Monday, July 6, 2015

Romance Novels Are Not Just About Sex

I love attending writing conferences, and especially those that focus on the general fiction market. Don't get me wrong RWA people, I love the romance conferences as well. But here is the thing. When I attend the general fiction conferences, I get to really teach about the romance genre. There is a huge misconception there as to what this genre entails.

For many, here are the thoughts people come in with regarding the romance novel. They believe it is a romance if:

–“I have romance in my story.”
–There is a relationship
–It is in a romantic setting
–The characters get married
–The characters have sex

But here is the thing. While many romance novels utilize these common elements, the romance itself focuses exclusively on the building of a relationship. We are watching from the sidelines as two characters fall in love with one another. Let's look at the specifics.

The relationship is the central story arc - As I said, the romance is the central story arc. You can pretty much write about any other sub-plot as the backdrop. but if we chart out what the main story is, it would be watching the hero and heroine discover each other and fall in love. 

There is a happily ever after - I know a lot of people have a hard time with this one, but with the romance, we want to know, when we finish the book, the two are together, and will be together for some time. This might not be the actual marriage, but we know they have committed to each other by the end of the book. 

The focus is primarily from a female perspective - This is not always the case so please understand this. You will likely have scenes from the male POV, but the heaviest emphasis is from the female POV. A lot of authors seem to feel that if they have a female protagonist, she is the narrator and she falls in love, then this is a romance. The POV is just one part of it. It is seeing the world through the female lens that puts romance into the women's fiction genre. 

The story is about human nature Because it focuses on that relationship, we want to see how human nature is bringing the two characters together. We want to see how they react and behave to the things the other person says and how they act. 

As far as the sex element, we have to remember that this is not what makes a romance. There are a ton of romance novels out there where the extent of any physical interaction is a simple kiss. The level of sensuality you put in the story is really up to you and your readers. Remember though, when the sex becomes the storyline, you are now moving out of the romance genre and moving into the erotica genre. 

So, for those of you heading off to those conference, remember to really examine your novel before pitching it. If it is not a romance, then don't pitch it as one. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Great Titles For All Tastes

It is going to be HOT up here in the Pacific Northwest. For me, I will be driving kids to swim practice, the dance studio and to the stables. If I'm not there, I will be hunkered down inside the house with the AC going. That doesn't stop me from breaking out a few books.

So, if you are into tame romances, check out Nikki Poppen. Interested in thought provoking stories about race relations, Jean Love Cush has done a great job capturing this message. Want great relationship stories, check out Helen Lacey or Nancy Holland. If medical romances and your fill of Dr. McDreamy, check out Amy Ruttan. If historical is what you want, Ann Lethbridge is your choice.  If you are looking to escape to exotic locations for some romantic suspense, check out Ryshia Kennie! If you want the HOT and SIZZLING steam then Bronwyn Scott is your choice. And yes, if you just want some poetry, I threw in my book. Regardless...

Here is what to do (or read) over the 4th of July weekend.






Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Identifying The Focus Of A Conference

I was looking through a couple of upcoming conferences to see what was going on. These are conferences I am not personally attending, but it is always nice to see trends. In this case, what I saw was VERY telling. In fact, this is something you should be doing before every conference so that you can be either better prepared, or make the decision if this is the conference for you or not.

So, when I looked at the conference page, I started with the editors or agents. This is a conference close enough for me to get to in a full day's drive so if there was someone I wanted to meet with, I could make it there. This list was very unique.

The editors list had a small list of editors but half were from smaller independent and digital publishers. Those from the larger houses were VERY selective in terms of what they were looking for. A lot of non-fiction, memoirs and so forth. Anything commercial was simply not there.

As for the agents, the list was double that of the editors, but even these agents were looking for things that would only go to self-publishing houses or smaller independent presses. Sure, there were some mentions of commercial fiction, but the works they were focused on were those smaller genres.

When it came to the sessions, the focus was on VERY niche genres and over half were focused on only selling your books on your own and doing it digitally.

But what does this tell me? First of all, the conference is clearly showing their perspective that they wanted to overly emphasize this smaller market. For those wanting to take the traditional approach, they will simply be out of luck. Secondly, it is clear that this conference believes that commercial fiction is not the place to be. Finally, the only people who will be successful with pitch sessions here are those who either have the next 6 figure NY Times Best Seller, or people only interested in those smaller presses. There is not middle ground here.

I bring this up because this is what every author should do BEFORE dropping a lot of money in conference registrations, hotels, and transportation. Review the schedule. See who is going to be there. Be very clear before showing up. I the case of this conference, if someone were to show up wanting to write something more commercial and/or more traditional, the odds are, this conference would be a complete waste.

Even if you were interested in taking just sessions and skipping the pitches, the odds are you might be disappointed, unless you were into one of these niche approaches.

I should also note that authors cannot draw any conclusions from a brief study such as this that the conference line up "reflects what the trends are in publishing today." This may simply be that the organizers had their own agenda in mind. Sure, it may be trends, but that may not be the only reason.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Category to Single Title: It's More Than Word Count

During one of the first few years of opening Greyhaus Literary Agency, myself and one of my interns spent a year dissecting and studying the differences between Category (or sometimes called Series) romance and Single Title. We had heard editors and other agents make comment such as "that really has a category voice" so we went out to really look at what that was. I bring this up because I have seen a recent spike in authors who really do seem to miss the mark when it comes to understanding that it is more than word count. 

Too often authors will submit stories to me believing it fits one of the category romance lines I represent, but they do so strictly because of the word count. For example, Harlequin Intrigue looks for stories that are 55,000-60,000 words in length. Compare this to a single title romantic suspense line that will run at least 75,000 words but extend up into the 100K word count. Regardless, these authors because they have a shorter story, believe it is a great fit. 

On the other side of that coin, are authors who want to write single title stories or have stories that are in the 90,000 word count range. They simply feel that because the story is longer, it is now single title. 


There really is a huge difference between the two styles of writing, and it all comes down to the voice. Now, the word count does play a factory in understanding the voice. Remember that with a smaller word count, authors will leave things out and the focus their attention on different things than the single title authors would focus in on. 

The category romance is all about the romance and relationship building. This is a focused study of the growing relationship between these two characters. While there may be subplots in the story, these will be kept to a minimum. In essence, think of this like filming a movie. Category romance has limited cameras so it can only view individual things one at a time. No sweeping landscapes but the intimacy of the moment. 

For single title, because there is a larger word count, there is the room and luxury to "use more cameras". Authors can develop those subplots to create some added depth. More characters can be added to round out the scene. And yes, the story can focus on more things. 

But here is where the authors miss the point. The difference is also in the voice and the depth of the storytelling. This is not saying that category and series stories "lack depth". Instead, it is the focus and the intensity of the individual moment. In fact, one of the Harlequin editors (can't remember who said it) described these stories as being "really big stories in a small package." This means that the author is focusing on word economy, leaving off the unnecessary verbiage frequently found in single title, and concentrating the attention on the characters and their plot. With single title, the authors will linger more on scenes and moments. What a category author would do in a page or two would be stretched out to 5+ pages or a full chapter. 

Authors have to understand that just "adding stuff" to your story is not going to make it a single title. Some authors have literally told me they can "just put in a few more subplots and characters to get the word count up there." The problem with this is that they now have a 90,000 word category romance. It was just longer. The authors did not focus in on how the story sounds. 

I should note, that writing one style of writing is not better than writing another. This is often a huge misconception. Somehow, the belief is that writing single title creates a stronger story. Nope! The story is just different.