I, Erin Knightley, have been harboring a deep, dark secret. It’s been going on for about two years now, ever since I finished my first draft of my first novel and discovered that I had unwittingly committed a romance writing sin.
When I began meeting and interacting with industry people, I naively told them about what made my work a little different from the norm. It was then that I learned that what I did in my story was a Big No No.
It started with my very first pitch appointment at Spring Fling in 2010. The agent and I were getting along famously, until she asked a pointed question. At that moment, I revealed the deep, dark secret (DDS). With eyes wide, she shook her head. “Oh no, you are never going to sell to the Big Six as it is. You’ll have to change that if you hope to get a contract.”
Never mind that she had never actually read the book—this one thing was enough to be a deal breaker with her. Fear took root within me, and though I wasn’t quite willing to change the DDS, I also no longer wanted to reveal it. I held it close to my chest, the embarrassing truth about my manuscript that was so wrong. But, of course, on occasion it came up, and I’d confess my romance writing sin, cringing all the while. I had New York Times Bestselling authors, respected friends and published writers, and even a small number of agents tell me I wouldn’t sell because of it. And they didn’t beat around the bush, either. Each time, it was a definitive response, almost always accompanied by that sad or knowing head shake.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I did have some wonderful writing friends who where very supportive (many of whom are my fellow Lady Scribes!). But that was just it: they were friends. I couldn’t help but wonder deep inside if they were just being supportive of me, as a friend. I began to get a little paranoid about the whole thing. When submitting to agents, I didn’t even mention it, crossing my fingers that they wouldn’t ask.
When I finaled in the Golden Heart last year, I was thrilled, but I also felt it was only because it was based on the first 50 pages, and the judges therefore didn’t have time to know about the DDS. I felt like a fraud as friends and colleagues congratulated me, feeling deep inside that I wouldn’t have passed muster if the truth of my story was known.
Then, as you know, I found an agent who loved the story, and miraculously, she found a publisher (a Big Six pub, Miss Agent from Spring Fling!) who felt the same way. I was vindicated! There were at least two big players in the game who believed in me, and saw it within themselves to look past the DDS. For almost 8 months, I reveled in the feel that everything would be okay, that the DDS really didn’t matter and that readers would accept me and my work regardless.
And then a funny thing happened. As the book went out for reviews, and the release date got closer and closer, all those old insecurities began to rise up all over again. Would the romance community reject me once they discovered my DDS? Would readers turn up their noses, and reviewers revolt against me? Would they throw my book across the room in frustration, or announce to the world at large that I was no romance writer?
Amazingly, little was said about it as the reviews began to trickle in. In fact, I was blessed to have many lovely reviews, each managing to chip away at those insecurities. Even so, I felt as though I was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Well guess what – this week it did.
After almost 2 years of dreading it, a reviewer finally called me out. My DDS was at last laid bare, scorned for all to see. But here is the amazing thing. Instead of the reaction I thought I would have, oddly enough it somehow set me free. By having my fear realized, I suddenly saw that it didn’t matter that some people would look down on me and my writing. No matter what you write, no matter who you are, there will always be those who don’t like your work. Just like there will be those who will. There will even be those who love it, and that makes this whole crazy career choice so very worth it. I’m proud of my book. I’m proud that it is a little different, and that it may even lift a few eyebrows.
So here’s the truth: Hi, my name is Erin Knightley, and I wrote a mainstream romance novel without any sex in it.
There, I said it. Actually, I wrote two of them, and I may even write more.
I write the books that I want to read, and the truth is, though I adore romance novels with every fiber of my being, I generally skip the sex scenes. I’m in no way offended that they are there, and more power to those who enjoy reading and writing them, but it’s simply not my thing. My favorite part of a romance is that breathless feeling of falling in love. Of discovering butterflies-in-the-stomach-inducing chemistry that makes you desperate to read the couple’s journey. I love the sizzle. I want to melt at the first kiss and have my heart ripped out at the dark moment. And more than anything I want them to have a sigh-worthy happily ever after. Those are the things I strive to capture.
So there you have it; my Deep Dark Secret revealed. On a side note, I hope this will be an inspiration to those who were told they wrote a story that would never get published. Never say never!
Now, I’m curious: will this change the way you think about me as a romance writer? Do you think sex is an integral part of a mainstream romance novel?
You know what? I’m feeling a bit sprightly :-) I’ll give away a copy of MORE THAN A STRANGER to one lucky commenter. Comment by 9PM EST tomorrow (July 4th) to enter!