How to Write a Romance Novel

Okay, that’s a pretty huge topic for one little blog post, but let’s see if I can cover the highlights in 300 words or fewer, shall we?

Every once in a while a friend or acquaintance will approach me, wanting to know how they can churn out a romance in a month or so and start raking in the cash. When I finish laughing and wiping the tears from my eyes, I have to break the terrible news to them: writing romance novels is difficult, and it’s not a job for the condescending. Also, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.

Sure, in a cynical mindset, you might be able to write a serviceable book and you might, if you’re really lucky, be able to sell it to someone. But can you build a steady stream of sales that way? I very much doubt it. Readers are smart. They look for books with genuine heart, written by authors with a true love of the genre. And you can’t earn anything close to a living writing romance novels unless you build a readership by putting out lots of good books.

So first and foremost, you need to pour your heart and soul into your story. Anything less comes across as hollow and false, forced, condescending…bleh. What does it mean to write with heart? Check out Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or Susan Wiggs, or any number of talented greats in the genre. I was just reading a book yesterday written by the wonderful and talented Barbara Samuel, entitled How to Bake a Perfect Life, and it is a great example of a book the author poured her heart and soul into. You can see it and feel it in the writing. It moves you.

Next, you have to know the genre. Know what’s been done to death, what’s cliche, what’s not. This means reading widely, not only from current releases, but from classics as well.

Another vital task is honing your craft. Think writing romance is easy? It’s anything but. It’s possibly the most difficult genre to do well, because it’s almost entirely character driven, and the characters have to not only be interesting and real but they must behave heroically nearly all the time. How to accomplish that and still do something original? Figure that out and you just might have a romance writing career on your hands. But while you’re figuring it out, you have to pay attention to the craft of writing. Study it and study it some more. Good writers never stop learning. I still read books about the craft of writing nearly every day, and I plan to do so for the rest of my life.

Once you’ve studied the genre, committed to becoming a master of the writing craft, and have settled into your own heart-felt voice, what’s next? Behave like a professional at all times. Remember that editors and agents are people with jobs. They are not the gatekeepers of some mystical land where cash grows on trees and all your dreams will be made real. Vow to never behave desperately. Treat editors and agents like the professionals they are, and remember always that they are people! If you treat them as such, they’ll appreciate it and be far more likely to consider your work than if you, say, color all your interactions with desperation to get your work on their desk.

Finally, learn to sell yourself and your work. This is my least favorite part of the business, but business it is, and we all must be in it if we want to be writers who sell our work. Selling yourself means learning to write a great query letter, learning to pitch your ideas effectively, learning to maintain a website, develop a public presence, and promote your work however you best see fit. But this should come at the very end, after you’ve mastered the rest.

Want more specifics? Post your questions here, and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Oh, and oops, this is 670-something words now.

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