HomeNovelFor love and money: the Kiwi who makes his fortune in romance novels
For love and money: the Kiwi who makes his fortune in romance novels
January 14, 2023
Sales data shows that the ‘Novels & Sagas’ category now accounts for 15% of all adult fiction book sales in New Zealand, up from 9% five years ago. Photo / Alexandra Gorn, Unsplash
Sales of romantic fiction are exploding internationally, and a New Zealand author is among those cashing in. By Sally Blundell.
Soraya Lane is living the dream. More specifically, she is living her dream of hers. As an only child Growing up in Christchurch, she loved animals: she convinced her parents to buy a horse and aspired to be a veterinarian. She loved reading, especially Bantam Books’ Saddle Club series, and writing her own stories.
She now lives with her husband Hamish and two young children on a 10-acre farm on the edge of Christchurch with two cats, two dogs, four horses, two rescue sheep, and a back catalog of 26 historical and contemporary women’s fiction titles. they topped Amazon charts and Kindle bestseller lists.
Late last year, Hachette, through her digital stablemate Bookouture, negotiated a “six-figure” deal in Germany for her new Lost Daughter series and signed up for sales in 14 other countries.
“I still can’t believe it,” says Lane, surrounded by a sea of Legos and an attentive Jack Russell named Oscar. “I’ve had this dream since I was so young.”
Lane graduated from the University of Canterbury with a law degree but, instead of entering the legal profession, she worked as a freelance journalist and copywriter while developing her writing career. In 2011, after seven rejected novels, Soldier at his door it was accepted by Harlequin Mills and Boon.
He was also doing a masters degree in creative writing and for his thesis started his first historical novel. Journey of the heartpublished in 2014 by Amazon Publishing, it has sold more than 150,000 copies.
He wrote 13 other contemporary titles for Mills and Boon; a young adult series called Starlight Stables, published under her maiden name, Soraya Nicholas; and nine other WWII historical novels for Amazon. During the first lockdown, in 2021, she presented her series Lost Daughter to Bookouture via a Zoom call. She received a contract a week later.
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Today, she sets a daily goal of 2,000 words to meet her three-book-a-year output. “If I don’t finish it before school resumes, I’ll go back to it at night.”
As she advised aspiring writers in an interview with Christchurch City Libraries, “You have to keep writing, keep learning your craft and really research what publishers want.”
On a roll
Publishers want what readers want, and an increasing number of readers want the fast-paced, emotionally charged, hopeful escapism of romantic fiction.
Lockdown isolation, Netflix series Bridgerton and the bubbling buzz of BookTok, the TikTok-connected review app, have all helped propel romance fiction to the forefront of fiction growth figures.
In the UK, sales of romance novels – including erotic, historical, paranormal, spiritual, medical and LGBTQI romance – are at their highest since 2012, when EL James’ Fifty Shades of Gray glittered on our shelves. In the US, romance book sales increased 24% in the year to March 2021.
Official sales data in New Zealand shows that the ‘novels and sagas’ category in this country now accounts for 15% of all adult fiction sales, up from 9% five years ago.
In libraries, crime still leads the genre pack, but romance writers Nora Roberts, Colleen Hoover and Nicholas Sparks are featured in Auckland’s 100 Most Borrowed Books from Libraries of 2022, and the novel makes up nearly a fourth of the 100 most popular ebook titles.
And the readers are getting younger. According to Nielsen’s 2015 Romance Book Buyer Report, 30-44 year olds read the most romance fiction, followed by 18-29 year olds (thanks to BookTok, an increasing number of these younger readers are buying print rather than digital versions).
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Romantic fiction has long been derided for its formulaic rules, including the necessary happy ending (or, at least, happy for now) and, as Romance Writers of New Zealand advise, “never, ever kill the dog.” But, as i-D magazine’s James Greig wrote last year, “it’s rare to see people making fun of crime novels for finally revealing the culprit.”
Lane attributes this “heaven-reaction” to the fact that most novels are written by women for women (84 percent of fiction readers are women). “You don’t make fun of a boy who reads detective novels, even if he reads the same author and the same type of story over and over again.”
New Zealand’s focus on literary fiction is wonderful if that’s what you love to read and write, she says. “But most of us love to read romance novels. Lots of women have busy lives and maybe they are having a hard time – it is a beautiful thing to pick up one of those novels and it will take you on a roller coaster of emotions with that guarantee of a happy ending.
Bristling with passion
Being a blend of love story and romance, not all Lost Daughters books will have a happy ending, but the first one, The Italian daughterbristling with love, passion, and the dilemmas of emotional commitment.
The story begins in 1946. Felix searches for an engagement ring for Estee, the young dancer he has loved since they were teenagers on their luck. Estee is in torment. “No,” she whispers, “I want you to propose to me when you’re truly free to.”
From here, the story jumps to present-day London, where Lily receives a tiny box, one of seven salvaged from a former home for unmarried mothers. Inside is a program from the Teatro alla Scala and a recipe written in Italian left by the grandmother’s birth mother for her lost daughter.
Who was Lily’s great-grandmother? What do these fragments reveal about Lily’s ancestry? A job as an assistant winemaker in northern Italy allows her to discover the past and embark on her romantic adventure.
The chapters are short, the plot fast. Women are usually beautiful (if they are young), elegant (if they are older) and men are “devastatingly beautiful”.
It’s a cauldron of emotions: the first kiss, the loss of a child, the alleged betrayal. Men trash lovers, couples fall into beds (sex tends to be a series of asterisks), career-focused Lily gives up: “She felt more like a character in a fairy tale; the setting, the people, the man, who seem to belong to another life.
Each of the next seven books – The Cuban daughter will be released in June – it will follow another young woman who tracks down the clues left by her grandmother that will lead her to an exotic and supposedly loving place.
“I wanted to write a series that would remind people of what it feels like to travel, be with people, fall in love,” says Lane, who came up with the idea for the series during lockdown. “I wrote the stories I wanted to read at the time.”
Despite the scornful scorn of mainstream literary publications and independent bookstores, these stories come from the cold. As Stuart Kells, an adjunct professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne wrote in 2019, romance writing is now being re-evaluated and re-evaluated. The genre’s recurring themes, including anxieties about marriage, sex, choosing a mate, and pressure to adhere to social rules, “plausibly reflect something fundamental about urban life and the human condition,” Kells wrote.
Last year, Allen & Unwin announced its new commercial fiction award, offering a $10,000 advance to novels of any genre that are, wrote editor Michelle Hurley, “well-written, propulsive, character-driven “. Auckland-based writer Josie Shapiro is the first winner.
Book festivals now host bestselling New Zealand novelists such as Jackie Ashenden, Barbara DeLeo and NYT bestselling author Nalini Singh; next month, Auckland Libraries will be holding a romantic promotion “Love is Love”.
“You read constantly that New Zealand writers can’t make a living writing fiction,” Lane says. “But if an author in America or London can achieve these things, why can’t we? I want young writers to know that you can actually dream and be successful.
The Italian daughterby Soraya Lane (Hachette, $36.99)