Writer Wednesday: Is Writing Romance Easy? Is It Easier to Get Published?

easypeasyAre you a romance writer? Then you’ve heard this said, I’m sure. Romance is a formula, it’s easy to write or It’s easier to get published in Romance.

Sometimes I just want to give the big eff you to those who maintain this. It chaps me to no end, because I’ve been working my tail off for years to hone my craft. I must be an idiot then and doing something wrong. Most of the time I’ve only seen this attitude online; I’m lucky that I have a very supportive circle of family and friends who know how hard I’ve worked, so typically the only time I’ve run across this is when I’m introduced to someone new, or occasionally on a non-romance forum.

Like this email I got after I signed with my agent back in October. She congratulated me, but then went on to remind me that it’s just a first step to getting published (yeah, I didn’t know that, thanks) and then she said this:

I know nothing about Romance writing, but I have heard (perhaps it’s just an urban myth) you can get into publication a lot faster. Since most people wait years to see a book in print, I think inking a deal where your book could be out in 12-18 months is pretty amazing sounding. I can understand why so many people go self publishing, (one of my only romance writing pals went that route) at some point you’re just hungry to get stuff out there.

Is it just me, or does this come across weird? I don’t think she meant to come across backhanded. Given that the forum was all about landing an agent, it felt like it was also saying in a way that I’d gotten one easier than her and the others because I’m writing Romance (I was one of very few on that site). This could just be me. But anyway, I thought I’d explore this a little and then open it up to discussion.

Why is Romance judged by the worst in its genre and not its best?

I work in a bookstore and see this attitude, though I’ve also experienced it elsewhere. Horror is judged by its greats like Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Science Fiction by the likes of Asimov, Bradbury, Herbert, P.K. Dick, and Heinlein. But romance? Actually it’s not judged by its greats, typically, because usually the ones making fun of it have never even read a single book in the genre. Yes, there’s bad romance, but there’s also bad horror and bad science fiction, bad fantasy. I’m sorry, but there is. And while there are some who make fun of sf/fantasy (and judged it by its worst by folks who’ve never read it also) , it doesn’t seem to be as pervasive. I see people proudly walking up to that section of the store. It’s also not denigrated by the owners and they stock it well. The Romance section? It’s gotten better since I started, but it’s still the red-headed step child and stocked with just whatever they happen to find marked romance. Patrons also approach it less boldly.

It’s a formula. The endings are the same.

Yes, romances have to end with a Happily Ever After or a Happily For Now, but Mysteries have to end with the murder solved by the protagonist, Suspense/Thrillers with the good guy overcoming the bad guy, etc. And I’ll maintain that it’s hard writing a novel where the end is already known and still make the reader suspend their disbelief and think that maybe, just this once, it won’t happen, or make them wonder how it could possibly happen.

Since it’s got the biggest market share, it’s easier to get published

As Romance Writer’s of Australia points out in this post: “It’s harder than most people think. Even Mills and Boon, that urban myth claims is so easy to ‘crack’, receive something like 20,000 unsolicited manuscripts each year from all over the world. They contract perhaps 30 new writers. They’re just one of the publishers.”

Because it’s such a large share, there’s more writers, so I’m thinking the percentage of those that get traditionally published is still small.

And I know some very talented romance writers who’ve not yet landed an agent. I don’t have statistics handy, but I know that agents who represent romance only accept a handful of new clients a year.  Just take a look at these stats by agent Kristin Nelson, whose agency is one of the heavy hitters in our genre– out of 32,000+ queries they signed 16 new clients. (And they represent more than just Romance).

More non-traditional avenues

This is true. Romance leads the way in indie publishing, and many small publishers have come into existence to help feed the demand for books in this genre. There are more of these than there are if you write science fiction or horror, and if you write literary fiction? Tiny. But remember, there’s also more of us writing this genre, so we’re still competing against others to get those e-publishing contracts. I’ll come out and admit that BEER AND GROPING IN LAS VEGAS was rejected by some of these, so it’s not a case of if you write a romance it’ll automatically get published by an e-publisher, which I think nay-sayers believe.

And on a final note, writing convincing emotion is extremely difficult, at least for me it is. It’s necessary to have it in this genre, but oh so hard to pull off without delving into schlocky-land or over-the-top land.

So for those scoffers–> you try to write a good one and get back to me 🙂

But, I know this sounds like this bothers me a lot. It really doesn’t. I just shrug it off and keep working hard. I mainly wanted to write this to put this out there and start a discussion.

What are some of the attitudes you’ve heard that have made you a little twitchy?

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25 Comments

  1. carlyfall

     /  January 16, 2013

    It makes me twitchy when people think romance, porn and erotica are all the same thing. I recently got into a slight argument with my neighbor about this when he remarked that I write porn. After a little back and forth, I finally asked if he’d ever read any of my books, and he said no. Just another clueless person running off his mouth.

    Reply
    • ” Just another clueless person running off his mouth.”
      –that might actually be the real definition of clueless!

      Reply
    • carlyfall

       /  January 16, 2013

      And just to clarify – I didn’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with erotica or porn. I love a good erotica read. My point was that romance is different than both. 🙂

      Reply
    • I hear ya! And also erotic romance is not erotica. I had one guy in a group gathering at a bar make conversation and when he found out what I did he latched onto sex, of course, and kept grilling me about my scenes and more than once offered himself as a test subject. No joke. Gah. Not a single question about craft or my journey.

      Reply
  2. Everyone has a bias. Some look down on romance, some on vampires, etc. It might also be an age thing. I belong to a book club, well not any more, with other senior ladies. They’re snobs so “romance” implies poor literature. And no they don’t read the genre. No book is easy to write, as I well know. A good read contains good characters and a creative plot. I dislike pigeon holing into genre. A friend recently wrote a YA book. Duh. It was a good read for any age. I also know publishers go by genre, for example I’ve seen notices that they are only accepting such and such a genre. Also genre is a fad thing. Another friend couldn’t get published years ago because her story was a paranormal romance. But that genre was not “in” until relatively recently.

    Sorry to go on and on – am still exhausted and trying to catch up to blogs etc. I hope this makes sense….

    Reply
  3. I never thought about it, but I think you might be right. Romance is judged by the worst of its genre!

    I think, no -I know, a lot of self-angst can be placed on teachers and professors. I started out in art school and there was a prevailing message -“those who can’t, teach.” And if anyone saw any success, there was a whisper of ‘selling out’.

    Then, when I was taking creative writing classes, our professor acted like a sainted martyr for his work being rejected for 10 years (now he’s famous) -lot’s of sniping at people who didn’t write ‘literary fiction’. In his book, On Writing Stephen King talks about feeling embarrassed around his writing professors because they’d instilled this sense of shame.

    I’d like to think I am writing for the reader not the critic and certainly not the professors!

    Reply
  4. I went out with a group of a friend’s friends, and not knowing me, one of them came up with the gem, “You know, if I ever want to make some easy money, I’ll just write a romance novel. Tons of cash and easy to do: just write some sex and send it to a publisher.”

    So I look at him and say, “Okay. If it’s so easy, you do it.” And did not punch him. Go me.

    In a sff writers’ group, there came a discussion where a lot of the other writers started cracking on the low quality of romance and how dumb a genre it was. I asked these guys, “So when was the last time you read a romance?”

    One of them said Twilight, and I almost snorted my drink before correcting them. Possibly clubbed them over the head with “What, and you judge all categories of books by their worst?” They had pretty much unilaterally decided that all romance was still ’80s-style bodice rippers, without ever reading so much as a single book (by quoting the quotes from bad books given to them by other readers). When I offered to buy a quality romance for any one of them who would read it, they all shut up and looked embarrassed. One of them finally admitted “I’d be too embarrassed to be seen reading it, with the cover and all. Even on an e-reader I’d be afraid of one of the other guys catching me reading romance.” Kudos to him for being honest as the real reason he doesn’t like romance, and the rest of the guys either admitted agreement or admitted they hadn’t given the genre a real chance yet. (None of them actually took me up on the offer.)

    Cheeses me off every time I hear someone say things like that, so if I won’t get in trouble for it, I call their bluff.

    Reply
  5. Ouch, I cringe at that reply that was sent to you as “congratulations”. It kind of sounds like a bad case of sour grapes. I haven’t begun my agent search yet (soon … soon!) but I don’t in any way expect it to be a walk in the park. In fact, I expect to get frustrated, second-guess myself, throw things, and rail at people’s ignorance and inability to recognize my greatness! 😉

    As far as stereotypes, It really irks my taters when people assume Romance isn’t “important” or that somehow it doesn’t count, whether you read it or write it. Judging by the number of people who read Romance and its market share in the industry, I’d say it’s important alright!

    Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
  6. Anything written mostly by women for mostly female readers is an easy target. Sadly, even in the 21st century the patriarchy is alive and well and it is used to making the assumption that ‘women’s things’ are less serious, more trivial, of poorer quality, than anything made by men. With that powerful mindset informing taste, you find a lot of women following the kine because they are desperate not to be judged personally as less serious, more trivial and of poorer quality.

    Writing M/M romance opens up another whole can of worms. In addition to the above, for some gay men and women any straight woman who writes M/M [whether erotic or not] = a pervert fetishing an oppressed minority. As you said above, this opinion can be sincerely held and applied to all authors without judging on individual merits.

    Reply
  7. lythya

     /  January 16, 2013

    I don’t think knowing the ending has to be such a big problem. it can be, and in bad movies/books it is. (Very.) But for the last season of Madmen I had been spoiled on a very important point. I shrugged it off, annoyed but still loving the series.
    When the story came to that point, I still cried, though I had known it would come. It was the only time I cried in Madmen, and the first time for months on months!
    It’s how we do the ending that’s really important.
    Besides, there’s lots of room for surprises. Hey, the lead might turn out to love someone else. The important thing is you do it well. Also, Pride and Prejudice is a romance but definitely surprised me once or twice.

    Reply
  8. Anyone who hasn’t watched this video needs to. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKbYQhWhay0
    It explains exactly why Romance is denigrated. I’ve always loved romance and have sharpe words for anyone who turns their noses up at it.

    Reply
  9. I went the e-publisher route (which you only mentioned briefly) and have had my rejections. Many authors in the NY pub route turn up their noses at the e-publishers, but the editing and required revisions can be just as tough as with the “big boys”. I think you’re correct about our genre being judged by the worst.

    I sneaked the first J.D.Robb book from the In Death series on my husband’s reader. He enthusiastically read them all and called for more. Then I revealed J.D.Robb was Nora Roberts. Huh. He’s working his way through the rest of her list. Linda Howard. Elizabeth Lowell. Jayne Ann Krentz. And more.

    Genres should be genderless.

    Reply
  10. Hi, my name is Julie, and I write romance novels. It took me seven years to learn to write a great book, find an agent, and sell my work. My first book is out in January of 2014.

    I LIVE for people that give me attitude when I’m asked about what I do. Every person that sneeringly informs me they could “knock out a 100,000 word romance novel by lunchtime” or “all those books are badly written” gets the same challenge. Write one chapter. I’d love to see it. Despite issuing my challenge (with a smile) to upwards of 25 people over the past seven years or so, I haven’t had one person come back to show me a first page, let alone a chapter.

    There are several thousand published authors who are living proof it is not easy to obtain a contract in romance. They endured years of workshops, writing, classes and querying before selling their work. There are tens of thousands more that continue to write, take craft classes, submit and search for an agent. Let’s face it, those who succeed have as much determination as they do writing talent. It’s easy to give up when you’ve opened that fiftieth rejection notice, or endured yet another well-meaning family member insisting that you could do better things with your time.

    The shorter response to the e-mailer in question: No, it’s not easier. Those of us who persevered, however, wouldn’t do anything else in life.

    Reply
  11. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that from someone who reads romance. I agree with you, Angela, that for a good writer, who works hard, having a formula that is set in stone (with a few exceptions, of course) makes it even more difficult, not easier.

    I haven’t heard comments about it being easy to get published in the genre but I think the idea that you can get published faster has nothing to do with a perception of ease compared to other genres. My view of that is that it’s a statement of how quickly the publishing industry works in the genre, largely due to the demands of consumers who are voracious and loyal readers. It’s not that you can be published quickly in romance per se, but once you are on that track your book may well make it into stores faster than another genre might. There are books that take 3 years or more to make it all the way through the publishing process. It’s really more about the lack of speed in the industry in general than anything else.

    The pervading anti-romance sentiment is based on the idea that they lack quality and originality. But who could take those judgments seriously when they come from people who have never read the genre? Would you take medical advice from someone who once passed a doctor on the street? Ok, maybe that’s an extreme example. How about this: would you go see, or refuse to go see a movie based on the opinion of someone who hadn’t seen it?

    Reply
  12. I think it’s just the continued ghettoization of “women’s writing” and “women’s genres.” I believe romance and children’s writing have both been undervalued for a while because of their largely female audience and largely female authorship.

    Reply
  13. I guess I should have connected the dots but saying that because they’re undervalued, they’re seen as “simple” and “formulaic” and as something “anyone could do.” 😉

    Reply
  14. Laura

     /  May 4, 2013

    I have briefly delved into the possibility of romance writing a few times over the last two decades. Even when working on other projects, I have had others, upon hearing I write, question in snide tones if I (because I am female) am writing romance trash.

    Add to this the fact that I grew up with family that felt REAL authors wrote thriller, sci-fi, or any other genre but romance.

    It’s been a struggle to come to the point of letting myself be not only okay but proud that I am pursuing a writing career in romance. The negative opinions of romance books, and subsequently their authors, has a heavy impact on budding authors and also on readers who might love the genre but are pushed away out of the fear for what others will think if they are caught reading something so “worthless” as a “trashy” romance.

    The “typical” romance reader in the minds of far too many is personified by the image of a lonely spinster who cannot get a man to love her or a dissatisfied housewife whose husband has lost interest. Neither is accurate.

    Until we overcome these negative assumptions, the struggles will remain for writers and readers alike.

    Reply
    • So true Laura! I’m so glad you’re finally “out” 🙂 It can be empowering once you let yourself be proud of it. Have you checked out smartbitchestrashybooks.com? That and dearauthor.com totally help dispel the stereotype. There’s also http://romancenovelsforfeminists.blogspot.com/

      And the next time someone gives a snide comment, remind them that romance writers have to write and wrestle with TWO main plots (The external action plot and the romance plot) and TWO main characters and their character arcs, when most other genres only deal with one main character arc. It’s NOT easy to do well. Good luck! Have you joined RWA?

      Reply
      • Laura

         /  May 4, 2013

        I haven’t yet joined RWA. I’ve read positive and negative things about RWA. It seems the expense is rising, while they continue to narrow their qualifications for full membership. As a result of much soul searching and a familiarity with how the publishing industry works (won’t say with whom I have worked, both authors and publishing companies), I have chosen to independently publish. However, while RWA will do a track at their upcoming RWA conference on self/independently publishing, they will not allow these authors to compete for RITA awards. Even with the growth in the industry, the only major romance group in the US still considers self/independently publishing as some sort of lower class. Until this changes, I am not sure I will toss my hat in with a group who will consider me a hack, simply because I choose to avoid the extremely poor publishing model maintained by the larger publishing companies or the lower opportunity levels offered by many small houses.

      • I hear ya, but man, there’s so much more to it than the RITAs. The RWA chapters constantly have really great online workshops, and there’s also RWA University. I feel like it’s worth it for the learning of the writing craft alone, plus all the support I get on the loops. I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve made through RWA that’ve really helped me through my journey so far. I’d definitely not be where I am right now if it wasn’t for being a member. But everyone’s different and has different needs. Good luck with yours!

  15. Laura

     /  May 4, 2013

    Thanks. The same path is not the best path for all authors. 🙂 To each his or her own.

    Reply
  16. Brittany

     /  September 29, 2014

    Well I read over 200 books a year and some of the names that stick out are names in romance or at least paranormal romance. There’s Virginia Kantra, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Devyn Quinn…and those are just what I read in the past six months. Publishing is hard no matter where you go. I know I must have sent out about a thousand pieces and only had two accepted.

    Reply
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