TeleSummit Talk: Writing and Selling the Romance Novel

According to Romance Writers of America, romance fiction generated $1.375 billion in sales in 2007, compared to $650 million for mysteries, for example, or $466 million  for literary fiction.

Approximately 9,000 romance titles were released in 2007.

The essentials of romance writing:

      1. The plot of a romance novel is the development of the relationship–we used to say “between a man and a woman.”  But in today’s world, it could be a woman and a lizard creature from the planet Alpha Lasagna.  Or it could be two men.  Or two women.

        There are straightforward romances, where the man-woman story is central.   Some of these are historical romances.  Others are contemporary romances–which are broken down into subgenres such as:

        • romantic suspense novels
        • inspirational romances (where Christian values play a strong part in the story)
        • sweet romances that may include nothing more physical than holding hands and a kiss at the end of the book
        • erotic romances with highly explicit love scenes
        • paranormal romances–my other field.  This is where the hero or heroine of the book might be a space alien or a werewolf or a vampire.  Chiefly I’m attracted to werewolves–which I write about in my Moon series.
      2. You must add problems the h/h must overcome.

        These are divided into internal and external problems.

        The strongest romances give the reader the emotional impact of gut-wrenching internal problems that make it look like these people can’t possibly end up happy together.

      3. These problems must put the h/h in CONFLICT because conflict is the essence of fiction.

        Which means the characters you pick for your story are very important.  The readers must like them and sympathize with them.  Yet they must have flaws that make them three-dimensional and human.

        In a romance novel, these problems will make them afraid to reach out for love to their counterpart in the story.  They must have problems that throw them into conflict until the very end of the book.

      4. The strongest romances also have another important element: the black moment or the moment of ritual death.  This is the point at which the character truly gives up on the relationship.  It is a moment of grief where the obstacles keeping h/h apart seem insurmountable, and they are sure that things will never work out for them.  They each need to envision the future without the other person. The joy will be gone–because they won’t be sharing it with the person they love.
      5. Emotion is the heart and soul of romance.  The romance reader wants to know what the characters are feeling and why.  You must give the reader the strongest possible connection between herself and the characters.

        How do you connect with the reader on the deepest possible level?

        • With physiological reactions.  How do you FEEL when you’re excited?  Scared?  Sad?  In love?  The reader wants to feel the thudding of the character’s heart.  The goose bumps peppering her skin.  The terrible constriction of her throat.  The cotton-mouth dryness of her mouth.  The barbed wire twisting in her stomach.
        • And by using all of the character’s senses.  Don’t just describe what he’s seeing. What’s he hearing?  Smelling?  Tasting?  Touching?

        The most important thing about every incident in the book is how the characters react to it.

      6. Start with a dead horse in the living room.

        You want to hook the reader with the first scene.  Grip her by the collar, and don’t let her go.

        Make that first sentence count.  That first paragraph.  Make it your best writing.

        Immediately involve the reader.  Intrigue her.  Don’t start off with too much background.  Ask yourself–Does the reader need to know this NOW, or can it wait until later?

      7. Love scenes can’t be gratuitous.  The sexual relationship arises out of the intimate relationship developing between the h/h.  And when they make love, the scene must advance the plot.  We find out more about their personalities.  They reach another level of intimacy.

        How much detail and what words do you use in love scenes?  It depends.

        In my Harlequin Intrigues, I use a lot of euphemism–because of the editorial guidelines.  In my single-title Moon books for Berkley, I can use any words I want.

        You have to decide what you’re comfortable with.  And you need to see how strict the publisher is with these scenes.

      8. The final essential for a romance–a happy ending. The book must wrap up with a warm, joyful ending in which the reader gets to feel the happiness of the main characters as they profess their love and envision the future together.  The ending must not be abrupt.  You want to give the reader enough so that she closes the book with a sense of satisfaction.

        The strongest ending will expand the happiness of the h/h to include the people around them.  The townspeople.  Their children.  Parents.  People who work for them.

      Where can you sell a romance?  As I said, the market is enormous, and almost every major publisher has a romance line. Most romances are mass market paperbacks.

      One of the biggest publishers of romance is Harlequin/Silhouette, which puts out at least 150 series romances a month.  Series means these books are published in what is called a line.  For example, I write for Harlequin Intrigue–the Harlequin line where the mystery and suspense are as important as the romance in the story.  Silhouette Nocturne is their paranormal line.  Harlequin SuperRomances are longer books with more character development and more subplot.

      Harlequin also publishes “single title” romances with Mira Books.  And most major publishers have a romance imprint.  Berkley, Avon, Ballantine, Grand Central (formerly Warner), Kensington, Bantam, Dell, Dorchester, St. Martins.   If you go to the romance section in a chain bookstore, you can see these books.

      Most publishers will look at unsolicited unagented queries.  Some will also take unsolicited  manuscript submissions.  You can find out who takes what by looking at Writers Market or Literary Marketplace.  And most publishers have Web sites where they give their submission guidelines.  Follow them.  If you don’t, you’ll be rejected.

      If you’re interested in romance writing, I’d highly recommend Romance Writers of America–see