You might have never read a Mills & Boon book but you know exactly what this publisher offers - romance, more romance and even more romance. You can recognize those covers a mile away - the tall dark hero, six-pack visible, and a swooning girl.
They are an institution and a publishing phenomenon - they claim to sell a book every five seconds and 50 new titles are released each month.
Putting the romance, seduction, and swooning aside for a moment, Mills & Boon have a remarkable business model. A typical release has an extremely short shelf life of a few months and goes out-of-print rapidly - hence AbeBooks.co.uk has become a major source of secondhand copies of classic Mills & Boon titles.
Mills & Boon produce books that can be read quickly, and follow a number of established storyline formulas, and they ensure there is a constant supply of new releases. However, they weren't always dedicated to romance.
Mills and Boon started as a general publisher in 1908. Founders Gerald Mills and Charles Boon published major authors of the time like Jack London, PG Wodehouse, Robert Lynd, Cosmo Hamilton, and Max Pemberton. They have also published textbooks, DIY guides (for beer and wine making among other things), and historical non-fiction.
Although the first Mills & Boon book, Arrows from the Dark by Sophie Cole, was a romance, the publisher didn't specialise until the 1930s when escapist literature offered a distraction from the hard economic realities of the times and it produced books to be picked up by women at libraries.
After World War II, the company shifted from marketing hardbacks to paperbacks and it began to adjust their stories to the modern time with heroines becoming more assertive and sexual boundaries being extended.