Columnist Bryan Mahoney

Columnist Bryan Mahoney

She's been called a mother, a lawyer and the "Queen of Erotic Romance."

It's an exciting time, a fertile time for new writers, and a time of opportunity for established romance writers like Burbank's Cheryl Holt. Today, romance writers, as all authors, are reinventing themselves in a new Web-publishing world that swaps print and ink for ones and zeros.

This month, she begins the release of three sizzling stories, a trilogy that will play out across the summer. They are her 33rd, 34th and 35th books, and she's not stopping there.

"If you're going to write (for a living), you've got to write all the time," Holt said.

In 2011, Holt made the leap to online publishing and last December her novel "Sweet Surrender" became her first Amazon bestseller. By hiring someone to handle the complex upload requirements and someone else to design a hallmark romance cover (with the requisite half-naked chiseled torso), Holt's investment meant the profits go directly to her.

That also meant added responsibility, including choosing her titles carefully.

"It's difficult — it's a marketing tool, so when someone reads the title, you want to capture their interest," she said.

Years of accumulated fans provided her a jumping-off point with online publishing. The state of today's publishing world gave her the push.

As demand for print paperbacks began to wane in the mid- and late-2000s and the economy crashed, publishers slashed their writers' lists, including Holt in 2010. She had authored 24 books when she was cut by Berkley Press.

She figures she made about $2,000 on her first five books in the late 1990s. Those years were a heady time for the big publishing houses — e-books were an unreal novelty idea and the houses still presented the only option for mass distribution.

With the introduction of e-readers in the later 2000s (Amazon's Kindle in 2007 and Barnes and Nobles' Nook two years later), the opportunity for self-publishing and direct sales was cracked wide open.

Holt never pictured herself publishing and distributing 300-page novels. Or responding to hordes of fans that, according to one Amazon reader of "Complete Abandon," seek out her work because it "met all my desires and the sex scenes were yummy."

No one may be as surprised at her success as Holt herself.

"I don't feel like I have a romantic bone in my body. Valentine's Day just comes and goes," she said.

Holt read her first romance novel at age 40. She had been struggling as a stay-at-home mom to get a suspense novel published, and multiple rejection letters and a competitive suspense market convinced her to try something new.

Romance paperbacks were selling well, so she tried writing erotic tales set in early 1800s London — a "temporary" way of getting her name out there before turning back to suspense.

It was either the writing "or selling Mary Kay" if she wanted to work from home. The former prosecutor from Colorado did not dream of a life in cosmetics.

Then again, Holt wasn't planning a future as romance royalty either.

"If you could have given me a peek in the future and said this is what you'd be doing in 20 years, I'd have said, 'no way,'" she said. "I didn't know anything about it and thought I was good in English, a pretty good writer, and I thought, 'I'll write a book. How hard could it be?'"

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BRYAN MAHONEY is a recent transplant from the East Coast. When he's not posing for the covers of romance novels, he can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.