Authorial Integrity

I’ve decided I want to be Nora Roberts when I grow up.

I don’t mean that in the sense that I want to be as wildly successful as she is (although I wouldn’t say no). I don’t even mean that in the sense that I want to write as many books as she does (with the day job, that’s just not an option–and even without the day job, I’m not so sure).

No. What I mean is this: I want to have her integrity.

I’ve read fifteen or so books by Nora/J.D. Robb–a tiny percentage of her output, to be sure, but a respectable sampling,  with the books spread across maybe a decade and a half of her career. I have loved some of those books–absolutely loved them to tears. I have merely liked some of them. I haven’t hated any of them, ever.

The one thing I have never thought of a book written by Nora Roberts is this: “Wow, she really phoned it in. It’s obvious she did no research, put no thought into this, and just let this one slide because she had better things to do.”

Nope. Every single book that Nora has put out, I’ve basically thought she gave it her all.

Just think about what that means. At this point, Nora could write a handful of stinkers for years and years on end, before her millions of fans gave up on her in disgust. She could sell a kazillion copies, make millions and millions of dollars for herself and her publisher–and put in easily a quarter of the effort that she does.

Let’s face it. Human nature being what it is, most people upon being told they could make millions and millions of dollars while making a modicum of effort, would not go far.

So why doesn’t Nora do that? Why, after all these years, can I walk into a store and pick up a book by Nora and know that it will be well-researched, well-written, well-edited?

There’s really only one reason for it, that I can think of: Nora has integrity. She knows her readers deserve her best, and so that’s what she delivers.

So when I say I want to be like Nora Roberts when I grow up, that’s what I mean. I don’t ever want to get to the point where I think it doesn’t matter any more, that I don’t have to do my best. I don’t ever want to look at something and say, “enh, that’s good enough.”

Good enough is for dishes. (Don’t tell Mr. Milan I said that.)

Courtney Milan writes historical romances, which might lead people to think that she could be cool. In reality, she's about four different kinds of geeky. At present, this blog is where Courtney applies semi-dormant geek skills to publishing.

18 thoughts on “Authorial Integrity

  1. I met Nora once at a book signing. I felt like I should kiss her ring. I agree. She never phones it in and all writers should have her work ethic. She’s inspiring.

  2. I agree! As a reader, I appreciate the consistent quality of La Nora’s work. As a member of the romance reader/blogger community, I also really appreciate her professionalism in dealing with her career, with responses to her work, and just in general NOT behaving badly. I respect her.

  3. Shiloh–I know. I can ooh and aah at Nora’s incredible output of quality books–but that woman works and works, and she deserves absolutely everything she has gotten.

  4. “Good enough isn’t.” That quote has stuck with me for years, although I can’t even remember where I heard it (or more likely, read it). But I always remember it when I’m in a situation where I could get away without giving it my best. Good enough just isn’t good enough.

  5. SonomaLass, word on the professionalism. She gave a keynote speech at Nationals that was just pitch-perfect-awesome. Even if I didn’t like her books, that would have made me go out and buy one.

    SylviaSybil, I do believe there is a place for “good enough.”

    Laundry. Housecleaning.

    (are you recognizing a pattern here?)

    But yes–any true vocation is worth doing best.

  6. @Courtney Well, sure, I didn’t mean to speak in absolutes. You can’t sweat the small stuff. I know a lady whose house is scary clean. I’m afraid to breathe in there for fear I will fog it up. But she spends several hours scrubbing every day and there are so many better things I would prefer to spend my hours on. (That’s just me, of course – she obviously thinks her time is well-spent.)

    But in general, whenever I’m tempted to skate by on the bare minimum it helps to remind myself to go the extra mile and make my project something worthwhile.

  7. Nora Roberts books never feel rushed. She takes the time to develop the plot and characters. She also doesn’t shy away from the term “romance writer,” even though she’s a best-selling author.

  8. Courtney — I think integrity is a great word for Nora Roberts.

    Let’s be honest — hers are not the best-written books out there, she has some quirks that can drive readers crazy (e.g., head-hopping and her stalwart refusal to have a condom appear by name in any of her sex scenes), and the witch/psychokiller/ghost subplots get a bit lame.

    But as a professional, she’s an inspiration for all writers (of all genres). Her work ethic is exemplary, she continues to contribute to the industry, and she never fails to remind us all that what’s important is writing.

    She gets it done.

  9. I’m actually not going to agree that Nora’s books are not the best-written books out there. I can understand that they’re not for everyone, but her prose does for me what books are supposed to do: it disappears so the story can grab me. Which many of them have done.

    I don’t love all her books, so I can see that some people wouldn’t love any of them, but I do think that’s a matter of taste, not an objective measure.

  10. Absolutely! I don’t know what deal with the devil Miz Nora has made, but she somehow churns them out, and does it WELL.

    I haven’t read huge numbers of her books either, but have been thoroughly charmed, or at least absorbed, by those I’ve read. And there’s quite a bit of variety in them, not even counting J.D. Robb–I loved a rather quiet little series from several years ago that was set in Ireland, plus a recent one that was an apocalyptic/paranormal save-the-universe epic. Very different from one another, both very good. There’s a Satanic pact involved, I’m telling you…but, um, in a good way. (Or you can go with the integrity theory. Your call.)

    Speaking of good stuff: the blurb on Trial by Desire: BRILLIANT!!! Cannot wait!!

  11. I agree, though I’ll admit I haven’t read a large number of her books myself. The select amount I have read (from both her collection and her penname as J.D. Robb) that I have read I did like quite a bit. She has an amazing sense of control over her characters, her settings, and her ability to immerse you into the story she’s telling.

    I agree that she has incredible work ethic, and I think so many people can learn from her diligence and dedication.

  12. I agree–and I hate using the words “churns them out” or describing Nora as a “machine” because while it describes her productivity level accurately, it implies that it’s somehow a mechanical process on her part, not a creative one. And like you say, Elisa, there’s such a wide variety in her books.

    I started having this conversation to myself about Nora a few weeks ago when I was in the bookstore and was in the mood for something non-historical, but was afraid to try someone I hadn’t read before because I just wanted a solid read, and while I love discovering new authors, some moods, I’m just not in the mind to risk anything while reading. So this little lightbulb went off: duh, I’ll get the latest book by Nora.

    And Elisa–glad you liked the TRIAL blurb. :)

  13. I’ve always preferred historical to contemporary fiction, but I have found Nora Roberts to be unfailingly entertaining and when people (especially women) ask me for a recommendation for a book “because you read” but don’t have a particular genre in mind, I often recommend her (and get reports back that the person liked the book) because her books are so broadly appealing without being hokey or featuring cardboard characters (as some other bestselling authors tend to do). Put that together with the volume of her work and that is an immense achievement.

  14. Sorry to be so late to the thread but thank you for this Courtney.

    Fans (like me) appreciate her hard work but authors must know just how much work goes into her books. They must just know. Not that I think that other authors don’t work as hard, or even as often, but the discipline she brings to her writing job is awe inspiring.

    Creative juices, she’s got her share and more. And a work ethic that makes me humble. She has to be the most curious person ever because her subjects have such a divergent range. You don’t phone in fire inspectors and ballet dancers and the hundreds of other professions she’s written about.

    Cripes, the woman was on a vacation with her family this summer in Greece. Greece for goodness sakes!- and she shared a log of her daily activities and descriptions of the villas and scenery that could make a movie.

    Calling her the Queen is not a misnomer by any stretch of the immagination.

  15. I believe I have almost every book Nora Roberts has written under that name. I’m not into futuristic (although I heard her say the J.D. Robb books are not so futuristic anymore) nor have I read the apocolyptic trilogy (The Circle Trilogy) but I bought them and they are on my shelf in case I change my mind some day.
    She is one of the main reasons I decided to write romance, and not because I thought I could do better. I want to be able to draw someone into a story, entertain and teach, and have my reader feel better about their day when they finish the last page.
    I’ve a couple of her books I’ve read close to a dozen times and I have favorite series (The Enchaning Irish Trilogy; The Born In series; the MacGregors (think they were Silhoutte/catagory books).
    Not many successful catagory writers have been able to make it into novel length romance and mainstream and have their books made into t.v. movies. I find her path, ethic, and integrity to be inspiring.
    Thanks for letting me contribute. She is one of my favorite authors for many different reasons.

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