Illustration for article titled Why One Romance Novelist Didnt Think Shed Write a Billionaire Hero

For decades, romance was a tried-and-true avenue for talented, creative women to bring in some extra money. (Or, in some cases, a fucking fortune.) But the business has changed, with the proliferation of digital publishers and self-publishing options. How's one author handling it?

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The Billfold chatted recently with romance novelist Courtney Milan. She's really interesting for two reasons in particular: Her historicals wrestle frankly with thorny issues like class and patriarchy, and she's self-published. The two are likely not unrelated!

Most recently she published a contemporary "new adult" novel, Trade Me, about a pair of college students who swap places. Blake is a billionaire's kid; Tina is the child of Chinese immigrants. I haven't gotten to it yet (sorry, been tearing through everything Carla Kelly ever wrote, no I'm not available for weekend plans, I'm busy), but reviews are downright glowing. Apparently she's managed to put a new spin on the ol' billionaire hero, which is one of the things I love about the romance genre—there's no trope so beloved SOMEBODY can't turn on its head. (I'd argue even the HEA has been tinkered with. Sure, you're still supposed to end with a happy relationship, but it can be childfree or relatively budget-conscious, for instance.)

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The interview is a really interesting peek into how the book came about. For one thing, Trade Me exists despite the fact that Milan once said she could never write a billionaire romance:

There was a point where I told someone, "I could never write a billionaire romance because …" Fill in the blank there. The thing, though, is that every time I tell myself I can't do something, I figure out how I would do it.

Part of the reason I might say I have difficulties writing a billionaire romance is that as part of my background, I'm a former lawyer/law professor, and so when I think about billionaires, I think about people skirting the rules of Sarbanes-Oxley, about people who never pay ordinary income tax and usually only pay capital gains tax, and so forth. I don't think of them as … super-sexy beings who have an infinite amount of money.

Thank you! Although remember in the '80s and early '90s when all those boardroom romances revolved around domineering billionaires doing things that, in retrospect, even if they weren't a compliance problem certainly would constitute an HR headache? Also, hostile takeovers? God, people used to love hostile takeovers. Good times, good times.

This bit is particularly incisive: "Blake is so wealthy that his currency is time, not money. It wouldn't occur to him to try to woo Tina with money because money is not how he has processed any show of affection anywhere. He woos her with time."

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She also speaks about why she opted for self-publishing:

In terms of why I self-published, there are a handful of reasons, but the two main ones were this:

1) I wanted more creative control over the entire process: what I was writing, how it was presented to the market, and so forth.

2) I wanted a greater royalty share.

In terms of how it's going, it's going way better than my wildest predictions. I'm a spreadsheet kind of girl, so I can actually look at my wildest predictions, and yes, they were far too pessimistic.

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The whole interview is here and worth reading in full, with lots of detail about Trade Me and why Milan made the authorial choices she did. BRB, gonna go stand outside Bergdorf's and guess which patrons look boring enough to be billionaires. (Trick question; they probably send their assistants to do their shopping for them.)

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DISCUSSION

Taken Away by a Techie Billionaire

by Ari Schwartz

Susan's heart pounded as Ryan moved to unclasp the buckle. She watched his thin, nervous hands fumble at opening the simple metal closure. His near total lack of coordination with anything other than a computer or device immediately sent a shiver down Susan's spine.

"Could it be true?" she thought to herself nervously. "Could Ryan really be a true tech billionaire?"

Susan had spent the better part of the wireless boom meeting the typical young, rich men: the sad, upwardly mobile but not truly rich state school grads. The brogrammers with their moderately better hygiene and occasional fitness regimes. The startup jumpers with their IPO stock portfolios.

But never had she been with a true billionaire. Sure, 90% of his wealth was tied to his vapid and meaningless startup's incredibly high valuation prior to IPO, but on paper he was worth billions. And he had managed this without Andreessen-Horowitz. But he needed to show her. Show her the meat of his wealth and theoretical value. The throbbing, hard truth of what made him a real man.

Susan waited for what felt like an eternity. Ryan kept fumbling with what seemed like the simplest little metal buckle. This, however, was a good sign. No true tech billionaire could be dextrous through hours of athletics as well as have time to develop a peer-to-peer delivery method that would make torrents a thing of the past. Susan felt her loids girding with anticipation as she considered the possibilities of monetizing the algorithms alone.

"Here, let me help you..." she said, as she unbuckled the clasp. She gasped as an erotic string of numbers jumped out from the screen as it opened. So many numbers. He wasn't just a billionaire. He was a multi-billionaire. On paper. The paper of her sexiest, most fulfilling dreams.