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Making it in "Romance"

Perseverance pays off as Seaside writer breaks into market in a big way

By Bill Graffius, Seaside Signal staff

"Oh, Lord Wessington," she groaned, "I don't know." The moist lips, the biting teeth, were wreaking havoc with her senses..."

The "Romance" novel-it's a genre that represents 53% of all mass-market fiction purchased in the U.S., generating more than $1 billion in annual sales. After five years of hard work, Seaside writer Cheryl Holt has broken into this juggernaut of publishing.

Holt will be on hand at Tillamook Head Books, 150 U Street on Sunday, Dec. 19, from 2 - 4 p.m. for a special book signing appearance, autographing her first novel, "THE WAY OF THE HEART."

It's the story of a strong-willed, independent and intelligent woman living in early 18th century England and facing an arranged marriage. Because of its setting, it falls within a popular category of "Romance" novels termed Regency-style historical.

The term regency refers to that period of English history, Holt explains, "When King George was crazy, but he was still alive, and the Prince of Wales was the regent and running the country. The British aristocracy was so wealthy and so decadent."

Holt came to the business of writing along a somewhat circuitous route. She graduated from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance and French. Finding a limited job market she returned to SDSU and obtained a degree in Education. After a short stint as a public school teacher, she returned to the halls of academia again, this time earning a degree in law at the University of Wyoming. Holt has clerked for the attorney general's offices in Wyoming and Colorado and also served as a deputy district attorney prosecutor in Denver.

The high stress and hard work of the legal professional also didn't appeal to her and when her husband, an electrician, was given an opportunity to work in Hawaii, they jumped at the chance.

While there, Holt worked as a lobbyist doing mental health advocacy work at a United Way Agency.

After three years and following the birth of their first child, son Sean, they moved back to the mainland and Holt traveled through the Northwest as her husband's job took them to different states. At Thanksgiving time five years ago, however, Holt, her husband and young son, moved to Seaside where they have "bought a house and settled," Holt says.

It was about that time, she says with a laugh, that she "decided I wanted to be a writer. I was so naïve about what it takes."

Holt says originally, she wanted to write suspense novels, but discovered it was an extremely difficult arena to break into. It required an agent and agents willing to consider, let alone take on, a new unproven talent were virtually impossible to find.

After researching the various markets, she turned, instead, to the realm of the romance novel because she discovered that publishers in that genre still find many of their new writers through unsolicited manuscripts.

She readily admits the statistics of the romance genre is a large part of why she writes romance.

Despite a perception that romance writing is less than serious, she points out that it is actually "big business." The typical romance reader is college educated, Holt says, their annual household income averages over $50,000 and romance readers buy between 6-10 books per month.

According to the Romance Writers of America, 1,963 romance titles were published in 1998, representing 19.9% of all books purchased. An estimated 41 million plus people in the U.S. alone regularly read romance novels.