Prolific romance writer Janet Dailey passed away last month at the age of 69. According to Dr. Pamela Regis, author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel, there are more than 300 million copies of Janet Dailey’s books in print, making her one of the most successful fiction writers of all time.
In the 1970s, Dailey was the first American author signed to Harlequin, a publishing house that had historically relied on reprints of romance stories set in the United Kingdom and greater Europe. Dailey’s Americana series, in which she wrote one romance book for every state in the U.S.A., earned her a place in the Guinness World Book of Records. Her stories strayed from others published at the time not just in their locations, but also in their portrayals of independent and empowered female characters. As romance writer Eileen Dreyer amusingly quipped to the Washington Post recently, “American writers were the first ones to have a heroine with a spine or a real occupation. In the old European romances, the heroine was a virginal idiot and the hero was a jerk.”
The pressures of success caught up with Dailey, however, and it’s difficult to eulogize her without bringing up the incident for which she is notorious. In 1997 Dailey was accused and successfully sued by Nora Roberts for copyright infringement, a damaging blow to her reputation, as well as the reputation of romance publishing in general. At least two of Dailey’s books had lifted sections from Roberts’ works, which Dailey claimed was a result of stress during her husband’s battle with cancer. Like one of her many characters who conquered adversity, however, Dailey bounced back a few years later with a lucrative publishing deal and several more bestsellers.
The Seattle Public Library owns over 100 titles by Janet Dailey in both print and electronic form, reaching as far back as her groundbreaking Calder Family Saga in the 1980s. Despite her faults, Dailey was a beloved author whose influence and success in the romance genre cannot be overlooked. Fans of her work should take note that there are a few more posthumous titles on the way this year.