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?

First Page Critique Contest

Jamie Ayres is hosting a first page critique contest to celebrate Heather Birch’s debut novel Halflings. Participants are to post their first 250 words on their blogs, then hop around to everyone else’s to read their entries. Jamie will randomly draw five names to receive a critique from Heather. Does that make sense?

So, here’s my entry:

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Title: Must Love Breeches
Genre: Time Travel Romance
Word count: 97,000

Pitch: When a thoroughly modern girl finds herself stranded in 1834 London, she must find a way home while navigating the pitfalls of London society, resisting her attraction to a hunky lord, and ultimately having to decide when her true home lies.  

CHAPTER ONE

A reenactment ball was the perfect setting for romance. Or not.

Isabelle fidgeted in her oddly-shaped, but oh-so-accurate ball gown surrounded by women who’d sacrificed authenticity for sex appeal. It was as if she were a dorky kid again, participating in dress-up day at school when everyone else had magically decided it was lame.

At least her co-worker Anna was with her in this. Like Isabelle’s, her dress was circa 1834. “Hmmm. How about him?” Isabelle asked, eyeing the guy walking past in tight-fitting, buff-colored breeches.

Anna sucked on her olive and plopped the stir stick back into her cocktail. “Oh, yes. A breech-ripper for sure.”

Isabelle choked on her drink—they’d just been discussing their favorite “bodice ripper’ romances. They’d also discovered they shared a mutual obsession with guys in period clothes, which had helped propel her through the early stages of the party. Since this was the first time they’d hung out, she treated this moment delicately, afraid to puncture the mood. To have another friend in London would be wonderful.

A sharp elbow in her side caused her drink to flirt with the rim of her glass. “Look sharp,” Anna said, her voice low with just a dollop of teasing. “Here comes Andrew.”

Isabelle took a gulp of her drink, the champagne fizz tickling her throat and nose. She’d been cultivating a crush on him since she’d started working at the British Museum six months ago. She’d pictured him in period clothes looking resplendent.

He did.

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.