Writer Wednesday: Is Writing Romance Easy? Is It Easier to Get Published?

easypeasyAre you a romance writer? Then you’ve heard this said, I’m sure. Romance is a formula, it’s easy to write or It’s easier to get published in Romance.

Sometimes I just want to give the big eff you to those who maintain this. It chaps me to no end, because I’ve been working my tail off for years to hone my craft. I must be an idiot then and doing something wrong. Most of the time I’ve only seen this attitude online; I’m lucky that I have a very supportive circle of family and friends who know how hard I’ve worked, so typically the only time I’ve run across this is when I’m introduced to someone new, or occasionally on a non-romance forum.

Like this email I got after I signed with my agent back in October. She congratulated me, but then went on to remind me that it’s just a first step to getting published (yeah, I didn’t know that, thanks) and then she said this:

I know nothing about Romance writing, but I have heard (perhaps it’s just an urban myth) you can get into publication a lot faster. Since most people wait years to see a book in print, I think inking a deal where your book could be out in 12-18 months is pretty amazing sounding. I can understand why so many people go self publishing, (one of my only romance writing pals went that route) at some point you’re just hungry to get stuff out there.

Is it just me, or does this come across weird? I don’t think she meant to come across backhanded. Given that the forum was all about landing an agent, it felt like it was also saying in a way that I’d gotten one easier than her and the others because I’m writing Romance (I was one of very few on that site). This could just be me. But anyway, I thought I’d explore this a little and then open it up to discussion.

Why is Romance judged by the worst in its genre and not its best?

I work in a bookstore and see this attitude, though I’ve also experienced it elsewhere. Horror is judged by its greats like Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Science Fiction by the likes of Asimov, Bradbury, Herbert, P.K. Dick, and Heinlein. But romance? Actually it’s not judged by its greats, typically, because usually the ones making fun of it have never even read a single book in the genre. Yes, there’s bad romance, but there’s also bad horror and bad science fiction, bad fantasy. I’m sorry, but there is. And while there are some who make fun of sf/fantasy (and judged it by its worst by folks who’ve never read it also) , it doesn’t seem to be as pervasive. I see people proudly walking up to that section of the store. It’s also not denigrated by the owners and they stock it well. The Romance section? It’s gotten better since I started, but it’s still the red-headed step child and stocked with just whatever they happen to find marked romance. Patrons also approach it less boldly.

It’s a formula. The endings are the same.

Yes, romances have to end with a Happily Ever After or a Happily For Now, but Mysteries have to end with the murder solved by the protagonist, Suspense/Thrillers with the good guy overcoming the bad guy, etc. And I’ll maintain that it’s hard writing a novel where the end is already known and still make the reader suspend their disbelief and think that maybe, just this once, it won’t happen, or make them wonder how it could possibly happen.

Since it’s got the biggest market share, it’s easier to get published

As Romance Writer’s of Australia points out in this post: “It’s harder than most people think. Even Mills and Boon, that urban myth claims is so easy to ‘crack’, receive something like 20,000 unsolicited manuscripts each year from all over the world. They contract perhaps 30 new writers. They’re just one of the publishers.”

Because it’s such a large share, there’s more writers, so I’m thinking the percentage of those that get traditionally published is still small.

And I know some very talented romance writers who’ve not yet landed an agent. I don’t have statistics handy, but I know that agents who represent romance only accept a handful of new clients a year.  Just take a look at these stats by agent Kristin Nelson, whose agency is one of the heavy hitters in our genre– out of 32,000+ queries they signed 16 new clients. (And they represent more than just Romance).

More non-traditional avenues

This is true. Romance leads the way in indie publishing, and many small publishers have come into existence to help feed the demand for books in this genre. There are more of these than there are if you write science fiction or horror, and if you write literary fiction? Tiny. But remember, there’s also more of us writing this genre, so we’re still competing against others to get those e-publishing contracts. I’ll come out and admit that BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS was rejected by some of these, so it’s not a case of if you write a romance it’ll automatically get published by an e-publisher, which I think nay-sayers believe.

And on a final note, writing convincing emotion is extremely difficult, at least for me it is. It’s necessary to have it in this genre, but oh so hard to pull off without delving into schlocky-land or over-the-top land.

So for those scoffers–> you try to write a good one and get back to me :)

But, I know this sounds like this bothers me a lot. It really doesn’t. I just shrug it off and keep working hard. I mainly wanted to write this to put this out there and start a discussion.

What are some of the attitudes you’ve heard that have made you a little twitchy?

How Accurate Do Your Historicals Need To Be?

I’ve heard various opinions on this, either in conversations with fellow writers or in blog posts. One thing I’ve found is that opinion amongst those romance writers I’ve talked to vary WIDELY.

One writer I talked to, when I said that the historical inaccuracies in one NYT Bestselling Author used to bother me, but her delightful writing and humor won me over, stated she couldn’t read her works because of the inaccuracies. I’ve heard others say that they don’t worry too much about historical accuracy when writing because they consider the historical past a fantasy world.

I think I fall somewhere between, with my bar as a writer higher than as a reader.

While I agree that the worlds we are creating for our reader are fantasy worlds, that fantasy world can be popped if we’re too careless with facts. It’s true that we write about situations and events that might not have happened, heck, I wrote a time travel, and we know there just weren’t that many scorchingly handsome, progressive-thinking single dukes to be had in Regency England for our Bluestocking heroine. But I do think we have a responsibility to be as accurate as we can while still creating that fantasy world for our readers.

I feel like if a book has the basics down, I’m able to suspend my disbelief and immerse myself in the straight-up Regency with the aforementioned hijinks of the duke and heroine, or into the wonderful world of vampires, werewolves and tea in Victorian England, like Gail Carriger’s wonderful Parasol Protectorate series. I wonder if it’s the same level of tolerance paranormal writers talk about? You can have one made up thing/premise, but throw in more and you risk popping that bubble?

So if the premise is what we’re making up, shouldn’t we try to be as accurate as possible with the day-to-day, non-plot elements? Nothing yanks me out of that world than simple historical details that could easily be fixed without affecting the plot. Some things that yanked me out recently:

  • Addressing someone by the wrong title. It should have been Lady Something, not Miss Something
  • Introduction etiquette–who-gets-introduced-first type of thing.
  • Having the heroine refer to wearing bloomers (and using that word) in a Regency. Not only a problem with word choice, but they didn’t wear pantaloons or drawers in the early Regency.
  • Having an historical character know that a Jane Austen novel was written by Jane Austen and the book is set prior to 1817. I blogged about fact-checking last year and about this particular date.
  • Using modern day valuations for transactions. I remember one historical where the hero gave the heroine like a 100,000 British pounds piece of jewelry. While yes, today, that would be extremely expensive and would show how wealthy the dude was, did the writer understand how freakishly, astronomically expensive that would have been in modern terms when converted to the valuation of the pound in the novel’s time?
  • Using the word fiancé or fianceé in a Regency. They used the word betrothed until about the 1850s.
  • A Scotsman from the 900s wielding a claymore.

I know that there’s way more than this that will yank me out, but that’s all I can think of that I remember, or came across in my reading in the last week (wish I’d taken notes!). I also know we can’t possibly get everything accurate, because sometimes even historians are divided about what really happened. And also because sometimes we just can’t know. Or it’s something that only someone with a doctorate in history would happen to know. After all, we’re not writing non-fiction, we are writing entertainment. But for things that are basic, like what they ate and wore, etc., we should strive to be as accurate as possible. That’s my take.

Also, others might look at some of my examples and roll their eyes as their tolerance as a reader is lower. And that’s fine. It’s all about the reader and what keeps their willing suspension of disbelief.

This also underscores how important Beta readers are. I know mine have caught numerous historical inaccuracies and anachronisms in mine! (Thank you!)

As a reader, where do you fall on this spectrum? Writers, how accurate do you strive to be? As a writer, is your reading tolerance higher or lower than what you write?

Recap of RWA12, plus other news!

Man what a week that was! Last month (Wait. What??) was the Romance Writer’s of America’s national conference in Anaheim, California. Being an introvert, it took me awhile to recover when I returned home, hence the lateness of this post. Plus, I’ve also been busy polishing MUST LOVE BREECHES to send out and also subject to another round of queries (more on that at the end of the post).

I thought I’d do a quick recap, but focus on only how the conference experience was for me, instead of giving a highlights recap as many have already done much better than I could. You know, I actually thought I would live blog the conference? Hahahahaha, giggle, sniff. Yeah. I barely tweeted.

One of the main validations I received was the payoff in all the hard work I’ve put into my writing career in the last year, especially cultivating my social media profile. As conference roomie Jami Gold explained so well in her post, Social Media: An Introvert’s Secret Weapon, those of us who have cultivated our online presence saw the benefits when we arrived at the conference. I hopped on the airport shuttle to the hotel, and two other attendees were on board. Like a good newbie, I handed out my card, and one of them recognized my name! (Remember, I’m unpublished) — she’d ‘seen’ me on one of the RWA loops and we figured out which one and had a great convo on the drive.

I checked in early (I arrived in CA around 9:30 a.m.) and then took the Amtrack into Los Angeles to meet my cousin for a late lunch. Like many in LA, she’s a struggling actress. She took me to Cole’s in downtown LA, which just oozed 1930s glam. We caught up on our happenings and had a cute bartender who was kind of a geek about mixology, which was a lot of fun. He mixed me a very tasty Old Fashioned, which I only found out after my second one that he made it with 100 proof bourbon, yikes!

The bar at Cole’s

Back at the hotel, I texted Jami and I finally got to meet her at the Literacy signing! We’ve been Beta reading buddies, and it was so great to finally meet in person, someone whom I’d been communicating and forming a friendship with first via Twitter, then email and then even phone (I hate talking on the phone).  She was with Buffy Armstrong, who I’d interacted with on Twitter and we had a great time going around the tables. The room was filled with writers signing books, and the first person I had to locate and say “Hi” to was Tessa Dare.

Sidenote: I have a little confession to make. My first fiction writing attempts began back in 2005 when I wrote Jane Austen fan fiction. I’d created a website called Longbourn Loungers for fans of the 2005 Pride & Prejudice movie and we had a lot of fun for a while indulging our addiction and exercising our writing muscles. My screen name was Plange. One of the participants was Tessa under the screen name Vangie and we Beta’d each others stories. I remember being blown away then by her prose. So we were super excited to see her succeed so well later on! I’m still in touch with several of the participants via Facebook and email and they were the ones who turned me on to NaNoWriMo back in 2009 which finally got me over my fear of writing novel-length fiction, and so I owe a huge debt to the Loungers :) One of them is fellow Six Sentence Sunday participant Kate Warren who just published a fabulous ebook, Bridging the Gaps.

Anyway, this was a long way of saying that it was really great to finally meet Vangie (Tessa Dare) in person:

With the lovely and super-talented Tessa Dare at RWA12’s Literacy Signing event Wednesday night

Okay, quick recap this has not become! I’m going to try to be more brief! In fact, I’m just going to say a general statement, show some photos and hit some personal highlights…

The conference was my first national writer’s conference and I know they say that you’re not supposed to hang with the same people, but I’m sorry, I did. I know this might have made me miss out on making some connections, but what it did was give me the feeling that I was part of the conference, not a stranger on the outside looking in, seeing everyone else interacting. My conference buddies were the wonderful Jami Gold, Buffy Armstrong and Janice Hardy, and it was so great getting to know them better and know they had my back. Thanks guys, can’t wait to see you again! I also met other online friends and several fellow Six Sentence Sunday and Critique Circle writers, so it was like meeting old friends, but not.  :)

Personal Highlights

  • Getting recognized at the Literacy signing! Another writer approached me by saying, “I have to meet the woman who wrote Must Love Breeches.” I think my jaw hit the floor. I know I look befuddled and probably stammered. First, I’m not published, so… Huh? How? Turns out she’d judged it in a writing contest and made me feel pretty dang good with her praise. What a way to start the conference :) There was an irony to this too– we’d just walked away from Courtney Milan’s table and I said to Jami, “Meeting great writers like her makes me really wonder what the heck I think I’m doing trying to write,” and two seconds later, this lady walked up to me and said the above, LOL. Served me right for succumbing to the writer’s worst enemy: self-doubt.
  • Hanging in our hotel room briefly Thursday night with Jami and Kat Latham and practicing our pitches. Kat was pitching to someone I’d pitched to at FF&P and I said I might still have my one-page dossier that I’d made on that agent if it’d help. So I opened my laptop and we were reading the bullet points I’d garnered on that agent back in March and then Kat says, “That’s me!” — I’d had a bullet point referencing something that agent had said on her blog, LOL.
  • Pitching on Friday. I pitched to two agents and one editor and all went well. I wasn’t nervous and I think I have the FF&P conference to thank for that. It’s one of the main reasons I went, was to experience pitching in a less intimidating atmosphere before I went to Nationals. I got requests for partials from the agents (50 pages and 30 pages) and a full from the editor.
  • Being told by Carrie Lofty at her Pitch Witch Rides Again workshop, that my pitch was a “win”
  • The lunch time keynote speeches
  • The awards ceremony (though we didn’t get to sit at a table, despite being only 2 minutes late, so we missed dessert and had to stand for part of it until they brought in chairs). It was so wonderful seeing all those talented writers going up to receive their award and hearing their tales. It just felt like a big dose of girl power and was very inspiring!
  • Running into writers that I’d met at the FF&P conference
  • Meeting published writers I admire
  • Meeting online friends
  • Free books!
  • Great workshops!

Photos

Wish I’d taken more, but here’s my paltry offering:

Thursday Night, at the FF&P’s party The Gathering. The theme was Disney characters…

With the fabulous Amanda Quick/Jayne Anne Krentz. She’s the one, with her sparkling wit and humor, who inspired me to write romance!

All dressed up with some place to go! With my conference buddies Buffy M. Armstrong and Jami Gold

Jami Gold’s hand, and Buffy Armstrong adjusting her napkin… After the awards ceremony– we arrived two minutes late and so had no place to sit and missed out on dessert. So we ordered our own later!

All the free books I got (well, mostly free. I bought 3 at the Literacy Signing, and then sent some back via Media Mail for $13)

Contest Update and Other News

I came back to some great news. First I’d won a pitch contest on Savvy Authors that resulted in a partial request from an agent. And then I found out that MUST LOVE BREECHES finaled in two more contests, making that a total of 7:

So right now, I’m doing one last exhaustive polishing revision of MUST LOVE BREECHES, before I send it to the ones who requested it and also do another wave of queries.

Did you go to RWA? What did you learn? What stuck with you the most?

What’s an Alpha Anyway? Guest post by Rachelle Ayala

Wednesday’s post on the dirth of non-Alphas in Romance generated a lot of interest. One thing that came out of it is the misidentification of what makes a true Alpha. So, I thought I would ask one of my critique partners who loves true Alphas to guest post. Without further ado, please welcome Rachele Ayala:

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Recently there has been a backlash against Alpha Males in romance novels. The typical Alpha is defined as a brash, dominant man who is all brawn with little brain. He overpowers anyone who gets in his way, is ruthless and forceful and comes off as an unfeeling jerk. He is often so mean and hard-hearted, mechanical and emotionless that he’d be better off portrayed as the villain.

Sadly, I don’t believe any self-respecting woman would sympathize, much less fall in love with such a man, and I have a hard time portraying this type of man as a hero. Which leads to my definition of an Alpha male…

He is 100% male, unabashedly a man, and one who does not apologize for being a man. He knows what he wants, sets goals, is sexy as all get go, and is protective of those he loves. Show me a hero, and I’ll show you a man who’s loyal to a fault, decisive, and in command in every area of his life except for his heart. He does not sip tea over crumpets, nor weep at movies, but in a disaster or a life-threatening situation, he takes charge and acts. He has a tough exterior to protect that tender little boy’s heart and presents a challenge for the heroine to overcome.

To Alpha or Not to Alpha

Our heroes should be complicated, interesting and larger than life. This does not necessarily mean fitting him into the stereotyped Alpha role. The recent trend toward describing an Alpha as super muscular, taller than a monstrous Highlander, with biceps the size of basketballs, and a vocabulary even Arnold would eclipse causes stilted and clichéd stories. In order to match these domineering men, the heroines have become bitchier and pricklier than porcupines with steel-tipped quills. Romance becomes a War with the reader rubber-necking for the unbelievable HEA.

A hero does not have to be traditionally Alpha to be interesting. As my critique partners point out, I have unorthodox heroes and not quite so strong heroines. A hero may have an Alpha edge and a bad-boy vibe with the suspicious scent of danger. He may have a trick up his sleeve, but he is determined and single-minded, possibly jealous and possessive. Any relationship with him is destined to be a turbulent ride.

How do we portray a man, one that has Alpha traits but does not fit the stereotype? By exploring and deepening his interactions with the heroine and other characters in a unique way. He may be dishonest in one area, but have high minded principles elsewhere. Perhaps he has trouble keeping his pants on, but he respects the heroine’s religious beliefs and refuses to compromise them. He may go to great lengths to deny his feelings for the heroine, but his instinct to protect overrides his denial and he charges forth, sometimes in a controlling or overpowering manner. Deep inside, he’s a softy, and she may be the only one who sees that side of him.

How to Tend to Your Male Hero

Keep your male hero strong. Give him a heroine who will stand up to him, but also comfort him and forgive him his faults. Never make him violent toward your heroine or any other woman. If he needs to get violent, have him beat up the bad guys.

He may be uncommunicative about his needs and make the wrong assumptions, but do not let him push the heroine for sex. That is reserved for villains. The heroine should always feel protected and safe with the hero. She should trust him never to intentionally hurt her. Give him a moment with a small child or injured animal so she can observe his nurturing side.

He may have a one track mind, is unbending in his beliefs, but he’s got that soft core inside a hard exterior. He’s not everyone’s best friend, and he presents difficulties, but once the heroine in his heart, she’s there to stay. And did I say protective? A strong hero feels responsible. Hand him a problem and he’ll solve it for her instead of asking her how she feels about it.

He is secure enough in his manhood to be strong and yet sensitive on the inside, controlling and yet yielding when he has to, silent yet expressive in multiple nonverbal and sexy ways. Being loved by a strong male is feeling secure and protected at all times, able to let him take the lead and make the decisions, but never pushed-over and dominated.

Being a hero is tough. He is expected to be strong at all times, have all the answers, and not show any weakness. But when life dishes out heartaches and grief, the one set of arms he can turn to is the loyal and nurturing heroine, herself a survivor who understands the pressure he is up against. And the one thing that makes him so rewarding is his single-minded love. This is a man who doesn’t go around telling about his love, but shows it in the privacy of his heart by his actions, whether the tiny choke whenever he sees her off on a long trip, or the possessive stance when another man gets too close. One thing’s for sure. It might have been hard to penetrate his hide and steal his heart, but once an Alpha loves, it is forever.

What do you think? Do you like your heroes strong and silent, or weepy and your best girlfriend? What characteristics of a heroine do you like to see paired with a strong male hero? Would you write the stereotypes in hopes of being published? Or would you take a chance and write fresh and unique individuals?

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Rachelle Ayala is the penname for a retired software engineer, a mother of three and a Ph.D. in Mathematics. While FORTRAN was my first language, C my second, and Java my third, I indulged in English to write short, satirical stories about my work life.

My first full-length novel, Michal’s Window, portrays the life of King David through the eyes of his first love. It is due out this year. My second novel is a romantic suspense about a software build engineer caught among a bunch of reckless drivers.

Please visit me at my blog or follow me at FB  or Twitter: @AyalaRachelle

I look forward to chatting with you.

Non-Alphas Need Not Apply: Can only Alpha males get published in Romancelandia?

Recently I received an email from a writer friend who’s agented, but has not had any luck selling her first novel. She told me that her agent says that the problem is that her hero and heroine are too much like real life and that she needs to make them into the romance cliché, and for the male, that means he needs to be Alpha, baby.

Sigh.

I’ve read this friend’s novel and I loved the hero, he had a quiet strength, he was intelligent and he respected the heroine. Her agent loves the characters too, but apparently the editors she’s pitched it to don’t. The agent said she needed to revise the hero so that he is more arrogant, more aggressive, and more domineering.

As new writers, in order to get published with traditional publishers, are we doomed to stick to this stereotype? Is this why many have chosen to go with smaller, independent presses? Apparently the Big 6 demand this type of hero and so if you’re tired of it, you know whom to blame. It’s this all-pervasive monolithic stereotype that allows us to chuckle at this 2-minute regency romance because it’s so dang true.

I know there are many readers and reviewers who lament the pervasiveness of this type of male in Romancelandia. In a Google search on the subject, I’ve come across these various opinions:

Strong, confident Alphas have become monstrous and overbearing

In the old school romances of the 70s and 80s, Alphas were assholes who practiced forced seductions if not rape. Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan of Smart Bitches Trashy Books (SBTB) gave this hero the term alphole in her book Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels and that today this type has thankfully become the minority. But Jane at Dear Author discusses how even the stereotyped Alpha male has morphed of late from strong and confident to monstrous and overbearing. She goes on to lament:

We have this warped view of alpha men.   They are caricatures relying primarily on physical prowess to serve a romance shorthand for all those things that we view a hero should be.   But the unfortunate thing is that it straightjackets the heroes’ character such that they aren’t allowed to drink mixed drinks or sleep in pajamas without being viewed with immediate suspicion that perhaps they are, in fact, from the other end the Greek alphabet.

She ends her post with this valid question, which elicited some great comments about what readers want and their definition of an Alpha male:

Now, you readers might tell me that your books don’t have these uber alpha characters and if that is so, tell me the titles of those books. Or perhaps the alpha male means something else to  you or you really must have an alpha male for the book to interest you.   I want to know why because ultimately the question I have is whether the alpha male that we read about today is reflecting what readers want or whether its a literary exaggeration done unconsciously to evoke a certain reader response [emphasis mine].

The blog Heroes and Heartbreakers has an excellent post on when an Alpha becomes too Alpha, and uses the excellent Loretta Chase novel Lord of Scoundrels as a perfect illustration of the need to match that Alpha with a strong heroine:

Since most Alpha Male heroes tend to be physically more powerful, the best romance authors compensate by matching them up with heroines who are stronger intellectually, who use words and wit and cunning. Either way, when paired with a strong-willed heroine who is capable of defending and maintaining herself, the hero’s forceful personality and aggression come across as challenges rather than threats

What about the poor Beta male?

Heroines With Hearts blog wants to know what’s wrong with the Beta male:

I blame the romance industry (publishing) for their unbidden constancy of inflicting Alpha males upon readers of romance. What’s wrong with a Beta male?  To be honest, I always fancied Dandini rather than Prince Charming. The latter too vain in every way: Dandini the charmer of the two. Hee hee, and a man on his knees placing glass slipper on feet far more to my liking!

Are non Alpha males viable in Romance?

Sarah over at SBTB kicked off a great discussion a while back on what makes a real-life hero and asks if there are such in Romance novels. In the comments one reader referred to these as the Omega hero, and another referred to them as The Sandwich. I just HAD to know what the latter meant and it brought me to this great post by Sarah Rees Brennan where she breaks down Romance heroes into 3 types: The Angst Muffin (which would be most Alpha males), The Sandwich (reliable and dependable) and The Pastry (wide-ranging varieties that can initially be off-putting but are sweet inside). It’s a great read and she gives examples from books for each type.

My writer friend said that she couldn’t think of examples of romances featuring non-Alphas, but Sarah Rees Brennan’s post mentions a few for each. In my recent reading experience I can name an example for the other two, and oddly (or not so oddly, as I’m really coming to believe she’s one of the best in the genre) they are both Loretta Chase novels. In Lord Perfect, we get The Sandwich delightfully thrown into a situation that ruffles his world. And in Mr. Impossible we get a wonderfully strong and sweet Pastry who surprised me time and again with his non-Alpha responses to the heroine.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read some Julia Quinn, but I’m thinking some of the Bridgerton brothers weren’t Angst Muffins, or am I misremembering?

And there are those that are tired of the Alpha male

A writer on the absolutewrite.com forum posed this question:

The Hero’s are always tough guys that get what they want because they are either rich and sexy, a dangerous Vampire and sexy, or a medieval lord and sexy. I’m not talking about having a weak willed guy keeping his head down with a female dom, but when I wrote my next book I did it with the idea that this guy wouldn’t walk around with his chest puffed out all the time, though he could still handle himself when needed. But that seems to be the problem in my story. My critique partners are saying that any medieval lord had to be a dominant alpha in order to protect his lands, and I can understand this and have made a few changes to hopefully buff him up enough so that they’re satisfied, but does an alpha hero who knows how to handle himself have to be an arrogant jerk?

And it generated a lot of comments.

And Wendy Palmer doesn’t like them either. She likes:

Calm, competent men who actually get things done while Mr Arsehole Alpha is off ranting or brooding or obsessing about status or measuring the size of his mobile phone or whatever it is these Heathcliff types do. They also have the decency to converse politely with women they don’t find attractive and don’t intend to sleep with, which some real-life wannabe alphas don’t (it’s always fun trying to make small talk withthem in a social situation, I can tell you).

But she also says what she’d like to see are male characters that are well-rounded, instead of being pigeon-holed:

Of course, the most important thing … is that they are decent characters first, and fall into those categories [Alpha, Beta] second — and even then, generally only loosely — just like real people, none of whom are 100% alpha or beta or omega or whatever animal classification you want to try to force on them. One of my favourite characters ever is Lord Peter Wimsey; he’s nothing like the modern alpha male but nor could he really be called a beta with its unfair undertone of submission.

Which brings us to…

Give us real males

Erotica author Freya Duquesne had a great post on this subject in which she sums up with:

What I’d love to see in more nov­els is not Alpha Male or Beta Male, but real males. Real guys that stand out­side and beyond the Alpha Male/Beta Male cliches. Flawed, yes, but maybe not in the stereo­typ­i­cal ways. It would be nice to read about heroes that know how to com­mu­ni­cate, who do value women for more than just sex, who are socially con­scious and…humble. Who are will­ing to lis­ten and con­sider the ideas of other people, instead of act­ing brashly on their own.

In defense of the Alpha

Suzanne Brockmann was asked why she loved Alpha males, and I thought her response very enlightening. She says:

When I create my characters, I don’t think in terms of labels. I don’t say, okay, I’m going to sit down now and create an alpha male or a beta male. Instead of male or female, alpha or beta, I create a human being.

I’m a strong believer in the theory that environment and upbringing play an important part in establishing a person’s personality. It’s true, there are quite a few personality traits we as individuals are born with, but if a boy is born with a sensitive, beta-type personality but is raised in an abusive, be-tough-or-get-crushed type environment, chances are, he’s going to grow up to be more of an alpha male. He’s going to learn to fight, and he going to learn to hide his feelings — perhaps he’s even going to learn not to feel.

She then explains in a thoughtful way, what she loves about an Alpha male, and I think the lesson here is that what she loves in an Alpha is when it’s done right.

So what does all this mean?

There are examples of non Alpha males in Romance and there’s definitely an audience for them, but can you only push those boundaries once you become a well-respected author like Loretta Chase? As a new writer do we need to conform first and then break out? This is worrisome as my hero is not an Alpha male. I posted this question in a private forum with some of my critique partners, and they were worried too since their heroes weren’t Alphas either. One commenter said:

I like the romances that Mira books print. Those books (by authors like Debbie Macomber and Susan Wiggs) have strong, interesting characters without all the stereotypes. I really hate the arrogant male. He annoys me. I am not attracted to that type in RL, why would I spend 300 pages reading about a guy like that. I understand the frustration. It’s so two-faced.

Another said, “…they want stereotypes…they just want nice little bows on them so they don’t look like stereotypes, but still are.” She’s worried too because her hero isn’t an Alpha, but yet her crit partners loved her hero and told her not to change him.

What do you think? Can a new writer get published with a non-Alpha male? If we write about a non-Alpha male, are there other elements that need to be present in order to compensate? Do you like Alpha males? Do you have romances you can recommend that feature Made of Awesome heroes that aren’t Alphas?