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.

How much money can you make writing romance novels?


“I’ve never been a millionaire, but I know I’d be darling at it.”
-Dorothy Parker

One question I’ve gotten lately is how much money a writer can make by writing romance novels.

“It depends” is not a satisfactory answer, but it’s the most honest one. How often you write, what type of romance you write, and let’s not forget how well you write. All these factors influence how much money you can earn.

Honestly, I’m not the person to ask. If you want specific numbers, Courtney Milan wrote a post comparing a royalty statement for a traditionally published novella and a self-published one. Cara McKenna described the years it took her to earn as much by writing as she had at her last full-time (non-writing) job.

Brenda Hiatt has a section on her website titled Show Me the Money, where she breaks down how much writers make on average from independently publishing and from various traditional publishers, including the different lines that Harlequin puts out. That’s a good starting place to get an idea of how much money you might make. Mind you, that’s before the IRS taps you on your shoulder and requests up to  half of it.

Don’t write a romance novel because you want to make quick money. Nor if you don’t enjoy reading them in the first place. Writing is a lot of work. If you don’t like romance novels, or you don’t like writing, you’re not going to make enough money to justify the time you spend writing the novel.

When a good description turns into bad writing

Leonid Pasternak - The Passion of creation
I love reading the winning entries for the Bulwer Lytton contest. It’s a contest devoted to writing the worst possible opening sentence of a novel. Deliberately bad writing is not as easy as unconsciously bad writing, in my experience. I’m great at writing badly when I’m not paying attention. But reading deliberately bad writing is not only funny, it’s often useful.

Writers are told to include sensory detail. I’ve had a contest judge ding my writing because in one scene I only included sensory detail from three senses (sight, sound, touch) instead of all five. I don’t think the reader notices or cares whether you use all senses in describing a scene. Writers get so focused on including the sensory details that they miss the reason for including the details in the first place.

One day—though this was no average day, it was gloomy; uncharacteristically forecast for mid-July, yet not extraordinary considering the geographic location, on the northern coast of Germany, where drastic changes in weather are indeed quite common although not so common that they were expected yet common enough to leave no one shocked by the small gathering of clouds above their heads—Linda went on a walk down the street.
— Benjamin Matthes, Founex, Switzerland Dishonorable mention, Bulwer Lytton contest

I’ve read stories where the writers devote a page or more of meticulous description in precise detail, for example a clinical description of the taste, sound, scent of eating an apple. The problem with that? Clinical detail, by its very nature, is detached from all emotion. I don’t need to know what eating an apple is like. I need to know what this character feels about it.

Description is an elegant way to tell the reader how the character views their world. It slips information into the scene subtly, providing details in the background while the main action is going on.

She was the most desired object in the room, not unlike the last deviled egg at an Easter Day potluck.
— Christine Hamilton, Atlanta, Georgia
Dishonorable mention, Bulwer Lytton contest

Description is also a good way to set the tone. If you want your readers to know you’re writing a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously, an opening sentence like the following would definitely work.

The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.
-Kat Russo, Loveland, Colorado
Winner, 2017 Bulwer Lytton contest

What do you do when the book stalls?

Kulikov Writer E.N.Chirikov 1904
I’m judging entries in the Golden Heart contest again this year. It’s like pulling out gifts from a grab bag; you never know if what you get is going to be something you like. So far I’ve read a couple stories that fell into the “well, it’s okay” category and one that absolutely made me sit up and want more.

I think the “it’s okay” stories might be published after some re-writing, but I’m curious to see what happens to the “Wow!” story. I’ve read stories in contests that were better than most published books that I’ve come across — and yet I never see the stories published. (I do look. These are stories that made it to the finals of their contests, so I could google the author’s name.) So either the author published under a different name and title or… they never published at all.

A lot of manuscripts are contest winners because the first few chapters are incredible, and the rest of the book goes downhill faster than a slalom run. But if these authors were that wonderful in their early chapters, I find it hard to believe that they couldn’t polish the rest of the story as well, given time and persistence.

And that, I think, is the problem. Persistence. Especially when you’ve been listening to inner voices (or outer ones) that say you can’t finish. Or facing the fact that you’re simply not sure what to do to finish the book.

Napoleon Hill built a whole career writing books with titles such as “Think and Grow Rich.” His philosophy on how to succeed boils down to these steps:

  1. Try something.
  2. If it doesn’t work, analyze why.
  3. Try something different, based on what you learned in step 2.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until you succeed.

That’s where I’m at right now with the manuscript I’m revising. One chapter is falling flat and I am analyzing why it doesn’t feel like it’s working. I’m trying different ways to write it to find a way to that works. Not exciting, but it’s still progress.

Writer’s Digest wrote a post on how to resurrect a stalled manuscript.

Indulging my inner drama queen

Arthur Rackham 1909 Undine (14 of 15)One good thing about entering writing contests is that I got really good at receiving criticism about my writing. I didn’t always agree with the criticism. Sometimes it was infuriating, especially when someone corrected my grammar but didn’t know what they were talking about.

But I found that in one respect, it didn’t matter. Unless the critic was unreservedly enthusiastic, a little part of me felt miffed. I call that part my Inner Diva. Its ego knows no limits, and even the slightest breath of criticism causes the same reaction:

How dare they not SWOON at the mere PRIVILEGE of being in the presence of a work of such INCREDIBLE genius???

(Inner Diva is rather fond of multiple punctuation marks.)

So I’ve learned to allow for that reaction. Whenever I get feedback, I read it, write a thank you (the critic is trying to help me, after all) and then I set it aside and get on with something else. If the criticism was especially harsh, I have to clean something or go outside and pull weeds. Something that involves setting the world to rights.

Then I go back after a couple days and re-read the feedback. Often, on a second reading, the words on the page have magically rearranged themselves so that the critic is much less harsh and much more balanced and reasonable. Sometimes I have to go out on and pull a few more weeds, but usually I can take in their comments and move on with writing.

Feedback is helpful. Feedback is your friend. Feedback is not always right — it’s your story, not theirs — but it really can improve your story.

Just pat your Inner Diva on the head and get on with it.

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts about Rejection. Rejection is a form of feedback, even a ‘Not for us’ note.

Do you have any special tips for dealing with feedback?