Meet Michele Matrisciani, Editorial Director HCI Books

- by Olivia Rupprecht

- Series Creator TRUE VOWS, the first Reality-Based Romance™ series

Michele Matrisciani HCI Books

Michele made her own True Vow to hubby Matthew in July, 2007

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.

True Vows by HCI BooksI 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.

Meet Me in Manhattan by Judith ArnoldBut 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 Icing on the Cake by Alison KentThe 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.

Hard to Hold by Julie LetoIt 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 michelem@hcibooks.com.

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.

14 comments

  1. What an innovative idea. Romance authors often hear that what we write can’t possibly happen in real life. And here you are proving them wrong.
    Gotta love it.
    I look forward to getting my hands on these books.
    I don’t suppose you are interested in the love stories of dead people. lol I write Regencies, so none of the people in my era are around any more to tell their stories.
    No really, just joking.
    I think this is an amazing idea and knowing how the bachelor and the bachelorette have such huge followings (me inluced) I am sure it will be successful.
    Congratulations to all involved.
    Ann

  2. Thanks so much for the high five, Ann! It’s always a risk to try something creative and new, but if this succeeds not only will readers benefit from the expansion of the genre, we writers will have another source of potential income as a result of that growth.

    Alas you’re right, the Regency period might be a stretch, but if you know of anyone with a great World War II story…:-)

  3. Brilliant idea! As a (mostly) non-romance reader, this had my ears perked up in nothing flat. I look forward to the first releases.

  4. Count me in as one of those who enjoys hearing how couples ended up together. What a great idea for a series! I’m looking forward to the first releases.

  5. I’m just plain flat out thrilled to see a publisher willing to experiment with the new and different and who recognizes the value of talented writers! I’ll be snatching up the books when they hit the stands and cheering from the sidelines.

  6. First, I have to say that working with Olivia and Michele has been like a dream. My couple was fabulous and went above and beyond to make sure I had the information I needed when I needed it, which was usually right away! The book itself was a challenge, but I’m pretty happy with the outcome (I only say pretty happy because I haven’t done revisions yet, LOL!) I certainly used every tool in my writer’s toolbox to work it, but bending and stretching the brain isn’t a bad thing. I’m very curious to see what readers think…both romance readers and non-romance readers. And I can’t wait to read the other two!!!

  7. As Julie said, working on this project has been wonderful. Not only did I fall in love with my couple as I wrote about them falling in love with each other, but I learned a great deal about how a new imprint gets created and launched. Michele and Olivia included us authors in much of the decision-making.

    Julie says, rightly, that working with Michele and Olivia has been a dream. I’ve got to add that being involved in a project with Julie and Alison has also been a dream.

    I hope readers enjoy the books as much as I enjoyed writing mine!

  8. This endeavor sounds wonderful, and I bet it turns out that way. To echo Kasey, it’s thrilling to see a publisher expand an entire genre with a little creative thinking…Hmm.. make that a lot of creative thinking and a lot of work :)

    Looking forward to meeting Michele and Olivia on the beach in Florida…

    Linda

  9. What a cool concept! I do believe in Love at First Sight. On our second date, my husband said he believed something permanent would come from our relationship. We’ll be married 34 years this December. Our relatives fixed us up as a blind date while I was in town job hunting. In between interviews, I walked into a place just on chance…and they hired me for the position I wanted. Was it Fate? Maybe. It’s such fun to hear the stories of how other couples met. Wishing you success with the launch!

  10. What great well wishes and comments all around, thanks everybody! And Nancy, that is a terrific story about you and your husband. You should submit it and your resume to Michele, see what she says.

  11. Wow Michele, how exciting. TV is filled with ‘reality’ shows so obviously the public (aka readers) are drawn to glimpses into people’s lives.

    While reading your informative blog, I kept thinking about my grandparents’ love story. Sadly, my grandfather died at age 38, leaving his widow with three small children to raise before social security. I’ve long cherished the hundreds of letters they wrote each other during the last year of his life (I suspect he was murdered) when financial circumstances separated Grandpa from his family. I’ve started writing about the family tragedy as a memoir but now I’m wondering if the focus should be on their love for each other. Nana never remarried.

    Sigh. Now I’m going to spend the day thinking about my ancestors instead of meeting my deadline.
    Vella
    p.s. Your project is going to rock!

  12. I thought writing the blog entry was fun, but meeting you all (albeit virtually) is even more fun! Thank you for all your good wishes, promises of support, and for sharing your personal stories. (I didn’t mind the shout outs from Julie and Judith, either.) As Vella mentions above, TV is flooded with reality stories, and with one recent statistic I heard reporting that sadly 40% of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year, it would be a dream to be able to help people find the magic in books again, and if that means taking a cue from TV trends, then I hope we’re giving people what they are obviously telling us they want!

  13. This love story idea makes me think of my parents. They met and married in the 1920s. My mother is still alive, but her memory isn’t that good anymore. But I do remember the stories.

    She was living as a live-in housekeeper/mothers helper to a teacher. He traveled, working on the railroad. The school (small) had a program. My mother sang a song (in blackface-sorry about that). He fell in love. But at just 18 to his 24, she wouldn’t marry without her parents’ permission, and she was a little afraid of his ‘bedroom eyes.’ They traveled across the mountains to ask her parents who had been 23 & 24 when they married. They decided one of that mature age was ok. Evidently it was. He died at 94, she is now 100.

    Love the idea of ‘real’ love stories. I’ll be looking for them in the bookstore!

  14. I’vebeen reading romance novels for a number of years now , I actually devour them. I have never written a review before, but this novelwas so good I had to let people know to get it…Three Nights of Sin. It has been a while since I have read a book so good that I just want to read it again to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Anne Mallory has written 2of the best characters that I have ever read. Even the supporting characters are written well enough for you to KNOW who they are. I laughed out loud and I cried. I refuse to tell the story because I hate it when people create spoilers, just know that with this book you are getting your moneys worth . I’mnow going to go buy the rest of Anne Mallory’s novelsand if they are only half as good, they will still be wonderful. Three Nights of Sin will stay on my bookshelf forever and I know I will keep rereading it until the book falls apart.

    Romance Lover