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Pinnacle Books Aims at a Neglected Audience

Starting this month, the Arabesque romance series gets directed to African-Americans

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What’s this? Into the tried-and-true formula of the romance novel finally comes something new?

Out this month from Pinnacle Books: Arabesque, the first full-scale series from a major publishing house of romance novels for and about African-Americans. Covers feature hand-tinted images of beautiful African-American faces. Inside, the books — which will have both modern and historical plotlines — have the exotic locales and overheated prose that all romance readers crave. Take this passage from Serenade — one of the series’ debut titles: ”They looked at one another, and Alexandra knew that the pretense had come to an end. The natural joy of just a moment ago became a sadness that began to weigh heavily within her.”

Still, the advent of black bodice rippers has repercussions that are more than skin deep, says series editor Monica Harris, who began acquiring manuscripts for the project as soon as she arrived at Pinnacle a year ago: ”It was something I wanted to do for a long time. My friends and I are avid romance readers, and it’s a strange feeling to walk into a bookstore and see almost no black faces on the covers. It’s not very welcoming.”

According to Harris, publishers have neglected the African-American romance audience largely because they were more interested in putting out books for an already proven retail market.

”Traditionally, African-Americans buy romance novels in their own neighborhoods, where there may not be bookstores,” Harris says. ”They will purchase books in venues like drugstores, or buy them secondhand on the street. It’s a hard audience to gauge.”

But that’s just what Pinnacle
and, no doubt, other books publishers eager to cash in by tapping a new market — will be trying to do in the future. Pinnacle will be publishing two new Arabesque titles a month. If all goes well, they plan to create Hispanic and Asian-American lines, too. Says Harris: ”It’s just an idea whose time has come.”