Eight Ways to Break into the Romance Market

Have you always thought that romance writing isn’t your thing? Well, think again. Romance novels have evolved so much over the years that several subgenres have emerged. Today’s readers can easily find the romance novel subgenre that suits their tastes—and writers can, too.

According to the Romance Writers of America (RWA) website, approximately 8,090 romance titles were published in 2007, accounting for $1.375 billion in sales. In fact, one of every five persons who read books in 2007 read a romance novel! Among the 43 RWA recognized romance publishers, Harlequin Enterprises is by far the largest, bringing out 120 titles a month in 29 languages for 107 international markets on six continents.

If you’re wondering how to get in on the romance action, consider focusing on one of these popular eight subgenres:

• Inspirational—novels where faith and religion are integral to the story.

• Paranormal—novels may include werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and more.

• Mystery & Suspense—women-in-jeopardy stories.

• Young Adult—books feature teen protagonists, written for readers from 12 to 19 and incorporate all the elements of adult fiction—character, plot, setting, theme, and style.

• Erotica—sexually explicit stories where the character growth occurs through the sexual scenes.

• Historical—historically accurate stories where the setting plays a part of the book.

• Contemporary—novels can be funny, emotionally intense, and spicy but not explicit; or sweet traditional romances. They can be as short as 40,000 words, or as long as 80,000 words, depending on the publisher and the line.

• Mainstream Women’s Fiction—big novels where the romantic relationship is a significant part of the story.

Know that within the first seven genres listed above there are category romance novels, those that are part of a series, which are published monthly by Harlequin, Silhouette, Steeple Hill, and Mills & Boon. And there are single titles, those novels that are released as standalones and have a shelf life of longer than one month.

With all these books and series and markets, how does a writer break in?

Eight Ways to Break into the Romance Market 

Author Carol Grace Culver wrote short stories for the confessions magazines and Woman’s World before she broke into the romance market in 1989 by selling a book about a single dad and a nanny to Silhouette Romance. Since then, more than thirty-three of her romance novels have been published.

“I am currently under contract with Harlequin-Mills & Boon; my July 2009 book is called His Sicilian Bride, under my pen name Carol Grace. I wrote a series of young adult books for Berkley in trade paperback last year (the first is called Manderley Prep) under my name Carol Culver. As Carol Grace, I also wrote a couple of single-title romances for Pocket Books that took place in Greece and Italy.”

Historical Romance author Anne Mallory broke in in a different way. “I entered the RWA Golden Heart contest and became a finalist. My editor read the entry in the finals and contacted me about buying the book!” Mallory writes Regency romances for Avon/HarperCollins, and has published seven books since her debut in 2004. Her release, For the Earl’s Pleasure, set in 1822, was due out in July 2009.

Jasmine Haynes, also known as Jennifer Skully, followed yet another path: “I joined Romance Writers of America, attended many craft seminars, and utilized their networking opportunities.” As Jasmine Haynes, she writes erotic romance for Berkley. Jennifer Skully’s publications are light, humorous, romantic suspense novels published by Harlequin HQN; as JB Skully, she writes the Max Starr sensual mystery series available from Liquidsilverbooks.com. She’s been published for six years and has twenty-one books under her belt. Her book, Fair Game, was a June 2009 Berkley Heat release.

Does the romance genre have too many options? How does a writer choose the subgenre?

Culver has a quick answer: “I pick the genres that are actively acquiring books.” But then she explains, “Single titles are longer, more characters, more complex plots, more freedom from rules. Young Adult can be edgy, funny, paranormal, light, lots of freedom there, too. Category romance follows certain rules that are important to follow. In a way, it makes writing them easier.”

For Mallory, “Regency historical romance is what I love to read! There is a definite fantasy aspect to historicals. The world is familiar, but just different enough to give the reader more of an escape.”

And Haynes says, “My voice is pretty humorous, but I also love having a mystery to solve. So both light mysteries by Jennifer Skully and the grittier Max Starr series came out of discovering my voice. I didn’t pick the genres as much as they picked me. I did specifically decide to write erotic romance, though, because I saw that it was a growing market. However, I found that also fit my voice, too. I’ve always written very sensual books, and erotic romance was an outlet for that without having to figure out who I was going to kill (lol). I have found the more erotica I write, though, the more humor slips in.”

It sounds like these writers have found their niche in romance.

“I like writing romance, inserting it into whatever genre I’m working on,” Culver says. “I’m writing a mystery now and sure enough, the sleuth has a boyfriend. It just makes life more interesting to have some romance in it.”

Mallory adds, “It’s been wonderful! I started writing full time and love the work and flexibility.”

Haynes’s experience is equally positive. “Romance writing has been good to me, but I’m still building my career. I do have freedom to write the stories I want and I do this full time, so I don’t have to work another job. I have worldwide distribution, but that could be improved. No movie deals, though!

While we do hear about those overnight sensations, building a writing career takes a long time for most of us.”

If you’re interested in pursuing this versatile genre, Culver offers this advice: “I’d say an aspiring romance writer has to read and read and read some more. Then get into a class or a critique group for support. It can be such a lonely life, writing, so you need other writers who understand and will help getting over the bad times as well as to share and celebrate the good times.”

Mallory agrees, “Write, write, write, and read, read, read! And join RWA. Look into your local RWA chapter for specific help and camaraderie and the national organization for consolidated publishing information.” Haynes concurs, “Join Romance Writers of America and become active with your local chapter. There is a huge support system in addition to so many workshops, online classes, and conferences where you can learn your craft and make the contacts you will need to get published. RWA helped me learn how to write and once I’d done that, they gave me the resources to sell my work.”

For more information on each of these authors, visit their fabulous web sites at carolgracebooks.com, annemallory.com, and skullybuzz.com.

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