Writing Tips

Romance Writing Checklist

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.

Writing Tips

How to Spot Problem Areas in Your Story:

It happens to every romance writer. You have a polished piece of work in front of you, but you feel something isn’t quite right. Maybe you should go over it one more time. Maybe the editor will love it even though you kind of don’t. Does love matter if your book has great potential to sell? That’s a rhetorical question, of course. Maybe you love your book but can’t let go of it. There are so many maybes, so many unknowns in this precarious world of writing Romance. Half the fun is the process, right?

Chances are, if you aren’t wild about your story, an editor won’t be either. Here are a few red flags you should address immediately.

You get bored while proofreading.

You’ve read this story a million times but your attention starts to drift around Chapter 4 and so you skip a few pages to get to the juicy part. Warning sign! Your reader will want to skip as well. Do something radical and cut those skippable pages. Think of an even more fantastic event to occur to keep the reader’s attention. Throw a monkey wrench into those wonderful plans you had for your story.

You don’t care that much about your hero and heroine.

Sally Smith and Matt Steel are nice people but you’re not wild about them. You might snicker behind their backs about how perfect they are. If your characters feel flat and uninteresting, we won’t like them either and will feel they are mannequins brushing up against each other for 250 pages. Consider what makes a person so fascinating. Who captures your interest in a powerful way? What are the qualities that you admire most? Or meditate more on those characters speaking in your head.

You beat around the bush.

Does the heroine really have to learn a new baby blanket pattern before she joins forces with the detective assigned to find her missing child? Do they have to make love before embarking on a mission to foil an arms deal? Some novelists can weave in those details seamlessly. If you want your characters to dine on a sumptuous dinner of mushroom risotto and duck confit salad, be sure that the meal adds to the story instead of delaying it.

Your characters are Chatty Cathys.

Matt and Sally just go on and on because writing dialogue is easy. It fills up pages. You watch a lot of movies and you just know dialogue. Witty banter can make a romance. Look at Hugh Grant–so good with the wit in Romance, but it only is fun on screen. In a novel, make your conversation count.

Your eyes hurt and you have “screen nausea” from staring at the computer.

It won’t help your book if you feel like you’re going to throw up on your computer. You need a break. You have a hundred pages to proof, are on a deadline but, you know, nothing is so important that you can’t take a day away from your work. Go for a walk. Eat chocolate and indulge in a guilty pleasure. Do something that has nothing to do with your manuscript. You’ll come back fresher and ready to tackle that last bit.

So your story has a few problems. Whose doesn’t? As cliché as it may sound, it’s important for you to trust your instincts. If you didn’t trust them, you wouldn’t write. You write because you know you have a story and now it’s time for you to communicate it in the best possible way. Trust your gut, keep writing, tackle what you know deep down doesn’t work, take a break, and think about the joy a reader will get from reading your work. If you keep these tips in mind, you are well on your way. Happy writing!

Writing Tips

Finding a Literary Agent

You’re done writing The Best Romance Ever Written and are ready to send it to the publisher of your dreams. You go to look at the submission guidelines and see: Agented Submissions Only. You have that sinking feeling, like maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to toil away until all hours, ignoring family and why is the world against you? Then you think: Maybe they’ll make an exception for me. Sure, that’s a chance you could take, but consider strongly that Agented Submissions Only means just that–get an agent first.

The downside to going against these guidelines is that the Romance publisher might open your project, log it into their database and then send it right back. Following directions is generally a good idea. Everyone wants to send their manuscript to this publisher and you need to find someone to represent you–no exceptions.

Where to start? The publisher would love to help you because they do want to read The Best Romance Ever Written, but finding you an agent isn’t where they shine. Furthermore, it’s not ethical for them to recommend agents. Every editor works with different agents and they all would have different advice. Can you imagine the chaos?

Where do you turn? Agents are choosy about their projects, but they are also looking for the next big star. Your book may be exactly what they want…or not. That doesn’t mean your project isn’t worth representing. Their time is valuable and every agent is different. So just go for it. Here are some tips that will help put you on the path to Agent Bliss:

  1. Talk to your writing friends. Do they have agents? Do they have recommendations? This can be a subjective business, but by asking around you can get a vibe for who’s out there, who is actively seeking new projects and who kinda isn’t.
  2. Read acknowledgements. This is super-sneaky but your favorite authors often thank their agents in their books. Keep a list, check out guidelines and then take a chance. It may be a long-shot but what do you have to lose? At the very least, you can find out where the agent works and if he/she has other colleagues who might be interested.
  3. Go to conferences. Find out which agents are attending and then talk to them–and not in the bathroom or while they’re eating. Be fully prepared to communicate, schmooze, and pitch at the appropriate time. Don’t beat yourself for not saying the perfect thing at the perfect time.
  4. Scour agent blogs and lists. Even if you do a simple Google search with the words: agents, romance writers, you will see 2,710,000 results. Go through the results and make a list.

Take action and be informed. Steel yourself to receiving rejections (you will get them). Follow submission guidelines to the letter. Know that it is a long process to get published, so don’t rush and make mistakes. Be brave. If you do one thing each day to push yourself forward, you’re further along than you were yesterday to scaling that “Agented Submissions Only” wall.

Best of luck climbing!

Romantic Life Lessons

Make a Romance Editor Cry

I’d been working as a Romance editor for six months, and by then, I’d thought I read it all. Westerns, vampires, medievals, boss-secretary stories, and sheik romances. My brain was filled with love stories, and I steeled myself against all emotion. Then it happened. Coffee, desk, morning enthusiasm, a quiet office…and a really good story that made me feel something.

By the afternoon, I was weeping. The heroine had gone through so much. Ravaged, deflowered in the worst way and her own castle, suddenly orphaned, nearly lifeless (but still beautiful). When the hero came along, she didn’t much care. Of course, she couldn’t avoid him either since he was in her castle. By the end, she was still frozen until he kept insisting that no matter how badly she felt, they were still connected. I lost my marbles and carried the tome to my boss, who was so consoling and sympathetic.

In the end, I didn’t get to work on the book, but I’m happy that it found its way into reader’s hands. Fifteen years later, I still remember that moment when I forgot to be so critical and FELT. Such is a writer’s gift.

Romantic Suspense

You know you read/write/edit Romantic Suspense when…

*You discuss with Romantic Suspense authors how to suffocate someone

*A  romantic evening involves watching Snapped and Deadly Women with your spouse.

*You kind of like the sight of blood but pretend it horrifies you.

*You can’t help but imagine a good stabbing to ruin a nice happy ending.

*You can see whoddunit before the victim is discovered.

*Halloween is scary, sure. Valentine’s Day is a much better time to kill people off.

*After the romantic heroine closes the door, something bad will happen.

*Carrying around a vial of someone else’s blood is weird but totally doable.

*You’re so happy at how boring your life really is.

Romantic Life Lessons

Romance is often an accident…

Me knitting at the Museum of Natural History

I moved to New York City for a guy fifteen years ago. How does this translate to a career in editing romance novels? Especially when he broke up with me the instant I quit my steady teaching job and decided to move to his city. It was too late for me to change my plans. Three days across country in a truck with two cats and suddenly single wasn’t very romantic.

The irony came within three months of settling into this overwhelming city: I was hired to sit in a room and read romance novels. Me with no editing experience, a background in teaching, and no skills in sustaining romance. I only read a romance novel once a year during moments of absolute decadence. Reading one and getting paid for it? This seemed ludicrous at first, but over time, I came to love the work and the people behind these very entertaining stories. Then, the company hired me full time.

A career in reading Romance turned out to be quite enjoyable. Romance itself made people happy. It gave some a reason to get up in the morning. A book about romance would do far less harm than the real thing.

Three months after I settled into my new job, in my new tiny apartment on the Upper East Side, the guy wanted me back. At first, the rush of pleasure compelled me to dive right back in. Maybe he was just scared of his intense feelings for me. Then I remembered the long drive alone across the country, the struggle to move into the city, my escape through various knitting projects, and the pavement pounding for a job. No way could I go back to this guy, I said.

I knew my hero would be a better man–and would definitely ride in the truck with me.