I don't read romances. Can I write one?

I’m a mid-career freelance journalist who wants to take a crack at writing novels. Is romance writing a good way to get my feet wet?

With no disrepect toward romances, it does seem that a lot of the “themes and tone” portion of the task is decided by the conventions of the genre, which would let me concentrate on trying to write compelling scenes, establish good pacing, and learn the other technical aspects of putting together a good story.

A second potential advantage is that there is a large, if not terribly lucrative, market for romances, such that if I crank out an acceptable one, I might be rewarded for my efforts—even if the pay only works out to about a dollar an hour.

Finally, I feel like this might help me avoid a personal tendency to be so self-critical and perfectionist that I give up. If I’m working on a 55,000-word mass-market romance, I’ll have no illusions about this being The Great Novel For Which I’ll Be Remembered. Plus, if it works out, I’ll have a confidence-building first novel under my belt.

However, I’m a guy, and I don’t have any special love for the genre. Have any other Dopers gone the romance route? Any thoughts or recommendations?

The common wisdom is that you should write something you would want to read. Even if you don’t think you’d enjoy a sterotypical romance novel, it’s a broad genre, so you might be able to find something you would be able to write that could still be sold as a romance novel.

I’ll go with this. As someone who’s tried writing both country music and romance novels, I’ll say that no matter how clever you or I may think we are, people who love these genres can spot a charlatan a mile away. Don’t ask me how.

I know what you mean—I don’t want to be the guy who thinks he’s too smart for the genre. I have respect for the genre and its audience—anything that brings joy to folks like my late, Harlequin-loving grandmother is OK in my book—I just don’t read it.

Although, now that I think of it, when I went through my coughHarry Potter fan fictioncough-reading phase, the ones I favored were really just YA romances with characters I already knew. Perhaps I do have an inner schmaltz-meister; I just need to get in touch with it.

On that note, can anyone recommend some sweet-but-clever teen romances for a balding columnist to hide in his bottom drawer?

I actually know a fairly successful writer who wrote and submitted an offering to Harlequin for consideration.

It was rejected for not being original enough. Regardless of how formulaic, repetitive and unsophisticated they may seem, they are ( I guess) unique.

I do wonder - if you’re trying for a confidence booster, write the romance, and have it rejected by everyone, are you going to be OK with that? If you’re really not into that type of novel it seems like spending a lot of time on something you’re not very into.

Write a story that, amongst its other plot elements, has romance in it. That might be the best way to start.

Personally, I don’t read romances but here’s my opinions based on genre fiction in general.

You’re facing two problems. First, to the degree that romances may be formulaic, you don’t know the formula. If readers are looking for certain things, you’re not going to know what buttons to push. Second, you’ll risk the opposite problem of not knowing the cliches. You might come up with something you think is an original new idea only to find out that it’s been done hundreds of times before and readers are bored with it.

Overall, I think it’s a good idea to learn the genre before working in it. Once you’ve know what the conventions are, you can make informed decisions about which ones to follow and which ones to break.

I think this is right, and I hope it wasn’t rude to lurch on to SDMB with a half-formed idea. Now I think it’s obvious, bordering on painfully obvious, that I need to read in the genre before committing time to it (or electing not to).

Can anybody recommend something relatively inspiring in this field? There’s an awful lot of this stuff, and I feel like I should find something that’s considered to be one of the better ones if I’m going to be using it as an exemplar.

Well, that’s the trick. No matter how hard I work on it, if it tanks I can tell myself that I wasn’t really trying. In other words, I can blame the genre, and/or my lack of native aptitude for it, for my failure—rather than, say, my own lack of talent.

Although I actually believe, rightly or wrongly, that I’m pretty good.

It’s interesting you should say that, because that’s the broad guideline I’ve been working with in my fictional writing. Apparently, or so it seems, I don’t like to read the same things as pretty much anyone else in the English-speaking world. :stuck_out_tongue:

I took a class in romance writing in the early 1970s at a local community college. Don’t remember her name but the teacher was established and successful in the field. We wrote up an outline and a few chapters for the course but I never followed through.

The class was actually pretty interesting. It really is writing to a formula, with a lot of “must haves” and “can’t haves.” Seems to me there must be a book or two around on the subject … you might even find a class somewhere if you look.

Lack of “native aptitude” and lack of “talent” are the same thing, are they not? Or maybe that’s all part of the rationalization… :slight_smile:

There are many categories and sub categories of romance novels. a fundamental split is between “series” and “single title” novels. Series novels are published by several specialist publishers, including Harlequin, and are only in print for a short time. Each book is a part of a series which is often on a theme. By contrast, single title novels are the length of an ordinary novel and published and released the same way all novels are published.

–For a good example of a historical romance with time travel elements, “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon.
–For a humorous contemporary, “Crazy for You” by Jennifer Crusie.

Every aspiring romance author should read “The Wolf and the Dove” by Kathleen Woodiwiss. Not because it is so great, but because it is the book that launched the entire genre.

Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz are two authors who have produced bestsellers for more than 30 years across many subgenres. You would do well to sample a variety of their work (they each have multiple pseudonyms, as well).

If you want to do it, then read in the genre. It’s part of your training as a writer (and you can write off the books on your taxes, too). People have already covered the pitfalls, the biggest one being that you don’t know what the pitfalls are.

There’s nothing wrong with trying a particular genre (I’m starting to work on a supernatural romance and am in a similar position to you), but you have to do your homework. What I have written was not what I would have imagined without reading in the genre; I never would have guessed that the sex scenes would be so explicit (or that the main character would be willing to go to bed with the love interest before the actual romance began).

I usually don’t touch romances, but Jennifer Crusie is a lot of fun. My daughter DOES read the occasional romance, and she recommended Crusie to me. Also, Joan Hess, especially her Maggody series.

I was hoping this was going to be about writing a non-formula romance, and the advantages of not being schooled in genre conventions.

There are few advantages in not knowing a genre convention. You’ll see this when literary writers try writing science fiction and are constantly reinventing the wheel for concepts that have been in the genre for decades.

Writing a non-formula romance means your likelihood of selling it are reduced, especially in today’s market.

If you didn’t pay for the story, reading these things can be hilarious. I get mad, though, when some non SF writer manages to sell the “male and female space colonists are searching for a new planet, and find that the third planet from the star is perfect, oh, and their names are Adam and Eve” tired old story. I’ve READ that story. Many times, in fact. Don’t write it unless you can bring something new to it.

Oh, that’s easy. Here they are.


For all other questions, here is the one-and-only answer.

Study very hard and learn everything about the field, then practice, practice, practice. Or be a genius.

In addition to what others have said, it seems like a waste of time and energy to pound out an entire novel that you wouldn’t even want to read yourself and will feel sort of embarrassed about when you complete it.

I don’t know what the odds are on getting a first novel published, but I’m pretty sure they’re not good. There’s a large chance that even if you complete a romance novel you will never make a dime off it. If your goal is to practice your fiction writing and feel the satisfaction of completing a major project then I think you’re better off writing something in a genre that you enjoy reading yourself. You’re wise not to set yourself the task of producing A Great Work of Literature on your first try, but you could write an “airport novel” that’s a mystery, thriller, historic adventure, etc.

I’m not a romance fan and so can’t really recommend anything if you do want to stick with that genre, but Wikipedia has a list of novels that have won the Romance Writers of America RITA Award. This should give you an idea of which titles and authors are highly regarded by romance writers themselves.

Check out Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for reviews and irreverent discussion of romance novels by women who read them. You’ll get a good sense of what works for that audience and what doesn’t.