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

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!