Romance novels outsell all other genres, making up about 40% of all fiction sold in North America. If you’re an aspiring writer trying to break into the romance genre, here are some tips to help get you on the road to publication.
1. Know the genre. Romance has its own set of rules. If you’re writing a romance, your plot has to revolve around the romantic relationship between your two main characters: a likeable heroine and a strong, charismatic hero; you need a happily-ever-after (HEA) ending; and your subplots must support the central love story.
2. Familiarize yourself with the market. Read a lot of recently published romance novels in a series, category, or subgenre you’d like to write; for example, contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, sweet romance, inspirational romance, paranormal romance, erotic romance, Western romance, romantic comedy, or young adult romance.
3. Read the publishers' submission guidelines. Check Harlequin’s guidelines for writers of romance at www.eHarlequin.com, as well as those of other publishers who specialize in or accept romance novels. You can do a Google search to find them. For example, here's where you'll find the guidelines from Carina Press: http://carinapress.com/blog/submission-guidelines/#romance.
4. Join a writers’ group, either local or online, such as the Romance Writers of America, or your local chapter of the RWA.
5. Read some good books about writing romance. Two books I highly recommend are: On Writing Romance, by Leigh Michaels, and The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel, by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes. For more books on the craft of writing romance, see my list of resources below.
6. Know your readership. More than 90 percent of regular readers of romance novels are women. Figure out a subgenre you’d be comfortable writing in that appeals to a target group of mostly women.
7. Develop two interesting main characters. Your protagonists need to be charismatic and appealing; likeable but with some insecurities and flaws. Don’t make them too perfect – perfect is boring! The hero and heroine need to have inner conflicts and insecurities, etc., but don’t give them major character flaws or annoying habits that will turn off your reader. And make sure they’re both worthy of the other’s love. They both need to have enough going for them (not needy or users or whiners, etc.) and be basically good inside and “keepers,” otherwise your reader won’t root for them or care what happens to them.
8. Bring them together quickly. Introduce your heroine in the first paragraph. Put her in a scene with inner conflict. Introduce your hero before the end of Chapter One. Make them attracted to each other, but put a roadblock in their way. As Dawn Arkin says in her article “Romance 101” on Fiction Factor, “The main characters should meet as soon as possible and find themselves in conflict with each other right off the bat. Their first meeting should be explosive emotionally. It should make them be attracted to, and hate, each other from the beginning.”
9. Make something interesting happen to them, with plenty of inner conflict. Your storyline should have some original elements, and must of course include plenty of conflict that is emotional and character-driven. A good villain helps with that essential conflict. But remember that, unlike action-adventure or suspense novels, which rely heavily on external conflict, internal conflict is the main focus for romances. Two or three conflicts over the span of the novel work best. Include emotional highs and lows.
10. Tell us how they're feeling. Romance novels need emotion, and lots of it. “Emotion,” stresses McGregor. “Don’t back away from it, because these stories need it. To me, romances are character stories. They may have a complex plot, but it's the characters the readers want to love and get involved with.”
11. Include natural-sounding dialogue. Each character should use slightly different pet words and phrases. To guard against your dialogue sounding stilted, use lots of contractions, incomplete sentences, one-word answers, silences, and body language. Women tend to speak in more complete sentences than men do, and they express their feelings more.
12. Bring them together at the end. The romance genre calls for a Happily Ever After ending. Your readers demand an emotionally satisfying conclusion – not necessarily wedding bells, but a positive, uplifting ending with a promise of lasting love and happiness.
13. Revise, revise, revise! Now that you've written your first draft, time to go in and polish it up. Tighten up the language, use all senses, deepen your characters, and add some more conflict and intrigue.
14. Get a second opinion by an expert. To increase your chances of getting published, hire a freelance editor who's familiar with the genre (like me) to go over it and look for inconsistencies, plot holes, stilted dialogue, head-hopping, etc., and generally polish it until it shines!
Some excellent resource books on writing romance novels: On Writing Romance – How to Craft a Novel That Sells, by Leigh Michaels; The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel, by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes; and Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger.