DALLAS (AP) _ Hundreds of romance novelists have gathered to discuss their lucrative literary market and how to break into it, but they're also talking about promoting responsible sex in their passionate prose.

The convention is the biggest in the history of the Romantic Writers of America, which claims to be the largest professional writers' organization in the country, said spokeswoman Renee Clark.

More than 1,000 published and unpublished writers, agents, editors, publishers and sellers of popular romantic fiction - most of them women - are attending the meeting, which began Thursday and runs through Sunday.

For the nearly half of the group who are unpublished the convention is their best shot of breaking into the romantic fiction market and getting a share of its estimated annual U.S. sales of $250 million.

''Well, I'm hoping,'' said Weta Nichols, a Springfield, Mo., bookkeeper attending the conference for the first time and pitching eight romances and two ''faction'' books - a cross between fact and fiction - to editors and agents.

''I wrote my first one seven years ago right after my husband died and my therapist recommended that I write to get my frustration out,'' she said. ''I'm ready to retire and just write.''

Between workshops, speeches and book proposals, they are talking about promoting responsible sex in their books and about the just-released book ''The Romance Revolution,'' a look at the literary market by Austin marketing consultant Carol Thurston.

The president of the 3,400-member group, Marianne Shock of Detroit, said that four or five years ago, some romance writers began portraying their characters using birth control and taking steps to engage in sex responsibly.

''It's author's choice at this point, and it has been editor's freedom as to whether to allow that choice,'' said Ms. Shock, who has written five books.

She said that although she believes more authors are writing with social responsibility in mind, the percentage still is small.

Thurston said publishers consider romance books fantasies and think readers don't want real-world issues in them.

But she said that ''writers are much more socially conscious,'' and that most of the paperback romance readers who responded to her surveys said they support the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights and equal pay for comparable work.

''They are not blue-collar housewives who sit around watching soap operas all day as the stereotype has most people believing,'' she said. ''Sixty percent of this genre's readers are working women.''

The authors offered their views on why the books are popular.

''People are love people. They like happy endings. They like knowing what it's like to live in another time or even another place,'' Michalann Perry of Rowlett, Texas, who has written six romances and has contracted for four more.

They said the difference between real-life romances and the paperback version is that in the books, there's always a happy ending and the men always say and do just the right thing.

''A flight attendant once told me, 'Men never talk to me like that. I wish they would,''' said Maggie Davis, a Sarasota, Fla., author of 12 popular romances. ''The heroes in these books say all the things that women want to hear.''