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If you live in the UK, there’s the Romantic Novelists Association, though they only accept a small number of unpublished writers a year into their New Writers Scheme and you need to apply quickly every January.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.
Charlotte Dillon has a list of RWA chapter contests on her site.
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.
Excellent advice. I’m one who had no ‘since I could pick up a crayon’ aspirations to become a writer. I got started late in life, loved the process, but was more of the “well, if someone knocks on my door and asks if I have a manuscript he could publish, I’ll have one,” kind of writer. I’d never even read a romance, but my daughters told me the mystery I thought I was writing was actually a romance.
Hooking up with critique partners, professional organizations, and on-line groups taught me not only the craft, but a lot about the “other” (business) side of writing.
(And since you mentioned savvy authors, I’ll be doing an on-line workshop on Dialogue in June).
Romance with a Twist–of Mystery
Terry, I’m amazed and impressed that you wrote a romance without having read one! Thank goodness for your daughters.
I’m glad you’ve plugged your dialogue workshop at Savvy. I’ll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for commenting!
This is a great article and your experience over the past two years mirrors mine. I started writing in Jan 2009 and have my m/s in front a couple editors, am querying agents, have a great critique partner I met through RWA-NEC. I’ve attended conferences, finaled and placed in contests, and am now writing another book. RWA has been wonderful. The past two years have been very exciting with both ups (contest wins) and downs (disqualifying myself from GH for lack of attention to detail). But everyday my writing improves and everyday I enjoy it more and more. Best wishes for a great writing career. Thanks for the article. Jordan
So nice to find someone who’s traveled a similar path, Jordan! So sorry you were disqualified from the Golden Heart, but it’s a great lesson to mention here – RWA contest co-ordinators tend to be sticklers for the rules. Fortunately, I read that on a blog before entering my first one because even though I’d checked my entry five times I still found I’d done something wrong just before mailing it off. So easy to overlook a tiny detail.
Good luck with your queries.
Great article, thanks so much for sharing all of those links! I started writing in 2009 and finished my first manuscript and saw it published in 2010. Like you, I just sat down one day and decided to write to relieve stress, (writing is cathartic :), and quickly found myself pursuing publication. If not for the writer’s groups and workshops I found I’d never have been published. I have found the writing community to be an amazing group of people: everyone is so nice and willing to help. They are also supportive in a way family and non-writing friends can’t be. I would be lost without my friends on Savvy Authors’ yahoo forum and The Rose Colored Glasses.com I would add this site to your list for workshop/critique/advice/support. The ladies at the Roses are amazing and the Plotting Bootcamp course is the reason I finally managed to finish a book and the critique group they run is why I am published; simply put they are AWESOME.
Retweeting and passing your blog link on to all my writer friends, thanks so very much for the advice 🙂
Hi Rachel. So glad you found it useful! And thanks for adding Rose’s Colored Glasses (I’m putting the link in here so it’s easier for people to find). It makes such a difference to have a group of people cheering you on and illuminating the path ahead of you.
Excellent blog post. Great advice. I wrote for months before I told anyone I was writing. I actually joined RWA and my local chapter (Central NY) before I ever told my family I was writing romance novels. From there, the world wind began. The best thing I ever did was put myself out there. RWA and their many off-shots of chapters and regional conferences have introduced me to many professionals that have helped shaped my career from unpublished to published, from unagented to agented, and now as a partner in a publishing company with Bob Mayer. It’s an exciting time to be an author.
Wow! What a great career path, Jenni! That’s seriously impressive. I think networking is one part of writing that most new writers are surprised by. People can be nervous about the word because it sounds so businesslike. Perhaps it’s the genre we write in, but ‘networking’ with other romance writers is actually fun. It’s more like friendship-building. And it can be easier to ‘come out’ as a romance writer to others who have committed themselves to writing a novel than to your family. I certainly share that experience with you.
Great run-down of resources and steps to take! I’ve pretty much done all of the same things. Started off on my own, then sought blog resources for craft and publishing business information, discovered my critique partner through those online activities, joined RWA, entered contests, etc.
How was I not visiting your blog more often? 🙂 Great stuff here.
Isn’t it funny how similar all our journeys toward publication are? And how incredibly useful blogs and other bloggers are? I often wonder how people managed to get published before the internet. I wonder if the time it takes before someone gets published has gone down because there are so many places giving advice.
Anyway, can I tell everyone to visit Jami’s blog for amazing writing tips? She’s in my Blogroll, but I put the link in the last sentence so you can get there more quickly. Seriously, it’s a treasure trove of brilliant pieces about writing.
Aw, thanks, Katrina! And yes, I’ve wondered the same thing about how people managed this journey before email, Google searches, and online support opportunities. 🙂
This is a great post, with a lot of really useful information. I love to read how other writers get started, along with the resources they have encountered along the way. Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thank you, Donna, for visiting and commenting. I wish you the best of luck on the road to publication!
Great blog and tremendous insights to the business of writing romance.
Thanks so much.
Thanks, Stella! I appreciate the kind words!
Great list, Kat. I’d also add two other blogs and one other writer’s resource page to the list of what has really helped me on the “business” side of writing.
Laura Resnick has a huge list of resources on her website. http://www.sff.net/people/laresnick/About%20Writing/Writers%20Resource.htm
Kristine Kathryn Rusch put up an excellent series Freelancer’s Survival Guide. The blog and book is geared toward all freelancers, but focuses a lot on writing since she is a writer. She has a new series which she is now tackling the publishing business as a whole in her Business Rusch series. I’m learning a lot I never knew. Very interesting stuff. http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/
Dean Wesley Smith’s blog and series on Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing and New World of Publishing always have some hot or controversial topic going on. Super interesting to read all the comments by newbies and industry pros who’ve been writing a LONG time. http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/
These are great additions, Angelia. Thanks!
In May 2009 I went out and bought myself a MacBook with the intentions of writing a book. And here I am 3 books later and have learned so much. And your information is so helpful. I am now and may always be a sponge when it comes to looking for new ways to make my writing better but not everything will resonate with me. Your information did, however. Thanks again.!
Ohh, thank you, Patti! I’m glad this information resonated with you. It’s amazing how much there is to absorb, and I wasn’t sure if all this info would be too much. I’m glad you liked it. Best of luck with your books!
Wonderful blog; I’m definitely putting it on my favorites to visit it again. Thanks for sharing! Again excellent job!
Thanks so much, Angelique! I look forward to seeing you here again.
I’ve bookmarked this page to peruse in depth when I have more time. It’s wonderful and generous of you to gather all this info, and bring it together here to help out your fellow writers! Many thanks!