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Confessions of An Aspiring Romance Novelist

I have come to realize recently that I am something of an oddity in the romance community (aspiring and otherwise).  It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’ve jumped around from traditional romantic suspense to paranormal romance.  Doesn’t have much to do with age (though I have recently discovered that I am actually the youngest among ALL my writer friends–I actually started with this way earlier than most of them–I submitted my first book for publication when I was 15.  It was, thankfully, rejected).  It’s not even related to all the regular jobs I have that suck away precious writing time (because hey, it’s only the rare ones who are able to support them selves fully doing this, right?).  But some recent conversations with various writer friends have made me realize that in some ways I just don’t fit the mold.

  1. I am not, nor do I ever intend to be, a member of RWA. I cannot tell you the number of writers I have met online who adore RWA.  They will proselytize and try to recruit you to the club by extolling RWA’s virtues with the fervor of a TV Evangelist.  I try very hard to be polite and accept their suggestions and then change the subject.  For one thing, I simply don’t have the money for RWA.  Not the membership and not the conference (though the conference always sounds like a lot of fun).  In these tough economic times, I’m sure I’m not alone in that particular issue.  But despite all the cheerleading talks I’ve been on the receiving end of regarding why RWA membership is great, I just don’t think that the benefits would be enough to justify the cost for me.  Anyone can join RWA, so I don’t really see that it’s a particularly impressive thing to be able to quote in a query letter.  If you’ve finalled or won any of their contests, that’s another matter.  But anyway, while I’m sure it has its awesome aspects as an organization, I am fairly sure it is not a good fit for me.
  2. I do not write with a target publisher in mind. Let’s face it.  I work 3 jobs (have recently taken on a freelance copy editing gig as a fourth because I am insane).  My writing time is limited and it takes me, at MINIMUM, a year to crank out a book.  Probably another 6 months beyond that to whip it into shape where I can accept someone looking at it.  Tack another 6 months on there for finding someone who actually wants to read it (because that’s being optimistic) and that’s 2 whole years that pass between germination of the idea and fruition.  What sense does it make for me to write with a particular publisher in mind when what that publisher will be looking for in 2 years is likely to not be the same?  Despite the fact that some aspects of publishing move with glacial speed, the particular things that publishers or agents are looking for changes, a LOT.  And beyond that, with the whole e-book revolution, the face of publishing is in absolute upheaval right now.  Houses are letting people go left and right.  Some are folding entirely.  Meanwhile, I’m still writing.  And in a year and a half, after some of the dust of upheaval has settled, I’ll see where what I’ve written might fit.  But I certainly won’t pigeon hole myself at this stage because I am still learning.
  3. Hi, I’m Kait, and I don’t read category romance. Please hold the rotten vegetables.  There are a number of reasons for this, mostly mental hangups or snobbery on my part.  For one, category romance is short.  Usually around 75k from what I understand.  I see them on the shelf at the bookstore and they look miserly and skinny next to the big thick 90-100k novels–like the wimpy stories that were out for teens when I was that age (thank God YA has gotten a clue since then).  So in my mind, I (irrationally) feel like buying the thicker book is more story for my buck.  Same sort of mentality that often keeps me from reading novellas.  I like big, thick, meaty stories.  They are what I have always gravitated to since I discovered I loved reading in the 6th grade.  The other reason I don’t read category romance (and don’t aspire to write it) is that I got ahold of some bad ones.  You know the type.  The 80s tripe that gave the entire genre of romance a bad name to the rest of the reading world.  The too stupid to live heroines that just make us cringe.  This subset of category has done so much damage to the reputation of romance it’s not even funny.  People will perpetually hold a prejudice against the genre because of it in the same way that Mississippi will always be considered a bunch of racist rednecks because of what happened here during the Civil Rights Era.  Now, I absolutely guarantee that I am missing out on some wonderful books.  No doubt.  And I could certainly poll my other friends who do read category for some recommendations of titles that do not suck the big one and make you want to throw the book at the wall.  I just…haven’t.  And I confess it is because of a certain measure of snobbery about it.  Yep, that’s right, I admit it.  I know it’s irrational and unfounded (hey, we psychology types are good at self-analysis), but there you have it.  My dirty little secret.

    I think there’s this conception that it’s virtually impossible to break into publishing with full length titles and that you have to start with category.  And maybe it’s easier (if anything in publishing is easy) to go that route.  Certainly there is a built in audience for categories (because those who do read them are rabidly supportive and awesome cheerleaders to have).  But it’s just not what I’m aiming for.  Since almost 100% of what I read is full length titles, that affects how I think of story structure and plot, and that’s what I write.  It’s what I want to write.  It doesn’t mean that I need to tighten my plot (though that’s a frequent problem of younger writers); it’s that I have a bigger story than will fit in the word limit of 75k.  As Pot said this morning, if after I’ve got a few books under my belt that my agent isn’t able to find a home for and it’s suggested I try for something shorter, then okay.  I’ll try it.  But for now, I’m writing what I want to write for me because that’s the only thing that make sense to me.

So there you have it.  Some of my dirty little secrets.  I walk to the beat of my own drum.  Please please please do NOT think I am trying to insult or think less of anybody who IS a member of RWA or who DOES write for a target publisher or who DOES read category romance.  I am absolutely not doing that.  I’m just making confessions about why they don’t work for me.  Everybody is different, and everyone in this game has a different path to publication.  There is no One True Way to achieve the dream (otherwise everyone would be doing it).  So hey, to each their own.  In the meantime, I’ve got a scene to write.

9 thoughts on “Confessions of An Aspiring Romance Novelist

  1. 1. I dumped my RWA membership after 2 years because it didn’t provide me with any information I couldn’t get online for free, so for me, it was basically just an expensive magazine subscription.

    2. Other than that one time, I don’t write with a particular publisher in mind, either (and they didn’t even appreciate my effort). And really, how is that a good thing? If everybody writes following the same guidelines, that publisher has a whole lot of books nobody wants to read because they’re a whole lot of the same.

    3. I read category romances at a wee age because I was a voracious reader and Mom had that monthly subscription, but they had that sameness problem. I tried again last year for research purposes (see #2) and discovered that even with the addition of vampires and werewolves, they were the same as they were 20 years ago. Kind of like soap operas, they never change. A lot of people are really, really into that consistency. I’m not one of them.

    And “you HAVE TO break in via category” is a load of crap. For every one writer who takes that route, there are 50 who didn’t, so I don’t even know who started that dumb rumor.

    So you’re not as odd as you’d like to believe. =p

    1. That’s really nice to hear. I know that a lot of the advice that’s being offered is absolutely well-intentioned, but sometimes it’s hard to take when I feel like it doesn’t apply to me. Either way, I am gonna do my thing and we’ll see what happens down the road.

  2. Alright, I have a comment about the category books.

    I read so many of them as a teen. And young adult. They were my reading-candy. My extra treat when I had read whatever else needed reading.

    But now, it has come back to hunt me. In my writing. Whenever I start writing something, the simplicity of the words (which is not meant as a critisicm, merely a fact) that you find in category romance novels (you know, the skinny ones) keeps staring at me from my screen. I can’t seem to get past them. They are burned into my the part of my brain that form letters, words, and sentences.
    And it is so strange, because it only happens, when I try to write fiction. When I write blogs and essays I’m a mix between self-confessing, cutie chick lit writing and intellectual, existential, metaphorical writing, that have some of my choice buddhist friends almost wetting themselves in enlightening joy.

    I am hoping that reading A LOT of quality paranormal romance will re-awaken my lovefiction braincells and remind them, that even people in lurve have depth and multiple facets to their personalities.

    So in conclusion (I’m sure there was a reason for me to write this) I agree with you. There are nothing wrong with category romance novels. And there is in particular nothing wrong with not reading them even as a romance writer. Because in my opinion, they are like sugar. Only to be read in light dosages. Overuse might result in lack of creative stimulus.

    Sincerely (do you write that in comments??)
    Lily

    ps If I got spelling errors all over the place, and you judge me for that (which you probably do as a writer), I don’t blame you one bit. I’m the same. However, I’m a Dane, it’s past midnight over here, and I am too lazy to do spelling check. So please forgive my literate transgressions. 🙂

    1. Ha, well for being up really late and not speaking English as a first language, you did perfectly well (and possibly more coherent than I do when I’m tired!). If you’re looking for recommendations, I really love Marjorie M. Liu and Kelley Armstrong (who to me manage to straddle the line between paranormal romance and urban fantasy). I also like Patricia Briggs (urban fantasy), Christine Warren (paranormal romance), Christina Dodd, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Larissa Ione (paranormal romances).

  3. Yay, another rule breaker 🙂 I write paranormal, suspense, and historical, both erotic and mainstream, and sometimes, whatever else decides to stick it’s nose in there. And you’re absolutely right. You gotta write the story that calls you, not one that some category line insists on. Category stories are great for those that love ’em. I prefer my romance a littler darker and more dangerous. 🙂

    Fiona Vance

  4. I used to read category romances only because as a teenager, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, and my grandmother delivered Harlequins & Silhouettes to me by the bagful. When you are young and penniless, beggars can’t be choosers. I’m now giving them all away for free (passing the affliction to someone else, in other words.)

    I don’t fit the mold either, Kait. I write paranormal romance, but it’s not mushy. It’s not historical. It’s full of sarcasm. There might even be premarital sex (which makes all my Christian readers cringe). And the hero just might die. Not necessarily any happily-ever-afters. I also write women’s fiction. And a smattering of urban fantasy. I feel like a fish out of water sometimes because, like you, I don’t feel that fit into any one category, which makes me an anomaly.

    But you know what? I don’t care. I write what I like, and if a publisher wants my very excellent works of fiction without trying to conform me to a pigeonhole, I’ll be happy. They can market it under whatever genre they like as long as I don’t have to follow that genre formula. If they don’t want my excellent works of fiction…I’ll still be happy. Their loss. And I’ll still write. The writers touted as The Great Writers of Literature didn’t give a tin crap about breaking out of traditional genres, and neither do I.

    And I like you just fine–probably more for not being a conformist, for being true to your creative voice, for trusting your muse.

    1. Thanks Sio! I appreciate the compliment.

      Regarding the romance side of things–killing off the hero? Really? That’s like the single most important, don’t break rule EVER. You kill off the hero and your book is getting tossed at a wall or chucked in a rubbish bin somewhere–at least if you’re being marketed as romance. This would be why I REFUSE to read Nicholas Sparks (not that I think he’s marketed as romance, but because the man seems to be allergic to happy endings and always kills someone off). I can deal with a not guaranteed happy ending. At least then I can hope for resolution in a future book. But killing OFF the hero…you drag me all the way through a book and do that, then as a reader I’m going to be UP-SET!

      As for the premarital sex–I think that’s become more the rule than the exception these days.

      Anyway, you’re absolutely right. The writers we tout as great from past eras broke the mold rather than conforming. It’s something we’d all do well to remember.

  5. 1. I don’t belong to RWA, either, and have no intention of joining. Not to slam the group, I just don’t think it’s necessary. That said, I hung out at the RT Convention in Orlando in April and met lots of terrific writers who took me under their wings and showed me the ropes (Caitlyn Willows, Karen Kendall, Veronica Towers, in particular).

    2. I targeted a particular publisher’s “call for submissions” about “funny stories about things that go bump in the night,” and was rejected with an, albeit, very nice note about how much the editor liked my voice. I subsequently pitched the book to 10 other publishers and got 4 nods. I also entered the manuscript in Twilighted.net’s first original fiction contest and was a finalist. All that said to illustrate that you just have to throw your stuff out there…everywhere…and see where it sticks. When you get down to it, it’s pretty subjective.

    3. Though I think there’s a place for category romance, I don’t read it, either. These days, I’m enjoying Charlaine Harris and Angie Fox. For me, the humor’s the thing.

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