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 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.
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.
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
2. Robyn Carr
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.
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.
Carr has published more than 45 books with Harlequin.
3. 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
5. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
My first Sherryl Woods was baseball romance Fever Pitch, a 1991 Silhouette Desire that I heartily recommend.
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.