IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

This Navy vet started a romance novel business that centers sexuality and diversity

The Steam Box aims to make the reading experience pleasurable. Literally.
/ Source: TODAY

Melissa Saavedra knows romance novels spark joy, and she wants to make people's reading experiences as pleasurable as possible.


Launched on Valentine's Day 2021, Saavedra's book subscription service, The Steam Box, pairs monthly romance novels with self-care and adult items (as in, vibrators).

For Saavedra, this is the culmination of a lifetime as a book lover, and a more recent turn toward romance novels.

Prior to launching The Steam Box, Saavedra had not worked in the literary space. After two years of college, the 31-year-old joined the Navy in 2013. For four years, she was stationed on the USS America (LHA 6) before returning to college and graduating from the University of Florida. She went onto have a career in athletics.

But her love of books has deep roots. When Saavedra immigrated to the United States from Peru at 10 years old, books became her source of escape and comfort.  

Melissa Saavedra, founder of The Steam Box.
Melissa Saavedra, founder of The Steam Box.And.Nixon Photography

She remained an avid reader, but it wasn't until many years later that she discovered her true literary passion: Steamy books. Saavedra has the blockbuster novel "50 Shades of Grey," which came out in 2011, to thank.

“I was like, ‘Wait a minute,’” she tells of her decade-old discovery of the romance genre. “‘I’ve been missing out my whole life.’”

Since then, she's amassed dozens of favorites — and in the summer of 2020, she decided to share them with others. Saavedra launched her own Instagram account @bookrecsbymel in which she regularly recommends happily-ever-afters.

After building a platform and community, Saavedra thought of the idea that later became a business. Two years ago, on Feb. 13, 2021, the Steam Box was born.

Each book, hand-selected by Saavedra, is written by an author who is part of any underrepresented group of marginalized identity. She noticed a lack of representation in the romance genre with authors of color, as well as non-binary and genderqueer writers, and her mission became to diversify as many bookshelves as possible. 

“I wanted to create something that would amplify the work of authors who have been underrepresented in publishing for so long,” she says. 

Along with the books featured in the box, the self-care and adult items that accompany each read tend to be sourced from other women-owned companies — and all are picked with a purpose.

“We always wanted to create an experience with it,” she says. “We try to match little things to the book.” 

Romance novels on Melissa Saavedra's bookshelf:

Saavedra selects items that correspond with scenes in the chosen novel: for example, if a main character has a specific smell, she would work with a candle company to create that scent.

And the adult items in the box are included to emulate specific amorous acts in the book.

“You don’t want to see my browsing history,” she laughs. 

The Steam Box is offered as a quarterly, semiannual and annual subscription, and can also be purchased as a one-time box.

Subscribers, depending on what package is selected, receive a large initial box at the start of each season which includes a romance novel, an adult item and and self-care items such as bath bombs, facial masks and cleansers and candles. A second and third book are sent out at the beginning of the next two months. The Steam Box also offers a "no vibe" version, too.

Past titles have included “Twisted Love” by BookTok sensation Ana Huang, “After Hours on Milagro Street” by Angelina M. Lopez and “Mistakes Were Made” by Meryl Wilsner.

In addition to providing a platform for authors, Saavedra hopes the boxes (and all of their goodies) can help readers get in touch with themselves, emphasizing that self care takes many forms.

“Through The Steam Box, I also wanted to make sure that we were embracing our sexuality and unlearning behaviors that society has placed on us and seeing how we can move forward,” she says. 

Essentially, with this book box, Saavedra is speaking the quiet part of reading romance novels out loud — and she plans to continue to shatter stigmas surrounding sexuality in more and more public ways.

Melissa Saavedra and her monthly subscription box.
Melissa Saavedra and her monthly subscription box.And.Nixon Photography

This August, Saavedra is holding the first Steamy Lit Con in Anaheim, California With about 200 romance authors attending — 60 percent of whom are part of the BIPOC community and 20 percent part of the LGBTQ+ community. She hopes the event will turn up the heat in celebrating all voices in romance.

“What we pride ourselves in is that we wanted to prioritize BIPOC and underrepresented authors in publishing,” she says. 

These voices represent the people that make up our world, she says. Not only is it powerful to read about experiences similar to your own, Saavedra says, but also to learn about ones that are different.

“We all deserve a happily ever after, every single one of us,” Saavedra says. “It’s so important for us to be able to be seen and see other people have those happily ever afters.”