- by Olivia Rupprecht
- Series Creator TRUE VOWS, the first Reality-Based Romance™ series
At a very early stage in my publishing career, I had a pestering desire to do something noble in the book business. Sure, we New York assistants all dreamed about answering the phones and searching the slush piles for the “famous editors” we assisted, and then climbed the ladders ourselves with even greater ambitions of buying our first book, and then once we were promoted to official acquisitions editors (if we didn’t leave the biz first), dreams of the New York Times bestsellers list danced in our heads. But where was the nobility in it all?
I wanted to create something new, not reinvent the wheel, and I wanted to take chances and turn heads and do all of those sexy things that ambitious and passionate people do. I didn’t realize that I would take the back way into what would become my personal contribution to publishing, but the back way is the route I was destined to take, and the unexpectedness of it all makes my latest publishing endeavor even sweeter.
The endeavor? It’s called True Vows, of which HCI Books is the proud publisher. I have been the editorial director for HCI Books for four years, and for those of you who aren’t quite tapped into the non-fiction publishing arena, HCI is well-known for various brand name series, self-help, recovery, and memoirs, to name a few. And before my career at HCI, I specialized in strictly non-fiction, mostly of a prescriptive nature, with no intention of trying my hand at fiction.
So when I was given the command by my publisher Peter Vegso and HCI’s sales team to “get into romance,” I knew that this was a call I had to answer, albeit very carefully. Sure, we all know that romance is working in books right now. Hell, it’s one of the few genres working in books at all (thank God something is), so my first instinct told me to not be hasty, and the close second instinct warned not to follow the formula of the big guys out there; not to offer more of the same or to pretend that publishing romance was easy. We’d die on the press before the boxes were taped up if we weren’t calculated about our new endeavor.
What business does a mid-sized non-fiction publisher have publishing romance? the industry insiders would no doubt say in response to our entry into the genre. I needed to find a way to offer something truly unique while staying true to HCI’s core pillars and publishing philosophy: “We publish people, not books.” I didn’t want to pretend to be something we weren’t.
I started to think about my own true romance. Everyone loves hearing my story (so they say), and I wish I could tell it to you here, but if we ever meet at a conference or trade show, I promise to tell it (with hand gestures and everything), only if solicited! Further, what woman doesn’t enjoy the wedding announcements in their local newspapers and reality television wedding programs on cable channels?
We are all tempted to ask “How did you two meet,” when we encounter a new couple at a gathering. Some of the courtships sound like fiction – filled with outlandish conflicts and wanderlust and even plot twists and sexy settings. So…what if we took a true-life love story and assigned that story to a bestselling romance novelist, who could apply the principles of great novel writing and thus, romanticize life? (HCI’s True Vows logo now boasts the tagline “Life … Romanticized.”)
It just so happened that I knew a romance novelist, one who had become my friend and colleague, thanks to her brilliant work as a ghost on some of the memoirs I had published for HCI. Third gut instinct: we’re onto something, but need an expert’s help. Novelists, Inc. member Olivia Rupprecht, aka Mallory Rush, responded to the idea better than I expected. I think she had a clue more than I did about the gravitas of it.
“Michele,” she said, “not only is this a terrific idea, but I believe it would be the creation of a new subgenre in the romance market.” While she noted that Dorchester continues to publish a line of magazines many of us remember from girlhood—True Confessions, True Love, True Romance—in no way were they remotely similar to the concept we’d be crazy not to explore: Full length, single-title romance novels based on real people with real stories that could compete with the best in fiction.
Got the green light from HCI’s publisher and signed Olivia on as True Vows series developer. I needed a right-hand who would offer her expertise and creativity and outreach into the romance community to help take this from concept to creation. She knew the ropes that I wanted to learn, and our collaboration on True Vows has been the most rewarding endeavor of my 13-year publishing career.
A full-fledged team, we quickly needed to scout the best true love stories and meet with potential couples (no easy task!), secure their interest, find the right novelists for each story, create an infrastructure and editorial process, research packaging concepts, give a name to the subgenre (we settled on Reality-based Romance,™ aka RB Romance™), build a website, draw up two different types of contracts (one for novelists and one for the couples), and start a pre-publication promotion, all in less than a year’s time. Of course the HCI machine, comprised of talented web marketers, book designers, and publicists had a lot to do with getting the job done.
I am pleased to say HCI did all the above and more, and is now ready to launch the first three True Vows books into the world in October 2010. We have some neat stuff happening at BEA and at the first RomCon in Denver in July, including ARC signings by our novelists and a cake cutting ceremony by a live bride and groom. True Vows has been covered in PW and Maclean’s (Canada) and in The Independent (UK), and it’s been a wonderful whirlwind of a noble venture at that.
But we wouldn’t be as ready as we are to launch the series if it weren’t for the inaugural novelists involved, who helped give birth to HCI’s signature subgenre of RB Romance™ and pioneered it with creative force, enthusiasm, and professionalism – Judith Arnold, Alison Kent, and Julie Leto. Novelists, Inc. members all.
The idea to romanticize true love stories sounded good, but could it be executed? That was the part that we held our breaths for, and boy, oh, boy, did it execute! Arnold, Kent, and Leto put their trust and their good reputations in our hands and with no precedence stepped into unknown territory, often patiently waiting for our cues as we figured them out (sometimes on the fly).
The result: Coming this fall are the first reality-based, single title romances, including Meet Me in Manhattan by Judith Arnold, The Icing on the Cake by Alison Kent, and Hard to Hold by Julie Leto.
It is because of the stunning work of the novelists and countless hours spent by others behind the scenes that we are succeeding in a great pre-pub campaign and are now in the optimistic position to plan ahead for subsequent seasons.
So what am I looking for?
We are always looking for great true love stories both past and present, so if you have one or know someone who has one, please submit it at the True Vows website: www.truevowsbooks.com. But more importantly of tantamount importance to the line and its success is securing name-brand authors with an established fan base, who also have the writing chops to skillfully weave factual events with great story-telling techniques. In conjunction with this is pairing the right author with the sort of story they have a natural affinity for, and we are presently working on securing the rights to three more very unique true love stories that need the right novelists to do them justice.
I’m delighted to have already received some very impressive resumes, and would welcome more to review. If you are interested in being considered as a novelist for the next season of True Vows, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for warmly welcoming me into your professionally elite community. I am honored to be a part of it and hope to meet many of you in October at the Novelists, Inc. Brainstorming on the Beach conference.