I’m known for asking a lot of questions. A lot of questions. Particularly of my author friends. And when I launched the Author Up Close series in 2019, my goal was to share some of their knowledge and wisdom with other writers. The series resonated with so many, I’ve decided to continue it in 2020. The information these authors share provides a unique inside look at the industry, what it often takes to break in, and helpful advice on how to handle the business on your own terms. Today’s Q&A with Regency and Historical Romance writer Vanessa Riley tackles all of that, and I’m delighted I had the opportunity to interview her.
I’ve been Facebook friends with Vanessa for years, but we only met in person when I moderated a panel discussion at the 2018 Decatur Book Festival. The panel, entitled Empowering Women with Romance: The Literature of Hope and Resistance, offered a modern, liberating take on the romance genre. One of the highlights was Vanessa sharing about the opposition she faced from some in the publishing industry regarding the viability of diverse regency stories. In my Q&A with her, she discusses how wrong these gatekeepers were, her sink or swim moment, and her recent print deal with William Morrow.
GW: You’ve got quite an interesting path-to-publishing story, particularly surrounding your serialized Christian regency saga, The Bargain. Will you share a little about what inspired you to write and publish that series yourself?
VR: My path is a little different. I’ve always been drawn to telling Regency Era stories. Faith is very important to me, so all my novels have those threads. I had been traditionally published in 2013 and acquired an agent, but no one thought there was an audience for diverse Regency stories. One look at the 10,000 to 20,000 free blacks living in London or any of England’s colonies, and you’ll see that the period is very diverse, but no traditional publisher wanted these, and I could no longer ignore the voices of those who looked like me, who lived and loved and found ways to survive.
I was at a crossroads. No publisher was going to take the risk to find this audience and prove me right. I had to do it. That was the genesis of The Bargain, a serialized tale featuring a proud African American maid who ends up sailing with her employer to the South African colony of Port Elizabeth. This was my sink or swim moment. I indie-published this novella and was surprised by the marketplace reaction. It sold over 1,000 copies in two weeks, with no advertisement or marketing other than a few posts on Twitter or Facebook. I’d proven there was a market for diverse Regencies. I also made folks hungry for more of this story. They wanted to know what happened to my characters Precious and Gareth. I had to hunker down and write. It was released in four serials because that was as fast as I could write. [Read more…]