On Writing Romance

Saturday, 5 March 2011

I remember reading my first Harlequin Super Romance with the dreamy sort of recollection reserved for fond childhood memories. Wait! Don’t walk away yet!  Give me a chance...
                That first romance I read was called The Gift of Summer by Lynda Trent. It was published in March 1989, so I must have read it that summer.  I was in high school and that summer I lay across my bed while the scent of gardenias floated through the window screen on a warm breeze, listening to Debbie Gibson’s Out of the Blue album, reading The Gift of Summer. I don’t remember how long it took me to read, but I can’t imagine it took very long because I do remember I couldn’t put it down.  
It felt amazing. I really can’t explain it. There’s something about Harlequin’s trademark Happily Ever After which I still can’t get enough of. I’ll admit, my life is far from warm and fuzzy, so at the end of a particularly trying day I take comfort in knowing that a HEA is only a few chapters away.         
You see, romance isn’t what you think it, not anymore. Gone are the days of bodice rippers, cruel heroes, and heroines who really are too stupid to live. Romance is no longer about damsels in distress and overly-alpha males. Today’s romances are smart, sassy, and sexy. The heroines are strong, independent women and the heroes, while still alpha males, are caring and sensitive. The story lines are complex and intelligent.
Ok, now is when I get crucified. It’s already happened when I expressed these same opinions on a writer’s forum, but here goes...
My only complaint-- the titles of some romances make me cringe. They are the only reason I won’t read a print romance in public (thank God for the Kindle app on my iPhone).  I’m not the only reader who feels this way. Check out the article at the end of this post. It’s common knowledge that romances are often looked down on and I think some titles may contribute to this.
Of course, covers in the past weren’t helpful in representing romance as an intelligent choice for readers, but, thankfully covers rarely show Fabio lookalikes (yes, he was the first romance cover hero) and women with heaving bosoms submitting to their every need.
Harlequin editors take note: These are my honest opinions, but I still adore your books! I desperately want to write for you and have ever since I read that first book-- please do not relegate me to a life of big R’s!
Now, back to those titles...
A great number of books are now sporting brilliant, witty titles and some lines are more likely to use what I consider to be more creative titles than others, but those aren’t the titles I’m talking about.  I’m talking about what I call the ‘tell-all’ titles. You know, the one’s like The Billionaire’s Mistress’ Secret Baby Scandal or The Emergency Doctor’s Marriage of Convenience to a Midwife. Now, I have been told the reasoning behind this type of title and I have to admit, it is a good one.  Apparently, it’s all down to marketing. Research has shown that there are a large number of readers out there who don’t read loglines or back cover blurbs. They make their choices based on titles alone. They know what they like, be it sheiks or firemen or reunited lovers, and the ‘tell-all’ titles hand a shopper all of the information she or he needs to decide if a book is for them or not.
Ok, fair enough, but in my opinion, some of the titles read like the worded equivalent to Fabio covers, though. Not that my opinion counts for much, especially when it’s up against decades of sales figures, but if I were in charge I’d do things a little different. I would use an imaginative (not at all cringe-worthy) title and a ‘tag cloud’ displaying the pertinent ‘story elements’ on the cover. Because I found a site full of free images (www.dreamstime.com) and because I was looking for a little procrastination, I made a mock-up cover for my current WIP (aimed at the Harlequin American Romance line). Don’t laugh.

This is just a mock-up. I am not pubblished. I only wish I was.

I don’t care about any of that, though. I love romance and what matters most to me is that writing romance is a brilliant way to spark a writing career. I really want to be a Harlequin American Romance author. Now, don’t get me wrong, romance is incredibly difficult to write. Regardless of the rumours, there is not formula for writing romance. There is a format, a set of very strict guidelines which require a very imaginative and disciplined writer able to include the necessary elements of romance without telling the ‘same old story’. I keep at it every day, praying to someday make the cut.
Of course, there does seem to be more opportunity for new writers in romance. I’m not saying it’s easy to get in. It isn’t easy to break into the publishing world no matter the genre.  Romance, however, is one of the few markets with publishers who don’t require authors to have an agent. Aside from my past with Harlequin and their amazing reputation as a publishing house, the fact that they accept unagented submission for most of their lines is a major selling point for me.
                Some writers use romance as a spring board. They write romances to hone their craft (if you can write a strong enough story to be published while sticking to the guidelines, you can write pretty much anything) and learn about the world of publishing, but writing romance is a fantastic career on its own. Harlequin expects around 3-4 books per year from their authors, so it is possible to make a living writing romance. I’d certainly love to give it a try!
There’s also no chance romance will die out. Romance Writers of America has posted some impressive figures on their web site (www.rwa.org) for romance sales in comparison with other genres. According to RWA, in 2009 romance sales totalled $1.36 billion compared with religion/inspirational ($770 million), Mystery ($674 million), science fiction/fantasy ($554 million), and classic literary fiction ($462 million), it’s easy to see that romance is leading the pack in sales and popularity. Even in the light of the recession and the decline of book sales overall romance is holding strong (please see the articles below).  It would seem that career stability as a writer is limited only by a writer’s ability to produce quality manuscripts.
With regards to my own writing, I will continue to work on my literary fiction and magical realism, but my focus will be on romance. I want to write the type of feel-good fiction which has continued to make me happy ever since I read that first book decades ago. I am very devoted to Harlequin. I am a member of the online community where I post regularly, I participated in the Valentine Secrets contest (you’ll find a link for my entry on my ‘Romance’ page), and I follow a number of Harlequin editors and authors on Twitter. I’m addicted, I know. I’ll continue to be an active part of the Harlequin community (it’s such an amazing, supportive place) and I’ll continue to write and submit and keep my fingers crossed, all the while waiting for my Call.
So, please do not judge a book by its cover... or its title. I challenge everyone who reads this post to try at least one Harlequin before you form an opinion of romance. You can even download free ones from Amazon for the Kindle (you can download Kindle for PC for free as well). Ignore the title, authors don’t get to pick their titles, they write the incredible stories, but do read the descriptions. My mother got a big surprise when she downloaded an erotic romance because it was free and she only read the title, she reads inspirational/Christian books! So read the blurb and make sure it isn’t something you’d hate regardless of the writing.
They are fast reads (normally 50-70k words) so you don’t need to devote your life to one. And I don’t know, you may read one and hate it. Or not. Your opinion of what you’ve read is what’s important. It’s vital to both established and aspiring authors to hear what readers think works and what doesn’t in a story. After all, every story may not suit every reader.  Just read one, then come back here and tell me what you thought of it.
I dare you.

Don’t take it from me...



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