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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Bestselling Route to Reader Satisfaction

CHICAGO -- The world's best-selling romance novelist guarantees she never writes about sex for sex's sake.

"My characters go all the way, sure. But it's the emotion rather than the motion, you know," said Nora Roberts, who has written 120 novels, including four No. 1 paperback bestsellers last year, and has an astounding 88 million books in print.

"We all know: Insert tab A into slot B. We got it. We know how it works. You don't have to take the reader through the process - 'his hand was here, hers went there,'" she patiently explained to an interviewer. "But when the hero and heroine come together, the reader should be satisfied. Pun intended."

More jovial than bawdy, Roberts was among the 8,000 published and aspiring romance novelists who met recently at a Romance Writers of America conference to offer mutual encouragement, attend workshops on the finer points of turning out mass paperbacks - and offer some advice about love.

"You remind me of one of our characters named Mark. He reads Cosmopolitan magazine to try to learn how he can keep her and make her stay," intoned the feminine half of the torrid writing team known collectively as Tori Carrington, whose real name is Lori Ann Karayianni.

"Do a lot of things, in the bedroom too. There are a lot of ways to make her happy. It's all there," Tony, her Greek-born husband and partner said, nodding at the racy covers of their glossy paperbacks, "License to Thrill" and "Constant Craving."

Jo Ann Ferguson, the Romance Writers current president, insisted romance novels merit respect for handling topics from single motherhood to spousal abuse and suggested their roots go back to Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" and Henry Fielding's "Tom Jones."

"Having your stuff at the back of the bookstore is nothing to be ashamed of. That's where they put the milk and eggs in the grocery store because they know everyone will buy the staples, and they're hoping they'll buy something else on the way," Ferguson said. "After all, Charles Dickens was not considered 'literature' when he first came out."

Whether the bespectacled former military officer has a point or not, nearly 200 million "bodice rippers" are sold annually, amassing $1 billion in sales. With 1,900 new titles coming out each year, mostly in paperback, that is a whole lot of milk and eggs.

"People ask me, 'When are you going to write your Great American Novel?' This is my Great American Novel because these are books that Americans read," Ferguson said. "A literary novel may make a big splash, but it doesn't reach a lot of people. We reach a lot of people."

A recent survey for the group found 45 million women in North America read romance novels regularly. One out of 10 readers are men, but only a few men write romances. Female readers who have full-time, executive-level jobs consume an average of 14 romance novels a month. "You have romance. Everyone has romance," Lori Ann Karayianni presumed. "When you open a big book you see a story. It's the same thing with romance novels, only smaller. The readers know what they want, and you have to be prepared to give it to them.

"It does have to have a happy ending - and definitely no adultery," she added.