|Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte.Gone with the Wind and Forever Amber. The very mention of these celebrated authors and titles conjures up images of torrid romance set against vibrant historical settings. As Pocket Books editorial director Maggie Crawford puts it, "Love stories combined with history have been around practically forever." Thanks to the popularity of such 20th-century romantic writers as Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, historical romances became more clearly defined in the early '70s. Says Ballantine senior editor Shauna Summers, "Category romances were around for a long time, but it was historicals that really put Romance with a capital 'R' on the map." And that map's boundaries have expanded over the years, as historicals continue to be one of the pillars of the romance genre. Though their popularity has ebbed and flowed, publishers' output certainly hasn't slackened. According to Charis Calhoon at Romance Writers of America, "Today, historical romance sales are very healthy. Our statistics show that 586 single-title historicals were released in 2000, compared to 447 single-title contemporary romances--well over 100 more for historical." She adds that books in this category "flood the extended New York Times bestseller list year-round, and at least 10 historical romance authors broke into the NYT's and PW's top 15 for the first time this year. These new bestsellers join an already full roster of historical romance authors whose books always make the PW and NYT short list." Given the category's longevity and continued success, we wanted to examine where historical romances are today--changes in the books, the audience, the marketing--and we've asked several key players to give us their opinions.|
Publishers Weekly : What part did historicals play in the emergence of the romance category, and what part are they playing nowadays?
Gail Fortune: They were a natural outgrowth of historical fiction and sagas (The Far Pavilions, Cashelmara, The Thorn Birds, Evergreen, etc.); they added a sensuous love story to the history. Women wanted something they couldn't find in those books, so they decided to write them themselves.
Maggie Crawford: We were reading Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, who were wonderful writers, but Kathleen Woodiwiss took matters one step further. The door to the bedroom--or should I say bed chamber--stayed open. There were steamy love scenes, but they were always in good taste. Now is an exciting time to be writing historicals, because so many authors are pushing the boundaries. You can do certain things that aren't acceptable in contemporary novels--like creating a heroine whose sole purpose in life is to find a good husband. The books can be less politically correct.
Irene Goodman: The historical romance as we know it was invented by two authors: Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers. They caused something of a revolution, attracting many new readers who had never read any book except for the Bible, but also quickly finding a starved audience of women who were just waiting for books like this to come along. In no time at all, however, the genre was misunderstood. The term "bodice ripper" became handy; inexperienced editors insisted on seeing "a rape in the first 50 pages." This unattractive trend fortunately fell by the wayside, and historicals became more popular than ever.
Jennifer Enderlin: I read my first Harlequin when I was 12. I got incredibly caught up in the relationship, the courtship. I go back now and read the books from the '70s because they're so big and fat and filled with history.
Alicia Condon: The part that historicals are playing now is that they provide more of an escape or fantasy, because it is another time period and you're getting away from the here and now. The reader can easily believe that larger than life things can happen, whereas the evidence of our everyday life suggests otherwise
Tracy Farrell: As far as where they are today--their appeal--it's the fantasy that allows women to be very heroic in a very basic way. I think it has something to do with our basic hero myth. Modern women in a modern job with a modern family--well, maybe the modern-day fantasy doesn't quite do it for you. Historicals offer a very physical type of fantasy which I think not every woman has in her life.
PW : Are historicals gaining in popularity? If so, why and in what ways?
Farrell: Yes. It's one of those parts of the genre that swells and pulls back, and we're definitely on an upswing.
Brooke Borneman: We believe that historicals, instead of growing exponentially, have primarily retained their fan base over the years. Yet, there definitely is some growth, as evidenced by the fact that authors such as Bobbi Smith, Connie Mason, Elaine Barbieri and Evelyn Rogers have consistently made the USA Today and New York Times extended bestseller lists over the past year or two. These authors have been writing romance for over 20 years--and now, 20+ books into their careers, they are finally making the national lists!
Charis Calhoon: I think historical romances are on a slow but steady rise in popularity. In one instance, we've got veteran readers who are simply buying more historicals. Readers benefit from the fact that publishers today are buying books written by authors at the top of their field. As a result, so many of the historicals being released become "must haves" for devoted fans. No longer do we see just a handful of historical romance authors leading the way with one or two bestsellers a year. Now we've got so many authors--some formerly midlist, some brand-new--offering compelling historical fiction. Every new reader to historical romance finds herself happily confronted with hundreds and hundreds of backlist titles to sate her new passion.
Kate Duffy: If you look at the new titles that are jumping onto the USA Today list, clearly a large number of authors new to that list are historical romance writers. Their creative new approaches to this category ensure its longevity. For one thing, the increasing variety of settings and periods--western, Scotland, medieval, etc.--have broadened and expanded the market.
Barb Lilland: Historical romances have long been a mainstay in Christian fiction, beginning back in the '70s with Catherine Marshall's Christy, Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly books and the many popular novels from Grace Livingston Hill. While historical romance has always been a successful part of our publishing program, we are seeing a resurgence in the popularity of the historical category, and we have a number of new historicals planned for 2002.
Carrie Feron: Some of my competitors have decided that historicals have had their day and they've run to the other side of the boat, and I don't think that's necessary. I think there's still an extremely strong market for historicals.
Fortune: They're always going to continue to have their fans. Romance writers love to find little nuggets of history and build stories around them. They truly love history and get really drawn into it, and they love to do the research--and, of course, that's much easier nowadays with the Internet. Jodie Thomas, my Texas historical author, spends lots of time in moldy attics and basements reading original documents and she bases most of her stories around actual events.
Condon: Yes--maybe it isn't a huge burst but there does seem to be a steady, continuous growth. That may have something to do with the fact that romances in general are available in a wider variety of outlets than previously.
|Hearts and Flowers |
Our thanks to the following players for their contributions to this feature. In alphabetical order, they are:
Brooke Borneman, sales and marketing manager, Dorchester Publishing
Charis Calhoon, communications manager, Romance Writers of America
Alicia Condon, editorial director, Dorchester Publishing
Maggie Crawford, editorial director, Pocket Books
Kate Duffy, editorial director, Kensington Publishing
Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher and executive editor, St. Martin's Press
Tracy Farrell, senior editor and editorial coordinator, Harlequin
Carrie Feron, executive editor, Morrow
Gail Fortune, senior editor, Berkley
Leslie Gelbman, president and publisher, the Berkley Group
Irene Goodman, president, Irene Goodman Literary Agency
Martha Keenan, editor, Mira
Audrey LaFehr, executive editor, NAL
Barb Lilland, senior acquisitions editor, Bethany House
Harold Lowry, author, and president, Romance Writers of America
Shauna Summers, senior editor, Ballantine Books
Nita Taublib, deputy publisher, the Bantam Dell Publishing Group
Audrey LaFehr: I can't say that historicals en masse are gaining popularity, although individual historical romance authors such as Jo Beverley definitely stand out by showing real growth from book to book. The romance genre is cyclical, and contemporaries have been in the ascendancy lately. I wonder, though, if historicals' popularity will surge again since September 11, since our contemporary world has become an uncertain and frightening place, and historicals offer a total escape from that.
Harold Lowry: I believe there'll always be a market for historicals. It's easier to tell a story when the realities of day-to-day living aren't intruding. This is especially true for the reader who wants to get away from her day-to-day difficulties and relax with a book that takes her to a world where she never has to wash dishes, change diapers or make love to a man who's inconsiderate, overweight and reeks of beer and cigarettes.
PW : Has the demographic changed for the reader of historicals?
Lilland: I don't think so. I believe we are still talking about an immensely broad readership, from 12 to 72, although there may be more interest in historicals from the 30-something crowd, who up until this point seemed more fascinated with contemporary fiction. Traumatic world events may be turning younger women toward an interest in what is commonly thought of as simpler times.
Enderlin: Everybody from teenaged girls to grandmothers still reads historical romances, though I think the younger girls like the lighter and funnier ones. Women who read historicals are smart, savvy and educated--they're the same women who grew up reading Jane Austen.
LaFehr: I don't think the readership has changed. It encompasses every level of education, every income bracket and every ethnic background. I believe there may be growth for the genre overseas, however, judging from our increase in foreign sales. We're also seeing increased fan mail to the authors from all over the world, people who are reading either the translated edition or the exported English edition.
Borneman: Our impression is that the demographic has not changed significantly over the years. While the genre has matured, it has obviously acquired some new readers. But the genre has a very loyal fan base who have matured with it and are now introducing it to the younger generation.
Feron: I don't think it's changed all that much. It's very much the same readership--an incredibly loyal fan base that we haven't lost from the beginning, and I still find it a terrific way of breaking authors out. This year, for example, we were able to put four authors on the New York Times paperback list for the first time, three of them for multiple weeks.
Nita Taublib: Well, of course, as we're aging, the demographic is aging. I do think that the young women of today are not reading historicals in the numbers they used to; they're reading more contemporary fiction.
Shauna Summers: I'm not sure, but, of course, we always hope to gain younger readers and new readers. Having authors become really successful is critical because with success comes more readers.
PW : How has the historical category itself changed?
Goodman: The overall quality of the historical romance has gone up over the years, because authors have had plenty of time to perfect their craft, and because editors can now afford to be choosy. While historicals in the early years were always loaded with sex, they now vary tremendously in their levels of sensuality.
Calhoon: In today's historical, the hero and heroine square off with a more equal sense of power. He may still be lord of the manner, captain of the ship, hero of the battlefield, and she may still be the governess, the ward, the crofter's daughter. But she's smart, or talented, or both, and it gives her an edge; and although he enjoys a position of power, he's crippled by something that holds him back from dominating her. It cannot be said enough that historical romances today empower women. In a historical romance--in all romance--the woman wins, every time. She gets what she wants in the way of love, life and fulfillment.
Lowry: In today's historicals, women have much more access to power in every aspect of their lives. Consequently, there's been a shift away from mastering the powerful beast to working out a relationship where power and responsibility are shared.
Taublib: I think that the change in the content of historicals is very much based on how these writers have evolved, and on the sensibility of the writer and her own individual tastes and knowledge.You will find a great deal of historical detail--down to what kind of undergarments (or lack of) women wore in those times from writers with backgrounds in history. One of our romance writers, Madeline Hunter, has a Ph.D. in art history and her detail in how one of her heroines makes pottery is unbelievable. The way writers portray their women--and men--has also changed, I think due to the changes we've seen in our society. One author of ours, Mary Balogh, had her hero, instead of the female character, be, shall we say, "untried" in the bedroom.
Feron: There's a lot more empowerment these days in the female characters. These are female fantasies and they reflect the issues of the times. The books are less dark, less concerned with the deprivations of the historical period they're set in, and much more concerned about relationships.
Condon: The category has changed a great deal since its inception--the "rape and pillage" titles were popular in large part because that was the only thing there was. The pacing has changed, too. The books are shorter than they were, well under 400 pages. My hunch is that's due to the faster pace of life--people have less patience and less time to savor a longer book. There's some political correctness behind the fantasy The pirate today is different: he's got some reason why he's a pirate that makes it more palatable; the outlaw is trying to right some long-ago wrong, etc.
Duffy: There's a heightened sensuality, along with the introduction of humor. Several authors are linking their books--authors fall in love with a family, say, and the books follow the same characters for four or five or more titles. Jo Beverley is a good example. She started writing about a group of men who were at boarding school together, a company of rogues, and while at the time the books were originally published they didn't make a great deal of noise, today her front- and backlist are consistent New York Times bestsellers.
Leslie Gelbman: Many historicals nowadays are "history lite"--there's more emphasis on the characters and the relationships than on the details of a particular period. That's an adjustment to changing reader tastes. People don't want to be bogged down in the history of things. Also, there's more of a sense of political correctness. Writers of historicals today have a special challenge--to balance the historical accuracy and deliver what modern sensibilities demand. For example, there may be violence, but it's never gratuitous; it's always understood within the context of the story.
Farrell: The boundaries are loosening up. Our sights have broadened, and readers are much more accepting of different types of characters. Writers can head in directions they haven't been able to go. For example, in The China Bride, Mary Jo Putney has a heroine who was raised in China. This character probably wouldn't have been marketable 10 years ago, because of her different type of femininity and her ethnicity--she practices tai chi, her head is very Eastern.
| Lovely RITAs |
|Almost from its start, the 21-year-old Romance Writers Association (RWA) has honored the best romance books published each year. In 1982, it awarded its first Golden Medallions, as the RITAs were then known. They were renamed in 1990 for RWA cofounder Rita Clay Estrada, the group's first president. |
There are 12 annual RITAs--one for each category--with the most competitive being Best Long Contemporary Series, Best Short Contemporary Series, Best Short Historical Romance and Best First Book. Each received well over 100 entries out of 1,004 overall last year; no awards are given in categories that receive fewer than 25 entries. Submissions for the top four categories were just about even with last year for the 2001 awards, while the number of books entered overall was up 7.3%.
What makes the judging unusual is that the RWA system relies on the kindness of members. For the first round, there are several panels of volunteer judges, so that no group has to read more than eight submissions; the finalists are then read by a second panel of member judges. The scores are tabulated in June, but are kept secret for several weeks, until the summer RWA conference.
According to RWA president Harold Lowry, who has been a RITA finalist several times, the categories are somewhat fluid. "We're constantly trying to find a way to have the most effective awards. For example, we started Inspirational in 1985, dropped it and then added it again. We have a committee that's going to study the RITAs. The market's changing, and we have to see if we want to keep word counts for certain categories, if we want to have so many categories, and if the RITA would have more weight if we had just one."
For Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who won last year's Best Contemporary Single Title award for First Lady (Avon), which meant that she automatically entered the RWA Hall of Fame because it was her third RITA in the same category, the awards are "very meaningful." Like many Hall of Famers, she says, "I made the decision that if I got into the Hall of Fame, I'm not going to enter the competition anymore. I wanted to leave room for other people." Phillips's winning book was also her last trade paperback original. She went into hardcover with This Heart of Mine (Morrow; Avon paperback in February).
Last year Jo Beverley, who had already been inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame for her Regencies, won her second RITA for Best Long Historical for Devilish (Signet). Even after five awards, she still finds the RITA "a particularly prestigious award. Whenever you win, it makes it easier to sell your work." Her only complaint is, "I really do wish the publishers would get behind the RITA more and reissue the award winners."
Given the time lag between when a book is published and the awards are announced--sometimes as much as 18 months--publishers often find it impractical to reprint winning books with a RITA notice. Carrie Feron, executive editor of Morrow, has nine RITA plaques on the wall of her office, but even so, she concedes that in terms of timing it's often easier to promote the Favorite Books of the Year, announced in February. Their proximity to Valentine's Day can make for more press coverage, and they're announced closer to pub date. "For marketing purposes," says Feron, "we do more with the Favorite Book of the Year. I print 'Favorite Book of the Year' on the spine, and in the past, some accounts have made displays of the 10 favorite books."
At Silhouette, which does a number of reissues, executive senior editor Leslie Wainger notes that "the RITA is a factor we take into account. Sometimes the books get a second life because of the RITAs, but it's not a guarantee." Because the RITAs are judged by other writers, rather than by the people who buy the books, Wainger finds that winning titles may break the boundaries of the category and be a harder sell. "Sometimes," says Wainger, "they're wonderful books that aren't the bestsellers of the month." She uses the designation "RITA Award—winning author" on the cover whenever she can; "Given that we put out 70 originals a month, it's one other piece that makes the books stand out in a crowded marketplace."
While they may not yet be as popular as Oprah's Book Club selections, the RITAs have the distinction of being chosen as the best of the best by romance writers for romance readers. And starting with the 2002 awards, to be presented next summer, any romance writer can enter. They are no longer strictly an RWA affair--but they still have to have happy endings.
Enderlin: They've become a little less historical (which I personally miss); they're often lighter and funnier and incorporate the best of contemporary women's fiction. What sells today in historicals can be summed up in three phrases: really funny, really sexy, really tearjerking.
Crawford: Today the books are shorter and contain less history. There's a greater emphasis on the hero and heroine, with fewer secondary characters. There's more wit and humor, too. The sensuality is just as steamy, but it's toned down, with greater realism.
LaFehr: The heroines have become more sophisticated, more independent, and have taken more control of their lives and the direction of the story. They range in age and background and degree of experience with men (they're not all virgins by a long shot!). And this, of course, means that the heroes have changed, too. They can't win a heroine over with just physical prowess--she's more experienced and worldly, and has extremely high standards and expectations for the man she's going to give her heart to.
Summers: In general, they're more sophisticated. I think of Gaelen Foley, who's extremely sophisticated in the way that she uses historical settings and events; her characters are really larger than life. The authors of historicals have more freedom than in contemporaries to create "bigger" characters.
PW : Are some of the issues that drive contemporaries being integrated into the historicals?
Keenan: Definitely. Each generation thinks its issues are their very own issues, but in fact they're often issues that have been around for many years. Our generation cannot claim, for example, that we invented spousal abuse. Even though you're writing historicals, you're writing in the modern day and that needs to be considered in terms of subject matter. Susan Wiggs's The Hostage is set in the 1870s, but she deals with date rape. It comes down to the sensibility of the writers and the readers
Lilland: Writers and publishers are realizing that many issues we see as "contemporary" are really timeless.
Goodman: The intrinsic appeal of the historical has always been in the modern attitude presented against a romantic, faraway setting. Virtually all the heroines are really modern women in costume--invariably spirited, intelligent, resourceful and ahead of their time.
Duffy: Contemporary sensibilities in characters' attitudes are finding their way into historicals, presenting women who are educated beyond where they possibly could have been in their time period, and women with more of a sense of possibility than society would have offered or endorsed. More and more the writers will incorporate a historical background but not let it totally dictate the characters' attitudes. Readers are more forgiving in romances in general--they'll allow somebody to be extraordinary, to have a 21st-century perspective in a historical setting.
LaFehr: I think that's a natural evolution. The best authors can make a historical heroine relevant, because women's core issues have not changed. The obstacles may be different, but the driving desires are the same--which is why some of the great historical heroines feel so contemporary and yet so authentic to their time period, and are easy for a modern reader to identify with.
Enderlin: Yes, the historicals have picked up topics relevant to our society--topics like a second marriage involving stepkids, or blended families. In The Bridal Veil, Alexis Harrington has a subplot about the second wife coming to terms with her new stepdaughter, who hates her. Barbara Dawson Smith emphasizes family in her historicals, and her last several are all about familial issues--in addition to having great sexy heroes!
Summers: Historical heroines have become modern women, because women in general want to read about 21st-century women--women that they can respect or identify with.
Condon: Yes. The heroines face the same kind of problems as today's woman--the heroines are today's woman--there are very modern issues that the heroines are facing.
Gelbman: Julie Beard is a case in point here: her newest book, The Duchess's Lover, is set in Victorian times and is about a younger man and a much older woman. She can examine the social issues while she's telling a great story.
Lowry: Yes. I wrote a series about seven brothers set in Texas after the Civil War. One of the major themes was the inability of the brothers to get along and their attempts to overcome the legacy of two horrible parents. An attempted rape was a major element of the second book; the fourth had an unwed mother trying to gain acceptance in the community. A second series began with the heroine trying to find homes for eight unmanageable orphan boys. In my most recent book, the hero had to overcome the trauma of having been sexually abused by his uncle. None of these are particularly remarkable now, but they wouldn't have been considered "masculine" enough for a hero 15 or 20 years ago.
PW : What about the packaging of historicals--how has that changed?
Enderlin: For one thing, the changes in packaging today have grown the audience. Some houses are still publishing the "clinch" covers, though we're not at St. Martin's. The main thing I try to do on a cover is evoke the mood--a combination of color, texture, typeface and graphic elements all work together to do that.
Duffy: The approach in packaging is 180 degrees from what it was--we used to be heavily dependent on what the hero and heroine looked like. We forgot for a while that this was about romance and not about the Discovery Channel. Now we want that provocative feeling, not just to get the color of her hair right. We try to make a book accessible by capturing the essence of the romance, rather than faithfully depicting the book's contents. I think we let the reader bring more of her imagination to the cover than we did a couple of years ago--the same way she brings her imagination to the story. Maybe it's that we trust the reader more now.
Feron: Today's covers have progressed pretty far: in the '70s and '80s, the lead books had pictures of the characters, now they tend to be iconic and far more creative than they used to be. We work hard to package the author's voice in the cover. So Lisa Kleypas's new book, Suddenly You, has an evocative picture of a woman's bare back on the cover (with the tagline "the most sensuous novel of the year"), whereas the cover of Julie Quinn's An Offer from a Gentleman reflects the book's more lighthearted content.
Crawford: The historicals today have less of a category look. They look more like mainstream women's fiction, with an emphasis on the author's name, the title and an artistic element that conveys the novel's setting.
PW : How has your publishing program responded to these various changes?
Condon: I like to think that we've always been on the forefront--we've never been strict about our guidelines, but rather wanted to give authors the freedom to experiment and explore new areas. I feel that the writers are closer than we are to what the public wants--because they are the public. Every romance author is a romance reader and fan, so they're responding to the zeitgeist, if you will, of the nation.
Taublib: We're attempting to focus on writers who are clever (and different ) enough so that we in turn can do something clever with them--to try to make each book special, whether it's in the packaging or the content. Sometimes it's easier to publish a writer under a brand-new name; Josie Litton is a perfect example. Something we've tried recently with great success was packaging the first two books in her trilogy together--Dream of Me/Believe in Me [Bantam, Oct.] in one 800-page volume. No matter what kind of reader you are, you always love a big, thick book, in terms of both value and content. The third book in the trilogy, Come Back to Me [Nov.] was available almost immediately. We have found that there is nothing that drives a reader to the bookstore faster than the next book in a series--especially if it's available so quickly.
Keenan: We are at a constant level in publishing historicals--about 15% of our authors are focusing on them. We need to retain a balance, and this percentage seems to be working for us now.
Farrell: One way we're trying to broaden the market is by looking at 20th-century historicals, which I think are long overdue. This is probably a case where we follow film and TV, and they've moved solidly into the 20th century, for example, with all the WWII stories. I'm not sure that we'll go that far, but certainly into the '20s and '30s.
PW : Are there new writers who are focusing strictly on historicals? If so, why do you think that is?
Duffy: There certainly are new writers focusing solely on historical romance. They have stories that they need to tell, that are set in the there and then, not the here and now, and they know that the possibilities for historical romances are limitless. It's all about the next great story, whether the person's wearing lace or Armani.
Gelbman: Some writers' voices are more appropriate for historicals, so they focus on that but pick different settings and periods so they can challenge themselves. We feel that you're never going to get the best out of writers if you don't let them have their head.
Condon: New writers are definitely drawn to historicals: it gives them the opportunity to write a story that's larger than life, more outrageous. Plus, it offers them the opportunity to research the period; they have a very great love of history that they're interested in sharing.
LaFehr: Yes, there have always been and will always be writers who never wanted to write anything else. They were drawn to historical settings long before they knew anything about publishing or genres or markets, or what's trending up or down. Their imaginations naturally connect with some period in the past. They would feel no creative energy for a contemporary story, just as most contemporary authors wouldn't consider writing a historical.
Fortune: Berkley publishes a lot of authors who write only historicals, and we're especially proud of launching many first-time authors in that category. We're launching a line this month called Highland Fling, in which a lot of the titles are by first-time authors. In fact, the first book, The Border Bride, is by a first novelist, Elizabeth English.
Taublib: There are new people who are focusing on historicals, but because it's such a crowded market, the book has to be something really special or unusual. We try to focus on the freshness of the authors' voices and finding their particular strengths.
Lilland: Because historicals are an established category with a large audience, it's a good starting point for new authors wanting to build a fan base.
Goodman: With some writers, because that's the book that they want to write, that's the book of their heart. While new writers should always be aware of market demands; they also need to follow their own interests and instincts. If you write a book that's calculated strictly for the market, that's exactly the way it will read.
| The Three Faces of Eleanor |
|Eight years after her death, Eleanor Hibbert (1906-1993)--aka Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr--continues to ride a wave of historical romance popularity. Last month, Three Rivers Press inked a deal with Hibbert's agent, Elizabeth Winick of McIntosh and Otis Inc., to reissue 10 Jean Plaidy books in trade paperback. |
"They're going to do a guaranteed first printing of 30,000 to 35,000," says Winick, who in just the past few weeks has also received requests from Eastern Europe to reprint several Plaidy titles. Crown associate editor Rachel Kahan, who acquired the books, adds, "We have gotten a lot of good feedback about the books from our reps. We're going to publish two a season, and we'll redesign the covers to give them a really elegant look."
Although the Plaidy books were long unavailable in this country outside of some large-print and audio editions, Hibbert's Victoria Holt books, which are published by Ballantine/Fawcett, have never been completely out of stock. Ballantine Books senior editor Shauna Summers attributes the longevity of Hibbert's Gothic romances to their "pass-along quality. They seem like the perfect kind of book that mothers give to teenage girls. That's when I started reading them."
Considering that some of the Plaidy historical novels are more than 50 years old, McIntosh and Otis has done well by Hibbert. They began representing her when Pat Schartle Meyrer, Hibbert's first editor, who worked on the very first Plaidy book, Beyond the Blue Hills (1947), took a job with the firm. According to Winick, it was Meyrer "who suggested that Hibbert write novels in a Jane Eyre-esque manner under a different name, Victoria Holt." The first one, The Mistress of Mellyn, was published in 1960, and the last, The Black Opal, was published just after Hibbert's death. Hibbert's other well-known series, her 17 Philippa Carr books, began with The Miracle at St. Bruno's (1972).
Altogether, Hibbert published 200 books as Plaidy, Holt and Carr, as well as under her maiden name, Eleanor Burford. Her books have been translated into 20 languages and have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. To keep up with the paperwork generated over the years, McIntosh and Otis has set aside a separate office just for Hibbert's books.
PW : Do you find writers switching among historicals and other genres--contemporaries, for example?
Farrell: Often a writer will do something different for a challenge. Take Stella Cameron: at one time, she was best known for historicals, then for a while she wrote contemporaries almost exclusively, and now she's back strong writing historicals. The switch probably gained her more readers, and then those readers will follow her as she goes back to historicals. I think the writers who survive and prosper are the ones who can switch gears and can grow with the trends--and often not just follow the trends but lead them.
Gelbman: We've always focused on letting the authors develop their own voices and though many have gone back and forth, many have stayed with historicals. Katherine Sutcliffe goes between contemporary and historicals, and is comfortable writing both. Her latest, Darkling I Listen [Jove, Sept. 2001], is a contemporary suspense; now she plans to alternate.
Summers: A great many writers write one kind of book for one publisher, other kinds for other publishers.
Feron: I do think when one is growing an author, it's much easier to keep targeting the same market; if a writer has started writing historicals, she should keep writing them. However, I find that once an author has made the transition to hardcover, there's far more growth potential if that author then switches from historicals to contemporaries.
Crawford: At Pocket, Andrea Kane wrote 13 historicals from 1991 to early last year. But she doubled her numbers--and hit the New York Times list--with the November 2000 publication of Run for Your Life, a contemporary suspense. Her latest, No Way Out, out this month, is another contemporary suspense novel and had significantly higher numbers going out the door. Who's to say Andrea might not go back and write a historical? Karen Robards is one of our bestselling authors of contemporary romantic suspense; she stopped writing historicals for 10 years and then had a new one, Scandalous, published last March with great success. She'll be following that with more paperback historicals, as she continues to write more romantic suspense.
Enderlin: If an author is talented and versatile enough to switch gears, then I'm all for it. But not many authors can wear both hats, simply because they have either a historical voice or a contemporary voice. It's rare that an author has both.
PW : Besides historicals, is there anything else coming down the track that you're focusing on?
Gelbman: We're looking to publish darker, edgier, paranornal romances. They're something different and, since we've had fan mail about it, we think it's something the audience is looking for.
Keenan: As our program expands, it opens the doors for different types of editorial. We were not going to do paranormal, but now we're publishing Maggie Shayne's vampire romances; the first one, Twilight Hunger [Mar. 2002], is her first book with Mira.
Farrell: We're launching an imprint this month, Red Dress Inc., which is kind of an offshoot of "hip lit," aimed at the 20-something crowd. They're not precisely romances, though they include romantic encounters. The search may be for Mr. Right, but the emphasis is more on the search than the end result. I guess the title of the first book says it all: See Jane Date by Melissa Senate.
Crawford: I am very interested in old twists on the historicals that might seem new to many readers, such as the gothic romance, both in historical and contemporary settings. Gothics, paranormals, time travel, ghosts, vampires--all that fun stuff--are styles that we're pursuing.
Borneman: The success of our historical line has allowed us to experiment with new sub-genres. We launched a gothic line in January, which has been enormously successful. We've also started publishing more paranormal romance as a result of the gothic line. We saw evidence that consumers wanted something darker, more imaginative in their romance. Authors such as Christine Feehan, Susan Squires and Amanda Ashley are leading the way for us into the paranormal. Today's consumer just can't seem to get enough of vampires and werewolves!
Duffy: We have an imprint called Brava, which started publishing historical erotic romances a while back, and last month we published our first contemporary erotic romance anthology, All Through the Night. In March we'll do a contemporary novel in this line, Too Much Temptation by Lori Foster. I'd tell you more, but I have to break it to the sales department first.