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Ep. 61: Feminist Romance Novelist Sarah MacLean Gives The Female Gaze Its Turn


"The journey of the romance novel isn't just about one woman finding the love of a good man. It's often about that sort of interplay of women coming to terms with who they are and how they exist in a society and finding men and often proving to men or showing men their power. Invariably the heroine of a romance novel has all the power."

New York Times bestseller Sarah MacLean is the author of historical romance novels that have been translated into more than twenty languages, and winner of back-to-back RITA Awards for best historical romance from the Romance Writers of America. Sarah talks about why romance novels are feminist -- they are by, for, and about women, and they feature women finding their power. She shares her career journey of writing her first four books as a side hustle while working full-time, the importance of finding your tribe, and how her writing has inspired women to make changes to their lives.

"There are a lot of people who judge the books and judge the work and you have to be willing to cut those people out of your life and stay focused on what you believe is the right path. That's particularly difficult when those haters should have been people who loved you. That's the hardest part: finding your tribe. But once you do, it feels like anything is possible."

What you'll learn:

  • Sarah is a best selling feminist romance novelist who has featured in the NYT best seller lists.
  • Her new book is called The Day of the Duchess set in 1830's London.
  • Sarah has written 11 romance novels.
  • Stereotypical romance novels have been around since the 1970's and coincide with the rise of feminism through Gloria Steinem.
  • The romance novel is just an adventure story with a woman at the centre, viewing the story through a female gaze.
  • The man can be seen as a metaphor for larger concepts eg. society, as he is always broken down by the female hero character.
  • Romance is the biggest seller in the fiction paperback market.
  • A normal paperback might sell 1000 copies in the first week that puts them in the best seller list, a romance novel will sell 20,000.
  • Sarah is most proud of her work when she receives letters from readers saying that she's inspired them to make a change in their lives.
  • Sarah spent 10 years working in corporate PR while writing on the side.

"I think the disservice that we do as creators is letting the rest of the world believe that our work is magic and not work."


  • There's fear in eliminating toxicity because there is a safety in toxicity; if a person says you can't do it then you can't fail because anything is a success.

  • Sometimes the best work is the stuff you've had to restart because you have no choice but to overcome the fear of throwing it all out and starting again.

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