Agent Scott Eagan On: Romance vs. Women’s Fiction

When I first opened Greyhaus Literary Agency in 2003, I decided to focus simply on romance and women’s fiction. Since that time, I honestly don’t know how many times I have been asked “What is the difference between romance and women’s fiction?” It seems that, in my humble opinion, the line has really been blurred between these two genres. There is fiction with romantic elements. There is literary fiction told from a female perspective … the list goes on and on. Considering Greyhaus focuses exclusively on romance and women’s fiction, I felt it was necessary to really define the two genres and make it clear to both myself, as I looked at new proposals, and to the readers that submit to me.

(Learn more about new literary agent Pam van Hylckama Vlieg of Larsen Pomada Literary, who seeks adult romance.)


This guest column by agent
Scott Eagan of Greyhaus Literary


I do have to say, however, that I have received a lot of criticism from writers that claim you really can’t categorize writing. Often, I am electronically screamed at by writers who claim writing can’t be categorized like this. I laugh at this comment. My undergraduate work was in Literature and anyone who remembers anything from any literature class they took will remember that we do indeed divide writing into stylistic differences. There is a huge difference between the writings of Coleridge and Wordsworth and the writings of Locke and Jefferson. One is from the romantic period and one is from the Age of Reason. In both cases, the writing met certain criteria, other than simply being written during a time period. There are stylistic elements.

For those of you that might not be on board with literature, let’s try music? Baroque, Classical, Romantic? Get the idea. I could go on an on with this but I think you understand where I am coming from. Writing is going to do the same thing.

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LET’S BEGIN WITH ROMANCE

At Greyhaus, I really like to stick to a traditional definition of the romance genre. In this genre, the writing will have two key traditional elements.

  • The relationship is the central plot arc of the story.
  • There is a happily-ever-after.

In romance, a writer needs to see the growing relationship of the hero and the heroine. There may be other elements going on in the story but the romance is still the central focus of the story. We want to see the two characters come together through whatever adventures they may be dealing with. Romance, of course, can be written in a variety of sub-genres (paranormal, historical, suspense and mystery) but the relationship has to be the central focus of the story. This is easy to spot. If you tell someone what your story is about, and the focus is only on the characters and their growing attraction toward one another, then you are likely in that romance. Please understand that if your story doesn’t revolve around that, it does not necessarily mean that you have women’s fiction. We will get to that later. This genre also has a second element. There is a happily-ever-after. And yes, the same rule applies here as did with the prior point. If a story doesn’t have that happily-ever-after, it does not mean it’s suddenly women’s fiction.

(Learn more about New lit agent Paula Munier of Talcott Notch, who seeks romance and much more.)

Remember that the goal of romance is to show a growing and developing relationship. We want that “fantasy” world. While the real world may have pain and hardship, we want to escape to that “better” world every now and then. We can have tears, anger and pain along the way, but the readers want to know, that when they close the book in the end, we know the characters are going on with their lives, happy and content.

I do get a lot of writers that say their story is really set during a romantic period, or they have added a romance to the story, but I think you can see that doesn’t quite meet the genre. Yes, it is a fine line, but there is still a line.

BUT WHAT ABOUT WOMEN’S FICTION?

In women’s fiction, is there no happily-ever-after? Does this mean there is no romance? No. Women’s fiction is about something much more. I have always tried to define this genre as a story that shows the female journey. The goal and the intent of this genre is to be able to relate to the character and understand her own life. We want to know what it is to be a woman. Like romance, this can occur in any time period, but the goal is still the same – to understand the female psyche. The story can be multicultural, like Amy Tan, or historical, like Philippa Gregory. It really doesn’t matter other than making the heroine the central focus of the story. It may be contemporary. One of my favorite stories that I believe fits this the best is A Summer All Her Own by Rosanne Keller.

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I often think about these stories as the type women will sit around and talk about. The stories that allow women to say, “Hey, I’ve gone through that.” Readers are learning they are not alone, and hopefully, through that story, they can learn new ways to cope with struggles that seep to be daunting at the present time.

For those of you submitting to Greyhaus, you can now see where I am coming from when dealing with submissions. I’m accepting queries again, so check my website for exact submission guidelines.

 


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0 thoughts on “Agent Scott Eagan On: Romance vs. Women’s Fiction

  1. Me

    @Steve

    Dude, I agree with you. Thing is genres are really more for the consumer than for literary aficionados like us. Consumers who have busy schedules and don’t have time to bother with technicalities. Consumers who see a Romance novel with a half naked novel on a shelf and go, "Ewww, I like Romance and I like half naked men. I simply must have it! Yippee!" Thus, it makes sense for a literary agent to be more concerned with how the consumer thinks than how we anal writers bicker. 🙂

  2. Steve

    Scott,

    I must disagree, at least in part, about the distinctiveness of category lines both in music and in literature. Since I have studied neither field academically, I cannot speak to your historical examples. But if we survey the contemporary landscxape, going back say as much as 50 years in some cases, the lines of confusion become more evident. I will take examples from my own areas of familiarity, which are probably different than yours.

    I have been a life-long reader of science fiction. Over the years I have read numerous discussions by acknowledged practitioners of the genre trying to define what it consists of. Set in the future? Depending on scientific innovation as a centerpiece of the story? Set in an extraterrestrial locale? None of these guidelines achieve consensus as universal. The most reliable definition is "I know it when I see it". However, that definition is only reliable for the individual speaking. For instance, is Ray Bradbury’s "Martian Chronicles" Science Fiction? Bradbury was "family" to genre SF, and wrote from wition that tradition. However, the work takes place on a Mars that never existed, nor could it. Arugably the work is fantasy (although many disagree). Are dystopias with no strong scientific emphasis (1984, Farenheit 451) SF? They are if you want them to be. Nevil Shute’s "On the Beach" was arguably SF – but it was marketed as mainstream literature.

    Jumping a little, what about YA? Arguably it is not a category in the same sense as genres are categories. It contains content from many genres. But it is classed as a category.

    I could go on, but you get the idea.

    Now let’s look at music. Are the lines clear between rock & roll, "rock", Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Southern Rock, pop-rock?. How about "Classic Rock"? Is 80’s punk the same music as contemporary punk? Where is the dividing line (in the eighties) between punk and new wave? How about metal. heavy metal, black metal, death metal, hardcore and screamo? You can draw lines in all these cases. What you can’t do is achieve consensus on where they go.

    I’ve been to concerts where players of loud hard stuff have, from the stage, denied the relevance of labels such as "metal" or "hardcore" and prefer to just be known for the music they play.

    ANd let’s not even get started on the distinction between musical style and radio format.

    And what does Taylor Swift perform? Pop? or Country? Miley Cyrus, anybody?

    I won’t deny that categories can be useful to give a broad general sense of divisions among musical or literary styles and subjects. But I can’t see taking them too seriously, especially at the boundaries.

    Modern literary and musical categories seem a little like dividing food into fruits, vegetables, eggs, carbohydrates, fast food, and Italian.

    -Steve

  3. Scott Eagan

    Hey all,

    I wanted to let you know Greyhaus is indeed open to submissions. When I wrote the article, I wasn’t sure when I would re-open. Please review submission information guidelines found on the website.

    Remember, I ONLY represent romance and women’s fiction.

  4. Barb Weitz

    Since I’ve had a really hard time understanding what I write, "Women’s Fiction" versus "Romance", I thank you for this post. My question revolves around the fact I always seem to incorporate a light mystery in my stories which complicates and propels the plot to reveal character growth. Many times from multiple angles. Recently, I was told this is called a plot-driven story and a major no-no guaranteed to get you a rejection by agents and editors. Would you please comment on this. Thank you.

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