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
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
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
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.