The Fabled Formula for Writing a Romance Novel
by Irene Vartanoff
Okay, you want to write a romance novel. There are good reasons to write one. Romances are the largest category of fiction sold. Because the market is so large, the royalties you earn tend to be larger than for other genre writing such as mysteries and science fiction (until and unless you develop a popular series character or world). Contemporary romances, for instance, are about everyday people and they don’t require a ton of research. It is possible to write a romance about whatever you know right now about human nature without making any character an expert in weapons or arcane fighting techniques, or dreaming up a brand-new dimension complete with its own science and a red sun. And romances often are very short. You can sell one that is only 50,000 words. Plus romances can be written anywhere, at anytime, by anyone. There’s no bias involved in selling one (although some characters or topics may not be easy to sell). So far, it all sounds wonderful. In fact, most people who never read romances are convinced that there is a formula to romance writing. So here it is, the fabled formula:
Step 1: Go to your local bookstore and take notes. First, look at what kinds of romance novels are taking up the most shelf space. Read their back covers and front excerpts. Then see which authors have the most shelf space. Are their romances covering the same topics as the types of romances that command the most space? Or are they writing something different? Are these authors old favorites, well-known bestsellers whose books have been made into television movies, or are they people you’ve never heard of?
Then take an informal survey of the types of romances that are on display. Are most of them historicals? Paranormals? Girl-next-doors? Some other subgenre?
Then prowl the bookstore for books that look like romances but are not filed in the romance section. Examine their covers for information about what makes them the same as the other romances, and what makes them different. Ask bookstore employees whose romances are selling the best and whom they would recommend. And ask why they think those are good romances to read. Do the same in your local public library. And at other bookstores.
Step 2: Obtain a batch of recently published romance novels. If you can afford to, buy several romances by the romance authors with the most shelf space. But only do this if the books are brand-new. No need to buy anybody’s reissued backlist title from ten years ago. And buy one or two by authors the sales people have recommended as the epitome of good or popular romance writing. Or, if you’ve got a good public library, go there and check out books by those major romance authors. But only the newest ones. Another option is to go online and read excerpts, but these won’t give you enough information about the whole book. Friends and relatives may have romance novels they’ll be happy to lend you. Pay attention to what they tell you about why they like these particular romances.
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