kids thinking “I can’t believe Mom read books about billionaires’ virgin brides. Had she lost her mind?” Needless to say, I never leave these titles around.

    I discovered these about 3 years ago upon the recommendation of LLB and quickly read a dozen or so before burning out. For me a little goes a long way but still I can’t seem to stay away entirely.


  3. Debbie says:

    Yup, HPs, along with Christine Feehan’s Dark Series and Stephanie Laurens’ body of work are among my guilty pleasures. Even while I’m reading them, sometimes I stop to think, “Man, this is really terrible,” but I keep on keeping on!

  4. AAR Sandy says:

    I honed this fantasy on early Iris Johannsen Loveswepts. I’m not sure why but I’m not into the HP thing anymore(though I have a close friend — a graduate of one of the Seven Siters — who inhales them). But, I’m guilty. As charged.

  5. Lynn Spencer says:

    >>sometimes I stop to think, “Man, this is really terrible,” but I keep on keeping on

    @Debbie – true, but they ARE fun. I couldn’t take a steady diet of them, but I do enjoy adding them to the mix.

  6. ldb says:

    In spite of the titles, but even worse maybe a little for the covers, no never mind that is NOT true, but it is a little true. I love HP, I consider it my exception, the only place in the romance world where I demand a 21st century woman be a virgin and that she must get pregnant post haste. Why, I still don’t know why and I really don’t want to analyz it, because I am sure any true feminist instincts I have will wither at the respons. So I just say it’s like crack.

  7. Great post! As a new author with Presents, and as a reader, I’ve simply given up trying to make sense of it. :) I am a pretty independent woman, my hubby isn’t wealthy and wouldn’t dare blackmail me over anything, and I even have a lit degree.

    And yet here I am, writing these stories! You either love them or you don’t. And that is absolutely fine! We don’t all like the same things — how boring would that be, right?

    As for the titles, I hear you. But I don’t get to choose mine. My first is out in August and has the usual-style title. My second has a GREAT title that doesn’t use the words billionaire, virgin, or baby anywhere. ;)

    I like to think my heroines are strong matches for my heroes, but yes, those HP heroes are uber alpha males and tend to be somewhat larger than life. I definitely like to think I humble them by the end though.

    I think the classic HP story is a fairy tale, and though as modern women we are sensible enough to know we don’t need a man to complete us, I think it satisfies that Beauty & the Beast gene or something (or it does for me!). Before I ever wrote for HP, I was a B&B fan. Watched it over and over, constantly asking myself WHY this story appealed to me.

    I still don’t know, but I do know I love my HPs. Of course I read many, many other romances too! And I do think you can cycle in and out of reading these types of stories. Of course I hope you’ll all be cycling back in when August comes. *G*

    Really thought-provoking post. I definitely appreciate hearing what readers think about these books.

  8. Claire says:

    “dingdongdillionaire” LOL! Please don’t give the publishers ideas or that will be next. One of the good things about the titles is they tell you exactly what book theme you are going to get. Need a prince? No? How about a tycoon? Yes? Check. Etc right on down the line. The bad thing is that if someone wanted to go back later and reread a favorite, how would they ever be able to remember it with all the titles so familiar?

    I don’t read as many Harlequins and other series such as Silhouette as I used to but I still like them.
    Fun blog entry!

  9. MaryK says:

    HP as a version of Beauty & the Beast? I like that theory! It would definitely explain why I’m willing to read overbearing heroes in HP. Although, I must say once I started reading Susan Napier my standards for HP rose quite a bit.

    Re billionaires and modern women: I used to think that marrying for money was an appalling thing to do. But in the last few years I’ve had health issues that have drained me of energy and stamina which greatly interferes with my job. On some days, a sugar daddy seems like a great idea.

  10. MaryK says:

    I think the appeal of the Beauty & the Beast theme is the power inherent in taming a wild thing and then having its power and resources at your command. Which is why, at least for me, HPs don’t work if the hero doesn’t adore the heroine by the end of the book.

    I read a review of a book that has a very demanding, self-centered hero. The reviewer said what made the book was the hero’s switch from self-centered to heroine-centered; he was still demanding but on the heroine’s behalf. Definitely fairytale material!

  11. Maria says:

    I like HPs but the titles in recent years have put me off buying them, or even checking them out from the library. Can we put the plot markers (baby, billionaire, Greek, sheikh, secret, amnesia, mistress, tycoon, etc.) back in the back blurb, please? It’s just hard for me to face that I want to read the Italian Billionaire’s Marriage Command (or something like that, recently on the shelves). But I love the fairy tale plots: Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ugly Duckling.

  12. Estella says:

    I pick up a HP when I want a quick read

  13. AAR Sandy says:

    Maria, with a Kindle nobody knows WHAT you’re reading — or buying. I wanted to try an HP recently for the first time in a long time and downloaded a Jane Porter sheik book. And I ENJOYED it. What the hell, maybe I’ll look for another one this weekend.

    And with Harlequin’s profits up more than 30%, I don’t think the billionaire virgin’s baby titles are going anywhere anytime soon.

  14. Susan/DC says:

    Must admit I don’t read these not so much because of the billionaires as because of the virgin/royalty/amnesia plots. None of these are a favorite of mine (see the thread on Situations to Avoid). I don’t mind virginal heroines, but I don’t like it if the state of her hymen is such a BIG DEAL in a contemporary that it has to be mentioned in the title. Probably not fair to the authors, who rarely if ever have control of the title, but I find it offputting. Clearly I’m in the minority here, but I’m kind of used to that.

    As for marrying rich, I definitely understand that fantasy.

  15. Betty says:

    I don’t read as many of the HPs as I used to. It’s the titles that bug me.

    Where is the originality? I used to love the titles. They weren’t dumbed down.

    The titles today read as if the reader cannot figure out the plot on their own.

    The one-word titles have gone by the wayside. They were truly creative.


  16. Cora says:

    I do read the occasional category romance, but the Presents/Modern Romance line does little for me. I read one or two out of curiosity, to see what the fuss was all about. But when I need a palate cleanser or something to keep me occupied in a waiting room, I tend to gravitate towards the Intrigue, Nocturne, Superromance and Special Edition lines. Recently, I even picked up a Mills & Boon Medical Romance and enjoyed it.

    I don’t mind the occasional secret baby plot, so it’s not that what puts me off about Harlequin Presents. But greek tycoons, sheikhs and Italian billionaires just aren’t my fantasy, it seems. And marriages of convenience and blackmailed brides aren’t romantic to me at all.

    But that’s the good thing about category romance, that there’s a line for every taste.

  17. Ann says:

    When my husband lost his job, I acquired a habit of reading HPs. (My youngest son calls them “literary crack.”) I was able to buy them for ten cents each after six months or so, so I read many.

    I no longer live near that wonderful second-hand bookstore with its bargain romances. I don’t read as many HPs now, and it is in part because of the appallingly tasteless titles. I love fairy tales and I find the predictability of series romances comforting.

  18. Virginia DeMarce says:

    To some extent, I think that words such as “billionaire” and its relatives (millionaire, tycoon, and the like) are a convenient shorthand for “financial security in depth.”

    During the 1970s, yes, I was a liberated woman with a graduate degree, a career in college teaching, a nice husband, and two children. However, the husband was going to law school, the children needed day care, and I had left a tenured position for a non-tenured position so we could make a thousand-mile move to the vicinity of the law school (which we had picked out of other possible law schools because I could get a job in its vicinity).

    We had enough money to live on, but we were living paycheck to paycheck. I realized very well that if a concrete mixer ran over my VW beetle one day, the whole financial house of cards would come tumbling down.

    I would have **loved** the idea that somewhere in the background there was a nice, big, solid, secure income or trust fund that would take care of my family in case of disaster and which was not solely dependent upon my surviving and making it to work every morning.

  19. Susan says:

    I wonder what Harlequin’s research shows about those titles, because if their profits are up 30% with those hideous titles, I can’t help but think that the profits would be even higher if the titles were more palatable.

    I find myself having to read favorite authors in the HP line because the titles are indistinguishable from each other. The blurbs on the back do nothing to entice a reader to take a chance on a new author and with the economy not doing so well, falling back on the familiar can make the difference when forking over $5 when in more ‘flush times’ buying a newer author wouldn’t even evince a second thought.

  20. Ellie says:

    They are generally not my reading of choice but if I can’t sleep and it’s 3 AM, they are perfectly mindless fairy tales. I read one in about an hour and fall back to sleep, knowing somewhere in book land there is a really lucky lady getting lots of love and everything money can buy. The titles don’t appeal to me, the the stories do.

  21. Maria says:

    Sandy, not ready to Kindle yet. So I guess I’ll just have to “woman up” if I want to read the newer HPs! :) But I can still hope…as someone else said, it’s hard to remember which one I want to re-read (or which was recommended to me) when they all seem to have titles assembled from the same list of fifteen words…

  22. Laura says:

    As atrocious as the titles can be, I always get a chuckle when the cover photo doesn’t match the physical description of the hero and heroine in the book. Anyway…

    I tend to devour these books. I bought quite a few lots on eBay, and as soon as they become available on the library catalog, they go on my queue. Most of them anyway. I go for what sounds interesting given my own tastes, and then I order the Blaze titles I want since my library carries the rest of the Harlequin/Silhouette lineup. If I avoided these books for the titles, I would have missed some real gems by Jessica Bird (Silhouette Super Romance category) along the way, and I do have about 20 or so in my keep pile.

    When it comes to the billionaire issue, stuff independence. I really don’t think there’s anything sexier than a man with smarts who will fight obstacles of all types for the woman he loves. The heroes tend to be redeemed, even the uber alphas, and the woman does indeed have total security for–what we assume–will be the rest of her life and even her children’s lives. I’ve never seen a heroine that wants the rich guy for mercenary purposes, and it does give the backdrop a more luxurious feel. Okay, living in a drafty castle wouldn’t be fun, and having to walk half a mile to get to the kitchen would get tired pretty fast, but give me the private planes. Oh yeah! LOL

  23. The Harlequin name for my contemporary work in progress is HER BILLIONAIRE BOY TOY. Just saying. :-)

  24. Janice says:

    Hello everyone, I absolutely enjoy the postings above on HPs…;-)..

    Right now I’m going through a really long HP & Silhouette Romance phase. I just can’t seem to get enough. It’s great that my libraries (yes plural) carry a very extensive collection or I’d go broke and WOULD indeed need a Greek billionaire to support my habit. I admit that I tend to go for the “sheiks/Greek tycoons/billionaires/down on luck heroines being rescued” themes. It kinda gives the fairy tale feel that somewhere out there in romance fiction land someone is going to have a happy ending.

    I agree with the posts about the titles too. They tend to make you cringe and avert your eyes when you’re at the check out or the cashier but I just say a mental “swear word” and get over it.

    I’ve been reading these romance for a long time (I started with Mills & Boons) and don’t think I can or want to stop. As an independent woman, I’m okay with making my own way but hey, a little diversion from reality into fantasy land for a short time is worth it.

    Thanks for this great site and the opportunity to post.

  25. kraze says:

    We were at my in-laws for a family dinner. I bent over to pick something up from the floor, and she said really loudly, “Wow! Your a

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