Sarah J. Maas' latest book, "House of Flame and Shadow," was published on Tuesday.
Her fan base has become massive thanks to social media.
Maas' readership is helping the "romantasy" genre dominate the publishing industry.
The Ripped Bodice in Brooklyn, New York, teemed with excitement on Monday night. Groups of women (and a handful of men) squeezed by each other through the store's colorful aisles, carrying drink pouches filled with specialty cocktails like the "Juniper Fizz" and "Synth." Some shopped for novelty products, including a "Shadow Daddy" candle and stickers with the phrase "Through love, all is possible" on them. A handful of people dressed in tiaras and pointed ears posed for photos in front of bookshelves.
But as they chatted and shopped, every person in the room had one thing on their mind: the new copies of Sarah J. Maas' much-awaited book "House of Flame and Shadow" sitting in neat rows behind the cash register, ready to be distributed at midnight.
The Ripped Bodice hosted one of three midnight release parties in New York in honor of the book, harkening back to the events stores held for "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" releases in the early 2000s.
As one of the most popular authors publishing today, it's no surprise readers wanted to celebrate Maas' latest book in person. But this release was even more special for fans, as "House of Flame and Shadow" brings to life a long-awaited crossover between "Crescent City" and her beloved "A Court of Thorns and Roses" series.
One trio at the event — each dressed to honor one of three protagonists from Maas' series — had traveled from Connecticut and Florida to be in New York so they could celebrate at the release party. They planned to spend the night and wee hours of the morning reading together in a hotel room.
As the group chatted about their excitement for the next book, they repeatedly brought up the friendships they had found through Maas' works, with one even calling it a "sisterhood." It became clear that not only has Maas become a once-in-a-generation author, but her fandom is also a full-fledged community.
Like many fantasy and romance authors, Maas dabbled in self-publishing her works before Bloomsbury released her first novel, "Throne of Glass," in 2012.
Mass went on to publish eight books in the series about a teenage assassin through 2018, and she started writing her second series, "A Court of Thorns and Roses," before it was even finished, weaving another fictional world for her growing readership.
The first "ACOTAR," which follows Feyre Archeron, a human pulled into a cursed fae land, was published in 2015. There have been five books in the series, including one novella, and Maas confirmed she's working on the next installment.
And in 2020, Maas released the first book in her third series, "Crescent City." The third book in the series about half-fae Bryce Quinlan came out on Tuesday, ending two years of anticipation for the story to continue.
While most of Maas' books are filled with shocking moments, many fans would likely agree no plot twist was quite as gasp-worthy as the final few pages of the second "Crescent City" book, "House of Sky and Breath," which confirmed readers' suspicions that the author was creating a Marvel-esque multiverse — or "Maasiverse," as fans call it — with her books.
The cliffhanger ending served as a thrilling plot device and a genius way for Maas to gain even more popularity, as readers who started with "Crescent City" realized they'd need to revisit all the author's previous works to fully understand the world she's building.
Maas helped make 'romantasy' mainstream
Maas' works are often categorized as "romantasy," as they combine tropes of romance books — as well as plenty of sex scenes — with the magical elements you expect to find in a fantasy series.
Works like Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" and Cassandra Clare's "Mortal Instruments" series offered young-adult takes on the genre throughout the 2010s to much fanfare.
But Maas tapped into adult readers' desire for more mature content, which has led some naysayers on social media to write off her work as "faerie porn," despite other fantasy series like "Game of Thrones" including depictions of intimacy as well.
Skeptics aside, readers were clearly hungry for Maas' works. According to her website, her books have sold over 38 million copies worldwide in English alone, and her works have been distributed in 38 languages. Each of her series is a New York Times bestseller; videos related to "acotar" have over 2 billion views on TikTok; and Maas has won over a dozen Goodreads Choice Awards, including best fantasy book in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
Bloomsbury told Reuters in December 2023 that it predicted its annual profit and revenue would surpass its expectations for the year, primarily because of its sales of fantasy works like Maas' series. The publisher also announced in January that it would release six more Maas books after "House of Flame and Shadow."
Increased demand for romantasy books in the industry has followed Maas' ever-rising success, shifting the landscape of adult publishing. Publishers are prioritizing romantasy, with Entangled creating Red Tower, an imprint focused on sci-fi and fantasy romance books in 2022. Tor also debuted its own romance imprint, Bramble, in September 2023, as Publisher's Weekly reported.
The investment also seems to be working. Red Tower published Rebecca Yarros' "Fourth Wing" and its sequel "Iron Flame" in 2023, and both dominated The New York Times bestseller list throughout the year; the former had been on the list for 37 weeks as of Saturday. Likewise, Bramble hit The New York Times bestseller list with Carissa Broadbent's "The Serpent and the Wings of Night" and Jennifer L. Armentrout's "Fall of Ruin and Wrath" last year.
The connection between readers' hunger for romantasy books and Maas' rise to fame is hard to miss, particularly when you look at how BookTok has helped to grow her audience organically.
The author's readership boomed in part thanks to TikTok
Despite her blockbuster success, Maas typically chats with other writers through live chats or shares sporadic updates on her Instagram instead of sitting for traditional interviews.
But an organic community of Maas readers formed on social media recently, making her even more widely loved. Maas' books have been popular since 2012, but Publisher's Weekly reported that sales of her new titles and backlist increased 86% in the 2022 fiscal year amid TikTok's massive growth.
Many of Maas' superfans found her books by stumbling across them on TikTok in 2020 or 2021, as was the case for Rosie Dent, 28.
"It felt like going back to my roots," Dent, known as @acourtofthornsandrosie on TikTok, said of diving into Maas' works after starting with "House of Earth and Blood" in 2020. She loved fantasy as a kid but spent her early 20s reading contemporary fiction.
"I started reading her entire back catalog and just fell in love with everything," Dent added.
Similarly, Lili, 27, who goes by @ahappyhermit on social media, had been reading fan fiction almost exclusively before she gave "ACOTAR" a try at the beginning of 2020 after seeing it on TikTok.
"I did not sleep," she said of how consumed she became by the novels. "I have this really particular memory of having my phone propped up in front of me as I was doing the dishes reading 'A Court of Wings and Ruin,' and I would stop doing the dishes, take my gloves off, click the next page, put my gloves back on, and continue reading."
Now, those readers who discovered Maas on BookTok have helped to create a bustling online community centered on her work.
In the Maas TikTok world, spoiler warnings are taken seriously, and the author is almost always referred to as SJM. Some BookTokers post videos cosplaying as Maas characters; others share their reactions to sections of her books (looking at you, chapter 54 of "A Court of Mist and Fury").
Dent and Lili fall into one of the most involved sections of Maas' fandom: the theorizers. The pair, who are good friends thanks to BookTok, post videos breaking down the smallest details of Maas' works.
They use heavily annotated texts to keep track of their findings, and Lili even whips out a whiteboard and spatula on occasion to help fellow readers follow her down a rabbit hole.
Dent and Lili told BI they don't care if their theories are right or wrong. They share them because they're able to connect to people over something they love.
"I had no one to talk about these books with, and now I have all of these people listening to me rant about this very niche thing that's going on that I care so much about," Dent said.
"I really do feel like it's like a FaceTime with friends," Lili said of her videos. "I'm just so excited that I call my best friend and go on for 30 minutes on my hyper-fixation."
Other BookTokers turned their love of Maas' works into full-time jobs, selling apparel inspired by the author's works through companies like House of Jupiter and M.C. Studios. House of Jupiter's founder, Jaclyn Wooten, 35, told BI that Maas' books even inspired her to open a romance bookstore, Blush Bookstore, and found the event company Bookish Events.
"You don't think picking up a book would change not just my life but my partner's too," Wooten said. "He now works with me full-time, and we have a couple of employees."
Likewise, M.C. Studios founder Molly Werts, 26, runs her shop full-time and met her roommate because they connected over one of Maas' books.
"I think that that's kind of invaluable almost because how do you make friends these days? I don't even know as an adult," she said. "It's so hard, and I really think that community is another reason it's doing so well."
Maas' success proves romantasy is here to stay
When the clock finally struck midnight, there were cheers at The Ripped Bodice as readers eagerly moved toward the books waiting for them at the front and back of the store. When a reader wearing pointed ears screamed "Light it up," a phrase packed with meaning in "Crescent City," nearly the whole store joined in.
People posed with their books outside the store before running off to start their marathon reading sessions, desperate to discover how Maas would continue her tale. Many told BI they took Tuesday off of work to read without interruption.
Whether you're attending a Maas-themed event, scrolling on TikTok, or even just asking your friends what they've read lately, the author seems to be everywhere.
It's not an illusion, as romance continues to boom overall. According to Publisher's Weekly, sales of romance titles grew 52.4% from 2021 to 2022. The outlet also reported that romance books grew faster than other genres in the first half of 2023. In addition, 82% of romance readers are women, according to Romance Writers of America.
"As women have grown into adults and now have adult money, and we can spend adult money on adult things, we are a force to be reckoned with," Lili said. "They have to cater to us now because we have the money to make them cater to us."
"Romance readers always got a bad rap," Dent added. "But now I think everyone is a bit more honest about the things that they like."
And on Tuesday, millions of people worldwide made it clear that they like Maas' fictional worlds.
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