Here in Collection Development, we love the (re)rise of the romance novel and seeing its widespread popularity soar with more of the traditional publishing houses printing romances with diverse characters and sexuality and purposefully promoting them. With the state of our country and the world over the last few years, it’s no wonder that more readers are searching for books to read that promise that Happily Ever After (HEA). BookTok and BookTube has had a large influence on showcasing romance novels to the masses, and they are also where you can hear about the increasing popularity of “indie romances”, a subset of the romance market that should not be ignored.
Indie is short for independent, meaning many of these authors self-publish their book or the novels are printed with a small, independent press. Often, these romances are available in a digital-only or digital-first format, and typically can be found on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU for short). Amazon has a Kindle Digital Publishing arm for authors to self-publish through, and Ingram’s own IngramSpark is another well-loved avenue for authors to publish their works. Many authors only self-publish their works, but there are also traditionally published romance authors who sometimes choose self-publishing in addition to traditional, because it offers them more flexibility and allows them to write whatever they would like.
Indie romance has long been the space where you could find BIPOC and queer characters before traditional publishing houses embraced diversity in romance, and before books like Fifty Shades of Grey burst onto the scene, it’s where romances with BDSM and other sexual preferences could be found. It’s easy to see why authors may want to stay publishing indie, because they can experiment with new subgenres and tropes. The exciting thing about indie romance is that just about anything goes. Sure, you’ll still find rom-coms and some historicals, and those tried-and-true tropes of “enemies to lovers” or “fake dating”, but you can also find motorcycle clubs, mafia, dark fantasy, menage, taboo, and more -often with a MUCH higher steam (or as BookTok says “spicy”) factor.
It's no secret that buying self-published or indie titles for libraries hasn’t always been top priority, often due to the concern over the quality, but it’s time to let go of those notions and dive into the indie romance world. A great place to look for some of these powerhouse indie authors is a new imprint of Sourcebooks, Bloom Books, which are publishing new and older titles from authors such as Ana Huang, Lucy Score, Kennedy Ryan, Sierra Simone, Elle Kennedy, and more. Their tagline says it all about what the indie romance world means: “We publish stories that redefine what it means to have a happily ever after”. Though obviously not inclusive of every single “best” indie romance novel or author, check out this ipage list we created highlighting some of the biggest names and titles in the indie romance market.
Times are tough in libraries with budget cuts and book challenges, and we know that buying titles with a higher “spicy” level may not be your first choice, but currently, the popularity of these romances is only growing and because of social media platforms, they are only becoming more visible. It’s imperative that librarians pay attention to the indie romance market and trends because there will be patrons who are asking for these books. For further reading on the topic, check out this recent Library Journal article and this Book Riot article. Both include their own lists of recommended titles to explore and purchase.