SBHM Feature: Kayla Perrin

Hi friends! Happy VDay!!! I hope you’re all having a lovely day – as usual. And if you’re a romance reader that loves Valentine’s – I hope you’re doing it up big. If you’re not into it, equal power to you. (More? >.>) I want to apologize for how tardy this post is :\ For some reason scheduling posts isn’t working in the interim, so things I thought would be going live in the early AM … nope. So this is totally my bad. 😐

NOW! To the good stuff! As you see, today we have Kayla Perrin visiting with us, and she’s a new friend to ALBTALBS, so I hope everyone pipes up! Don’t be silent – join the conversation! So without furter ado … Ms. Perrin!

If You Want MeI’ve been telling stories since before I could write, and writing them ever since I could hold a pencil. One of my aunts once told me how she recorded me on a tape recorder telling a story when I was five. Unfortunately, that tape is nowhere to be found, and likely wouldn’t work at this point. It’s too bad, because I would love to hear my voice and what I was thinking at that time. I would love to get in touch with that little girl who, despite not seeing herself represented in books, always wanted to share her stories with the world.

Writing has always been as integral to me as breathing. But as a young child, I simply didn’t know that writing for a living was possible. That knowledge came when I was twelve years old, when my father saw an ad in the paper for a novel writing contest. The prize was three thousand dollars and publication of your novel. Long story short, I wasn’t able to get a novel completed in time to enter that contest, but it got the wheels turning in my brain. Suddenly, I realized that there was the name of the publisher and an address in the books I was reading. So, at the age of thirteen, I wrote a picture book and sent it to Scholastic Publications, hoping to get published.

The Sisters of Theta Phi KapaScholastic sent me back my book along with a rejection letter. But they also knew I was a child, so they sent me some information about how to enter the Scholastic children’s writing contest. I promptly disregarded the contest information and sent them another book. And this time, the response I received had me over the moon.

Unlike the first time, when I received a big envelop with my returned book, this time I received a small envelope from them. I was young and didn’t even think to include a phone number with my submission, but when I tore open the envelope, I was thrilled to see that they were seriously considering publishing the two picture books I’d sent them (Everybody Needs a Friend and The Greedy Little Girl).

Ultimately, it took several months but Scholastic passed on the second and third books I sent to them. I wasn’t savvy enough to try sending the books to another publisher. And I never did enter Scholastic’s children’s writing contest. I just kept writing, hoping that one day, something I wrote would ultimately get published.

I suppose that sums up the writer I am. I’ve never worried about the rules. I just write what I want to write.

Flames of PassionIf I let myself be inhibited by the rules, I might not have started writing romance. After all, at the time I began writing romances, I didn’t see any characters who looked like me. But I never let that deter me from believing I could get published.

I vividly remember the day I was in a bookstore perusing the romance section and saw a black couple on the cover. It was as if I’d found gold. I picked up the book instantly and purchased it. I was elated. And when I learned there was a new line of African American romances being published by Kensington Books, I bought all of the ones I could. In my heart I knew that a whole new world of opportunity had just opened for me. The romances I’d been writing could now find a home, because the market was changing and the demand for African American romances was on the rise.

Inspired, I went to my first Romance Writers of America conference. I met Donna Hill, Gwynne Forster, Brenda Jackson, Francis Ray. These were some of the women who had already been published in the African American romance arena—women whose books I’d read. Getting to meet them and some of the other published writers at the convention was the most motivating experience of my life. I believed without a doubt that I would see my lifelong dream of getting published come true.

Getting EvenAnd indeed, I did. Just months after that conference, I sold a book to Genesis Press for their Indigo Romance line. Shortly after that, I sold to the Kensington Arabesque line. I saw more and more books by and about African Americans being published. It was an exciting time.

But here’s something I will never forget. At one of the RWA conferences I attended, I remember hearing a publisher say that they believed the African American romance market was a “phase.” This could have been Harlequin. It was the kind of comment that was like a kick to the gut, because it went against what most of us knew so well. That we are voracious readers. We were reading romances before there was any variety, and we weren’t about to stop now that we finally had stories where we could see ourselves reflected. That didn’t mean that we would limit ourselves only to African American stories. It just meant we would expand our reading lists.

While practically every other publisher was at least starting an African American romance line, or publishing AA fiction, Harlequin held out. My book, If You Want Me, launched HarperCollins’ “Romances of Soul” line. I sold a women’s fiction AA novel, The Sisters of Theta Phi Kappa, to St. Martin’s Press. I used to joke that when Harlequin finally started publishing AA romances, the world would know that our stories were here to stay.

ObsessionAnd of course, that’s exactly what happened. Kensington had sold their Arabesque line to BET, and then came the news that rocked the publishing world. Harlequin decided to buy the Arabesque line from BET. Yep. They finally had to acknowledge that the African American romance market was booming—and they wanted a part of it. Knowing there was money to be made, Harlequin jumped into the AA romance market with both feet—and they haven’t looked back.

I’ve been fortunate enough to publish with many of the big publishers in existence, but I think that getting my first publishing contract with Harlequin felt like a sweet victory. They thought that the AA romance market would fade and die. Then they not only bought out the Arabesque line, they incorporated AA stories into many of their traditional lines. Like the Desire line which Brenda Jackson has written a ton of books for. And it was such a moment of pride when I was the launch author for their “Spice” line of erotic stories. Spice isn’t an AA line. It’s an erotic line, and Harlequin chose my AA story, Getting Even, to launch it. It was a huge honor. Today, those books have sold extremely well and have been translated into German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.

Single Mama DramaHarlequin also contracted me to write for their mainstream women’s fiction line, Mira. My book, Single Mama Drama, was the first AA novel they published. And even more rewarding was learning that Single Mama Drama was the first novel for the Mira line to hit the Essence Bestseller list. Same with my book, Obesession. That was the first Spice book to hit the Essence Bestseller list—and it stayed on the list for five consecutive months.

Having started writing at a time when AA romances were expected to die out, and now seeing how many books we have out there on the shelves, I can’t help but beam with pride. We’ve come a long way, and I’m excited to see where we go next.

Wow, Kayla, I had no idea Harlequin had been such a hold out. I think it’s awesome you launched the Spice line – I totally remember when Getting Even came out!!! <3 Thank you so much for chatting with us today! <3

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