Readersforum's Blog

November 22, 2011

Nora Roberts: The woman who rewrote the rules of romantic fiction

Nora Roberts photographed at her Boonsboro B&B in Maryland. Photograph: Evelyn Hockstein/Polaris

Nora Roberts is one of the world’s bestselling authors, yet she still lives in the same house she moved to as a newly wed teenager. Carole Cadwalladr travels to Maryland to meet her.

By Carole Cadwalladr

Nora Roberts is probably the most successful novelist you’ve never heard of. She sells books like, well, they’re going out of fashion. Which of course they are, just not in Noraland. There are more than 400m Nora Roberts novels in print. Last year alone she shifted 10m books. Thirty-four Nora Roberts titles are sold every minute.

And it’s not just her sales that are mindboggling, it’s also her output. She’s prodigious. A publishing sensation. By her own estimate, it takes her around 45 days to write a novel. And then she starts the next one. “Sometimes the house has to be shovelled out so I sometimes have a day before I start the next one,” she says. “But not usually longer than that.”

The reason you probably haven’t heard of her is that Roberts writes what she refers to cryptically as “the big R”. Romance. All genres are scorned by literary types, but none more so than romance. In lit-land, it’s lower than crime, lower than horror, lower, even, than sci-fi. But then, it’s a genre written by women for women. Unless “a guy writes one and they call it something else. And it gets reviewed and made into a movie,” says Roberts. She doesn’t actually say the words “David Nicholls” or “One Day“, but they hover in the air. One Day was a breakthrough romantic novel, taken seriously by publishers, given a non-chick-lit cover, and treated as a worthy subject for reviews in broadsheet newspapers. “A woman writes it and it’s just one of those,” she says. “I mean, how long are you going to fight that battle?”

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