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There are some who turn their nose up a little at romance novels, claiming that they aren’t sufficiently high-brow or literary. I’d have a little more sympathy for this point of view if it was shared by the majority; if romance novels were, like literary fiction, a small section of the market – liked by a few, but generally disregarded. But that’s most definitely not the case. The fact is that  romance is highly commercial: put simply, readers buy romance books. Many, many readers. Which is why authors continue to write romance, and publishers continue to snap up romance novels.

Here are some facts and figures I’ve come across about romance publishing which I found interesting:

  • In the US, romance takes the largest share of the publishing market (16.7 per cent).
  • Romance fiction generated $1.438 billion in sales in 2012 in the US, massively more than in other genres of literature, including religious/inspirational books, mystery novels, science fiction and classic literary fiction.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey sold ten million copies in six weeks.
  • The romance genre was more often at the top of bestseller lists in 2012 than any other genre.
  • Romance readers buy more books per year than readers of other genres. They also borrow more from libraries.
  • Back in 2007 (before ebook publishing took off), UK romance book sales amounted to 24 million, worth £118 million.
  • Forty-one per cent of romance book buyers have been reading romance for 20 years or more.

Sources: www.rwa.org; www.rna-uk.org.

So, if you’re a romance reader, you’re a member of a family that’s:

  • Big
  • Loyal
  • Committed
  • Influential

And, of course, united! Romance novels have the power to unite through sweeping us away into a place of happiness and reminding us what’s really important in life. The British author Philip Pulman makes the point best: ‘We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.’

When I first started writing, I wasn’t even out of knee-high-socks, and there was no means of writing open to me but the traditional pen (or pencil) and paper. Even now, I can hear the scratch of the writing implement on paper and smell the fresh ink, and these sensory memories take me to a happy place.

I recently visited an exhibition on books at the Bodleian Library, Oxford University. There I saw original, handwritten manuscripts by the likes of Tolkien and JK Rowling. And I found the sight really quite moving. There is something indisputably romantic about a story etched by its creator onto paper. It’s something of an art form in its own right. And I couldn’t help wondering at the sense of pride handwriting-authors feel when they finish a novel – not only have they finished a novel, but they’ve had the skill and discipline to write it all by hand.

By the time I was ready to begin writing novels, my little-girl socks were a thing of the past, and so, for me, was writing seriously straight onto paper. Plotting and planning, yes. Diarising. Jotting down ideas in the notebook I keep permanently to hand. But writing a 100,000-word-plus novel? In the modern era of computerisation, I knew it would make little sense for me to work laboriously on paper. And so I type in word-processing software on a laptop. Quick and efficient.

But sometimes, I wonder, is it lacking in authenticity, and in the ‘soul’ of the writers of history? How would my books transform if I took the time to write them by hand? Would the very act of handwriting increase my sense of romanticism as I write, infusing the writing further? Would slowing down and working hard to get each and every word correct first time (knowing that editing is so much harder in a written manuscript) be beneficial to my craft? Or would, in fact, the reduction of speed and the introduction of close scrutiny for each and every word lead to less creative, less free writing? The first draft would be, I know, a thing of beauty, to be bound and treasured in a way one can never achieve with a Microsoft Word document. But would the result merit the extra effort, the deliberate move away from modernity?

In one sense, you could equate writing to baking. When you make a cake, you want a delicious, comforting end result that sparks nostalgia in you for the cakes of your childhood. You have a choice:

  1. Buy the ingredients and make the cake entirely by hand, as your grandmother would have done. Weigh each ingredient. Combine them carefully using a spoon or hand-whisk. Knead by hand on a floured board. Get good and sticky and floury, and make your hands warm with effort.
  2. Buy a cake mix, or use a food processor. Both options make baking easier. First, the cake mix. So simple! (Have you ever wondered why all cake mixes require you to add a fresh egg? In fact, manufacturers are perfectly capable of making a mix that includes egg, and requires only water added to rehydrate. But they stopped offering this option back in the 1960s, because the ‘water-only’ mixes didn’t sell well enough – home-bakers felt guilty that ‘baking’ was that easy!) Then, the food processor. Why do any work, or get messy at all, when you can just add ingredients to a machine that will do all the mixing and kneading for you?

I’m not suggesting, of course, that computers make writing a book as simple as adding water and egg to a cake mix or throwing some flour, sugar, butter and eggs into a machine. But they undoubtedly make writing easier. Spellcheck? Inbuilt dictionary and thesaurus? Automatic formatting? Find and replace? Cut and paste? Quick deletions? Quick additions? The question is, do we wholeheartedly embrace the ease that modern technology offers us, or should we be a little more open to the ‘good old way’ of writing?

The answer, I suspect, differs for different writers. But perhaps for all of us, there’s something to be said for middle ground – for writing the odd chapter by hand, with a beautiful pen, in a beautiful notebook, in a beautiful setting, and testing how it changes the writing experience and – crucially – the words that form on the page.

If publisher Random House was looking to ramp up publicity for Helen Fielding’s new Bridget Jones novel from sizeable interest to national outrage, it certainly met its objective. For the past few days, romance readers have been in uproar at the somewhat casual delivery, in the Sunday Times magazine, of truly devastating news about the novel.

Anyone who’s read a Bridget Jones novel or watched the film would be forgiven for being really quite shocked. So may you be if you read the book’s blurb and thought it signalled clearly that this was light, witty, edgy romance like its predecessors:

Bridget Jones—one of the most beloved characters in modern literature (v.g.)—is back! In Helen Fielding’s wildly funny, hotly anticipated new novel, Bridget faces a few rather pressing questions:

What do you do when your girlfriend’s sixtieth birthday party is the same day as your boyfriend’s thirtieth? Is it better to die of Botox or die of loneliness because you’re so wrinkly? Is it wrong to lie about your age when online dating? Is it morally wrong to have a blow-dry when one of your children has head lice? Is it normal to be too vain to put on your reading glasses when checking your toy boy for head lice? Does the Dalai Lama actually tweet or is it his assistant? Is it normal to get fewer followers the more you tweet? Is technology now the fifth element? Or is that wood? If you put lip plumper on your hands do you get plump hands? Is sleeping with someone after two dates and six weeks of texting the same as getting married after two meetings and six months of letter writing in Jane Austen’s day?

Pondering these and other modern dilemmas, Bridget Jones stumbles through the challenges of loss, single motherhood, tweeting, texting, technology, and rediscovering her sexuality in—Warning! Bad, outdated phrase approaching!—middle age.

In a triumphant return after fourteen years of silence, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy is timely, tender, touching, page-turning, witty, wise, outrageous, and bloody hilarious.

Sounds like a jolly read, doesn’t it? Doesn’t sound like a book which is based on the foundation that Bridget’s happy-ever-after, so carefully built up to in books two and three, has apparently been decimated with the death of Mark Darcy.

My first thought, when I heard the news, was: ‘You can’t kill Mark Darcy!’ He’s a seminal character, both literary and romantically. The first man to utter those ‘just the way you are’ words that made millions of women melt. But more than that: he’s inextricably linked to Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pride and Prejudice. Kill Mark Darcy, and you effectively kill Fitzwilliam too. Sacrilegious!

What do you think? Is there room, in the ultimate ‘chicklit’, for such a culling of a hero? Can the book be ‘witty, wise, outrageous, and bloody hilarious’ when Mark Darcy is dead?

Social media has been bursting with dismayed women. Many are angry. Some are saying they won’t read the book at all now. I wonder, though. In order to really have an opinion, and see whether Helen Fielding has destroyed the love for Bridget Jones or, in fact, cemented it, you have to read the book. Perhaps, in fact, this is very clever and deliberate marketing. Perhaps the death of Darcy will see this book reach the top of the bestsellers’ lists. If so, I hope it’s for the right reason: because the book is great; not because people are buying it and reading it only to criticise it.

Will I read it? I’m not sure. I love a happy ending. I loved the Bridget and Mark happy ending in the last book. It’s hard to imagine getting the same ‘ahhh’ feeling again. But perhaps.

We live at a time when the cult of the celebrity has become so normalised and strong that it has spilled out of show business and into the domain of publishing. No longer is a career choice to be a writer one that guarantees you a nice, quiet life writing alone in your romantic garret: to be an author, these days, is to be ‘out there’, interacting with readers and other writers. It is also, once you reach a certain pinnacle of success, a job that can earn you a range of accolades, from the highly respected to the weird and wonderful.

Following are some examples of author accolades. I wonder, which of the following would you, as an author, most like to have? Which, as a reader, do you think is the highest honour? Which would you add to the list, real or fantasy? I would love to hear your thoughts!

The special edition book

Fans of the Twilight series already owned all of Stephenie Meyer’s novels. So what to do when the publishers republished them all, but this time with white covers, not black, and red-edged pages? Well, flock out and buy the books all over again is the answer!

 

 

The award

Whether it’s a Booker Prize or a book voucher from a local newspaper’s book competition, what author doesn’t love an award?

 

 

 

The film adaptation

Take the recent City of Bones film based on Cassandra Clare’s bestselling novel series. Cassandra told interviewees that when she found out her book was getting published, she went out for a drink with friends. And when she found out a film was to be made of her book? She flew all her friends toFrance for a huge party!

 

 

The ‘music inspired by’

Whether it’s a book soundtrack, or simply a concept or line from your book that inspires a musician, what a way to be immortalised. For example, consider these book-inspired songs:Don’t Stand So Close to Me’ by The Police (inspired by Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita); ‘Animals’ by Pink Floyd (inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm); and ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Bob Dylan (inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).

 

 

The doll of your character

On Amazon, for example, for a mere £119 (!) you can purchase a Barbie Galadriel doll from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

 

 

 

The quote on a mug…

… or a t-shirt, or a cushion, or a poster, or a chocolate bar. Take a look at http://www.theliterarygiftcompany.com for a vast array of such merchandise.

 

 

 

The honorary degree

JK Rowling, for example, received an honorary degree fromHarvardUniversityfollowing the success of the Harry Potter series.

 

 

 

The namesake

Whether a college, a library, a street, a park or – if you’re Scottish sci-fi author Iain Banks, an asteroid!

 

 

 

 

The national day

In the UK, for example, popular children’s author Roald Dahl is remembered fondly on his birthday, 13 September, with events held nationwide. See http://www.roalddahlday.info/.

 

 

 

The tourist attraction

A museum, a visitors’ centre or perhaps even a ride at a theme park.

 

A festival

Rochester, England, for example, is home to two annual festivals each year honouring local writer Charles Dickens: the Dickens Summer Festival and the Dickensian Christmas Festival, set around the streets and castle.

The period, in 2011/12, that began with signing a publishing contract for my debut novel, Burning Embers, and ended with holding the said novel in my hands was one of the most exciting and memorable of my life. And in the past months, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the process all over again, as my next novel, The Echoes of Love, nears its publication date of November 2013.

Today, I thought I’d share with you the highlights for me of taking a body of work which represents countless hours of effort and tender crafting (but is, effectively, a simple word document) and transforming it into a ‘proper’ book.

1.  Signing the contract

Usually, signing paperwork is a simple and somewhat tedious administrative task. Not when it’s for book publication, I find! Then, signing my name leaves me with a little, secret smile on my face for the day.

2. Finalising the text

By the time my book is in the editorial process, it’s been a while since I finished writing it. So I can return to it with fresh eyes, and work with the editor to polish it until it shines. It’s at this point the words shift from representing something I wrote mostly for me, because I loved the story, to that which others will read and – I hope – enjoy.

3. Creating the cover

I’m passionate about art in all its forms, and to me book cover design is very much an art form. For The Echoes of Love, I loved discussing with the publishing team the key themes of my book and the feel I’d love the cover to convey. Subsequently, I received several covers to comment on, and I was delighted with them all – but most especially with the one that was chosen. And then, of course, followed the cover reveal day. Such fun!

4. Laying the path for marketing

Back when Burning Embers was in the publishing pipeline, marketing was a whole new, unexplored world for me – and, I confess, a little daunting in its magnitude. But for my new book, I’m positively enjoying the process of drawing up a marketing plan and sharing news. The Echoes of Love is set in a most romantic country,Italy, and there is so much to share about the setting and characters and background in the coming months. I’m looking forward to it.

5. Planning the publication party

At the end of the process, which really began the day I conceived the idea for the book, a celebration is in order! My biggest champions are my husband, my son and my daughter, and they are all as excited as I am when a courier arrives with the box of first editions.

The moment I’ve awaiting most  eagerly…

So after the whirlwind of the writing and then the publishing processes, what next? The best moment of all for me: readers reading the book. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than reading a review of my novel. With Burning Embers, I have been quite swept away by the reviews, and I so hope that my readers will similarly get lost in the world of Paulo and Venetia in The Echoes of Love.

And then?

Well, I write another book, of course! My next is set in another eminently romantic country: Spain. And of course, I will share news of its publication on this blog as soon as I am able.

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