The Business behind Romance Writing

   The writer-in-residence, Deborah Cooke, a best selling fantasy romance author, invited two panels for the event on the “Business behind Romance Writing”. These two guests sat before a microphone on either side of a long table at the front of the auditorium (I felt like I was at a press conference! It was so exciting!). The lady on the left was Brenda Chin, the senior editor of Harlequin (Blaze). The lady on the right was agent Amy Moore-Benson who sold manuscripts to major publishing companies and had formerly worked for Mira Books for twelve years.

One of the questions Deborah opened the conference up with was whether there were any “trends” in romance novels these days. Brenda replied that the role of the hero since 9/11 had change significantly. The trend was now ordinary men who were heroes, like firefighters and cops. A hero any woman might find in their ordinary lives and have their own (as Brenda put it) “Sexily-ever-after”.

What is it that agents look for in novels? Amy’s answer was that she was looking for “freshness” in the voice of a novel. The confidence in the writing and characterization needs to shine in order for her to take a work on. Another thing I learned from her has helped me a lot in dealing with formal rejection letters: She mentioned that she sometimes receives 20 submissions in 2 minutes! She only asks to see 10% of the query letters she receives. She only takes on 24 clients, never more.

(Intermission: At the moment there is a shortage of books being published for the ‘Love Inspired’ imprint of Harlequin. So for anyone writing in this genre you would do well to submit your work there! It’s not impossible to get contracted without an agent. Brenda mentioned having taken on several first time writers.)

When I mustered enough courage to speak (after which I kept raising my hand hahaha) I brought up my issue with being unable to start another project after spilling and twisting every drop of me into ‘The Runaway Courtesan’ (the historical romance I’m querying for) and thus cannot seem to start a new project. The answer I received somewhat saddened me. Writing is a business, especially romance writing, for in order to establish yourself you need to publish at least one book per year (unless the book is really, really, superbly good, then people will wait a bit longer). The editor mentioned that when there was a hole in the schedule at Harlequin, there was a writer (whose name I didn’t catch) who agreed to write a book to fill in that space. So in the matter of three weeks she completed a novel and it ended up becoming one of her best sellers. To become an established writer, I learned, requires a lot of discipline. Deborah added that we should (I’m paraphrasing here): just WRITE…even though it’s total crap…and leaves us having to revise the story for the next two years. Everyone broke out laughing here.

What turns off publishers? Brenda replied that it was: Not knowing your target audience and a first chapter that does not sing. Amy’s response was: Writing that doesn’t seem natural, which is an issue among many romance writers as they sometimes try so hard to write a romance that their writing ends up with a stilted falseness.

There was the grumbling me from days ago complaining about agents and editors. My impression of them hadn’t been too pretty. But the conference ended on an eye-opening (or rather, a heart-opening) note. Deborah said: “We forget that agents and editors work long drawn hours from morning till night to get a book out without ever seeing the reward. We need to remember that they love books as much as we writers do.”

Agents and editors, I salute you.

I’m going to close this post with a question I’ve been wondering all day. Deborah Foong, a romance writer I sat and talked with for a while, mentioned how romance books were not respected among the critics. Let’s say you (writers or publishers or agents of romance) were being interviewed, how would you defend romance novels?


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14 thoughts on “The Business behind Romance Writing

  1. The business of writing is exactly that. It is a business. A bit disheartening to think of it that way, but that’s what it all boils down to.

    It’s funny that you mention discipline. I was just thinking about that yesterday. It is important to have the discipline to write daily. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I have discovered that I need to work on NOT my discipline to write, but to write something…anything. I find it damn near impossible to write something I’m not even remotely happy with. True, I have gotten some really good scenes from writing with abandon, but overall it’s something I’m still struggling with.

    Great blog, June!



    • I don’t know. I still can’t figure it out… But is it discipline to just write? I can write anything. But it’ll be all silly nonesense. I feel that I’ll just be wasting my time when I could be brainstorming and searching for inspiration….I just can’t see myself JUS writing AnYTHING and getting something out of it…


  2. I’m so jealous you got to go! I don’t think my school would ever have something like that 😦 It’s actually kind of hard to find other writers, especially romance writers. It’s like they’re ashamed to come out and say, “HEY! I like romance and I write it too!”

    Hmmm…Romance ISN’T respected by critics, just like Creative Writing isn’t respected as a viable major in the business world. I would probably point out that romance is

    1) not only about sex and that a lot of romance novels in fact DO NOT have explicit sex scenes

    2) that Romance is the largest selling genre in the book industry and

    3) It is human nature to seek companionship whether that’s through marriage or flings (or whatever you want to call it) and in a time when people scoff at romance because they don’t believe it exists, it’s a romance writer’s job (obligation) to write a compelling story that makes the reader believe/want to believe and find their own romance/happily-ever-after.

    And for anyone who looks down on Creative Writing as a major should read Richard Hugo’s Triggering Town, specifically his chapter “In the Defense of Creative Writing”

    So…How’d I do? lol


    • Great answer! I’m going to memorize all your points so I’ll be prepared the day someone criticizes the genre we write it haha. And this conference was actually held at a public library. I almost missed it. I was just browsing through the romance novels one day and so the event poster. So I signed up to attend. Otherwise, this is a library I only visit once every few months, so it was FATE


      • Oh, awesome, glad you DID see the poster ^_^ (And!!! awesome about your partial request!)

        Oh, the other comment mentioned NaNoWriMo. My thing is, I always come of with story ideas, but I never sit down and write them out.

        I think writing just to write is good practice because it allows you to build up confidence and stamina. Like, now that NaNo’s over, I feel accomplished even though I didn’t make it to the 50k goal because now I know it IS possible for me to write that much (30k) is such a short period of time. And, had I more time, I would’ve made the 50k goal.

        About writing random scenes? That’s how WW got started for me. The first thing I wrote were Sophia’s letters and then from there it all came out (after 2 yrs). One thing that you might see as insignificant or minuscule, might in fact lead to your bestseller.

        The other story I have posting on FP, Stained With You. I wrote a breakup scene. After rereading it I was desperate to fit it into a larger story rather than posting it as a One-Shot, and out popped SWY!

        So..!! Write! Journal! Observe! 🙂 (OR ignore everything I just typed, it’s totally up to you)


      • I can’t seem to write random scenes…I tried. But all I can manage are point forms outlining a scene.

        But I definately understand what you mean about how writing just to write can build one’s confidence. I need that. I always think so hard and long with everything I write that I have no confidence in anything I write at the spur of the moment. Practice practice. I’ll try to focus on this aspect during my winter holiday


  3. I used to be so ashamed that I wrote romances. When I was in college (you have to take into consideration this is College of the Ozarks, a non-denominational Christian college), at orientation we had to bring an object that said something about who we were. I picked a romance novel because I wanted people to know what interested me. No one cared. They weren’t impressed that I had co-written a romance and it actually made it almost all the way to the top editor before it was rejected.

    We were also assigned a work station to help pay the tuition cost. I worked in the Center for Writing and Thinking. The name kind of gives you the impression you’re going to do something creative. Nope. It was basically a cliche of artsy/actor type people. Nothing against them, but they more or less laughed in my face when I mentioned I wrote romances. Like their dark poetry and literature was the real deal and what I was doing was a joke.

    I started reading Louis L’Amour westerns when I was a teenager and the first romance novel I ever read was set in the American West, so it makes sense that’s the kind of thing I would go for. I felt so embarrassed because people made fun of me. Now that I know romance is such a big industry and generates so much money, I can laugh at them. 🙂

    Don’t know if you are aware of Charlotte Dillions Romance Writer’s Community, but she has a yahoo group list that offers prompts once a week. I just joined that because I thought it might help me when I’m stumped. I didn’t care for the one this week, but you can also go back and look at the old ones for inspiriation, too.


  4. yah, romance is really looked down on by some people. I’m glad to know that despite having been made fun of you still continued to write what you loved. People wake up every day driven by the desire to find love. So why is it so shameful to write about that emotion or whatever it is that makes the world go round? It’s a mystery to me.

    This might be kind of mean but one agent said that the difference between romance novels and literary novels is that the first one sells and the second one doesn’t.

    Of course, this isn’t completely true. But one has to admit that the romance publishing industry is massiveeee..just as you said.


  5. Great post! There is a certain snobbery toward romance novels–and other “soft” fiction, too. I think it’s kind of silly–it’s not as though romance novelists are trying compete with literary fiction any more than a romantic comedy is gunning for an Oscar. They aren’t trying to be the same thing–so why is it that critics pan romances for not being highbrow enough? Romances have different goals and audiences than literary (which critics clearly dig, but also different from sci-fi or urban fantasy or computer manuals), and that’s fine. In the end, June, you’re right in your comment–the critics can snark, but the successful novelist is laughing all the way to the bank, even if all she wrote was a “silly romance novel” that just happened to appeal to that huge audience in that giant sector of the industry.


    • Great answer! Romance books do have a different goal than the goals of literary books. So I don’t see why critics place them on the same scaling machine. Romance books offer escapism I guess. Some, that is. And sometimes reality is so tough on women that a good love story is all that’s needed to sooth their nerves. Well, that’s what I was told in this documentary on romance novels.


    • Wooooooow. This is awsome! Very nice to meet you!

      The writer I sat next to mentioned the romance chapter here in Toronto. I actually had no idea one existed until then. Have you joined it? I’m considering it….


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