Romance Publishing Legends
Avon is a legend in the romance field. It would be fair to rank them equal to Mills & Boon/ Harlequin in importance to the industry’s history. They pioneered the historical romance genre and invented the bodice ripper.
Avon’s stable of writers was called “Love’s Leading Ladies,” which was formed by many of the great originals: Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Johanna Lindsey, Laurie McBain, Virginia Henley, Patricia Hagan, and Shirley Busbee. They released Bertrice Small‘s first two books before she moved on to Ballantine. Jennifer Wilde would later join Avon in the 1980s.
Avon Books History
Avon Books was founded in 1941 by the American New Company as a rival to paperback publisher Pocket Books. They purchased J.S. Ogilvie Publications, a company that published cheap books. They renamed themselves “Avon Publications.”
Avon was different from Pocket Books. Rather than reprinting literary fiction, Avon focused on mass-market appeal. They printed westerns, romances, and mysteries with colorful covers.
Their business plan worked. In the next decades, Avon sold millions of cheap paperback books. However, the mainstream publishing houses looked at Avon with contempt.
In 1959 Avon was bought by the Hearst Corporation. The company would create controversy in 1969 with Anton La Vey’s Satanic Bible, which has become a huge cult classic.
Paperback Romance Books: A Revolution
1972 would be a year of monumental change for Avon. They released Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’ sexually explicit romance, The Flame and the Flower. This was followed by 1974’s The Wolf and the Dove, another bestseller.
That year would also see the release of Rosemary Roger’s Sweet Savage Love. That book made Woodiwiss’ purple-prosed love scenes seem tame in comparison. Woodiwiss’s heroines were virgins who only slept with their heroes. Rogers’ heroines had more sexual experience and/or had relations with men besides the hero.
Both authors would sell millions. Their romances were not just mass-market paperbacks but also had trade editions and hardcovers.
Avon Romances Change the Genre
Avon Books had officially changed the romance game. In response to the new trend, Harlequin created their Presents line, which was more sensual than their previous romances.
The 1970s was the decade of female sexuality, with more blockbuster hits released to the appreciative masses. Woodiwiss’ Shanna spent 33 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. Rogers’ Wicked Loving Lies sold 3 million copies in its first month alone.
Romance Powerhouse and A Stable of Authors
By the mid-1980s, Avon would release special monthly romances. These books were labeled with the “Avon Romance” banner. They included authors like Brenda Joyce, Jane Feather, and Susan Wiggs. Other big-named authors that were published in the 1980s by Avon were Catherine Coulter and Christine Monson.
In the 1990s, Avon had special releases under the “Avon Romantic Treasures” name. This usually meant a respectable-looking front cover with the clinch printed on the back.
Authors such as Lisa Kleypas, Connie Mason, Stephanie Laurens, Beverly Jenkins, Lorraine Heath, and Julia Quinn joined their ranks.
Avon Books Today
In the new millennium, writers like Eloisa James, Sarah MacLean, and Tessa Dare have released books through Avon. The authors who have published romance through Avon are too numerous to mention. It’s truly the house that historical romance built.
After Newscorp purchased the Hearst Company’s book publishing division in 1999, Avon became a publisher of romance alone and would no longer release other genres, such as fiction.
As of 2010, Avon is an imprint of HarperCollins, which also owns Harlequin.