Success as a Romance Writer: What Does the Industry Want?

Heather Long
Wedding Rings

Aspiring writers and would be novelists often wonder how to find success as a romance writer: what does the industry want? It's easy to read a Harlequin or Silhouette novel and realize that most of these are written following a basic formula, yet they are gobbled up by fans with a voracious appetite for romance. Is that formula exactly what the industry is looking for?

The answer to that is maybe.

How to Find Success as a Romance Writer: What Does the Industry Want?

Romance novels, despite rolled eyes and a snotty media, are the most popular type of fiction in American publishing. Long before the Harry Potter franchise revitalized children's books, romance fiction generated over $1.5 billion dollars annually. This figure accounts for over half of all paperback fiction books sold within the United States. That's a huge market!

A Formula for Romance

Publisher criterion for Harlequin and Silhouette make it clear they are looking for books that match each particular series motif. However, they don't want the exact same story told over and over. The stories have roots in boy meets girl, conflict occurs, boy or girl falls first, the other struggles with external or internal forces until they can acknowledge their love and live happily ever after -- but each story must be unique in its own way. At its very heart, romance fiction is the fairytale of overcoming obstacles to find happiness with a partner.

Romance Fiction

Yet with such a high demand for romance fiction, publishers and editors in the field know that it is not just the formula that readers are turning out in droves to buy. Publishers are looking for authors who have fresh takes on old ideas that create multi-dimensional characters. Look at Nora Roberts, for example, the undisputed queen of the romance genre.

Roberts has produced over 150 novels under the names Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb. She was inducted into the Romance Writer's Hall of Fame for her bestselling fiction and consistency in writing colorful characters that appeal to everyone. Roberts began her writing career in 1979 and while it may be hard to believe these days, her first several manuscripts were rejected. It took her time to develop a fresh voice that publishers at Harlequin wanted to read.

Emulating Favorite Authors

Still want to know how to find success as a romance writer: what does the industry want? Be inspired by authors such as Nora Roberts, Kay Hooper, Iris Johansen and Julie Garwood, all romance authors who made the leap from romance fiction to best sellers. Don't try to emulate them exactly, however. They are each unique for the types of characters they write and the voices they give to those characters. While they still use the same basic formula, their styles are different, their voices are different and thus, the stories they tell are appealing. To be successful, you'll need to find your own voice.

Tell the Story You Want to Read

At a fiction writing workshop in Reston, Virginia in the early part of the 2000s, guest [[Mystery Writer's Awards|mystery] writer Donna Andrews advised the "would be" novelists that they should tell the story they want to read. Publishers are looking for material that is fresh, that is saleable and that will earn them money. They want authors that are appealing and good storytellers.

Most romance writers are fans of the genre and have read hundreds of romance books themselves. Writing the book you want to read and introducing the characters you want to read about is the best way to find the voice that will entice publishers and readers alike.

In the long run, don't give up. Few authors receive a contract on their first novel. Nora Roberts is successful now, but in 1979 she was like every other would be novelist, looking for her voice and that hook that a publisher would bite. Time, perseverance and writing the stories you want to read are the best ways to answer the industry demand.

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Success as a Romance Writer: What Does the Industry Want?