Thanks to a query from a fellow writer, I've been doing a lot of thinking about what it takes to survive and thrive as a writer or historical romances, or any romances, for that matter. I wrote a long email response, and then thought, hey, this would work for a blog entry! So here, with a few revisions, is what I said to her:
First, a writer needs to know what's important to him or her, how each would define success as a writer, and recognize that it's not the same for everyone. One person's "thriving" may be another's "surviving," one person's "thriving" may be too stressful for another.
For some, the only true measure of success is public and "big" -- making the NYTimes list. For others, it's having a job you can do at home while the kids are small, making enough for "percs" or trips, and without the stress of trying to make it big. Or it can be something in between.
If a writer's main goal is to be on the NYTimes, they should:
1. Pay close attention to what's selling well. At the moment, it's lots of sex (or, conversely, inspirationals) and paranormals. A NYTimes bestselling author once said to me something along the lines of, "If my editor told me the only books that were really selling were set in Bolivia in 1819, I'd be writing books set in Bolivia in 1819."
2. Find a type of story that you do well and works for the vast majority of your readers, and write variations of it. Yes, there will be some differences from book to book, but if brooding noblemen are your forte? Stay with them. Let the differences come from the heroines or the details of the plot.
3. PR is your friend. Do a lot of it, as creatively as you can.
The price to pay for this sort of success? Stress (because you're at the most competitive end of the spectrum), and stereotyping, because editors and your readers may be very vocally opposed to you stepping from that path.
Other writers may also accuse you of basically prostituting your creativity for material success. But they don't understand you, don't know your history, likely have no clue what that goal is so important to you.
On the other hand, if you want to write for other reasons, pay no attention if the NYTimers think you are only claiming not to care about being on the NYTimes because you know, in your heart of hearts, you will never "make it." They will never really understand that a writer can have a different, more personal goal that is every bit as worthy. They don't understand you, don't know your history, have no clue why you hold a goal that is different from theirs.
However, there's a price to pay for marching to your own drummer and writing what you want the way you want. You may never "make it big." It may always be a struggle for you to sell. You may never get the glowing reviews if you veer from what's expected, or whatever a particular set of readers think is necessary in a romance, but you don't. You will not make the big money, either. Or get the plum speaking gigs. In other words, material success -- of the sort anybody can recognize -- and peer recognition may never come your way. But you may have a lot less stress when it comes to the actual writing, don't have to spend hours on PR or worry if you've missed something you ought to be doing that Suzy Big Author did, and can take more time for family and friends or other hobbies. You may not make huge amounts of money, but you can have enough that you don't have to worry about taking a vacation now and then, or helping put the kids through college.
It sometimes happens, for the fortunate few, that what they want to do happens to be what's hot at the moment. They are able to write what they want the way that want while riding the wave. This is the best of both worlds.
But it is rare. For the rest of us, there are decisions and sometimes compromises to be made. Reaching any goal require sacrifices and decisions, but only the individual can decide for themselves what their goal truly is and what they're prepared to do to get there. Or not.