TORONTO Real men don't pose for the cover of a Harlequin romance. And that's something the publisher wants to change.
Representatives of Harlequin Enterprises, the world's biggest publisher of romance novel series, inspected the assets of about 200 men who lined up at a Toronto casting house on Saturday to prove they could flutter readers' hearts better than professional models.
"We're looking for some guys that are not your usual models, but have that iconic look that women go for -- sexy, sensitive, beautiful and fit," said Harlequin spokeswoman Marleah Stout, who attended the open casting.
"We want real men ... exactly what you think in your mind when you're fantasizing or imagining that ideal man."
Toronto-based Harlequin, a division of newspaper group Torstar Corp., sold 131 million books in 94 countries last year. It estimates that a third of American women have read at least one of its titles.
Until now, the publisher relied on modeling agencies to supply bodies for its concupiscent covers. But the readership -- predominantly female and averaging 42 years of age -- was upset when slight, young cover models clashed with the brawny, mature heroes described within.
"Some of the heroes are captains of industry, billionaires," said Deborah Peterson, a Harlequin creative designer and a judge at the audition. "A lot of the models were too young, men in their twenties ... and our audience likes men a little bit older, a bit bigger, than the runway models."
At the Toronto casting, chiseled hopefuls shed their shirts and donned a cowboy hat for the panel while a handful of other judges watched on closed-circuit camera in an adjacent room.
Several were asked to return for a book cover shot, where they may earn up to C$250 ($215) an hour, according to male modeling agencies.
Others indulged their own fantasies.
"From what I understand, (Harlequin) readers are women who want to escape from the relationship that they're in," said auditioner Carlos Troccoli, 30, who was tall, sturdy and muscular. "I can bring that to them."