Roses are red, violets are blue, with love all around, why aren’t you writing romance, too?
Mills and Boon publish over 700 books a year and claim that in the UK alone, they sell a book every ten seconds. With such a voracious readership and demand for new material, writing romance could make great sense for your writing business. But how easy is it to break into this market, and what’s the business case for writing romance?
Kate Walker’s first romance, The Chalk Line, was published in December 1984, and since then, she’s written over 65 titles, along with her 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. She believes writers misunderstand the romance market.
‘There is the misconception that it’s so easy!’ she says. ‘You just “churn the books out” and “they are all the same,” and then you have no problem getting them published because there is no editorial criticism or questions. They are just published straight away.’
‘A major misconception that is widespread,’ she continues, ‘is that there are innumerable rules that the writer must follow: how many kisses, how and where the characters can touch each other. I suppose this all comes down to the common misconception of the “Formula” and that if you follow those formula rules, you will successfully publish a best-selling romance.’
Format, Not Formula
‘There isn’t a formula,’ says Kate, ‘but there is the basic format of a love story, and editors are looking for fresh voices, variations on a theme, not just the repeating of the same tried and tested plots. The current call from Harlequin Mills & Boon editorial is for unpredictability. “Innovate, don’t imitate.” They want new members of their stable of authors, not pale copies of the ones they already have.’
The romance genre is so much broader than its stereotypical trope because love transcends all boundaries and borders.
‘The truth is,’ Kate explains, ‘the central characters are as different and as varied as any people (human beings/creatures/aliens!) who have an emotional journey to tell. They can be male, female, gay, straight, old, young, LGBTQ+. A romance is about the relationship between two characters and the emotional story between them. Novice writers usually also believe that the characters have to be particular types: the heroine must be sweet, innocent, virginal, while the hero is strong, powerful, dominant.’
Essentially, writing romance is no different from writing any other genre. A writer needs to take the reader on a captivating journey.
‘The reader wants to follow that emotional journey between the characters from the moment of first meeting and see it resolved in the happy ending that is what they read romance for,’ says Kate.
There is plenty of support out there for those wanting to write for this market, and much of it available directly from the experts in this field.
‘The first thing I’d suggest is to join the Romantic Novelists’ Association,’ says Kate. ‘The RNA was founded in 1960 with the aim of celebrating and demanding respect for romantic fiction. They now represent over 1,000 authors, agents, editors, and other publishing professionals and are working to be a diverse and inclusive organisation, welcoming new members, and offering bursaries for new and mid-career authors from under-represented groups.’
Besides annual conferences, workshops and networking opportunities, the association also runs their popular New Writer Scheme for those looking to develop their romance-writing skills.
‘Through this, the RNA offers memberships to writers who are not yet published, and so who are not yet eligible to join the RNA as Full or Independent members. These scheme members will then have the opportunity to send in a full-length manuscript for a critique from our team of readers, all of whom are multi-published, experienced authors.’
‘I had the pleasure of meeting a few RNA members, initially online,’ John explains, ‘and then in “real life” almost exactly eight years ago, at the Festival of Romance in Bedford. I was recently retired and had always wanted to write something. I had been brought up on Georgette Heyer from an early age, and I was also a big fan of Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave series. After a few months, the drip started. “Go on, John, you know you want to try it!” So, I found myself on the phone at midnight on January 1st applying to join the RNA’s New Writers Scheme — and much to my surprise, I was accepted.’
For John, being part of the scheme encouraged him to sit down and write, and after five months, had produced a first draft of 100,000 words, which he sent in to be examined by his NWS Reader.
‘She produced a very detailed and encouraging report for me,’ he says, ‘and I worked diligently to correct all the faults she outlined.’
John writes historical romance, which is one of many romance sub-genres, including paranormal, regency, romantic suspense, fantasy, westerns, medical, and many, many more. Each has their own style and tone, and so some writers specialise in one sub-genre, while others can write in several. Mills and Boon currently operates seven different romance series. As Kate explains, it all comes down to understanding what the reader expects.
‘Because there are so many different lines published by Mills and Boon, I often meet writers who think that writing for each line is the same as writing for any other. But while the basic format of a romance story is much the same in those lines, there is so much that is different in writing a novel which will fit into each line and fulfil the readers’ expectations for those lines.’
‘There is a wide variety of tone, emotion, intensity, or mood. Perhaps the most obvious difference is in the degree of sensuality, the passion, and the intimacy that is actually shown on the page. But the real difference is in the intensity of the story and the emotions between the characters. Obviously, in the lines like the Medical Romances and the Historical Romances, the author needs to have the appropriate medical or historical knowledge to build a believable story with strong characters and foundation for the plot.’
‘There are some authors who can write in more than one line very successfully — Kate Hardy is a strong example of someone who writes both Medical and True Love line, but not everyone can manage this. She writes for both lines under the same pseudonym, and it works very successfully — but this is pretty rare. I would always recommend that an author focuses on building their reputation and following of readers in one line, rather than scattering the loyalty of readers across various lines.’
Having the skill and ability to create romantic stories readers enjoy is what publishers are looking for. They’re keen to meet the vast worldwide demand for romance stories. So, what are publishers like Mills and Boon looking for from their writers?
‘What Mills and Boon are looking for are career novelists,’ says Kate. ‘Writers who can build a list of novels that are published year after year. The way to build your reputation as a writer is to publish new titles — probably around two or more every year. There are so many authors and so many romance lines that you need to build your name and publication list so that readers recognise your work. Of course, building a social media presence is important and valuable now — there are so many authors and titles that it is easy to get buried in all the books that are issued every month.’
And as John’s RNA membership shows, although the vast majority of romance writers are women, it is a genre in which men can successfully write. Some choose to write under a female pseudonym. John considered it, but opted not to.
‘I had built up a substantial social media presence in my name, and so my publisher and I came to a joint decision to publish under my name for that reason,’ he says. ‘Peter O’Donnell, the author of the Modesty Blaise books, also wrote romance under the alias of Madeleine Brent. In that guise, he won the Romantic Novel of the Year for Merlin’s Keep in 1977. Unfortunately, the shadow of Barbara Cartland and the caricature of her in a cloud of pink tulle, smothered by Pekinese and being force-fed chocolates, still casts a long shadow.’
A Loving World
The language of love is understood the world over, so the opportunities for foreign sales are great, Kate explains.
‘Mills & Boon don’t need to push foreign rights because the market is there, ready and waiting for them. In my 35+ years writing and publishing for Harlequin, I have had books published in over thirty-five countries and more than twenty different languages worldwide. This is all the evidence you need to show how hugely popular romance novels are and how worldwide that appeal is.’
So if you’re falling in love with the idea of writing romance, start dating the genre in all its guises to find out which one you’re compatible with most.
And as John says, ‘Join your local chapter of the RNA, or at least get in touch with them. They will be full of encouragement and support, irrespective of gender. They are also a fount of knowledge, advice, and information. They have certainly been helpful to me and the other male members of the RNA.’
Romantic Novelists Association: https://romanticnovelistsassociation.org
Kate Walker: https://www.kate-walker.com
John Jackson: https://johnjacksonauthor.com
© Simon Whaley