Monday, February 06, 2023

A snippet of romance history

This is probably not very interesting, but since I came across it, I thought I might as well share, since it provides some insight into romance publishing in the 1970s and (possibly, since this is very outdated) some suggestions about how writing romance can help improve other types of writing. It's the opening paragraphs of

Reid, Joy. 1995. "Developing ESL Writing Materials for Publication or Writing as a Learning Experience." Material Writer's Guide. Ed. Patrica Byrd. New York: Heinle & Heinle Publishers. 64-78.

My initial experience with book publishing came not with my first ESL [English as a Second Language] composition textbook but rather with two “pristine” romances. I was teaching a continuing education literature course when one of the nontraditional students approached me and suggested that we should write a book together. She was interested in the romance genre, which I had never read. So I read a dozen, and I thought, “Shucks. I could write one of these.” The eventual result was Orchids for Hilary, a manuscript we mailed (under our pseudonym, Shannon Sayer), uninvited, to the top publisher, Harlequin Romances. Three months later we received a letter indicating that Harlequin would accept the manuscript. Because we had visions of a long and lucrative career as romance writers, we began to write a second romance. Several months passed and we heard again from Harlequin; this time we were informed that there had been a change of editors and a change of mind — our heroine was too competent, the letter stated. Depressed, my coauthor dropped out. In some desperation, I investigated Literary Marketplace, the reference book that lists and describes publishers alphabetically. I mailed Orchids to Avalon Books (the first potential publisher I encountered), and then completed Summer of Pearls. Both manuscripts were published; I never saw either galleys or page proofs — the little, Nancy Drew-like hardbacks simply arrived. The wealth and fame I had anticipated evaporated, and I discovered that sitting alone in my living room, without the pleasures of collaboration, trying to think about what my characters were eating and wearing, was really boring work.

In retrospect, my coauthor and I should have sought out an agent to market and negotiate for us; unlike authors in the world of textbooks, most first-time fiction authors work through an agent. In addition, we should have fired off an immediate reply to the new editor’s letter, asking for specifics about how to revise our manuscript in order to fulfill her expectations. But we didn’t know enough about publishing to do that, and so the opportunity passed. Occasionally I receive a small check when one or the other book is translated into Swedish or used by a British soap opera; otherwise the books served only as a learning experience, particularly about my own writing and about the teaching of academic discourse. Writing “recipe” romances, for example, forced me to reexamine my own prose: to eliminate semicolons (successful romance writers do not use them), to embed short strings of descriptive adjectives (difficult for an academic writer), to be alert for “the less I know, the more I write” syndrome, and to recognize my tendency to use multisyllabic words when inspiration (and clear, short vocabulary) evade me. As a result of what I learned about my own prose, I found that in my native English speaker (NES) and ESL classes I was better able to analyze discourse, audience, and genres in ways that made my teaching of the processes and products of academic prose clearer. (64-65)

Orchids for Hilary was published in 1978 and can be found online here. I haven't read it to see what the second Harlequin editor considered to be "too competent."

1 comment:

  1. "shucks, I could write one of these"

    I wonder how many times I've heard that.

    And the interesting part is that I've heard/seen it coming both from people who don't care for romance, and thus speak with disdain and scorn and rarely (if ever) suceed, and from people who have gone on to sustain a decent career writing and publishing genre romance.