Tag Archives: publishing

A Closer Look At Dell Publishing

Dell, An American Publisher of Days Past

A Distant Memory of Dell Romances

Dell used to be a huge publisher of fiction and, in particular, romance. They hopped on the romance market when many other publishers ignored the genre.

I have mentioned many times before at Sweet Savage Flame how Elaine Coffman’s Escape Not, My Love was the first historical romance I read. Dell published the book in 1990, featuring a stunning stepback cover.

Dell had a long and successful history with romance. At one point, they were in direct competition with Harlequin. This was during what was called the “romance wars.” Ultimately, only one publisher was left standing. However, Dell’s decline would come long after the “romance wars” ended.

Dell and Their Beginnings

Dell Publishing was one of the earliest mainstream paperback publishers in the United States.

George Delacorte founded Dell Publishing in 1921 with money he received in a severance package after being dismissed from his job at a New York publishing firm. Delacorte looked down on the hoi polloi but at the same time to wanted to capitalize on the “semi-literate” classes. He saw there was an untapped market by producing cheaply made books of questionable quality that were designed to entertain, not enlighten.

This insight made him a very rich man. Later in life, Delacorte become a major philanthropist–the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is named for him–famous for financing monuments, statues and beautification projects. Lamentably, Delacorte was not a man of the people, deeming the poor as “dumb and lazy.” Nor did he give to hospitals, which he despised.

Dell a major publisher of pulp magazines and comic books, started publishing paperback books in 1943. Dell had a long, successful track record in newsstand sales. By 1946 it was a major player in the paperback book industry, second only to Pocket Books in sales. It did not have its first million-seller until the 1950s.

romance dell

Dell partnered with Western Publishing, headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin, for many of its publications, including the Dell paperbacks and comic books. Western had editorial offices in New York and Los Angeles. The latter handled the comics and books published under license with Disney and other studios.

Western’s Los Angeles office had published an earlier series of paperback mysteries under the Bantam imprint (unrelated to the firm founded in 1945), which were sold in vending machines. Western handled editorial and art for Dell paperbacks while Dell’s New York office was in charge of financing. distribution and promotion.

Dell Early Books

Besides magazines like Modern Screen and Modern Romance, Dell published comic books featuring comic-strip, Disney, and Looney Tunes characters. Puzzle magazines were among the company’s greatest successes. They also used the book imprints of Dial Press, Delacorte Books, Delacorte Press, Yearling Books, and Laurel Leaf Library.

Delacorte’s longtime assistant, Brooklyn-born Helen Meyer, noted for her toughness, was in charge of Bantam Books, a breakthrough in publishing for women. She later became CEO and President of Dell Publishing, the first woman to head a major publishing company.

Dell covers resembled the covers of pulp magazines. The back covers of some books had maps and casts of characters rather than the blurbs that were standard in publishing.

Dell and Romance

Early Romance Books and Magazines

Dell published many romances along with their pulp, westerns, and detective stories.

In the late 1960’s Dell jumped onto the hot “nurse” romance bandwagon.

Dell Gothic Romances

Dell published hundreds of Gothics. They picked the best artists to create eye-catching covers in a highly competitive field.

The fad grew so huge that Dell also published a magazine called Gothic Romance. That ran for a few years before the bodice ripper craze began.

Dell And Category Romance

Candlelight Romance

In the late 1960s, they created a line dedicated to romance.

These books were published from 1967 to 1982. Dell Candlelight Romances initially began as medical romances, then later included Gothic, historical, and contemporary.

This line should be noted for publishing Entwined Destinies by Rosalind Welles in 1980. It was the first category romance written by an African American author to feature Black protagonists.

entwined destinies

Candlelight Ecstasy Romance

Legendary African-American editor Vivian Stephens founded the Candlelight Ecstasy Romance in 1980. These books ran about the same length as Harlequin Romances or Presents, about 188-190 pages. They were a more sensual and erotically charged series than the standard Candlelight Romances. This line ran for about seven years.

dedicated man series romance

Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme

In 1983 Dell expanded their stable of romances further by launching the Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme category romances. These books were longer than the Candlelight Ecstasy Romances by 100 pages, allowing for more in-depth plotlines and deeper emotional content. Authors such as Heather Graham, Lori Copeland, Anne Stuart, and Cathie Linz wrote for the Ecstasy Supreme series.

The line was successful but only lasted until 1987. This was partly because Bantam’s parent company purchased Dell in 1986. Bantam already had a thriving category line in its Loveswept series. Thus, they ceased production of both Candlelight lines.

Dell would continue to produce romance novels, but only as single-edition, full-length works.

Man in Control
Man in Control, Alice Morgan, Dell, 1984, cover artist unknown

Other Dell Media


Dell was acquired by publishing giant Doubleday in 1976. Under Doubleday, Dell flourished by publishing paperback romances and other fiction. From 1986 to 1988, there would be a series of consolidations that would affect Dell’s future. Portions of Doubleday merged with Bantam & Dell to become the Bantam-Doubleday-Dell Publishing Group.

Danielle Steele and Elizabeth Adler would write many blockbusters with this group. Many bestselling romances would be published during this period. Authors su

ch as Virginia Henley, Karen Robards, Rexanne Becnel, Diana Gabaldon, Karen Marie Moning, Kat Martin, Marsha Canham, and Brenda Joyce were just a few of the very prolific and talented authors who wrote for Dell.

Dell hired among the best artists such as Elaine Gignilliat, Elaine Duillo, Victor Gadino, Robert Sabin, Sharon Spiak, Melissa Duillo-Gallo, and others to produce glorious artwork for their covers.

The vikings woman
the vikings woman spiak stepback

Then an even larger merger occurred in the late 1990s which would truly shake things up for Dell.

Dell Puzzles

Dell Puzzle Magazines commenced production in 1931. The first issue of Dell Pocket Crossword Puzzles was launched in 1941.

In the past, I used to be a prodigious crossword player. I also loved logic, math & word puzzles, although not word search games or Sudoku. Occasionally when I see a Dell magazine on the store racks, I buy them, but am shocked at how high the prices are!

In 1973, William and Penny Kanter had purchased a struggling crossword-magazine business which they would relaunch as the popular Penny Press magazines. They would be Dell’s competitor in the puzzle magazine business for the next twenty years.

dell puzzles

The End of Dell

Enter Bertelsmann

The end of Dell as an independent publisher came after a long string of mergers and sales. Dell’s parent company, Doubleday, was acquired by Bertelsmann, a private German conglomerate in 1986. Bertelsmann already owned Bantam books, 100% of the company since 1980. As mentioned earlier, they merged Bantam, Doubleday & Dell into one massive US subsidiary with individual imprints.

Over a decade later, Bertelsmann completed its acquisition of mega-publisher Random House. Random House was an old player in the paperback industry, dating back to 1923.

The Bantam-Doubleday-Dell super company under Bertelsmann ran parallel to Random House for a few years. Ten years afterward in 2008, there was another in-house reshuffling and house-cleaning due to the changes in the publishing industry.

Random House would take control of the Doubleday-Bantam-Dell group. Essentially that publishing division became an assortment of imprints.

Dell Lives On…Sort Of

Remember those crossword puzzle books and magazines? Well, Random House sold off Dell Magazines. That remnant of Dell still exists today as a publisher of science fiction, mystery, and horoscope magazines.

In 1996, Dell Magazines and Penny Press joined forces to create Penny-Dell Publications. Their Crossword, Logic, & Sudoku puzzle books–among others–continue to remain popular in the United States and Canada.

Penguin-Random House and the Big Six Five Publishers

Back in 1973, Random House Publishers had purchased Ballantine Books. 2010 would see Random House consolidate Ballantine and the Bantam-Dell imprints into the Ballantine-Bantam-Dell group.

Random House then merged with Penguin to form Penguin-Random House in 2013. This resulted in an ever bigger, multinational conglomerate corporation with many divisions, publishers, imprints, and lines. Dell would be a casualty of this union.

While Ballantine & Bantam still exist, releasing fiction and non-fiction, Dell no longer is a book publishing entity. However, since Dell’s demise, the name Delacorte Press lives on as a Random House Children’s imprint. 

Dell Romance Covers


the feathered shaft

Link: The Evolution of Romance at Harlequin

Harlequin Romances are Becoming More Sexy

An article from February 11, 2021, by journalist Chris Lambie at saltwire.com addresses How Harlequin Romances Got Spicier. A study of 500 books found the covers got sexier as time has passed, just as the stories have. This phenomenon is not limited to Harlequin, but Harleys are the biggest players in the romance market, and they’re the oldest ones around.

From the article:

“All this begs the question, why study Harlequin romance covers over the decades? ‘If you want to understand what straight women want over time, I think this is a really telling way of looking at it,”’ Fisher said. ‘There’s only a certain segment of women that would be interested in these books. But I think it’s really useful in terms of understanding women’s idealized fantasies about mating.‘”

I’m afraid I have to disagree with this sentiment. I know straight women, lesbians, gay men, and straight men who read romance. It is evident that it’s mostly straight women read heterosexual romances. However, we shouldn’t ignore almost 1/5 of male readers or the other out-lying groups. Approximately 50% of romance readers are between the ages of 18-45, so of course, there are those looking for something different from their mothers or grandmothers. However, there is still a considerable number of readers who appreciate older perspectives on romance.

Younger Readers Want a Change From the Past

The problem really is I think there’s a stigma associated with Harlequin romance novels in particular. Younger women don’t want to be caught reading grandmothers’ romance novels. They want chick lit. They want something fresh and new and I think that’s a challenge for a company that has such a long history.” 

That statement is full of irony because the books that younger readers are eschewing are now primarily catered to their own interests. Those who’ve been reading Harlequins for decades are losing interest in modern books. While this article talks specifically about Harlequin Romances, I will tangentially touch upon that line to springboard to other ones.

I am 43 and a longtime fan of Harlequin Presents. I have no interest in them as they exist today. That line has devolved into chick-lit: chock-full of one-nightstands, brunches with the girls, and psychological angst. The vintage romances had more character development, slow-burn romance, and distinctly unique plots. The heroes were men of their times, although they were not all made from the same mold.

I’ve spoken to women around my age who read HPs and feel similarly. Perhaps there’s a favorite author of theirs that they follow. Still, for the most part, the newer romances fade compared to those penned by Anne Mather, Roberta Leigh, Penny Jordan, Carole Mortimer, Robyn Donald, Charlotte Lamb, Michelle Reid, Lynne Graham (who still writes), Miranda Lee, and many others.

cheap thrills
Cheap Thrills, Tiffany White, Harlequin, 1990, cover artist TBD

The Romance Future is Now

Younger readers shouldn’t shy away from Harlequins as the imprint is more diverse than it’s ever been before. And the belief that Harlequins have always been stodgy, old books is just silly. I grew up reading the Temptation line, starting at around 11 or 12. It was fairly erotic for its day. Condoms, all forms of birth control, one-night stands, sex flings, oral sex, masturbation, multiple partners… I remember reading about all these things in Temptations.

The Blaze line tried to be even more erotic. That line failed, in my opinion, because the books attempted to fuse Romantic Suspense with outre sex scenes, but the stories just came off redundant. Sex toys, dildos, massage oils, and handcuffs, combined with plots about fleeing from stalkers or abusive boyfriends, did not mesh well. The Temptations were so good because they focused on sex and the relationship. I know the Dare line is pretty racy, but I am an “older” reader and have no interest in that line. Explicit sex isn’t what I’m looking for in romance; it’s the story.

Something New in Romance Novels

I find among youthful readers that they look at “vintage” romance in either one of two ways. 1) They feel the books are boring due to fade-to-black sex scenes and mild kisses, with heroes as too enigmatic and stoic. 2) They dislike the dynamic between the battle of the sexes in older romances, The heroes are seen as too cruel, or the books too “rapey.”

To me, there seems a bit of cognitive dissonance going on here. BDSM is embraced, and so, too, damaged heroes in New Adult romances or the-villain-as-the-hero tropes. The more Alpha, the better.

What does Alpha mean to this generation? A large, muscular, jealous, protective man who also sleeps around a lot. This hero has been incredibly popular for ages, especially over the past decade or so. As for BDSM, many female readers are perfectly accepting of a heroine who is “trained” by a dominant Alpha to be his sex slave, even perhaps chained, whipped, spanked, etc., because they see the heroine as having given consent.

Something Old in Romance Novels

What these readers fail to acknowledge about the older so-called “rapey” books was that the reader was giving consent to the story. It was pure fantasy, experiencing a tale about a beautiful woman who an animalistic, attractive male so desired that he would be reduced to coercing her with some amount of force if she were not willing. However, the heroine was often willing; it was a struggle between her inner desires and the outside society she often felt. The allure was about being sexually active and fully enjoying it without any hangups.

Despite “forced seduction/ dubious consent” tropes having faded away to almost obscurity, young readers are quick to give up on a hero if they feel he even gets close to being verbally, physically, or emotionally abusive. Let me dispel the notion that the reader wants to be abused.

Some readers enjoy the thrill of the hunt, whether it’s the hero doing the hunting or even the heroine. A wild man of a hero tamed by his passionate, yet redeeming love for one woman is a fantasy. Or perhaps, folks enjoy these crazy stories for the thrill of seeing something shocking and out of the ordinary. A hero in a novel who asks for consent before every sexual touch may appeal to many women; for others, it may hinder escapism.

The Romance Genre is Big Enough to Include All Readers

While the outside covers and inside content of Harlequins have gotten sexier over time, that’s a separate matter from using these books to gauge what heterosexual women want in their love lives. Marketing whizzes know sex sells romance, not just cars! 🙂

The romance market is bigger than ever, with over a billion dollars in annual sales. There is something out there for every reader of romance to enjoy, young or old, of whatever color or social standing, and we should be accepting of that great variety. Plus, if Harlequin were really savvy, they’d focus on pleasing their older readers and creating new lines for the next generation. Win-win for everyone.