50 SHADES OF ROMANCE
The best-selling success of E.L. James’ 50 Shades erotic trilogy has raised the profile of erotic romance fiction. Although extensive attention is being paid to it now, erotic romance has been around for years, and is one of many subgenres that fall under the romance banner.
Romance is frequently dismissed, but someone is reading it—romance is one of the world’s top-selling genres, commanding 14.3% of the U.S. consumer book market in 2011 and representing over 50% of all paperback books sold. In 2011, when almost all other publishing profits were down, romance fiction sales increased slightly to $1.37 billion. Its products span everything from religious/inspirational to science-fiction/romance to historicals, to bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM).
It also pays off as a writing career choice for many authors, the vast majority of whom are women. Former Ottawa resident Kathryn Smith, whose Kady Cross young adult steampunk novel, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, is the latest in a long string of
successful novels, makes over six figures annually. She is one of many authors who once belonged to the Ottawa Romance Writers’ Association (ORWA), which usually has about 50 members, about half of whom are published.
Members range from the wildly successful and famous historical romance author Jo Beverley, who was a charter member of ORWA, to recently published e-book authors still waiting for slim royalties, to every situation in between, including profitable erotica.
Local author Sharon Page had written several historical romances before creating an erotic romance set in the hidden orgies of the Regency Period. The result was her first sold manuscript. Since then, she has published 16 books, won the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award twice (and is nominated again this year), and a National Readers Choice Award.
Opal Carew started in contemporary romance then switched to contemporary erotica. Her newer books go deep into the realm of kinky, but like all good romance novels, end with a satisfying and happy romantic resolution. Smith, Page and Carew are prolific
writers, producing several books per year.
Other ORWA members past and present have written in a variety of genres. Joyce Sullivan wrote nine books for the Harlequin Intrigue line, which is a cross-genre blend of romance and thriller. Nonnie St. George wrote two traditional Regency historical
romances, charming readers with the witty repartee that characterizes the genre. Her first book was nominated for two Rita Awards, which are the romance novel equivalent of the Oscars. Jo Beverley has won several Ritas.
Romance is one of the only art forms that treats female sexual pleasure as healthy and a woman’s right. So it is no wonder romance authors also consider themselves feminists, although not the commonly perceived stereotype. They tend to champion women’s reproductive rights, literacy, freedom of expression, and the need for men and women to benefit from a committed relationship. The worldwide phenomenon that is Romance Writers of America (RWA) is also one of the largest and most supportive writing associations in the world.
Although romances tend to be hotter than they were even 10 years ago, they’re not all about sex. Love scenes cannot be gratuitous but must be essential to the character-driven story. Some books contain nothing beyond a kiss, others describe threesomes,
but the vast majority fall into sweet, spicy or hot. Romance can also cross several subgenres. For example, Page’s latest book is Blood Fire, an erotic Regency-set vampire tale.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Write a quick romance, sell it to Harlequin and spend days eating bonbons. It doesn’t quite work that way. While Smith and St. George sold to New York publishers early in their careers, they had spent considerable learning the art of commercial fiction writing, and had read reams of books in subgenres before putting pen to paper.
Other authors wrote for years before getting “the call” from an editor. Debbie Mazzuca had started writing romance with an eye to publication 25 years before her first sale. Madelle Morgan, an engineer, worked full-time, raised her son, and spent years learning her craft before Diamond Lust was published.
As for the big money, Beverley and Smith were receiving royalties for many books before being in the position to command large advances. Many authors, like Annette McCleave, who won several writing awards before publication, are still working full-time.
A lot of time and resources go towards marketing and administration. Being an author is a business like any other and the non-creative time spent can be frustrating. Any career in the arts has its risks, but the rewards are plentiful, not least working in pyjamas while creating fantasies loved by thousands.
Potential romance authors can check out ottawaromancewriters.com or rwa.org. For those who are just curious about the genre—maybe a hot romance novel would be a perfect Valentine’s Day treat.