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The two writers first met in a bar. I wondered aloud how he picked her up. Did he say, “If you were a piece of paper, you’d be fine print”? Or was it a lame attempt like “You must be from Tennessee, since you’re the only 10 I see”?
“No,” Fletch Fletcher laughs. The most important question in their lives was: “What would people be surprised to find out about you?” Kathy Newbern’s answer was that she had written a yet-to-be-published romance novel.
Cut to 1992, when the two writers were sitting together at a writers’ conference. Another writer at their table said, “Wouldn't it be great to read about yourself in one of those romance novels?”
Everyone got a chuckle out of that. But Kathy and Fletch looked at each other and said, “You know, we could do that!” On the back of a manila folder, they started outlining their first book, “Another Day in Paradise.”
Mild or wild?Since then Fletcher and Newbern have written 18 highly successful books together. She handles most of the romance; he writes the action and adventure. The “author” is a combination of their last names: Fletcher Newbern.
For 50 bucks, they’ll drop your name and details of your life into one of their paperback romance novels (hardcover will cost you more). You also get to pick someone to share in this adventure.
The customer fills out a simple online questionnaire of 26 personal details about the starring couple: their names, hair and eye colors, where they live, where they work, their best friends, favorite music, favorite perfume and cologne, how long they've been a couple, things like that. Through the magic of computer software, those details appear throughout the novel when the customer’s copy is published.
Fletcher Newbern novels come in two versions: mild or wild. “Mild” leaves something to the imagination. “Wild” adds some steam to the romantic scenes. Kathy calls it “titillating, yet tasteful.”
Naturally, nine out of 10 readers choose “wild.”
“Our books are fun,” Kathy contends. “A lot of the sexy stuff is very tongue-in-cheek, so there are laugh-out-loud moments.” Not for women only
When Fletcher and Newbern began the business, they figured women would purchase most of the novels. But they guessed wrong. Men buy half the books.
“We never said that 50 percent of the men actually read the books,” Fletch explains with a laugh. “They buy them because they know women read romance novels.”
It is a big business. Last year, one of the largest romance publishers, Harlequin, sold 130 million books. Fletcher Newbern sells about 2,000 copies on Valentine’s Day alone.
Fifty bucks for a paperback. Eighty-five for a hardcover. More, if you want your pictures on the cover. Do the math: That’s a nice living. The business that started with a bedroom printer now has its own publishing house.
Kathy and Fletch, who are also successful travel writers, jet off to exotic places, living the lives their readers only dream about.“It's especially rewarding to write about love with the one you love in a lovely place,” Kathy says. But Fletch points out, “Romance is not where you are; it’s who you're with.”
Kathy nods. “You can have fame. You can be in the luxury hotels we like to write about. But if you don’t have that special someone to share it with, what do you really have?
“Every day he tells me I’m beautiful,” she adds. “If you hear that enough, you really start believing it.”
Fletch began doing that on Valentine's Day, the day he asked Kathy to marry him. Sometimes there are no words in the dictionary for what they feel for one another.
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If you would like to contact the subjects of this American Story with Bob Dotson, visit yournovel.com and officinabriani.com.