Sunday, October 12, 2008

Happy 25th--Meet launch author Barbara Bretton (Post #1)

Photos: the original artwork for Love Changes, and the actual launch book.

Bio: Oh, how I hate bios! All of that deadly dull information about name (Barbara Bretton) and date of birth (June 25, 1950) and geographical data (born in New York City; lives near Princeton, NJ), marital status (40 years married), and hobbies (who has time??). How do you gather up all of those dull, dry facts and turn them into something interesting?

No wonder I tell lies for a living.

Twenty-six years ago I sold my first book and my life changed forever. I sent in my manuscript on Thursday February 21, 1982 and four days later the telephone rang and I heard the amazing words, "We want to buy your book." How I wish you could have seen me. I was standing by the kitchen door of our North Babylon house, the picture of cool sophistication, as I listened to Vivian Stephens explain the terms of the deal to me. You would have thought I'd sold a first book every single day of my life. Yes, I said. Sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for calling. I look forward to our association. That cool sophistication hung on until I hung up the phone, took a deep breath, then promptly threw up on my shoes.

I was thirty-one years old, unagented, unschooled, unfamiliar with anything to do with the business of publishing. I was barely two years past a battle with cancer that turned my life upside down. To put it mildly, I was in shock. My husband was working in Manhattan at the time (and finishing up his degree at night) so it would be hours until I could break the news to him. This was too exciting to waste on a phone call. I wanted to see his face when I told him that my dream had finally come true -- and came with a $6,000 advance!

He pulled into the driveway at midnight. I was waiting in the doorway, holding a bottle of champagne and two glasses. I didn't have to say a word. He knew right away and the look of joy and pride in his eyes warms me now, years later, long after the advance faded into memory.
A lot has happened to me in the years since that first sale. I've learned that this is a difficult and demanding business (it takes a tough writer to write a tender book) and that I am happiest when I am most ignorant. I've also learned that a good friend, a writer and pal who truly understands, is worth her weight in good reviews and royalty checks.

And now for the statistics:
Barbara Bretton is the USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of more than 40 books. She currently has over ten million copies in print around the world. Her works have been translated into twelve languages in over twenty countries.
Barbara has been featured in articles in The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Romantic Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Herald News, Home News, Somerset Gazette,among others, and has been interviewed by Independent Network News Television, appeared on the Susan Stamberg Show on NPR, and been featured in an interview with Charles Osgood of WCBS, among others.

She is a Rita finalist whose awards include both Reviewer's Choice and Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times; Gold and Silver certificates from Affaire de Coeur; the RWA Region 1 Golden Leaf; and several sales awards from Bookrak. Ms. Bretton was included in a recent edition of Contemporary Authors.

Barbara loves to spend as much time as possible in Maine with her husband, walking the rocky beaches and dreaming up plots for upcoming books.

Memories of American Romance:
I was one of the launch authors back in 1983 and have a treasure trove of memories/memorabilia about that incredible time and place. Some of it is bittersweet: nothing ever is exactly as you thought it would be and publishing is no exception. We didn't all become superstars. We didn't all manage to sell a second novel. But we did experience something unique.

If you didn't live through what I think of as the Great Romance Wars, you probably won't believe me when I say that there was a time (long ago and far away) when category romance was big news. How big? Wall Street Journal big. New York Times big. Photos in Life (or was it Look?) big. I have this vague memory of Vivian gathering up the American Romance authors at the RT conference where we launched and sending us off to be photographed en masse for Look (or was it Life?) Magazine. (Anyone else remember that?) I don't recall ever seeing the end result but as a committed photo-phobe I remember quaking in my please-retouch-me boots.

There were weekly newsletters devoted to category romance – Vivian L. Jennings's painfully honest, always fascinating BOY MEETS GIRL. Dozens of independent newsletters that featured interviews and reviews. There was the sense that we were onto something, that the old notion of romance novels (which at the time was pretty much limited to "bodice rippers" and Harlequin's European-based lines) was about to be replaced by something current, something real, something—dare I say it?—respectable.

Yes, we thought we were about to gain respect. I believed it. I thought what we were doing, the books we were writing, would change the prevailing wisdom for good. No more snide comments like, "So when are you going to write a real book?" No more eye rolls at the sight of a romance cover. We were about to become relevant.

Unfortunately it never happened. In retrospect I think much of the early 80s buzz was generated by the big money we were bringing in. When sales began to flatten, when lines folded, when Harlequin devoured Silhouette, we reverted to being "those little books" in the eyes of the non-romance-reading public.

Was I bitter about that? Sure, for awhile. But I got over it. The readers who love what we do don't give a damn if the Wall Street Journal approves but for a little while there it looked like we were going to cross over into public acceptance and with that acceptance, a newfound respect.

The business was smaller back then. Everyone knew everyone else. A deal could happen at the speed of light.

To give you an idea, I sent in my manuscript on February 22, 1982 to Vivian Stephens and she phoned to make an offer on February 25th! Everyone began with a $6K advance which increased by $500 with each subsequent sale. You had to write the full ms in those days, no purchases on spec. That quick, that simple.

During my years with American, I was allowed as close to complete creative freedom as any author could wish. Feel like writing gritty realism? Go for it. Want to write about an invisible man? That’s fine too. It was exhilarating, creatively exciting, all good things.

I worked with Vivian Stephens, Kay Meierbachtol (who went on to helm Temptation – known as Secret Project 299 for awhile there), Hilari Cohen, and then the wonderful Deby Matteucci who edited me for thirteen years.

I mentioned the phrase "little book" a few paragraphs ago. That seems to be one of the favorite slams against category romance. "Oh, you write those little books?" I heard it twenty-five years ago and I hear it today.

They're not little books. They're short books that require focus, discipline, and talent to write so reading them will be effortlessly enjoyable for the millions of readers who take them into their hearts every year.

Little?! I don't think so . . .
Watch for the Q & A on October 19 this month!


Estella said...

Hi Barbara,
I have been reading your books for as long as you've been published.
It just doesn't seem like it has been over 20 years!

Jennifer Faye said...

Hi Barbara, great first sale story and interview. Thanks for taking the time to visit and share your background.

Barbara Bretton said...

Hi, Estella, and thanks for following me for so long. And I agree: where did the 20+ years go??

Thanks, Jennifer. It's a pleasure to visit the HAR blog and share some great memories with everyone.

Lee McKenzie said...

Barbara, thank you so much for joining the anniversary celebration and for sharing your amazing first sale story. I'm really looking forward to your next post on October 19th!

Barbara Bretton said...

Thanks, Lee. Q&As are a lot of fun.

Ann Roth said...

Barbara- I so enjoyed reading this! Those covers are fun to look at, too. Thank you for sharing with us.

Barbara Bretton said...

Hi, Ann! It's made me very nostalgic for what was an extremely fulfilling, creative time of my writing life. Things moved so fast--you'd never know from one day to the next what was going to happen in the industry.