All Grayson Reid ever wanted was to make Sarah happy, but a misunderstanding has his beautiful wife convinced he’s cheating on her. Now she’s talking divorce and Gray has never been so scared in his life. Sarah has given him one last chance to prove he loves her – but will one week be enough time?
Last month, the Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada were incredibly fortunate to welcome bestselling author Marie Force to Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is a wonderful writer – I highly recommend her Fatal series and the new Green Mountain books – and a funny, engaging speaker. Here’s what she had to say:
“No one wants to read about a supermodel.”
Those are the eight words that changed Marie Force’s life. Before she was a self-pub sensation bringing in seven figures a year, she was just a regular suburban mom who worked a day job, cared for her family, and dreamed of making it big in her traditionally published novel-writing career.
The problem was that no one wanted to publish the work that she believed in most. It took six or seven novels before she was traditionally published, and even then, there was no golden ticket to success or creative freedom. After receiving significant interest from agents and editors about True North, the tale of a supermodel who yearns to find true love, the book was ultimately rejected by every single person who had expressed interest in it.
The reason? See above.
So Ms. Force did something incredibly brave – she self-published True North. In 2010. When she was under contract to publishers for other work. This was before everyone and their dog was self-publishing, and there was a very real chance that she would get sued. So she didn’t talk about the book, just quietly put it up for sale, and waited to see what would happen.
The first month, not much happened at all. True North sold 50 copies.
Then Ms. Force put the book on sale for a week, for free. The book sold 10,000 copies that month.
After that, she didn’t look back. After years of writing, modest sales, and numerous rejections – she was once blacklisted from an agency for querying too many times in one year – Ms. Force pressed on with self-publishing. By her measure, it took 25 books to “make it big”, and she had a full time job until 2011 (she was first published traditionally in 2008). Now she has employees of her own, an e-pub formatting business, and is asked to fly all over North America to talk about the business and craft of writing.
It turns out, people did want to read about a supermodel after all.
Aside from being brave enough to go for self-publication, here are a few other things that contributed to Ms. Force’s success:
She isn’t afraid to write what she wants to write. In Marking Time, book two of the Treading Water series, eighteen-year-old Kate moves to Nashville to pursue a singing career and falls in love with her father’s 45-year-old friend. As you can imagine, publishers were not enthusiastic about this – but readers loved it.
She keeps up a constant release schedule. It was no surprise to me to hear that Ms. Force writes 6-7 books per year. Everything I’ve read or heard from “big-name” self-pub authors indicates that one of the major keys to success is substantial, sustained output.
She interacts with fans. With a Facebook group for every series, Ms. Force has given her fans dedicated spaces to discuss her books with other readers. They are free to post spoilers, debate plot points, and they get extra content (such as a free short story only available on the group page). Fans who sign up for a newsletter can also opt in to a mailing list, from which they will sometimes receive actual snail mail from the author (Christmas cards, swag, etc.).
Retro Reads is a series of posts highlighting the best, most interesting, and most hilarious trends of the fiction of yesteryear.
Most of us have probably seen this sort of watercolor-foggy, beautiful-people romance cover before. Now a staple at yard sales, used book stores, and grandmothers’ basements, this type of image is characteristic of what comes to mind when we think about category romance publishers – especially the biggest of them all, Harlequin Romance.
What many people would be surprised to discover, though, is that Harlequin wasn’t always in the romance game. In fact, it once published a much more lurid, pulpy type of book, and was responsible for such titles as Pardon My Body: A tough expose of the American Underworld and You’re Lonely When You’re Dead.
This sensationalized approach to storytelling would carry over to the romance genre with the publication of what some call the first ‘modern’ romance novel. In 1972, Avon released The Flame and the Flower, whichfeatured the heroine’s forced – ahem – deflowering, and was controversial for its graphic depiction of sex and violence.
While The Flame and the Flower‘s enthusiasm for baring it all raised eyebrows, however, it wasn’t quite a true ‘first’ in the genre – according to Wikipedia, even one of the earliest romance novels, a popular 1740 publication called Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded was criticized for its licentiousness. Pamela was revolutionary for its almost exclusive focus on courtship and its narration from the female point of view, telling the story of a young maid imprisoned by her employer. Her virtue is, in the end, rewarded with a marriage proposal from her master, but not until he foils her repeated attempts at escape and tries to rape her .
Post Pamela, the genre brought us Jane Austen’s celebrated (though comparatively tame) romantic comedies in the early 1800s. Although Austen was not a particularly prolific author, her works have permeated our public awareness and inspired countless miniseries, films, spin-offs and parodies (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, anyone?).
In the 1920s, there was a return to smut with the publication of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (read it for free at Project Gutenburg), which was banned in countries all over the world and was the focus of a storm of obscenity trials across the globe. Georgette Heyer also came onto the scene in the 20s with her extensively researched Regency romances, giving rise to an entire subgenre.
The 1950s gave way to a spate of Harlequins and other mainstream romances featuring modern “career girls” (largely nurses and stewardesses), and on the heels of Avon’s foray into romance with The Flame and the Flower in the 70s, American author Janet Dailey sold her first romance to Harlequin, becoming their first (and at the time, only) American author. Dailey’s books provided an exciting new take on the genre, and readers were eager to read more about heroines who had adventures in the American West, had explicit sex with the hero, and generally did more than sit around waiting to be rescued.
Unfortunately for Dailey, she was discredited in the eyes of many when she was sued by powerhouse author Nora Roberts in 1997 for what turned out to be blatant plagiarism. Dailey passed away in December 2013, and is noted in a Washington Post obituary as a pioneer who left a complicated legacy. La Nora, as she is known to fans, continues to dominate the industry, and with more than 200 books to her name, is one of the most prolific writers in the history of the genre (or any genre).
Today, the genre continues to evolve, with new subgenres such as paranormal romance, romantic urban fantasy, and romantic science fiction gaining in popularity over the past 15-20 years. The most recent addition to the canon of romance subgenres is New Adult, which focuses on the “growing pains” unique to protagonists in their late teens and early 20s.
Another major shift in the genre is the move by many authors toward self-publishing – but that’s a whole other post!