I met Nora Roberts, the unquestionable queen of romance novels, thirty years ago next summer. The year was 1982, the place was the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, and the occasion was the second Conference of the Romance Writers of America. I had entered the Golden Heart contest and won second prize (they called it that, instead of “finalist,” in those days). Nora, on the other hand, who went everywhere on board the ship with a clipboard so she could write whenever she had five open minutes, had just sold her first novel and signed a four-book contract with Silhouette.
Nora continued to be prolific, and the next time I saw her in person was in 2001, twenty years later, and she had sold 240 books, an average of eight a year. I don’t know for sure but she’s probably sold 500 by now. As for Moi, I’ve written twenty-five (plus the eight unfinished ones on my computer) and my fifteenth published novel comes out next July, almost exactly thirty years from the day I had that first success as a romance novelist and received a golden heart necklace.
“So, you sloth,” you ask, “what were you doing all those years while Nora wrote rings around you?” (Besides not making one-hundredth of the money she did.)
I was still raising children (well, so was Nora, I’m told, although I raised four to her two) plus I ran my husband’s sideline business and then (via long distance from California) managed two condos on Maui for twenty of those years.
Those excuses aside, I did a certain amount of writing too, namely my non-fiction book, WALL STREET ON $20 A MONTH, “How to Profit From an Investment Club,” and many magazine articles on that and other topics as a result of the book. I also ghost-wrote three books: one for a woman friend about the life and death of her two daughters (sold to a religious publisher), and two for a businessman client who wanted a book to sell after his speeches and workshops. And, oh yes, many one-act plays, a full-length play and two thirty-minute radio scripts produced by American Radio Theatre.
My first romance sale came in 1984, and therefore twenty-one sold books (counting the three ghost books which I was paid for, plus three self-published books) gives me an average of eight-tenths of a book per year instead of Nora’s eight whole ones. But, not too shabby for someone who writes slowly, rewrites a lot and even writes longer books than category romance. Like several at 75,000, 90,000 and even 110,000 words.
So what did I learn that I can pass on to you? First, that Nora and I used the same title, ONCE MORE WITH FEELING, for one of our romance novels, and you have to want to do this really bad. But if you like sitting at the typewriter (first an IBM Selectric) and computer and inventing stuff, that’s good news, not bad. The hours may be long, but no longer than you choose, you can work in your jammies and fuzzy slippers, chocolate is always close at hand, and the children are (supposedly) being supervised. Unless, like mine, they’re grown up now.
And I intend to go right on doing it. How long have you been writing, my friend? Do you have any Nora Roberts stories to share?