Monday, November 12, 2012

Wordcraft -- Romancing the readers

It’s my first time to attend “Readers and ‘ritas,” the annual conference of romance writing fans sponsored by the North Texas Fresh Fiction Readers and held this past weekend in Allen, Texas. I pick a lunch table with a couple of vacant spaces, a couple of writers I recognize -- Alexandra Allred (Damaged Goods) and Diane Kelly (Death, Taxes, and a Sequined Clutch) -- and a few people I don’t know.

I’d marked the conference’s panel on erotic fiction, “Above and Beyond Fifty Shades of Grey,” as a must-see for that afternoon. But the group at the lunch table is discussing the decision of the cheerful blonde woman next to me, Jenny Pedroza, to quit her teaching job. The conversation turns to schools and kids, and Allred’s concerns about environmental pollution. Not until we’re digging into the lunch’s buffet fajitas do I learn I’m sitting next to E.L. James’s first publisher. That's E.L. James as in Fifty Shades of Grey.

How, I wonder, did this teacher, wife and mom from Arlington, Texas, end up publishing an erotic trilogy that’s among the blockbuster fiction of the decade?

The answer is, as so often nowadays, online.

Pedroza and her publishing partner to be, fellow housewife Amanda Hayward of Hornsby, Australia, met online through a common interest in fan fiction, and started a website, The Writers Coffee Shop.

We had some really good writers, Pedroza said. One of them just happened to be another wife and mother, Erika (E.L.) James.

Pedroza credits partner Hayward with getting James to agree to publish. “Amanda worked for 10 months to get her signed,” Pedroza told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram earlier this year.

I’ve got to point out that Pedroza’s statement, “We had to do some editing to make it fit in a three-book series and had to take out any mention of Twilight,” notes the importance of a third party’s role in publishing without denigrating James’s work.

James’s work sold more than 250,000 e-books before becoming too much for the small Writers Coffee Shop publishing company to handle. It sold rights to the books to Random House in March 2012, giving Jenny Pedroza the chance to quit her day job and pursue her own writing ambitions.

The books also come up repeatedly at the conference, and not just where I’d most expect to find them. Everywhere from discussions of the cover art for romance novels (more symbolism, fewer bare-chested male models) to franker discussions of alternate sexuality following Fifty Shades’ scenes of domination and bondage, to the admonition to write from the heart rather than trying to fit the market.

Conferences attendees still debated how much trickle-down effect the trilogy will have for romance fiction. But one thing’s certain -- neither the books nor the genre they sprang from can be ignored.

To see what’s up at Fifty Shades’ old publisher, see
Jade Lee, Roz Lee, Eloise James

To see what else Fresh Fiction has to offer, see

(Next Monday -- I give another blockbuster author, Justin Cronin, and his Passage series their due. Then you tell me whether you want more advice about writing romance, from authors who do it for a living.)

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