Writing Tips

Commercial Fiction and Other Profanities

Bestsellers area in bookstore - many books in the background.By Denise Zaza, Senior Editor, Harlequin Books

The oldest cliché around has to be about writing the great novel that will stand the test of time.  But really how many authors have done that?  If you can write a book that sells like gangbusters, I think that is pretty neat.  Not that I want to seem unsophisticated.   Yes, reading literary fiction is instructive and inspiring and essential.  Writing with scholarly excellence is a massive achievement that often comes with industry accolades and awards.  The creative process more than cold hard profit drives success, which is the highest ideal for art.

In my opinion though writing any manuscript that sells is a triumph.  But let’s face it, on the whole popular fiction is considered pulp—homogenized.  Generally it has been my experience that romance novels have the worst rap.  In fact I was once introduced at a family gathering as someone who is “polluting the earth with romances.”  (Nice to meet everyone, I’ll have the sanguine soup.)  Whether it all started way back with the inexpensive process of publishing mass market books or the “dime store” label, we all know what people mean when there’s talk about “trashy novels.”

So why the universal hang up about books or ebooks that entertain a mass audience?  There are many authors who write a lot of stories for eager romance readers.  In my view, category romance novels have value and worth and they’re often a bargain to boot.

For nearly two decades as an editor with Harlequin Books and overseeing the publication of hundreds of romantic suspense books, I’ve seen the wide appeal of commercial fiction.  I can personally attest to reading many letters from readers over the years about how uplifting, restoring and enriching the novels are.  In many cases the category books are a meaningful part of a busy life.  They offer escape and distraction.  They’re fun.  Readers depend on romance stories as an essential part of their lives.   Knowing this makes me take my job very seriously because I know how important the novels are to the readers.

Acquiring books that readers appreciate is consequential if not necessarily monumental.   But selling a lot of books is exciting.  I can only imagine the thrill for an author to gain popularity through her writing.  Not to mention the intimate partnership author and reader develop.  For me that’s real, that’s attainable and totally awesome.  (Fist pump—“Yes!”)

Come on, you all know it.  Everyone likes a good story with a happy ending.  It feels good.  Just like curling up with an old book.  Now that’s a classic that eclipses cliché.

Advice: You don’t have to write the greatest novel of all time.  Write a good story and be honest to your work.  Result: A lot of people will buy your book.  How cool is that?

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4 thoughts on “Commercial Fiction and Other Profanities”

  1. Love this. Reminds me what what Robert McKee says in this regard: “Story is not only our most prolific art form but rivals all activities–work, play, eating, exercise–for our waking hours. We tell and take in stories as much as we sleep–and even when we dream. (at the water cooler, on the bus, at the back fence, news, bedtime tales, bragging gossip…) Why? Why is so much of our life spent inside stories? Because as critic Kenneth Burke tells us, stories are equipment for living.”

  2. I’ll confess–I’m not much of a category romance reader, although I read plenty of single title romances. But then a couple of my author pals (folks who had always written single title or series books) wrote category romances…and I realized that good writing is good writing. (In case you were wondering, Candace Havens and Mindy Klasky.)

  3. I grew up on Harlequins. My mom bought them religiously every month on the first day they appeared in the stores. I loved to read and could think of nothing better to read than a story where two people fall in love and live happily ever after. Give me the Fairy Tale, man,and I am happy!!
    I especially love the series romances because they can be picked up and put down and I don’t need to have a doctorate degree to understand them.

    The best thing about them is that they take you to a place where you know you can be stress free and relaxed. Everything will eventually work out. Death, destruction and sad ending are not allowed. Who could ask for anything better?

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