So you want to write a romance novel?
In May 2009, I typed the first words of my first romance novel. It began as an exercise in creative therapy when my job because super stressful, but it very quickly became something more important. I can’t remember when I decided my ultimate goal was to become a multi-published author, but it was within weeks of starting to write.
I scoured blogs for information about the process of getting published. I wanted someone to tell me exactly what I needed to know. Naive, yes. Through trial and error, I’ve grown tremendously as a writer and as a professional.
But I’d still like to provide a resource for other newbie writers who sit down and think, “Right. How do I write a romance novel?”
Hopefully, even if you’ve been working at it for a while, you’ll find something helpful here.
It’s a long page, and it might be too much info, so feel free to leave me a comment or question at the end.
Here are some of the best lessons I’ve learned so far.
Professional associations have amazing resources to help writers develop their career.
I waited way too long to join Romance Writers of America – mostly because it’s not cheap, especially if you live outside America. But RWA has great resources, including email group loops covering a variety of topics where you can get advice from other writers, and specialist chapters depending on the subgenre you write (erotic, fantasy, Regency, etc). If you live in the U.S., you can also get involved in local chapters and go to chapter conferences. Every summer RWA has a massive conference (often referred to as ‘Nationals’) where writers, agents and editors network and learn from each other.
If you live in the UK, there’s the Romantic Novelists Association, though they only accept a small number of unpublished writers a year into their New Writers Scheme and you need to apply quickly every January.
If you’re in Australia, check out the Romance Writers of Australia, which provides career-minded romance writers with networking opportunities and advocates on their behalf.
You will need friends along the way.
I’m not talking about the people who already know and love you, though they’re obviously very important and will probably have to sacrifice time spent with you as you write.
I’m talking about other writers. They’re the ones who’ll be able to answer even the silliest question. They’ll know how it feels to get your first – or your 101st – rejection letter. And they’ll be the ones who challenge you to do writing sprints and help you get words on screen.
These are the places I’ve found it easiest to connect with other writers:
Twitter - I was scared of it at first, but once I had a friend introduce me to TweetDeck and explain it to me, I fell in love with Twitter. You have no idea how many excellent links and conversations you’ll find there. And once you sign up, follow me. I’m @KatrinaLatham and I love chatting with other writers. You can meet other writers by following the hashtag #writechat (started and hosted by Julie Isaac, who goes by @WritingSpirit) from 12-3 Pacific Time on Sundays. Other popular hashtags to follow are #amwriting and #amediting. You can also follow my list of romance writers to see what the people I’m following are talking about right now.
RWA Online Chapter – has some great discussion boards for members to talk about anything they want. You have to pay for membership and also be an RWA member, but it’s the perfect place for us romance writers who live outside the U.S.
Savvy Authors – some free resources, lots of short courses (for a fee), and a membership option that gives you opportunities to pitch to agents and editors, and join smaller writing groups. This site’s fantastic and fun.
Reading and commenting on blogs (free!) – you’ll find my favorites in my blogroll (look in the right-hand sidebar). Some of these are writing related, some are for romance readers. They’re all a bucketful of awesome.
You will learn loads from having your writing critiqued and from critiquing other people’s work.
I wrote for exactly a year before I found a critique group. In that year, I felt isolated and like I had no way of knowing whether my writing was any good.
The tricky thing with critique groups is that you might have to join several before finding one that fits. Roni Loren, whom I was lucky enough to have as one of my first critique partners, has a great post about different types of critters. The best way to find a steady group of critique partners is to be active online. Build relationships, find people you like, and keep an eye open.
There’s a quicker, but more expensive, way of finding a one-off critique. I’ve entered quite a few RWA-sponsored contests which include feedback from first-round judges (usually a mix of published and unpublished writers). Contest feedback can be really patchy, no matter what the contest website promises you, so this should only be something you do if you don’t mind paying the money. Here are more of my thoughts on contests.
RWA National has a big contest for unpublished writers – the Golden Heart. However, you don’t get any feedback whatsoever. You only get a list of scores. So it’s best to enter only if you think your writing is of nearly publishable quality. (One of my favorite blogs is the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, written by the 2009 Golden Heart finalists.)
I’ve covered how to get your work critiqued. But I’ve also learned a lot by critiquing other people’s work. By trying to figure out why a scene doesn’t work or why a sentence falls flat, I’ve been able to improve my own writing.
I’ve also been a contest judge and that helped me get an idea of the quality of strangers’ writing. This probably isn’t something you’d get involved with as a newbie, but chapters sometimes ask for judges on the RWA email loops.
Editors and agents are not phantoms.
In fact, lots of them have popular blogs and use Twitter to help writers learn about the publication process.
Some of them, like the amazing agent Jessica Faust from BookEnds, answer writers’ questions on their blogs. Jessica and other agents often have impromptu question-answering sessions on Twitter; follow the hashtag #askagent and then check it occasionally to see if anyone’s answering there.
GalleyCat has a list of who they consider the best agents on Twitter. You can also follow the Twitter list I’ve made of agents, editors and publishers to see what over 100 publishing professionals are saying right now.
Please, please, PLEASE remember your netiquette. Don’t try to pitch your work to agents and editors via Twitter or a blog unless they ask you to. Don’t try to discuss your rejected query with them on Twitter or their blog. Don’t get upset if they don’t follow you back.
Other agent blogs you may find useful:
Pub Rants by Kristin Nelson, one of the most respected agents in the business (see, in particular, the posts she lists in the right-hand sidebar, especially her Agenting 101 series and query series).
Nathan Bransford – He’s no longer an agent, but he’s still a published author and blogs about publishing. You can read through his very popular publishing blog. One of the most useful posts I’ve found is his publishing terms glossary.
Query Shark by Janet Reid – She’s got brutally sharp teeth, but if you want to see what makes an agent stop reading a query, peer through the chum on this site. And if you’re really brave, you can send her your query.
Again, there are thousands of agents out there and many blog or tweet. These are the ones I’ve found most educational.
You will never stop honing your craft, no matter how naturally talented you are.
You’ll find you learn a lot informally – through reading novels, critiquing, and chatting with friends. But you’ll probably want to look for formal learning opportunities, too.
‘Craft’ covers such a huge area that it can seem overwhelming. I found it most useful to have several different people whose opinions I trusted look at my work and make suggestions. That gave me an idea of what my writing weaknesses are (plotting and writing strong men, in case you were wondering). Once I knew that, I was able to find short online courses – again, through websites I trust – to strengthen those areas of my writing.
Savvy Authors has an extensive list of online workshops. I’ve only taken one but it was well run and I learned a lot.
I’ve also taken online courses run by RWA chapters, with mixed experiences.
There are a lot of creeps out who hear “gullible schmuck” when you say “writer”.
Clearly, you’ll be better off if you’ll know who they are before you hand over the cash. A couple good places to find out what kind of payments are considered kosher and what are common scams (including names of scammers): Writer Beware and Editors and Predators.
Has this information been helpful? If so, I encourage you to share it with your friends and followers.
Feel free to share lessons you’ve learned in the comments below. Also, if something isn’t clear or you have other questions, please let me know.