Did you ever hear of popular author Leigh Greenwood? You might be surprised to find out that “she” is really a man named Harold Lowry.

How about another wildly successful writer, Jennifer Wilde? Turns out “her” real name is Tom E. Huff.

But what’s most interesting isn’t that these writers are men using women’s names. It’s that they work in a genre that has well over 2,000 titles published every year and over $1.5 billion in annual sales. I’m talking about Romance Writing. And given those figures, it qualifies as a virtual goldmine of opportunity.

Like becoming a copywriter, resume writer, or travel writer, romance writing has all the traits of the kind of business we love at AWAI and ETR:

You can work from home — or anywhere else you choose. The  beach, a ski resort, a cruise ship . . . you pick the place.

You can keep whatever hours you choose — as long as you  hit your publisher’s deadlines, your time is your own.

You can probably get a nice tax deduction for your job-related expenses.

You have the opportunity to make a healthy chunk of extra income . . . or even become financially independent . . . while doing something you love.

Nora Roberts may be the best-known example of a super-successful romance writer. (Yes, that’s her real name.)

Back in 1979, Roberts was an unknown Maryland housewife, stuck at home in a blizzard for five days with two kids and a dwindling supply of things to do. She decided to escape into a novel — writing one, that is.

And now she’s millions of dollars richer for it . . .  There are currently more than 250 million copies of her  books in print.

Over the last 22 years, an average of 21 of Roberts’ books  have been sold every minute.  Her books have spent a combined 71 weeks at the No. 1 spot  on The New York Times bestseller list — and 24 of them  debuted at No. 1. In fact, since 1999, every book published  under the Nora Roberts name was a New York Times bestseller.

I have to admit, I didn’t know much about Leigh Greenwood, Harold Lowry, or the success story of Nora Roberts — or the romance industry in general — until last year when AWAI hired a new Student Services Director, Marcia King-Gamble.

Although we knew from her interviews that Marcia was an aspiring author, what we didn’t know was that she already had about a half-dozen romance novels in print, and contracts for more to come.

As I found out more about her “other life” as a romance writer, and about the opportunities she’d discovered in this popular publishing sector, I started looking into it myself. Some of the things I learned might surprise you.

Over half of all paperbacks sold are romance novels. That is truly an astounding statistic — but it’s true.

And the demand for romance novels — and writers — is extremely high. One in five women read at least one romance novel every year. In fact, 57% of all romance readers read one to five titles a year. And the remaining 43% read between six and 100.

You don’t have to be great at math to realize that there is a tremendous opportunity here for anyone who might like to take up romance writing as a hobby or a full-time vocation.

And there’s money on those shelves. According to the Romance Writers of America, a beginning writer will generally get a $3,000-$4,000 cash advance, at the very least, and most likely will have royalty payouts of around $11,000. With a little more experience, that figure climbs to a $15,000 cash advance and $20,000-$40,000 in royalties. And, of course, the top earners go from six-figures all the way up to the millions.

Write one book a year and you’ve got anywhere from an extra $14,000 as a beginner to $55,000 a year and more when you get experience.

One of the big secrets of success in this field is to find a niche that you enjoy writing about. Romance readers have become increasingly diverse in their tastes and preferences in recent years. There are romances tailored to just about every age group, ethnic group, moral or spiritual belief, and lifestyle. This means there’s a wide range of possibilities for you to find a place for your particular voice in this lucrative industry.

If you’ve been looking for a fun way to increase your income in an industry that’s full of promise, why not give romance writing a try?

This time next year, we could be telling the story of the inspiration that got you to pick up your pen and start writing — and the road to success that followed.