Until recently, Australian romance writers had to court international publishers to get their work printed.
But the launch of several new digital lines in Australia has changed the game.
While digital imprints for genre fiction – or popular fiction – have been successful internationally for the past five years, Australia has lagged.
But then last year Pan Macmillan launched its digital imprint, Momentum.
Penguin Australia followed with Destiny Romance.
And Harlequin Enterprises – publisher of the famed Mills and Boon romance novels – launched Escape Publishing.
Random House will introduce Random Romance next month.
Romance Writers of Australia president Nikki Logan says while many readers still like to own hard copies of the more literary tomes, they were comfortable buying genre fiction – considered more disposable reads – digitally.
The changes to the local publishing landscape have given Australian romance writers more opportunities and greater global reach.
“Digital publishing offers a much easier submissions process,” she says.
In the past, writers would go to London or New York to pitch the book in person. More recently they’d send off their story synopsis and first chapters to UK and US publishers and wait months, even years, to hear back.
“Now publishers are much more accessible, and there is nothing stopping anyone with a story to tell getting published.”
Logan says the changes have given more quirky writers a chance to shine.
“Digital publishers seem to have an open-arms policy for the weird and wonderful,” she says.
“None of us want to write the same thing, but the reality is some of those ideas don’t always fit the usual marketing mould.
“But with digital they’ve said, ‘We can find you any readers’ – perhaps not as many – but it means they are able to take a few more risks and accept more fringe-y stories,” Logan says.
“Genre fiction itself has become much more credible.
“Romance readers have a voracious appetite for their product. E-readers and digital books have made it easier for them to download hundreds of books and keep satisfying that appetite.”
Harlequin publishing manager Haylee Nash agrees.
“They get hooked,” she says. “While other genres have been declining, at the moment people continue to buy romance, regardless of trends.”
Bar Beach romance writer Lee Christine – known as Lee Burgess in her everyday life – has had her first romantic suspense, In Safe Hands, published by Escape.
She had two other publishers interested – Penguin’s Destiny Romance and the US-based Entangled Publishing.
“It was very hard to turn down Penguin, but in the end In Safe Hands is a romantic suspense and Harlequin are still the big name in romance,” she says.
“Being my debut romance novel, I thought I was better to go with the big machine. They have a century in marketing and advertising, and they’re the go-to name in romance. They’re the ones with the clout.”
Christine attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference on the Gold Coast in August.
“I had a polished manuscript that I was ready to submit but I just held it back because there was a whole heap of workshops at the conference and I thought I might learn something and want to change it,” she says.
“I pitched it to [Escape editor] Kate Cuthbert. She loved the sound of it and said, ‘Send me the whole thing.’ I had an answer from her in a week saying they wanted to publish it.”
In Safe Hands was one of five launch titles chosen to officially kick off Escape Publishing.
Christine’s first foray into writing was as a teenager, when she would write songs.
She married and had children, and worked as a legal secretary and a legal practice manager for the family business before becoming a corporate software trainer.
“I was always fiddling with bits and pieces of writing,” she says. “I had a few false starts. I wrote a couple of articles for a skiing magazine called Powder Hound, and the editor picked them up, but then they canned the magazine.
“While I was raising a family and working I was also a TAFE teacher – teaching people how to use computers.
“I didn’t really take writing seriously until about four years ago when my youngest son got his licence and I didn’t have to do the cricket run and the music run and all of that. I stopped being a taxi,” she laughs.
“I thought, if I sit down and treat it as a day job now, now is the time to give it a serious crack.”
In Safe Hands is the third romance novel Christine has written, but the first to be published.
It was inspired by the Lara Bingle/Brendan Fevola scandal, whereby nude photographs of the model in the shower – taken by Fevola – were leaked on the internet.
It struck Christine that the fallout, in this case the eventual implosion of Bingle’s engagement to cricketer Michael Clarke, showed how actions of the past can haunt.
The heroine of Christine’s sizzling suspense is Allegra Greenwood, a high-profile criminal lawyer on a fast-track to a partnership at a conservative Sydney law firm.
A naked photograph, taken by a boyfriend in her university days, is delivered to her office.
“I come from a legal background,” Christine says. “I’m married to a solicitor, and we’ve had a legal firm in the family for 30 years – so I felt I was able to write with authenticity from that legal point of view.
“What I like about writing romance is the relationships and the emotional intensity – the fact that when you start to read it you’re reading it because you want that happy-ever-after,” she says.
Christine is now penning a spinoff to In Safe Hands called Hideaway, set in the Blue Mountains.
“Digital has a much quicker turnaround,” she says. “From the time you submit it, it can be up in three months. But it has to be as polished and on the money as possible.
“It’s not easier to get published in digital. They read about 60 manuscripts a week. Anything that’s not up to scratch and doesn’t jump straight out at them is put aside.”