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Mr. Romance chosen tonight

Betsy Taylor Associated Press

Looking for Mr. Romance?

You can find him today at the Booklovers Convention in St. Louis, Mo., where authors and readers come together to learn about the latest in publishing – and about the new man who will grace the cover of a novel from Harlequin Enterprises Ltd., one of the world’s leading publishers of romance novels.

More than 900 people are attending the four-day convention sponsored by Romantic Times Bookclub Magazine. They’ll attend plenty of talks on topics such as author contracts and e-publishing.

But the 11th annual Mr. Romance competition – which helped lead to an Oxygen cable network show of the same title – is, as one attendee explained it, “the frosting.”

“It’s almost being a storyteller with your look and your physique, with your eyes and your vibe,” said David Clayton, 27, a contestant from Washington, D.C.

The model said he was getting a rapid education in the popularity of romance novels. Sales exceeded more than $1 billion in 2003, according to the most recent figures from the Romance Writers of America, a professional association.

“All of us are amazed at the excitement that this industry generates,” he said.

The competitors – ranging from a personal trainer to a mortgage broker – have been receiving plenty of attention from attendees.

“Hopefully, you already brought your common sense with you, and you know what to do and what not to do,” said contestant Ed Scott from Prescott, Ariz.

“Flirt right back with them, but know where to stop it. We cannot please to their heart’s desire. We can please to their fantasy’s desire.”

Despite the occasional breakout cover star, such as Fabio, most men won’t prosper as romance cover models, But all the contestants said they welcomed the opportunity.

The winner receives a trip to New York City for a photo shoot. The contest, with seven judges, will be held tonight at the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis.

Even men who don’t win could end up with contacts for other modeling or promotional work, said the competition’s volunteer organizer, Cindy Walker.

“Quite often, it’s not the best-looking guy who wins the show,” said Rich Devin, who helped the men learn how to pose. “Audiences will find something charming in him.”

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