The Ripped Bodice, which counts Stacey Abrams as a fan, officially opened in the Culver City neighborhood of Los Angeles in 2016. With books hanging from the ceiling, walls of antique bureaus that look like they’re ripped from a 19th century heroine’s boudoir, and a one-eyed Chihuahua roaming the aisles (their bookstore dog, Fitzwilliam Waffles)—it’s every inch the fantasy. But its impact on the community has been real, and meaningful. The shop has become a staple for prominent romance novelists on tour, as well as a bucket list destination for readers who for far too long felt marginalized within the greater literary world. And in response to their visitors’ frequent requests for more diverse stories—”Customers would walk in the door saying, “I want books with an Asian heroine. Do you have any books about people with disabilities, or with Muslim characters?” says Koch—they now publish an annual diversity report advocating for more nuanced stories in the genre.
Then in 2018, in true meet-cute fashion, a mystery woman walked into shop and offered them an opportunity to reach an even wider audience. The Ripped Bodice is only a few blocks away from the Sony Pictures lot. So when Executive Vice President of Drama Development Lauren Stein got wind of her new neighbors, she saw an opportunity. As the studio behind the juggernaut Outlander TV adaptation, Sony knows the value of a good romance. So execs tapped the Koch sisters to help them find the next great love story, giving them an overall deal to develop romance-focused projects.
With the rom-com renaissance well underway, it seems obvious to turn to romance novels for source material, but the Koch sisters say the books are shockingly underutilized. “Hollywood ignores the romance genre as a possibility for adaptation, with the exception of places like Lifetime or Hallmark,” says Koch. “[Because] Hollywood executives are men, and they’re just not that interested in a genre that’s dominated by women.”
But the Koch sisters, and the all-female team they work with at Sony, are aiming to change that—with two highly-confidential projects already in production. Of their work as the cool whisperers’ of romance, Koch says, “[Our goal] is to bridge the gap between Hollywood and the romance community. To bring the authors that our people are really excited about to the screen.”
Samantha Leach is the associate culture editor at Glamour. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @_sleach.