Contrary to the popular misconception that they are read only by the household help, Filipino romances rank among the most diverse and vibrant products of the Philippine publishing industry. They don’t get a lot of love from the literati crowd, but are nonetheless the result of a dizzying creative process and have an extremely loyal following that continues to grow.
There are numerous players in the Filipino romance field, but the big name is Precious Pages Corporation (PPC), the company that publishes the industry’s best-sellers, Precious Hearts Romances. These paperbacks are relatively short (usually just 128 pages) and cheap (only P37) and are the spine on which PPC has built a publishing empire.
It wasn’t exactly a venture made in heaven. The country was in the grip of a full blown energy crisis in 1992 when PPC was founded by Segundo “Jun” D. Matias Jr. and Richard Reynante, friends and writers for television. Matias writes teledramas for Regal and Seiko productions, while Reynante writes for variety shows and sitcoms. Yet both believed it was the perfect time to publish books aimed at Filipino women. They also began small, publishing just one title –
“Lumaban Ka, Pag-ibig” by fellow TV writer Patricia Gil – with a relatively small capital outlay of P30,000.
The first Precious Hearts Romance had immediate dividends: their first shipment to National Book Store sold out in just three days. Their plan worked. “I was happy and started thinking that I should focus on publishing this genre,” Matias says. Today, PPC publishes a staggering 40 to 50 titles a month, making them the most prolific publisher of local romances and an industry giant.
Precious Hearts Romances have a reputation for passed-on readership, and has enabled PPC to diversify its offerings, from children’s books under Lampara Books to cookbooks and chordbooks. “We are making an effort to promote reading especially to children,” says Matias.
But the Precious Hearts Romance books are the company darlings as well as the corporate war horses, with initial print runs of 8,000 copies sold around the world, but especially in places where Filipino expats and OFWs abound, such as the United States and Hong Kong.
The titles are churned out by PPC’s stable of some 100 writers who submit manuscripts that are read by the Precious Hearts editorial team led by Matias himself. The basic plots are somewhat formulaic but still very resilient: love stories that have happy endings. Writers are told to avoid stories that promote bad values and have sad endings. PPC has a yearly workshop that allows the publishers to shape the raw talent they find; they also solicit contributions from new and aspiring writers “who can translate romance in prose that Filipino women would love.”
Not surprisingly, Precious Hearts writers are female and of varying ages. While some use their real names, others use pseudonyms. Among the most popular Precious Hearts authors are Martha Cecilia, Rose Tan, Vanessa, Heart Yngrid, Sonia Francesca, Angel Bautista, Dream Gracs, Victoria Amor, Laurice del Rio, Dawn Igloria, Noelle Arroyo and Amanda.
A typical Precious Hearts author is Belle Feliz. Though just 24, Feliz has written 37 books over a two-year period. In 2011 alone, she wrote 29 books. A board-certified nurse as well as an avid Precious Hearts reader, Feliz was looking for a job when she read an ad for new writers in a Precious Hearts book she was reading. She had just come from a volunteer stint at a clinic for four months but was looking for a real job. “I was looking for a way to make some money,” she says, She sent a manuscript but would be rejected by PPC four times. On her fifth submission, she had almost given up hope, but this time her manuscript was accepted for publication.
Feliz explains that, when in the mood, she can finish a 128-page manuscript in just a week and the thicker 256-page manuscript in just three weeks; it usually takes a Precious Hearts Romance just one month to go from manuscript to finished book form. Feliz is often guided by the Precious Hearts editors through assignments and plot suggestions. On her own, Feliz watches TV shows and follows the real-life experience of friends for inspiration. Her favorite among all her books is titled “Her Missing Heart.”
Precious Hearts can be quite strict with plot. Says Feliz: “You don’t just do whatever you want. I don’t take risks because the readers won’t buy the book.” For example, she says you can’t write a book where the heroine is also the mistress: It just doesn’t work that way. “I don’t like serious things,” she says, adding that she wants to provide an escape as well as a feel-good experience for her readers, most of them teenagers. “I want them to solve their problems and learn something, too,” she says.
While Feliz still longs to become a nurse someday, she absolutely adores being a Precious Hearts writer. She signed a five-year contract with PPC in 2010 and has gone on the promotional Precious Hearts mall tour where she even got to meet some of her readers.
She’s certainly digging the writing gig. In 2010, she won the PHR Novel of the Year Award for her book “Always in my Heart.” Because of accolades like that, Feliz feels that her readers’ expectations have risen. “I feel that I can’t screw up because every reader expects more,” she says.
PPC’s publishing output has evolved with the times. The group is now publishing gothic romances and horror books. “Anything that we think readers would love to read, we publish,” Matias says. Precious Hearts has also invaded the Net. You can now buy various PPC titles online through the PPC e-commerce site, www.preciousshop.com.ph.
Precious Hearts Romances has also made the leap to television with an eponymous ABS-CBN series that adapts some of their all-time popular title such as “Kristine” (which starred Cristine Reyes), “My Cheating Heart” and “Bud Brothers.” These are clearly not the Filipino romances of old.
As its audience blossoms and grows, Matias feels elated that Precious Pages has come so far since 1992. “It’s entertaining, creative work,” he says. Meanwhile, Belle Feliz shares a different kind of love for Precious Hearts Romances. “I love everything about it,” she says. “It’s really different when you love what you do.” •