You can save the candlelight dinner with chocolate cake and chilled wine for when you’ve completed your romance novel. For now, you have a book to write/finish/edit so it’s time to focus on the basics. Here are ten items for you to check before you submit your manuscript to a publisher:
1. Are your characters complex and interesting? We editors have seen it all. What we love is when your hero, heroine and secondary characters seem like real people. Everyone is different, right? So make sure your “people” unique.
2. Does the conflict/romantic tension carry through the entire story? In real life, you meet someone special and you live happily ever after (maybe not always, but let’s hope) without that grinding conflict one reads in stories. In a romance novel, the tension needs to last, make your readers stay up until 3am. If your hero and heroine have picnics every day, your reader will fall asleep.
3. Do you appeal to all five senses? This may sound cliché but the reader wants a tantalizing experience. Close your eyes and envision your scene: how it looks, tastes, smells, etc… Write it all down. Without going overboard, make sure your major scenes come alive.
4. Is your romance emotional and intense? There’s nothing worse than tepid tea. Well, there’s a tepid romance where the hero and heroine don’t feel anything or say interesting things. It’s like they’re made of cardboard. Give them some angst.
5. Does your story have a strong sense of setting? Some of us have no sense of direction. We need traffic cops to show us the way. Be sure to show your reader the sights and sounds of your setting, even if it’s Anywhere, The World. Setting adds richness.
6. Is your manuscript professional? Here’s a pet peeve of most editors: We hate typos. One here or there is fine, but a manuscript riddled with errors shows us that the writer doesn’t take his/her work seriously. To be a professional, one must present one’s best work, even if one is a bad speller.
7. How’s the pacing? Do you keep the reader’s attention from beginning to end? Do you have that dreaded sagging middle? Can you pick up the story in the middle and still love it? That’s another editor’s secret: Sometimes, we’ll skip a few chapters and read in the middle to see if the writing is as zippy as at the beginning.
8. Do you have exciting chapter beginnings and endings? Each chapter should be a gem. Begin and end with a bang.
9. How’s the sex? Even if you write sweeter romances, there should be some kind of sensual awareness between the hero and heroine. Make your readers ache for more.
10. Do you have a happy ending? This should be obvious with romance, though here’s one additional note: Because readers expect the happy ending, can you bringing something unexpected to this ending? Is there an element of surprise to wow the reader even more? Go for it!
Once you’ve gone through this checklist and are confident with your work, you are on your way. Okay, now you can splurge on that the romantic candlelight dinner.