That was the reaction I got from three or four people when I told them I’d written a romance novel about a British rugby player.
“Your main audience will be American women, right? Why would they want to read about a rugby player? They won’t even know what a rugby ball looks like.”
I stuck to my guns–partly because I’d rewritten the whole damn novel three or four times already and just couldn’t bring myself to do it again. Partly because I loved my hero, and he was a rugby player through and through. But mostly because I balked at the suggestion that women aren’t interested in things they don’t know about. Frankly, that’s bollocks.
How many of us read Regency-set romance? How many of us are actually 200 years old and have direct experience of living in Regency England? *looks around, sees everyone lowering their hands* *nods* Thought so.
Why do we read? For many of us, it’s because we want to join a different world for a while. We want to explore new places, new people, new ideas. Sure, we don’t want that world to completely baffle us, but that’s why it’s the author’s job to help readers acclimate to the world she’s created.
Rugby might not be a major sport in the U.S., but I think that makes it more attractive to my readers. I’ve lost count of the number of readers who’ve said, “I knew nothing about rugby before I read this book, but now I really want to go to a match.” What a massive compliment that is!
I’m happy to say that my rugby-playing hero was the big reason Angela James, Executive Editor of Carina Press, requested to read my full manuscript. When I finished my pitch, she said, “You had me at rugby. I just let you finish the pitch so you could practice it.” For her, my hero’s unusual sport was a turn-on, not a turn-off. And I’ll never forget what she said at the very end of the pitch: “Who knows? This might be your story about how you just needed to get your manuscript in front of the right person.”
And she was right! Not only that, but that one manuscript became my debut novel, Knowing the Score, and it sparked a series about the London Legends rugby team. Playing It Close came out in April, and Tempting the Player is coming out in November, and I hope there will be several more rugby players in my future.
I’m so thrilled I found that right person who was willing take a chance on me. Now that I’m published, I just have to get my story in front of the “right” readers, those who are looking for something different.
So that’s the worst advice I’ve ever received: changing my hero’s entire character to fit a strange notion that American women are too ignorant to learn a bit about a new sport.
My best advice for my fellow writers? Be true to your characters and their story. If you have an unusual story, you might be limiting your audience, but the ones who discover your books will remember them forever.
Would it dissuade you from reading a book if you didn’t know anything about the main character’s career? If you’re unfamiliar with how rugby’s played, what associations do you have with it? Writers: Have you ever been told to change a crucial element of your story to make it more commercial?