Bad Romance, even outside of Lady Gaga’s context, is a complex world to navigate. Just ask Canadian novelist Jenny Holiday. Last Friday, Professor Koenig-Woodyard arranged a Q and A with the Canadian romance writer to give insight on romance publishing and what making a living as a working writer is really like.
Professor Koenig-Woodyard’s Bad Romance class deals with romance novels of the past and present, exploring issues within love and life according to characters from Darcy and Elizabeth to a long list of the Bronte Sisters’ heroines. Jenny Holiday and her books fit right into the classics with their endless ways of navigating the age-old quest to find love.
The London, Ontario resident is the author of 18 novels, and was nominated for the prestigious 2018 RITA Award for Best Contemporary Romance: Long, an award presented by the Romance Writers of America. Growing up in Minnesota, she began writing at a young age and is a USA Today bestselling author.
During the Q and A, Holiday discusses her work schedule and how making a living off writing is grueling—but it’s nothing like an office job. She says, “I work a lot. I subscribe to the buy and share—there is no muse, you just sit there and do it. I work 9-5 mostly, and sometimes into the evenings, but I‘m not writing all day every day—a lot of being a writer is not actually writing.”
Holiday also claims that most romance novelists are bound to write anywhere between two to three novels a year. This number may seem daunting to writers, published and unpublished alike. “Everyone asks that. Sometimes it clumps funny—it has to do with distribution and buyers and stuff like that.” She also mentions that people joke with her, saying that they could easily write a romance novel. The only problem? Finding the time to do it. Once they give this idea some thought, suddenly the feat is not so simple to overcome.
“The answer isn’t that I bend the space time continuum and somehow I have this trick. It’s that I don’t do a lot of stuff that I want to do. So, TV, particularly—and I’m not one of these people who says ‘I don’t have a TV’—but I don’t watch TV. I probably watch a couple movies a year on Netflix.”
Despite cutting out television, Holiday still has a good idea on what kind of novels strike with people the most. It’s apparent that there’s no secret to this either. When she knows she has a good story on her hands, it isn’t so much about the characters but about the problems they face instead. “What sells a story to a publisher—and I think in a broader way to readers—is conflict. And I think that’s true about most fiction. So it’s not so much, ‘do you have good characters?’ It’s ‘Do you have a problem?’ In our regular lives, we don’t want this, but when you’re reading about something like, ‘they met and it was lovely, and they were both great, the end,’ [this] is not a story. So, I think a part of a good story is conflict. I think that’s where I start.”
It’s evident that Holiday has been at this for so long that she seems to have the answers to most questions that anyone has about her art. Part of her success is the amount of people who read her books. However, romance novels are fueled by the obscure percentage of people who have to read them to keep the industry alive. “Wal-Mart is the brass ring. These books are in Wal-Mart, and my editor lost her mind with happiness when Wal-Mart bought [One and Only] but they’re not really competing. People who read romance novels read a lot, and they’re not going to spend 25 dollars for a hard cover, right? The price of this is low, the margins are low for the publisher, and my percentage is low to feed this market. So historically, you have to write a lot. Romance always floats the boat, yet it’s looked down upon. People say romance keeps the lights on in publishing—it’s a weird dichotomy.”
When asked to address the argument of romance novels being formulaic, Holiday writes on her website: “They totally are. They’re about people overcoming whatever stands between them and love. Characters in romance change into better versions of themselves in the process of falling in love.”