Originally published in Writers Forum as part of an intended series called Love Craft. Sadly this was the only article published, but I will be publishing the other, previously unpublished articles, on this blog over the next few days or so. Whilst many cover subjects I've already dealt with, they are in a different format, and I hope will be of interest anyway.
8 Things You Always Wanted to Know about Writing Romantic Novels
Romance is big business. Mills and Boon sell around 100 million books a year, releasing up to five new titles a month. Fifty Shades of Grey, whatever your private thoughts about its literary quality, has put romance back at the top of a bestseller chart. So what opportunities are available for new writers hoping to break into this market? Top Mills and Boon novelist, Kate Walker, kindly helped me to answer some of your questions. Please note, that whilst Kate concentrates on Mills and Boon here, because she writes for them, the advice she gives is valid regardless of which romance publisher you want to write for.
Have I got what it takes to write romantic fiction?
If you enjoy reading love stories, especially in the current market, then the chances are you will be able to write romance. Kate says, “My advice would be to respect the genre. Don’t to think of it as something that you can ‘churn out’ very quickly to make a lot of money. If you don’t write a romance seriously it will show.” Kate goes on, “You’d be amazed how many people think they can just ‘dash off’ a ‘little romance’, without ever reading any of the books the publishers are buying right now. They have no idea what a contemporary romance is like because they have never read one or they read one once 20 years ago and think they are still the same.”
I like reading romantic fiction, but I’m not sure what type of novel I should write.
Kate said that it’s helpful to read as many different types of romance as possible. “In romance it is particularly important to know the line/ style of romance you’re aiming for, the sort of books the editors buy, the tone of the emotion, the sort of characters, plots and conflicts they want. Choose the type of romance fiction that speaks to you best – the one you feel you most want to write – and really study that.” Kate also suggests that you need to know what level of passion you’re most comfortable with writing. For example, the Mills and Boon Modern romances tend to have quite explicit sex scenes, and the fans of that line expect this. If you’re uncomfortable with writing about sex, then you may be better writing for a sweeter romance line.
It’s all a bit predictable; girl-meets-boy, girl-hates-boy, girl-loves-boy, isn’t it?
“Remember,” said Kate, “that ‘romance’ is not just one style of genre fiction but a very wide umbrella that covers a huge range of different styles, all with the romance element at their core.” A growing genre in romance is GBLT (Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian and Transgender). So it doesn’t even have to be girl-meets-boy anymore. It can be boy-meets-boy or girl-meets-girl. I’ll be looking in detail at the many different forms of romance over the coming months.
I’ve heard that publishers like Mills and Boon won’t even entertain manuscripts from men. Is it worth me bothering?
That’s a very old myth and not at all true. Many men write romance, using female pseudonyms. Emma Blair was the pseudonym of romantic saga writer Iain Blair. On the other hand, Nicholas Sparks is an American writer who is renowned under his own name for his romance novels (Message in a Bottle, The Notebook). If you’ve got a romantic story to tell, write it, and don’t worry about what the blokes down the pub say.
Do I need an agent?
The good news about writing romance is that a lot of romance publishers are happy to take unsolicited manuscripts, so you don’t necessarily need an agent. I know of bestselling romantic authors who’ve never had an agent. But it does depend on the market, so always check first.
Will it make me rich?
At the lower end of the pay scale, DC Thomson pays £300 for a 50k novel, and then you can earn more for Large Print rights. Mills and Boon pay around £2,000 advance, plus royalties. One newspaper reported that M&B authors earn about £100,000 a year. All the M&B authors I know thought that was hilarious! E-publishers don’t pay advances as a rule, but they do pay royalties of around 40%. The earnings from that depend on sales and the company may not be as prominent as M&B. Many writers supplement their income with workshops and talks. It’s fair to say that the majority of romance writers just love what they’re doing.
How long will it take me to become a published romance writer?
It depends how determined you are, and how well you understand the market to which you’re submitting. Some authors told me that they submitted several books before they had their first one accepted.
What other advice can you give me?
Kate has one specific bit of advice. “Read, read, read.” She is often stunned by the people who want to write romance but don’t read it. She continues, “Read a lot of novels but not just for the story they tell. Read to see how it’s done, how a book is put together. People ask me the most basic things in my classes, like how many words should there be in a chapter. Reading across the genre will help with this.”
“Another piece of advice,” said Kate, “is to write as yourself. Don’t try to imitate any established romance writers.” She accepts that it’s hard ‘if not impossible’ to be completely original. However, “You can be authentic.”
Kate suggested that you think about the things you know and what you can bring to your novel. “Courses, workshops, professional critiques can also be extremely valuable but you do need to be sure that the person running them knows what they’re talking about.”
Kate runs romance writing workshops in Caerleon and Fishguard (http://www.writersholiday.net/). Her 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance is a good starting point if you can’t get to the workshops.
Mills and Boon often run free (or very cheap) workshops at local libraries to coincide with their writing competitions in August/September. I’ve attended several and they’re very good.
Kate also suggested the RNA’s New Writer Scheme (http://www.rna.org) “Unpublished members pay a reading fee and submit a manuscript. This is critiqued by a professional. It’s usually an author who is published in the line that the writer is aiming for.”
The 2012 fee was £120. Interest in the scheme is high and membership is on a first come first served basis.
Busy mum, Teresa Morgan, who recently joined the scheme, spoke of the benefits. “I attend my local RNA chapter meeting, which enables me to meet and get advice from some great authors, plus swap notes with new writers like myself. The feedback through the scheme concerning my novel, although initially seeming harsh, pushed how thick my writer skin truly was.” However, Teresa says it was ‘invaluable’ and she now feels she has something to work towards.
Kate Walker ended with, “The best and most valuable advice is to write and keep writing. No editor is going to buy any book unless it’s finished.”