My books sold several million copies in print, worldwide. They were translated into Dutch, Chinese, French, Italian, German and some Oriental language I can’t determine. I got royalty reports (and checks) every six months for many years after the books’ pub dates. What I rarely saw or heard was feedback from readers from the publisher other than sales numbers. Other than some fan letters (which were always wonderful to receive), I couldn’t tell if readers loved or hated the books or their subject matters. The sales numbers didn’t reflect anything specific. I didn’t know how many were loves and treasured or returned or tossed aside and left unread. Book signings were another sporadic source but not random by any means. The readers I would meet were fans and fans didn;t retrun books or stand for hours to meet you just to tell you they aren’t going to buy your next book.
Harlequin has done extensive research on what type of cover generates the most reader approval. Apparently, women in wedding dresses and babies outsell any other cover by far. Being the marketing guru that I am (NOT!) I picked up on that and tried to come up with plots centered around . . . wait for it . . . babies and/or weddings. Coincidentally, one of my earliest books with Dell Candlelight Ecstasy was about a woman who had a one-night stand that resulted in a pregnancy and a very angry father-to-be. As I was discussing the project with my Dell editor, a very nice young man named John, he suggested I think about letting the baby die.
Of course, I was horrified. Babies don’t die in romance novels. But after thinking about it, I realized there were some interesting plot twist possibilities in his suggestion. And the fact that it simply wasn’t done was a powerful attraction to me, as a writer. The result was Passion and Possession, and to this day, I can’t read it without crying. The book did really well, and I never got but one letter from a fan that related her own very negative feelings about it. Apparently, she had suffered a miscarriage, and the book brought back bad memories. But then she finished it and loved it, but felt compelled to write me about it.
Fast forward to 2012. I put Passion and Possession up on Amazon.com, and, true to form, it started selling like hotcakes. But, my husband and I quickly noted an anomaly. We had been following the sales of all my books very closely, and even though we were always concerned when an occasional book was returned, we could chalk it up to the economy and consumers who were prone to make returns.
But what we noticed was the return rate of Passion and Possession numbered five or six books a month. That is a very high number compared to my other books. Most have zero returns with only a couple singles. I love to seek and find patterns, and after watching these numbers repeat for three months in a row, I have come to the conclusion that readers really don’t want the baby to die.
One of my first Harlequin Americans was also a pregnant woman story. Circumstances and conflicts were totally different, but there was a pregnant woman, a man and a baby. This time the baby lived. And readers loved it. Sweet Anticipation was one of my all-time best sellers, both in published form and on Kindle. It continues to outsell many of my other books two-to-one.
I, personally, think having the baby die added a depth and a fresh level of complexity to a romance novel that would have otherwise been a typical meet cute/fall in love/ break up/get back together and live happily-ever-after story. Life isn’t always pretty or predictable or happily-ever-after. But apparently, readers don’t want reality when it comes to dead babies or puppies (another no-no).
I was lucky enough to be able to write two totally separate books with very different outcomes. That’s one of the wonderful benefits of being a writer. You are the master of your universe. But now that both books are out there, making money for this humble writer, I find it fascinating that public feedback is so immediate and intense. Passion and Possession and Sweet Anticipation are both available, and it will be interesting to see whether or not the baby survives.