Monday, July 16, 2012

Debra Holland Proves That Sweet Is In!

At Last: Sweet Stories Come Into Their Own
by Debra Holland

I wrote my first novel, Wild Montana Sky, around 1998-2000. I wrote it as a traditional romance, the type I liked to read. At the time, New York publishers were still buying sweet books. The book won the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart award. On the strength of the GH win, I was able to interest an agent.

By the time my agent starting submitting Wild Montana Sky to publishers, the historical market, especially for Westerns started to decline. Sexy books became more and more popular, and within a year or two, publishers stopped acquiring sweet stories. WMS started building up a nice pile of rejections.

In the meantime, I changed genres and wrote a fantasy romance, Sower of Dreams, the first book in a trilogy. This one also wasn’t sexy. Although Sower finaled in the Golden Heart, my agent also couldn’t sell this trilogy. After a few years, he stopped trying, and I left him.

Agent number two loved Sower of Dreams and was sure she could sell it. She also tried to sell Wild Montana Sky. Because she had a good knowledge of the inspirational market, she also tried revising WMS into an inspirational. The book already had some inspirational elements. The characters went to church and sometimes prayed when things were tough. My agent had me beef up those aspects.

I balked though when it came to chopping up a moonlight swim scene, where on a sweltering night, the heroine and hero accidently found themselves at the swimming hole. Although nothing happened but a kiss, the scene simmered with sexual tension, and (in my opinion) was beautifully written. My agent’s suggested edits took the life from the scene. I refused to turn the book into an inspirational. She wasn’t pleased with me, but I had to stay true to my vision of the story.

So my books languished unsold. I intuitively believed that there was still a market for sweet/traditional books. Many romance readers will read all heat levels, from sweet to spicy. Others don’t want spicy at all. I believed those readers of traditional books might have stopped reading romance because their choices were either spicy or inspirational.

Over the years, I had a chance to talk to editors at conferences about sweet books. In the conversations, they often agreed with me about there being a sweet market. But the problem was how to find those readers, especially if they’d stopped reading romance.

Fast forward to the Amazon Kindle and later other ereaders, such as the Nook. All of a sudden readers could easily find the types of books they wanted and immediately download them. Self-publishing became a viable option instead of a shameful choice. In April of 2011, I self-published Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky. In January, book three, Stormy Montana Sky went live. My Montana Sky series really took off, selling about 95,000 in the first year. In April 2012, Wild Montana Sky made the USA Today Bestseller list.

About Wild Montana Sky – 2012 USA Today Bestseller
With the tragic death of her fiancĂ©, Elizabeth Hamilton believes she’ll never love again. The comfortable life she’s settled into with her brother in Boston is upset when he abruptly marries. Displaced by her spiteful new sister-in-law, and hoping to find a home for herself, Elizabeth allows handsome cowboy Nick Sanders to escort her from Boston to her friend’s Montana ranch. 

In Montana, Elizabeth meets attractive Caleb Livingston, a wealthy banker who strongly resembles her beloved fiancĂ©, and hopes she has a second chance at love.  Yet, she has to fight a growing attraction to Nick. In braving the dangers and hardships of the West, Elizabeth discovers unexpected strengths within herself--strengths tested when an influenza epidemic ravages the town. As a child’s life hangs in the balance, Elizabeth must choose between the man who has everything, and the one with nothing but his heart to offer.

Kindle Link: Wild Montana Sky:
About Sower of Dreams -
On the run from a death threat, Khan Laenser stumbles across a secret desert shrine where he is sent by the goddess Withea to an ancient world to reclaim the wasted land that was once a flourishing civilization.When a spurned royal suitor invades her country, killing her family, and sacking the capitol, Princess Daria flees into the wilderness, only to fall prey to a pack of marauding beasts. When Khan rescues her, they fall in love, joining forces to defeat their enemies. But will his vow to the goddess and her royal responsibilities tear them apart?
Andre Norton says, “Desert and Sea both provide vivid backgrounds for action and real emotion in Sower of Dreams—outstanding and well-presented fantasy, which will keep the book in one’s hands, eyes on the page—a GOOD READ.”
Kindle Link: Sower of Dreams:
About Debra Holland, Ph.D

Debra Holland is a three-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist and one time winner. She is the author of the self-published books, Wild Montana Sky, a sweet, historical Western romance, and its sequels, Starry Montana Sky, and Stormy Montana Sky as well as the first two books in The Gods’ Dream Trilogy, Sower of Dreams and Reaper of Dreams. In her first year of self-publishing, she sold almost 97,000 books, and Wild Montana Sky made the USA Today Bestseller list.
Kindle - Wild Montana Sky:
Kindle - Sower of Dreams:
Please welcome Debra Holland to Sweet Not Spicy by leaving a comment.


  1. Welcome to Sweet Not Spicy, Debra. I'm glad you've proven that Sweet Is In!

    Morgan Mandel
    Twitter: @MorganMandel

  2. Hi Debra, I have your Sweet Montana Sky, and wish I can find a minute to read it. I love sweet historicals. In my opinion they are more realistic than sexy historicals, and suit better the time frame in which the story takes place. I write sweet contemporary romances, but they always have a love scene toward the end, because that makes them more realistic in our days.

  3. So am I, Morgan!


    I have one of yours too, and I'm in the same boat with not having time to read. I totally agree that a woman in most historical times didn't have the luxury of pre-marital sex. She would risk losing her reputation, and all the shame and painful consequences that entailed as well as the possibility of having a bastard child out of wedlock. Current authors who write sexy historicals have to jump through such unconvincing hoops to justify the premarital sex. One or two of an author's books is okay, but after a while when it's in all of them...

  4. Good for you, Doc. I think there is not only a market for sweet, but a hunger. The spicier stuff can get, well, icky and cloying after a while, and it does basically drift into soft-core porn. As you say, in one or two books, okay, but when it's in all of them, it takes you out of the world the writer has, in theory, lovingly crafted to bring those characters to life.

  5. Thanks, Lord Jiggy. I hope there's a hunger as more and more readers rediscover (or discover) sweet books.

  6. What a great success story. Thanks so much for sharing it, Debra. I, too, have often been frustrated by agents and editors who tried to "make" my story fit the marketplace by adding or deleting elements. If the changes were organic to the story, that could work, but to simply try to mold a story or a scene into something it isn't doesn't make sense. I often wonder if they think we are just like folks on a production line and they can say "make all your widgets like this." (smile)

    I do prefer sweet romance and love the old movies where the bedroom door closed at the right time.