Romance is a rich, diverse genre with a loyal following of readers and a firm place at the top of the genre fiction market. Since the explosion of self-publishing, new authors who write romance have been coming to the genre every month, providing those of us who love romance novels a wealth of choices and the opportunity to lose ourselves in new stories, unique characters and timeless happily ever afters.
But sometimes there’s one thing missing: respect.
Long-time readers and veteran authors of romance know that respect is key to success in the market. Seeing someone who doesn’t respect or understand the genre trying to capitalize on its loyal audience can be incredibly frustrating to an editor.
So here are my five tips on how to write romance with respect, for those looking to break in.
This guest post is by Angela James. James is the editorial director of Harlequin’s digital-first imprint, Carina Press.
Follow her on Twitter @angelajames.
1. Respect the Happily Ever After:
Some people might leave this rule for last, but to me it’s paramount. You may have heard people say that romances are predictable because readers demand one thing in their books: a “Happily Ever After” (HEA) or a “Happy for Now” (HFN). But the truth is, this guaranteed ending is what makes romance work. It generates comfort, satisfaction and positive feelings within readers. And while readers might know there’s a happy ending on the way, romance is anything but predictable. The journey, the conflict, the story, the characters and the words are limited only by the author’s imagination. Readers are willing to take a chance on each new story and author because they know a happy ending is guaranteed. Kill off a protagonist, pair him or her with someone else, or leave things unfinished, and you’ll have readers who feel you’ve disrespected them and the genre. In their eyes, you may have written a love story, but you haven’t written a romance.
2. Respect the reader:
This goes hand in hand with my first point, but let’s dig a little deeper. Respecting your readers isn’t just about meeting reader expectations for an HEA. It’s also about showing the reader you care about their reading experience, appreciate that they’re spending their hard-earned money on your book, and want to deliver them the best possible product. That means writing your best book every time. Hire an editor. Use beta readers. Deliver a quality story that’s as error free and enjoyable as you can make it. Invest money in your product to create a superior reading experience.
3. Respect your brand:
Showing respect to the reader with a quality product will have a direct correlation on the strength of your author brand. Your brand is a promise to readers that they can count on something—quality, voice, great dialogue, unique characters, fantastic world-building and an HEA/HFN—every time they pick up one of your books. How you develop your brand is up to you, but respecting it by always delivering on a promise of quality will help you grow a faithful audience who will not only buy your books without hesitation but will recommend you to their romance-reading community.
4. Respect your fellow authors:
There’s room in romance publishing for those who long to create, write, publish and, yes, make money. It’s natural to feel a sense of competition, but one of the wonderful things about this genre is the willingness of romance authors to mentor, support and cheer on their fellow scribes. More work in the market might mean more competition, but it also means more variety for readers to choose from. And more books in the market means more readers noticing romance and more readers buying romance, and therefore more readers for everyone. Instead of comparing your work to others or claiming that it’s “better than the other smut out there” or “elevating the genre,” respect that your fellow authors are not only putting in the same effort you are, but are also your best resource for industry knowledge, advice and promotion.
5. Respect diversity:
This feels like it should be the easiest point (and one that shouldn’t need to be stated, in a perfect world), but it is perhaps the hardest one of all. Following social media hashtags such as #weneeddiversebooks and #ownvoices will show you only a small part of the conversation about diversity in fiction and how crucial it is for authors to respect it. Do your research; utilize sensitivity readers when appropriate; ask others for opinions and feedback; avoid cultural misappropriation, clichéd cultural depictions or offensive characterizations; and, if you make a misstep, own your mistake, apologize and strive to do better.
Keeping in mind these five tips will lay the groundwork for a successful romance career. Offering respect to your readers, your brand, the issue of diversity and your fellow authors builds an environment where creativity is rewarded and everyone can achieve their ultimate goal: to build a passionate, devoted base of readers who will loyally buy their books for years to come.
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- The specific elements of a romance novel agents look for
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- And more!