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Regency or Regency-set Historical?

By Cheryl Bolen

I had written six books--all set in the Twentieth Century and none of which have ever been published--before I decided to write a Regency-set historical. Book Number 5 (a World War II love story that was eventually published electronically) won or placed in several contests. In one of those contests, Harlequin Historical senior editor Tracy Farrell (who was final judge) told the contest coordinator to tell me she liked my writing, and if I had written a historical that took place before 1900 she'd like to see it.

I suddenly realized I could write a book set in the Regency. After all, I'd been reading the genre for so many years I'd begun to find inaccuracies in other writers' works. So in 1995 I began writing A DUKE DECEIVED, and it sold to Harlequin Historical in 1997.

At that point I joined RWA's subchapter for Regency writers, The Beau Monde. The Beau Monde has a great newsletter and an even greater authors' e-mail loop where many research questions are answered.

That is one of many e-mail author loops I subscribe to. On just about every loop this question pops up: What is the difference between a traditional Regency and a Regency-set historical? There are as many answers as there are authors.

To answer the question succinctly, I say a Regency-set historical is a 100,000-word novel with sex. A traditional Regency is 50-70,000 words without sex.

Both are set in the same era, England's period of history when King George III went mad and his son became prince regent. Technically, the Regency period lasted from 1811-1820. You'll frequently see Regencies set a few years before and a few set after.

The Regency genre was created by Englishwoman Georgette Heyer, whose wonderful novels spanned six decades, beginning in the 1920s.

I wish I could say I began reading her as a child. I didn't discover her until the 1970s, and to this day I have every book she wrote. (I wish I could say I was a child in the 1970s, too, but that would be stretching it!)

It was around the 1970s that New York began cloning Heyer's books. When I joined RWA in 1993 almost every romance publisher had a Regency line, and they were all clamoring for more authors.

Sadly, that is no longer the case. Now only two paperback houses publish traditional Regencies: Zebra and Signet. Zebras are published by Kensington, and Signet is published by NAL. Last year Avalon began publishing short (under 60,000-word) hardcover Regencies. Our own Jane Perrine is making a name for herself there.

Unfortunately, print runs for traditional Regencies are small; therefore, an author can't make a great deal of money writing them. Avalon starts its authors at just $1,000.

Zebra authors of traditional Regencies have the satisfaction of writing the novels of wit and manners that Heyer established, and they can sell a couple of books and a couple of novellas a year. Zebra is committed to keeping its Regency line because of its loyal Regency book club. (Authors, unfortunately, only receive 2 percent royalties off book club sales, which negatively affects those authors' earnings even more.)

Signet has been the top dog in Regency for the past couple of decades, but it's facing a huge crisis right now. Print runs have always been small. With the closing of 7,500 K-Mart stores--Signet's biggest account--the line is in jeopardy. Authors are being forced to take greatly reduced advances.

The outlook is much brighter for Regency-set historicals. Every house that publishes historical romances publishes books set in the Regency period.

The era is so popular that the almost the only historical authors making the BIG lists (like New York Times)--Julia Quinn, Jo Beverly, Mary Jo Putney, Catherine Coulter, Barbara Dawson Smith, Christina Dodd, Elizabeth Boyle, Mary Balough, Gaelen Foley, Stephanie Laurens--all write Regency-set historicals. Typically, sales numbers are not as good for historicals in non-Regency settings.

Unfortunately, because the era is so popular, the market is inundated. On one of the published author loops recently, Rita winner and bestseller Jo Beverly said she hopes she isn't crushed by the weight of the Regency-era popularity.

But if you really love the period and can write a sellable manuscript, Zebra Regency is always hungry for the next Georgette Heyer.

This article was first published in Happily Ever After in 2002.

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