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7 category romance authors who made it big

Category Romance Authors Who Made It Big

7 category romance authors who made it big

Category Romance Writers Who Became Bestselling Sensations

Many famous mainstream fiction authors were originally writers of series or category romance. Category romances are a staple of the industry. Nevertheless, they get little respect because it’s a subgenre seen as derivative due to a reliance on tropes.

These slimmed-down editions forced authors to write tight plots within a limited amount of pages. This constraint actually helped sharpen many authors’ skills and enabled them to branch off into other genres.

The following seven authors wrote Silhouette, Harlequin, Loveswept, or Dell Candlelight romances before garnering widespread acclaim.

1. Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown
Author Sandra Brown

Sandra Brown is a former category romance author who rose to fame.

She has written over 80 novels, including 73 New York Times bestsellers. Over 80 million copies of her books are in print worldwide. They have been translated into 34 languages.

Her blockbusters include Blind Tiger, Thick As Thieves, Seeing Red, Outfox, Tailspin, Seeing Red, and Mean Streak.

mean streak

Sandra Brown got her start with Silhouette in 1982 with Not Even for Love. She wrote it using a pseudonym, Erin St. Claire. The book has been re-issued as Sting. She also penned many excellent romances for the Bantam Loveswept line.

Not Even for Love, Erin St. Claire, Silhouette, 1982, cover artist unknown

Brown has written historical romances as well as full-length contemporaries and mysteries.

She has made several television appearances on Ture Crime programs. Her novels French Silk, Smoke Screen, Ricochet, and White Hot resulted in television films.

Our Sandra Brown category romance recommendation: A Secret Splendor, Silhouette Intimate Moments #29, 1984

secret splendor
A Secret Splendor, Erin St. Claire, Silhouette, 1984, George Jones cover art

2. Robyn Carr

Robyn Carr
Robyn Carr
Photo credit: Michael Alberstat

Carr’s A Virgin River Christmas was her first New York Times success in 2008.

Since then, her romances and women’s fiction books have spent nearly 250 weeks on that list. Her 20-book Virgin River series has produced more than 13 million copies.

Bring Me Home for Christmas, the 16th entry in the series hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Fans of Carr’s Virgin River books can now enjoy them as a Netflix series.

Carr has sold over 27 million books which have been translated into 19 languages in 30 countries.

Virgin River

In 2016, the Romance Writers of America awarded Robyn the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award.

Robyn Carr was a young mother of two in the mid-1970s, an Air Force wife, and educated as a nurse when she started writing fiction. She published her first book in 1980, a bodice ripper historical called Chelynne.


Almost a decade later, she wrote her first category romance for Harlequin. It was 1989’s Informed Risk, Harlequin Special Edition #517.

Informed Risk

Carr has published more than 45 books with Harlequin.

3. Iris Johansen

iris johansen
Author Iris Johansen

With her category romances, Iris Johansen broke into the romance genre at the beginning of the 1980s and quickly rose to fame. Her first book was Bantam Loveswept #14 Stormy Vows.

stormy vows

Iris Johansen had been writing category romances for a decade when she switched gears in 1991. She started to create long-length, suspenseful historical romances. The first was The Wind Dancer, which was a great hit.

In 1996 Johansen changed genres altogether, turning to crime fiction, where she has had smashing success. Titles include What Doesn’t Kill You, Dark Summer, Sleep No More, and Shadow Play.

shadow play

Johansen has over 30 consecutive New York Times bestsellers.

Johansen divides her time between Florida and Georgia. Her son–and frequent collaborator–Roy Johansen is an Edgar Award-winning screenwriter and novelist. Her daughter, Tamara, serves as her research assistant.

Our Iris Johansen category romance pick: The Delaney Series duo Wild Silver & Satin Ice from 1988.

4. Joan Johnston

Joan Johnston
Joan Johnston

Yet another New York Times bestselling author to have written series romances is the prolific Joan Johnston. Johnston’s books have also appeared in the top ten USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.

Her backlist consists of over 40 contemporary and historical romance novels. She has over 15 million books in print worldwide.

Johnston creates gripping family dramas and romantic adventures. Her popular series include her Bitter Creek and Blackthorne family novels, which overlap.

Joan Johnston

Johnston’s first two novels were historical romances, A Loving Defiance, and Colter’s Wife. Then she entered the contemporary genre in 1988 with Silhouette Desire #424 Fit to Be Tied. Over the years, Johnston would alternate writing category romance with full-length contemporaries and historicals.

Fit to Be Tied.

Before dedicating herself to writing full-time, Johnston had many careers. She was an attorney, a newspaper editor, a drama critic, a theatre director, and a college professor.

Johnston has combined her passion for travel to conduct research for her novels and has been to Italy, England, Greece, and Scotland, as well as traveling across the United States.

My favorite Joan Johnston book is the Scottish-set historical romance, The Bodyguard.

delaney jackson

5. Heather Graham

heather graham
Author Heather Graham

Heather Graham, also known as Heather Graham-Possezzere and Shannon Drake, is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.

Graham majored in theater arts at the University of South Florida. She spent several years in dinner theater, performing backup vocals, and bartending. After the birth of her third child, Graham stayed home and began to write.

Her first book was published in 1983, When Next We Love, Dell Candlelight Ecstasy #117.

romance writers when next love graham

Her first category romance for Silhouette was Night Moves, Intimate Moments, 1985.

Since then, Graham has written over two hundred novels and novellas. They include series romance, suspense, historical romance, vampire fiction, time travel, occult, and Christmas family fare.

Graham has 60 million books in print, published in twenty-five languages. She has written over 200 novels, more than half for Harlequin and Silhouette.

She was the launch author for Harlequin’s MIRA Books with her 1994 romance, Slow Burn.

romance writers slow burn graham

Graham has won a multitude of awards from prestigious institutions. She received a Silver Bullet from Thriller Writers and the Thriller Master in 2016. Graham is also a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from RWA.

6. Brenda Jackson

brenda jackson
Photo credit: Blue Franswa Fotografia

Brenda Jackson is a New York Times and the USA Today bestselling author of over 140 books and novellas, with 15 million books in print.

Jackson’s professional writing career began in 1995 with the release of her first Madaris family book, Tonight and Forever, for Pinnacle‘s revolutionary Arabesque Line.

tonight and forever brenda jackson

In 2002, she signed with Silhouette to create steamy romances for their Desire line. Delaney’s Desert Sheikh, #1473, was the initial book in her super popular Westmoreland family saga.

delaney jackson

Since then, Jackson has received numerous national and literary awards and accomplishments. She was the first African-American author to make the New York Times Bestseller’s List and the USA Today’s Bestseller’s List in the romance genre. Jackson earned the Romance Writers of America’s Nora Robert’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient for 2012.

Jackson has been involved in numerous charities. She promoted scholarship programs to enable low-income students to access higher education.

Jackson has been featured in magazines such as Essence, Sister-2-Sister, Today’s Black Woman, Ebony, Romantic Times, Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, and Cosmopolitan.

She has released full-length contemporary romances to great acclaim, including her Catalina Cove Series.

forget me not jackson

Her novels, One Special Moment and Truly Everlasting, have been made into movies by BET and Five Alive Films, respectively. Passionflix produced A Brother’s Honor from her Granger Series.

7. Sherryl Woods

Sherryl Woods Photo credit: Nina Subin
Sherryl Woods Photo credit: Nina Subin

Sherryl Woods has published millions of romances and mysteries. In addition to her, more than 120 romances for Silhouette and MIRA Books, Woods has written thirteen mysteries. There are 9 in her Amanda Roberts series, and the rest are part of her Molly DeWitt series.

Her first book, Restoring Love, was published in 1982 by Dell Candlelight Ecstasy under the pseudonym of Suzanne Sherrill.

romance writers Restoring Love

Her second romance novel, Sand Castles, followed later that year under the pseudonym of Alexandra Kirk. Woods would use her real name when she moved to Berkley Publishing to write for their Second Chance at Love line.

Then in 1986, she started her long career for Silhouette Desire with Not at Eight Darling set in the world of television.

Like many prominent romance authors, Woods’ books have made it to the small screen. As a result, fans of her Sweet Magnolia Series can now enjoy them as a program on Netflix.

Sweet Magnolia

My first Sherryl Woods was baseball romance Fever Pitch, a 1991 Silhouette Desire that I heartily recommend.

romance writers Fever Pitch

Your Opinion

Have you read any of these romance writers’ category books? Or are you more familiar with their mainstream full-length releases? Did you know these romance writers got their start in the category romance?

Please, drop us a comment, and let’s talk romance.


the kings pleasure

Historical Romance Review: The King’s Pleasure by Shannon Drake

historical romance review
The King's Pleasure by Shannon Drake, Heather Graham
Rating: four-stars
Published: 1996
Illustrator: Franco Accornero
Book Series: Zebra Historical Romance
Published by: Kensington
Genres: Historical Romance, Medieval Romance
Pages: 382
Format: Audiobook, eBook, Paperback
Buy on: AmazonAbeBooks
Reviewed by: Introvert Reader

Historical Romance Review: The King’s Pleasure by Shannon Drake


The Book

Shannon Drake‘s (aka Heather Graham) The King’s Pleasure is set amid the intense medieval backdrop of the Hundred Years’ War and the Black Death. It’s a solid romance in a historical age that always grips my attention.


Captive of The King

The story begins with a prologue. The heroine, Danielle, is hiding from her husband in an inn as he searches for her. He’s under the impression that she’s there to have a tryst with a fellow Frenchman. Her husband is a Scottish knight, Adrien MacLachlan, who’s pledged to the English King. Danielle is not there to have an assignation with another man. However, she is there against her husband and his King’s wishes.

Adrien confronts Danielle, and the two have a fiery argument that ends in them making love. They look back at the stormy past that preceded this encounter.

Thus we’re flung back nineteen years prior. King Edward III of England is laying siege to Aville in France. The castle is defended by the resident Countess Lenore and her retinue. A young page, our hero, Adrien, at age 10, discovers a weak point in the walls. This allows the English King to breach it. King Edward takes triumphant control of the castle. He also takes the Countess as his captive back to England after enjoying a few nights of passion with her.

The brief yet intense affair culminates in a pregnancy. Lenore is returned to France, along with their daughter Danielle, as Edward’s vassal. Danielle grows to be more beautiful than her mother. When her mother dies years later, she is made the King’s ward and placed under his absolute control.

Torn between two worlds, the temperamental and fiercely independent Danielle finds it difficult to adjust.

Wed By the King’s Command

As time passes, events form a path to our protagonists’ destinies. On several occasions, Danielle meets Adrien, now fully grown and made a knight. Danielle finds him arrogant and unlikeable. Dislike turns into hatred when she discovers it was he who enabled Edward to take her beloved home. Adrien thinks Danielle is shrewish and detestable.

The King plans to give Danielle’s hand in marriage to Adrien in gratitude for all of Adrien’s victories in battle. Adrien, on the other hand, would prefer Lady Joanna, the daughter of an Earl.

The onset of the Bubonic Plague will change things drastically. Both Danielle and Joanna suffer from the horrific disease, although only one of them makes it out alive.

Danielle finds herself an unwilling pawn in the game of royalty. She is forced to obey the King’s order to marry her enemy Adrien MacLachlan. Danielle hates him for political and personal reasons and vows she always will. While Danielle believes she has a duty to serve the French King, how can she do so? Especially now that she’s bound to a man under service to the English crown?

Intrigue, betrayal, passion, and romance mark the rest of the book. Danielle and Adrien are a fiery combination despite their antagonism toward each other (or, more likely, because of it). Their love-making is explosive. How can they reconcile their differences while war rages on, both literally and figuratively, within their hearts?

Final Analysis of The King’s Pleasure

As I always find when reading medieval romances I enjoy, it’s the history that draws me in. I appreciated the attention to detail and authenticity of the time period. Shannon Drake’s writing is strong. She excels in writing love scenes. The road to getting the actual love was a rocky one, however. Danielle and Adrien enjoy fighting for fighting’s sake. It seemed to act as a sexual stimulant for the two!

I also could have done without Adrien’s back story of his engagement to another woman. Fortunately, he didn’t dwell over much on the loss of his first love, as Shannon Drake/ Heather Graham has made her heroes do in the other books.

Besides being stubborn and misguided, Danielle and Adrien were well-matched, and their HEA was believable. I can imagine them spending many years within their castle walls arguing and then quickly patching matters up for wild make-up sex.

4.24 Stars

Rating Report Card
Fun Factor
Overall: 4.3


From the bestselling author of Tomorrow the Glory comes a captivating new novel that sweeps from Scotland’s untamed highlands to the Tower of London and war-torn France. Here is the powerful story of two people destined to love in a divided land.

Danielle D’Aville, the ward of Edward III, was sworn to obey the King’s order to marry her enemy Adrien MacLachlan, the legendary Scot who masterminded the fall of Danielle’s beloved home, Aville. Suddenly she was the arrogant knight’s reluctant wife, pledged to a marriage neither desired. But swept off to his castle in the Scottish highlands, and into his strong embrace, Danielle was soon possessed by a raging passion for the husband she had vowed to despise.

The King’s Pleasure by Shannon Drake