Romance FAQ

I participated in a chat on Romance today at the Hillsboro Public Library.  (And my thanks to the wonderful staff and volunteers who made the Local Authors’ Fair such a success!)

Here’s the FAQ that I put together for the Romance chat:

How much can I make writing romance novels?*

Where can I go to learn more about writing romance?

Recommended books on the craft of writing

Podcasts about writing in general

YouTube videos about writing

*Because that’s invariably the first question I’m asked.

The pen is mightier than the keyboard

writing-1209121_1920Maybe this is a sign of my old age, but I think better when I write things out by hand. Once I get started writing, the words are coming too fast for my hand to keep up. Since I can’t be bothered to learn shorthand, I reach for the keyboard once I’m in the flow. But to get the tap flowing, I have to start out with a pen and notepad.

Specifically, I write with a fountain pen. I got into the habit of writing when I took the train to work and now it’s automatic: I get on the Max, and the pen comes out. It is amazing how many looks I get writing with a fountain pen. It fascinates people.

I recommend using a fountain pen if you can. The ink flows easily and you don’t have to press down, but unlike most gel pens, it’s easy to refill the pen and keep going. You can keep the same pen for years. Some people don’t like to loan their pens out to other people. They say the nib has been worn down in a way that just suits the way their hand pressed the pen onto the paper, and loaning the pen out changes the shape of the nib. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it is true that all fountain pens are not created equal. I’ve purchased pens that were a pain to write with. And I’ve purchased others that were a joy.

Another thing I like is that the ink comes in a variety of colors. I experimented with loading my pen’s cartridge with a mixture of turquoise and navy blue inks, and I’ve found this is the shade I like best for autographing books. But you can also get ink in purple or pink or green or… well, there are a lot of options.

I have just found a new time sink: an ink comparison website.

Warning: once you start writing with a fountain pen, you might become addicted. Proceed at your own risk.

Cool Cat Cards

When I started to think of myself as a writer, it never occurred to me that I might need business cards. I’ve had business cards given to me as a result of different day jobs, but I never came close to using half of the cards I was given.

So you’d think I’d be the last person to recommend writers go out and get business cards. Ha! Fooled you. I think writers do need them. For specific uses.

A writer might use business cards if:

  • They’re introduced to an agent or editor at a convention.
  • They meet a bookstore owner who might want to stock their books
  • They are going to visit subject matter experts such as museum curators or docents at historical villages.
  • They’re giving ARC copies to reviewers
  • They’re mailing copies of their book to winning contestants of giveaways

And if you’re going to get business cards, I have to put in a good word for Moo. I love their cards. I’ve tried companies that offer free cards and only charge for shipping, and frankly I’d rather deal with Moo. I love the quality of the paper and the swiftness of the delivery, but what really won my heart was two things: a) you can order the cards in as low a quantity of 50 cards and b) you can create up to 5 different kinds of backs for the cards. They have a large selection of graphics on offer, but I uploaded photographs instead. I am very happy with the result!


The cards come in a sturdy little box that you can use to store other people’s business cards as well. They’ve included a couple of dividers to help you keep things sorted out.

One odd thing: I understand the tabs that are labeled “Mine” and “Theirs” but I don’t understand why there’s a tab labeled “NSFW.” Doesn’t it defeat the purpose to have a business card that is Not Safe For Work?

Tools: Scrivener’s Visual Aids

I’m working on a story that needs to have equal “screen time” for both the hero and the heroine’s POV. Plus, it has to have elements of romance, suspense, and faith. When I’m in the middle of writing the story, I find it really easy to lose sight of all these different threads that need to be woven into the plot.

In Pat Haggerty‘s very useful Scrivener class, he showed us how to change the background color in the Binder view so that you can see which scenes are in the hero’s POV and which are in the heroine’s. I chose purple for the hero, and light green for the heroine.

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Recently, I learned that you can also add custom icons. I took a photograph of a flower and added it as an icon to symbolize Romance. Scrivener already had an icon I could use for suspenseful scenes, but I created an icon for scenes that emphasize inspirational elements. I also created an icon specifically for scenes that I knew would need to be rewritten.

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Then I went and applied these icons to the scenes in my chapters.

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I love visual aids like these. Trying to keep track of all these details in my head only guarantees that I will lose track of at least one of these threads. Laying it all out on the screen lets me concentrate on making the story as good as it can be.

Tools: Straightening out a story’s timeline

Note: the following is not a paid infomercial. I bought a tool and found it useful. I thought you might too.

I wrote a book in a week. I wrote it in a mad rush, spewing out a lot of words in a short span of time. I was in a rush to get the story out of my head and onto the page. The word ‘obsessed’ could be used. I did not have time to plot or plan or outline. I just wrote. So when I went to revise it, I needed help to see how it all fit together, laying out all the scenes.

It has a lot of scenes that have to be in a specific order because the suspense is (or should be) building with each scene. Plus, I need threads of romance and suspense woven into the plot. I need to know where each character is during each scene, who’s active vs. just standing around, and I need to know the time of day of each scene. And I need to be able to see all this information at a glance.

Insane? Well, all right, maybe it is. But it is also doable, with the right tool.

Aeon Timeline is designed to do all this.

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I assigned each scene to one of three arcs. (You can have as many arcs as you want, and turn them on or off. I set this up to view the main arcs to ensure I was including enough suspense scenes and enough romance scenes.)

I create timelines for each of the main characters, and selected whether they were in the scene to participate, observe, or in one case, die. If I’ve got a character who spends most of the scenes participating, I question whether I need this guy around at all. Maybe I can combine him with another character.

In this story, the action takes place over 12 hours. I assigned each scene to a specific time of day because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t grouping all the actions scenes together, but pacing them out with romantic scenes or character development.

Tip: When I first tried to set this up, I got incredibly frustrated. No matter how often I tweaked the settings, I ended up with a screen that showed the last 30 years, with all the events I needed to track scrunched up all together in the last 10% of the screen. If you’re in this position, make sure the Timeline Bounds are set up correctly, then exit the app and open it up again.

A title by any other name

Roulette wheel
Looking for a title for a story? I was asked to provide a list of different titles for my story about Matthew and Liza. Google kindly pointed me toward some romance novel title generators:

Western Romance Title Generator

Romance Title Generator

Or this one, which came up with the catchy title, “The Greek Tycoon’s One-Night Plan for Tax Purposes.” I think that one’s my favorite.

If you need more than a title, you might try this one, which has generators for titles, plots, character flaws, and a horde of other novel elements.

Snow crystals on carWhile random generators might help spark the creative process, what works best is to find a title that expresses what is unique about this particular story. Finding the right title is not like playing a roulette wheel, more like picking a snowflake out of a blizzard.

Writing World has a useful article on finding the right title for your novel.

Twitter: One Newbie’s Quickstart Guide

These days, I’m filtering what I read on Twitter more than ever. It’s important to control the flood of information, and Twitter can drown you in information if you’re not careful.

There are two main ways to use Twitter, as far as I can see.

One is to keep up to date with the latest news, and by the term “news” I also refer to rumor, gossip, complete fabrications on a topic. Twitter can spread information faster than any other medium (for now, at least) but not all of it is even remotely valid.

The other is to keep up with people you are interested in. You can follow celebrities or people in a field that you want to learn more about. If you find one person who intrigues you, Twitter suggests other people that you might want to follow who are similar. Or you can see who this person is interacting with and follow them as well.

Either way, you’re going to want to find a way to sieve this information or you’ll drown in a  deluge of data. Here’s how I would suggest you handle Twitter.

  1. When you sign in to Twitter, look at the hashtags listed. Hashtags are subjects on Twitter. They have a hash symbol (#) in front of them. When you sign in to Twitter, it presents hashtags that might interest you. Click on them to see what other people are tweeting. That gives you an idea of what’s trending at the moment on Twitter.screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-10-34-29-am
  2. Search for people you are interested in and follow them. Or follow people you’ve found from hashtags that you like.
  3. Create lists of people or hashtags you like.
  4. Get the heck out of Twitter and get thee to TweetDeck or HootSuite or some other application that will handle lists for you.

Lists are important. Making lists lets you sort through and hopefully make sense of the flood of tweets that are blasting through the twittersphere every second.


Each of these columns is a list that I created in Tweetdeck.

For example, I have a list of people who are in my local RWA chapter. I check quickly check through that list to see their latest tweets. I have another list for editors that I follow, agents that I follow, different genres of authors that I like to read. Lists let me manage the flood of information and focus on a particular area that interests me at the moment.

This is what works for me. Might not work for you, take all advice with a grain of salt, yada yada.

How NOT to use Twitter

img_1605I don’t consider myself an expert on Twitter. But I’ve begun to notice things that irritate me and might annoy other people as well.

If you follow me, I will follow you back — unless it’s obvious from your tweets that all you want to do is force your book/product/agenda on me. Twitter is a cocktail party, not a marketplace. It’s an opportunity to get for you to get noticed — you, not your book or product or agenda.

You can get to know a person by following them on Twitter. How often they post a tweet, what kinds of subjects interest them enough to tweet or retweet, how often they push their own particular product or agenda, all these things reveal the person behind the tweets. I might want to buy your product or agenda once I get to know you. But not before.

So, given the above, here are some ways not to use Twitter:

  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying how great it is that I’m following you. Twitter is a cocktail party, and we’re just at the stage where I’m asking you your name and whether you think the appetizers really needed that much wasabi. We don’t need to go have a private conversation. Let’s get to know each other on Twitter first.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying “Hi! How are you doing?” It’s like asking for my phone number the moment we meet. Chat me up a bit first, ‘k? And by that I mean post tweets.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message telling me that I can buy your book. Hearing a sales pitch at a party is right up there with having a telemarketer interrupt you at dinner.
  • Do not send me a Direct Message saying I can download your book for free. I don’t know you yet. I’m not going to bestir myself to download a book simply because it’s free. There are a lot of free books out there, and my interest in reading all of them is nil.
  • Do not offer to sell me Twitter followers.
  • Do not offer to send me pictures of nekkid wimmin. Honest, I know what they look like. And if I forget, I have a mirror.

If you want me to chat with you privately or to download your book or promote your agenda by retweeting you, give me a reason to care. Post tweets on a subject of mutual interest. I’m following you on Twitter because I’m interested in what you have to say. On Twitter.

Experts say the best way to promote your current book is to write another one. Similarly, the best way to tempt Twitter followers into reading your book is to post tweets that make people interested in hearing more from you.

Pinteresting Your Reader

In case you haven’t checked it out, Pinterest is a site where you can collect or share images. I’m not sure I quite ‘get’ Pinterest. Am I using it the way as a writer should if she wants to make her stories known?

I started out on the site like a kid in a candy store. “Oooh, that’s a pretty picture. I’ll pin that. And that. And that.” I collected a whole lot of pretty pictures and some pretty good quotes. Is that what you use Pinterest for?

I can see the use of Pinterest as a way to stimulate your imagination. Put down a net and snag the images that intrigue your subconscious. Encourage the right side of your brain to participate in the creative process. However you want to phrase it.

At the same time, it can be one of the greatest time sinks ever invented in the history of space-time continuum.

I don’t want to think of the time that I spent search for just the right face to match  my idea of a character. If you follow people, pictures that they’ve pinned will start showing up when you first open Pinterest. For example, if you want to see pictures that I’ve pinned, you could follow me. Um… not that you have too, y’know. But you could. (Note to self: work on that self-assertiveness stuff.)

You can follow just one board (one collection) that someone has put together. Then you’d only see photos in your feed that they had pinned to that one board. Or you could follow the user and see all the photos that they’ve pinned lately. Some users have widely divergent interests. I have a board that’s devoted to nothing but jewels. (I can’t help myself. Jewelry is shiny. My inner magpie says “want.”)


The image above is from a collection of faces and places for the story that I sold to Harlequin. That’s another use of Pinterest, it can help you communicate with the art department. Whether you’re publishing traditionally or independently, you’re a writer. You’re good at wording. Artists communicate in visuals. If you can’t draw (like me), Pinterest can bridge the gap.

I’m curious if Pinterest is helpful for readers. Do you like seeing how the author pictures her characters or their setting? Or do you prefer to imagine them for yourself?

How do you use Pinterest? Or do you use it at all? Is there some other Shiny New Site that you using instead?