In the US, romance fiction sales generate close to $US1.5 billion ($1.6 billion) in sales each year. While there are no concrete figures here in Australia, all the indicators suggest that, per capita, our romance readers are every bit as voracious.
Yet this billion-dollar industry is stigmatised. In August the who's who of Australian romance descended on Fremantle for the annual Romance Writers of Australia conference and awards night. Authors from Australia and overseas, along with publishers, agents and wannabe novelists, assembled for three days of seminars, discussions, awards and the opportunity to pitch to agents. The event attracted more than 300 attendees.
Romance Writers of Australia president Nikki Logan says the popularity of the romance novel is all about the willing suspension of disbelief. "I think Australian women are very accepting of allowing ourselves to enjoy a good story with a happy ending," she says.
Logan adds that there's little doubt the romance industry is undergoing a boom period.
"I say that with confidence as every day we're seeing more of our members selling. Publishers are taking on more lines and stores are giving romance more shelf space.
"It's no coincidence, though, the popularity of ereaders have also surged. Readers of romance are voracious and will buy and buy."
Carol George is the commissioning editor for Penguin imprint Destiny Romance, which launched at the Romance Writers conference in 2012.
She says the romance market has changed in the past year, with more publishers willing to take risks on new authors.
"To be honest, many publishers in Australia have been more traditional in their publishing, and I think we've, in a small way, neglected romance as a genre," she says.
"It's been part of commercial women's fiction but not focused on in a big way other than by Harlequin and Mills & Boon. It's only the last few years that Australian publishing has realised (the genre's) potential."
George says Australians are consuming as much romance fiction as Americans are, we're just a little more private about it.
"I think in the past it's been a bit of a hidden thing, there's been a little bit of a stigma being seen with a romance on a bus or a train. The introduction of ebooks and reading devices has changed all of that.
"Attitudes towards romance are changing too. People are recognising a well-written romance is just as important to Australian publishing as a well-written literary title."
Destiny publishes its catalogue exclusively digitally but George says there's always potential for a digital book to make it into brick-and- mortar bookstores.
"At a time when budgets are tight and a lot of publishers aren't taking on new authors, just now we've got the opportunity for writers to be published digitally and for some it can be a first step to getting a print book out there. Digital publishing is in its infancy but it's a mini publishing revolution."
Melbourne-based Anna Cowan is one such author. Her romance novel Untamed was originally released digitally through Destiny four months ago. The unconventional story of a cross-dressing duke captured the attention of romance readers and a hard copy of the novel hit shelves last month.
Cowan says she loves romance because of the way it made her feel.
"It's got to leave you satisfied and feeling a certain way," she explains.
"There is definitely a stigma attached, though. Romance is what I love but it took some time to admit to myself that's what I wanted to write. Now I'm something of an advocate for the genre."
As a romance author, people make certain judgments about the person behind the keyboard, Cowan says. "People assume they're lonely and middle-aged and surrounded by cats - although romance writers do tend to love cats," she jokes.
Her novel Untamed is unconventional and she says it's rewarding to push people's understanding of the genre.
"People have this idea of what a romance is, without having ever read any. They think it's all really purple prose and over-the-top scenarios and situations.
"You do find that in romance. But you also find some incredibly talented storytellers."