PHOTOS COURTESY OF BLACK LYON PUBLISHING
The center of the romance fiction industry may be downtown Manhattan, where most powerhouse publishers including Harlequin are based. But with a growing publishing house in Baker City, a top book review website out of Hillsboro and thriving communities of about 180 writers in Salem and Portland, Oregon is grabbing a slice of the $1.36 billion romance market.
Kerry Jones read her first romance novel, The Black Lyon (“The magnificent love story of a fearless lord and the woman who tamed him”) by Jude Deveraux, at age 13. She’s loved the books ever since, and three years ago she opened her own publishing company in Baker City. Black Lyon Publishing put out a book a month during its first year, some written by Jones, and is up to 20 titles a year and growing. It’s now the only Oregon publisher recognized by the trade association Romance Writers of America.
“The first thing that’s the most important is you have to get a good reputation in the industry. It’s touchy because there are so many companies out there charging authors as vanity or self-publishing firms,” she says. “Then you have to be picky with the submissions you accept. We only have maybe a 1% acceptance rate at this point.”
Paranormal romance stories, which Jones describes as “Twilight for adults,” are hot sellers right now, she says.
Paranormal is just one of many subgenres within romance, including historical, suspense and young adult. “All romances have a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending,” says the RWA website. “Beyond that, romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality ranging from sweet to extremely hot.”
Elisabeth Naughton is a Portland writer who landed a deal with New York publisher Dorchester Publishing after writing for four years with no luck. Her debut novel, Stolen Fury, came out in 2008 with a run of 30,000 copies, which she says “seem to be sold out pretty much everywhere.”
The plot revolves around Dr. Lisa Maxwell, an archeologist hunting for valuable stone carvings in Italy, who becomes entangled in a love-hate relationship with the red-blooded Rafe Sullivan. “It’s a cross between Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone,” Naughton says. She won’t know her take until she gets her royalties at the end of the year, but she’s already published two sequels: Stolen Heat and Stolen Seduction.
Romance is a volume-based business, with publishers cranking out more than 7,300 new titles nationally every year. Tammie King, owner of the Hillsboro-based review website Night Owl Romance (nightowlromance.com), sees about 200 of them a month. She and volunteer contributors review between 20 and 30 books a week on her site, which gets more than a million hits a month and brought in about $10,000 in advertising revenue last year.
Black Lyon Publishing plans to increase its collection of titles and sign more authors. But the next book is in an unusual subgenre — romance non-fiction. Jones is seeking submissions of true love stories on her site, blacklyonpublishing.com, and hopes to release them in a book this year called How We Met: Love Stories of Baker County. She also hopes to open a retail store sometime in the next year (and live happily ever after).