Author E.L. James is famous for bringing her ‘Fifty Shades’ steamy novels into the mainstream, which have now been turned into blockbuster films. But as her books ignited a spark in many readers who perhaps didn’t realize romance fiction was their genre, one woman is working to ensure readers get their fill of steamy stories that do more than just keep you hot and sweaty.
Meet Melissa Saavedra – a US Navy Veteran and Latina founder based in Miami, whose entrepreneurial spirit turned her love of steamy novels into a thriving book community. She is the founder of The Steam Box, the world’s first inclusive romance and sexual wellness subscription service. Her goal by starting this business was to not only open the lines of communication around sexual wellness, but to also diversify readers’ book shelves by amplifying the voices of authors who have been historically under-represented in the publishing world.
Recent findings show that authors’ diversity in romance fiction is very unbalanced with 92.2% of romance novels published in 2021 being written by white authors and only 7.8% of romance novels published in 2021 were written by BIPOC authors.
This past year alone has also seen the romance genre turn into the fastest growing and highest earning genre of fiction, with a 36% increase from 2021.
Melissa founded Steamy Lit in 2021, and this year is set to host a non-profit romantic book convention, ‘The Steamy Lit Con’, in Anaheim California in August 2023. With over 200 authors and industry experts confirmed and 2000 tickets available, Melissa is hoping to create an environment to not only celebrate the genre as a whole but also to help connect writers and readers of romantic fiction and help them to build relationships.
As she prepares for the convention later this year, we wanted to learn more about her love of reading, what she wants customers to know about Steamy Lit, and why diversity in this genre is about so much more than just ticking a box.
Can you tell us where your love of steamy romance novels began?
I love love. I always have. I especially have always loved reading about love.
Over the years I continuously found myself being drawn to books that had a romance subplot. Then, like many others, I read the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ series when it first came out and for the first time I found myself recognizing what I actually loved so much about the romance genre. The pining, the angst, the passion, the list goes on and from there my love for steamy literature grew.
What have been some of your favorite novels or authors that initially got you hooked?
Anything by Kennedy Ryan or Adriana Herrera. ‘Long Shot’ by Kennedy Ryan is an all time favorite of mine but I will say, please read it with caution as it does contain some trigger warnings.
How did the idea for Steamy Lit come about, and what was the process of creating your business?
During the pandemic in 2020 I was at home alone and I found myself turning more and more to romance books. With each title I’d finish I found myself wanting to have conversations with other like minded people about the books and I casually mentioned to a friend about how someone should create a box with both romance books and sex toys, to which she replied, “You should do it!” and now here we are.
I knew which authors I really liked, authors who perhaps weren’t as highly marketed as others, and these were the authors that I wanted other people to read and enjoy.
I also wanted to create a platform that would break assumptions and stigmas about female pleasure and open the lines of communication around sexual wellness in general. It’s only been 18 months so far but I’m very proud of where Steamy Lit has gotten to so far and look forward to what is coming next for us.
Once you began the process of building Steamy Lit, you noticed a major lack of representation. Can you share more about this and why it felt important to you?
It’s not news to anyone that the publishing world is very white and this was something that was really highlighted to me when I was searching for books to read. And while there are of course many great white authors who I love in the romance community, truth be told, I just wanted to read romance plots about people and by people who looked like me and the world I grew up in.
The more I looked into this, I quickly noticed that there was a big lack of representation in publishing that was being marketed and therefore I wanted to be very intentional about offering a platform to these underrepresented authors when I was creating Steamy Lit.
Being an immigrant from Peru who now resides in Miami, what is the demand for romance stories and novels in the Latinx community you are part of?
For me personally, there is nothing more powerful than reading books written by Latinx folks. Seeing people on the pages that look like me, who are falling in love, and getting their own happily ever afters is EVERYTHING.
There are so many authors already writing incredible stories and we want to see them be elevated – Adriana Herrera, Prisiclla Oliveras, Alexis Daria, Natalie Caña, Sabrina Sol, Angelina M Lopez, Amy Oliveras and Mia Sosa, these are just some of the amazing Latinx authors in our community.
Why is it important we also see and read more LGBTQ+ romance stories?
Seeing love unfold between two people, any two people, is a beautiful thing and queer romance stories matter just as much as any other love story does.
I honestly think it is so important to open yourself up to these stories because reading about experiences that are different from your own help you grow and better understand other people and the world around you.
The bottom line is that love is love, it is such a strong human emotion. One that we all deserve and with that we also all deserve to see ourselves in the pages of romance novels.
There are still so many taboos around sexual freedom and sexuality in society. What kind of messages are you hoping to promote with Steamy Lit and the authors you include?
I am hoping that people will learn that it is okay to break away from things we have been taught to be ashamed of by our cultures and society as a whole. That it is okay to express yourself and embrace your sexuality.
I want to encourage people to be more open and understand the importance of embracing healthy sexual wellness practices.
You are set to host The Steamy Lit Convention in 2023 which sounds exciting! Can you give us details about the authors you’ve invited, and what the build up has been like so far?
We are so excited about our first ever Steamy Lit Con! We currently have over 200 authors and industry experts confirmed to attend, including Kennedy Ryan, Adriana Herrera, Julie Murphy, Sierra Simone, JL Seegars, Christina Lauren, Abby Jimenez, and many more.
It has also been so encouraging to see how the romance community has received our event. When I first set out to do this it was to create an event that would put diversity first. We wanted to host a convention that would amplify the work of authors that have been continuously underrepresented in publishing for too long.
The Steamy Lit Con will be two days filled with community, romance, panels and discussions, author signings, and parties and we can’t wait for it.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions around steamy romance novels and readers that you want to dispel through your business?
That it’s ‘dirty’. Sex, love and orgasms are all natural. They are all human emotions, and they are all things that our bodies have been made to do. If you grew up like I did, none of these topics were ever discussed. My family didn’t talk about any of it and so destigmatizing self love, and having open and honest conversations about pleasure and romance is something I really strive for on a daily basis.
What have been some of the most surprising reactions from customers so far?
It’s been their openness and vulnerability in sharing personal stories with us about love, sex, self love and their sexuality. People in general are very open when they’re given the opportunity to be so and Steamy Lit gives customers just that, the opportunity to explore and express themselves and we’re excited to see how far it can go.
What do you hope Steamy Lit subscribers and readers will be empowered by the most?
Loving themselves and their bodies, and also being able to openly read romance stories that are both similar and different to their own.
As someone who has a fascinating personal story, what makes you a powerful woman today?
Resilience. Some days it can be so hard to just get up and keep going. My advice is to take everything just a little bit at a time, day by day, keep pushing through.