Romance book collecting is not just about the words on the page but appreciating the genre’s history and cover art. For bibliophiles looking to elevate their library and show off their love of books, collecting paperbacks is the way to go.
In the digital age, physical books have become a luxury item for many. But for a certain subset of book lovers, especially in romance, there is a new status symbol emerging: collectible paperbacks.
Both newly published books and vintage paperbacks are valued among bibliophiles for their importance in the genre—and the cover art.
These beautifully designed and highly sought-after editions of retro and modern romances are becoming the go-to choice for romance bookworms looking to add a touch of sophistication to their bookshelves.
Digital Media and The Paperback Novel
The advent of digital media has had a significant impact on the publishing industry as a whole, and the world of romance paperbacks is no exception.
According to an article in Publishers Weekly, mass-market paperback sales have been declining steadily since 2008, with sales dropping by 5.5% in 2019 alone.
This trend has been attributed to various factors, including the rise of e-books, changing consumer preferences, audiobooks, and increased competition from other forms of entertainment.
Nevertheless, while e-books have skyrocketed in popularity over the last twenty-five years, many people still prefer the tactile experience of reading a physical book.
Along with lovers of pulp and horror, romance paperbacks have a devoted following of collectors who value unique cover art, typography, and other design elements.
Romance Paperback Books in the Age of Digital Media
In an article in The Guardian, romance author Katie Forde notes that e-books have made it easier for readers to access romance novels, but physical books still hold a special place in the hearts of collectors.
She suggests that the unique cover art and design elements of romance paperbacks can draw a reader in as much as an exciting plot.
Kensington CEO Steven Zacharius agrees. In an interview with Writers in the Storm, he notes that the cover art of a romance novel is often just as important as the content itself. It can help to create a sense of mood and atmosphere that draws readers in.
Is the Art of Cover Art Dead?
As digital books dominate the market, a wide range of computer-generated images are used for cover art–if any art is used at all. However, the artistry of cover design is not dead. Rather, it is evolving into a new kind of status symbol for book lovers.
While it’s convenient to use an e-reader, the best way to show off the artistry of these covers is with an actual copy of the book.
The rise in illustrated covers like those by Colleen Reinhart and Leni Kauffman has led to increased sales of romances in trade-back size.
For top-selling historical romance authors like Sarah MacLean, large print runs of mass-market paperbacks are a given—usually with highly prized stepbacks.
So while readers, in general, are going digital, bibliophiles and book collectors will still purchase hard copies.
Vintage Romance Book Collecting
Collecting rare romance books, as described in an article by the web based-UBS Alibris, can be a rewarding and fulfilling hobby.
For many collectors, hunting for rare or out-of-print titles is part of the appeal of collecting romance paperbacks. Fans frequently seek first editions, signed copies, and books with unique cover art or typography.
These rare books can become valuable over time, making them not only enjoyable to read but also a potential investment.
For those just starting their romance book collection, Fine Books Magazine offers some helpful tips. They suggest starting with a particular author or subgenre that interests you and then gradually expanding your collection over time.
Fine Books also recommends attending book fairs and auctions and joining online communities and forums to connect with other collectors.
Last year, Steve Ammidown, another prolific social media user, wrote a phenomenal article about collecting romance novels for the magazine. I recommend his site, Romance Fiction Has a History, for insight into the romance genre’s past.
Resources to Help You Find Vintage and Retro Romance Books
For collectors of rare romance books, many resources are available to help locate these hard-to-find titles.
When we think of rare books, the first name that comes to mind is Rebecca Romney. She is a rare book dealer, appraiser, and author.
As a former cast member of the TV series Pawn Stars Romney knows the value of collectors’ items.
She is also the co-founder of Type Punch Matrix, a Washington DC-area rare book firm specializing in pivotal works from every field.
According to the site, “Type Punch Matrix is a Washington D.C.-area rare book firm founded by Rebecca Romney and Brian Cassidy. Between them, they bring over 30 years of experience in the antiquarian book trade.”
Romney is the author of The Romance Novel in English: A Survey in Rare Books, 1769-1999. If you are a serious romance book collector, this book is an invaluable guide to knowing about romance and which books, in particular, have historical value.
Sweet Savage Flame
Yes, this is a bit arrogant to promote ourselves. At Sweet Savage Flame, we try to provide valuable context for vintage romance book collectors. Hopefully, we can help you better understand the significance and value of the books in your collections.
In one article, we discussed some of the Most Expensive and/ or Hard to Find Out-of-Print Romances. We’ve been researching the book-collecting field for a while, and we’ll offer more insights into book buying in the future.
Another article we’ve written, Where to Find Vintage Books: A Collector’s Dilemma, addresses the challenge of where to find vintage romance books.
But what should you do with your books once you’ve purchased them? Obviously, displaying them on your shelves is a must. What’s the best way to showcase them? We’ve discussed this previously in How to Organize Your Bookshelves.
Our feature on Instagram and Vintage Romance Books delves into the most popular romance Instagram hashtags, providing insights into how users engage with their followers.
Whether you’re looking for insights into the most valuable titles or tips on where to find used books, we have a lot to say.
Another resource for collectors of vintage books is Vintage Bookseller, a website that specializes in selling rare and out-of-print books. The site offers a guide to collecting vintage books, including tips on identifying first editions, evaluating a book’s condition, and determining a book’s value.
The guide also offers insights into some of the most sought-after vintage books, including classic romance novels by authors such as Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.
Additionally, the Vintage Bookseller blog features articles on various aspects of vintage book collecting, such as the history of bookbinding and the evolution of book cover art.
For vintage romance book collectors, the site offers a wide selection of titles, including popular series such as Harlequin Romance and Mills & Boon.
Connect to Other Romance Book Lovers on Social Media
The rise of social media has led to the creation of online communities where romance book collectors can connect, share their collections, and discover new titles to add to their own.
As we noted before, one of the most popular platforms for vintage romance book collectors is Instagram, where users can showcase their collections and engage with others who share their passion.
Many collectors use the platform to share photos of their books, connect with other bookworms, and discover new titles to add to their collections.
And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the best Twitter account for romance covers to follow: Daily Clinch @ArtoftheClinch.
Every day, she posts a romance book cover—or two—from the late 1970s to the early 2000s. Many Twitter users reach out to her and others to show off their dazzling collections.
On Facebook, there are many groups you can join t discuss your love for old romance novels.
My favorite group is Vintage Romance: A Group for Bodice Ripper Enthusiasts. Vintage Paperback Romance Novels is another great group and a valuable source for purchasing books.
Then there is Chels, who is present on many platforms. She writes articles about romance on Substack at The Loose Cravat.
But her videos over on TikTok about the retro romance genre are pivotal to educating young readers about the genre’s history.
As we at Sweet Savage Flame are not au courant and never will be, we think she’s “doing the Lord’s work” preaching about old-school romance to the youngins, so to speak.
More Online Bookish Communities
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Discord, and Reddit, as well as GoodReads and Booklikes–not to mention the variety of bloggers–have increased awareness about romance novels.
Because of the active online romance community, there is more appreciation for the innate and financial value of old romance books. And, of course, the beauty of their covers!
You can find an abundance of groups and accounts to follow all over the internet.
We’ve mentioned some favorites in the past, like Mary Lynne Nielsen, a blogger and bookstagrammer @emmelnie, and Rob Imes, who collects romances, comic books, magazines, and more.
If we’ve overlooked anyone, we’ll be posting more on this topic in the future, so we’ll try to highlight as many accounts and sites as we can remember!
Where to Buy Valuable Old Romance Books
A popular resource for vintage romance book collectors is eBay. The online marketplace has a vast selection of vintage romance books available for purchase, including rare and hard-to-find titles.
Many sellers on eBay are collectors, offering expert advice and insights into the world of vintage book collecting. One account is Buy The Trope which can also be found on Instagram.
Etsy is another fantastic place. It is probably the best online site to see what kind of book you’re getting. They provide high-quality images of the books for sale.
When the books you order arrive in the mail, they are packed most adorably by the sellers. So a package from Etsy is perfect for collectors to post unboxing videos and reels.
Of course, there is Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, the aforementioned Alibris, and Thrift Books. Plus, there are many independent bookstores across the country, both used and new.
Start Collecting Romance Novels Today
Paperbacks–both new and used–are prized among romance book hobbyists. While digital media outsells “dead-tree” books, collectors still value the tactile experience of reading a physical novel. Amassing a library of physical books is a passion for many book enthusiasts.
Fortunately, romance readers have access to a wealth of information to help them expand their personal libraries thanks to online resources.
Whether you’re a seasoned collector or just starting out, there’s no shortage of opportunities to explore and enjoy the world of romance book collecting, whether vintage or contemporary.
Are you a collector of paperback romances, or do you prefer e-books? Tell us about your book collection if you have one.
Who are your favorite authors and cover artists? How do you show off your personal library?
As always, please drop a comment, and let’s talk romance.
- Alibris: The Art of Collecting Rare Romance Books
- Books Tell You Why: Are Paperbacks Worth Anything?
- Dear Author: On the Changing Roles of U.S. Bookstores and Libraries
- Fine Books & Collections: Start Your Romance Collection Collecting Romance Novels–Where to Begin
- The Guardian: Romantic Fiction’s Passion for E-books
- Publisher’s Weekly: Where Are Mass Market Paperbacks Headed?
- Vintage Bookseller: Collecting Vintage Paperback Books
- Writers In The Storm: The Inside Scoop on Publishing by Kensington CEO Steven Zacharius
Subscribe via e-mail to receive notifications from Sweet Savage Flame and be eligible to win 3 Harlequin Temptation category romances from the '90s.