From The New Yorker:
Roberts, who, as J. D. Robb, also writes futuristic police procedurals, has written a hundred and eighty-two novels, in addition to short stories and novellas. In a typical year, she publishes five “new Noras”: two installments of a paperback original trilogy; two J. D. Robb books; and, each summer, what her editor, Leslie Gelbman, refers to as the “big Nora”—a hardcover stand-alone romance novel. To keep track of Roberts’s output, Amy Berkower, her agent, maintains a dry-erase board in her office, along with a running catalogue of factoids. Twenty-seven Nora Roberts books are sold every minute. There are enough Nora Roberts books in print to fill Giants Stadium four thousand times. Since 2004, the cover of each Roberts release has featured a monogram in the upper-right corner—“the official Nora Roberts seal guarantees that this is a new work by Nora Roberts.” Her books outnumber her intimates. Only one J. D. Robb novel features a dedication—to a friend whose brother is a priest, and who promised, in exchange for the mention, to get him to grant Roberts perpetual absolution.
According to Publishers Weekly, Roberts wrote three of the ten best-selling mass-market paperbacks of 2008: “The Hollow,” the second book of the “Sign of Seven” trilogy (three blood brothers find love and fight a demon); “High Noon,” a reprint of her hardcover romance from 2007 (a hostage negotiator in Savannah meets a cute sports-bar owner while talking down a suicidal bartender); and “The Pagan Stone,” the third book of her “Sign of Seven” trilogy. “The Hollow” sold 1,912,349 copies, exceeded only by “The Appeal,” by John Grisham. Penguin, Roberts’s publisher, shipped six hundred and thirty-seven thousand copies of last year’s hardback release alone, for a total of more than eight million books in 2008. In addition, Roberts sold five and a half million copies of backlist titles, and J. D. Robb sold four and a half million books.
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Smart-alecks make bad pupils but excellent students of human nature: Roberts is good at what she does not only because she is prolific but also because she can write zingy dialogue and portray scrappy but sincere characters. She is known for her particularly believable heroes—according to Wendell, “100% real dudes.” Her female characters frequently possess an entrepreneurial streak, and they are more independent than many of their peers, and certainly their predecessors, even if some among them still have a propensity for crumpling like tissues at the sight of bodily fluids. “ ‘Oh. Oh my,’ was all she managed before her eyes rolled back,” Roberts writes, of Faith Lavelle, who, in “Carolina Moon,” has agreed to help the bachelor veterinarian Wade Mooney perform an operation on an injured sheepdog. Roberts’s colloquial style can be inelegant, but it deflates the more vaporous of her scenes—Wade revives Faith, and, in a few sentences, they are back to talking about “dog poop.”
A self-taught writer, and an irreverent one, Roberts was not, at first, an easy sell. Amy Berkower said, “I remember Nancy”—Nancy Jackson, the editor who acquired Roberts’s first novel, in 1980—“standing on her head to get Nora’s books because they didn’t follow the formula as strictly as others.” In violation of Lubbock’s Law, a genre convention stating that, for reasons of reader identification, romances should be written from only the heroine’s point of view, Roberts sometimes adopted the hero’s perspective.
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Roberts’s predominance is a feat of marketing as much as of style. At one point, Roberts had delivered a trilogy to Penguin, the installments of which were scheduled to run a year apart. “I went nuts,” Berkower recalled. “They said they didn’t want to overexpose Nora. And I said, ‘Well, she’s not Mickey Mouse yet.’ ” The parties compromised on a book every six months, a publishing schedule that they have adhered to since. Berkower and Roberts conceived of J. D. Robb in 1995, as a way to capitalize upon Roberts’s rate of production. The effect of the ploy was not only to turn up the pace of the treadmill for the publishing industry but also to conjoin the genres of romance and crime, along with their readerships. John Lennard, a professor of literature at the University of the West Indies, wrote, in an essay on Roberts, “Roberts has in some ways done for Romance what the hypercelebrity of Harry Potter has done for Children’s Literature, making it acceptable fare for reading adults in general.” To project mainstream appeal, Roberts’s books typically feature her name, in big letters, and some sort of inanimate, totemic object (cattails, a lighthouse, a shrimp trawler)
Link to the rest at The New Yorker