Romance Writing Is Serious Business

Romance Writing Is Serious Business

Do you know the expectations?

by Jamie K. Schmidt 

September 1, 2020

Avid romance novel readers have made the romance genre a billion dollar industry.

But romance novels have come a long way since Pamela fended off Mr. B’s sexual harassment until he proposed marriage to her in Samuel Richardson’s 1746 novel Virtue Rewarded. A lot of older readers assume the modern romance novel is still stuck in the 1970s with rapey alpha males giving the meek little virgin a soft crack in the cheek when she’s being “hysterical.” Also the 1980s bodice rippers with Fabio’s long flowing locks and chest bearing covers are no longer the genre norm. By the way, bodice rippers are historical romances, referring to the hastily unclad dresses the ladies on the cover wear.  Contemporary romance covers, on the other hand, tend to have “man titty” (shirtless, usually headless, men) on the cover. I just want you to have the correct technical terminology.

Romance novels are made up of several subgenres, each with their own tropes and expectations. Some are “sweet” romances like the Hallmark Channel shows where there’s only one kiss at the very end. Others are more explicit, going from closed door sex scenes to more descriptive ones that detail each intimate act.

However, violate the tropes and reader expectations of these subgenres at your own peril.  If you want to become a romance writer, you must first become a romance reader.  It’s usually an automatic rejection from an editor or agent when you fail to write within the genre’s niche requirements. If you don’t like reading them, you won’t like writing them. And it will show in your work.

A romance novel these days must have a happily ever after (HEA) or at the very least a happy for now (HFN), with a relationship based on mutual respect and honesty. Cheating is an unforgivable offense in a romance novel. There’s almost no way for an author to redeem a cheating spouse. That’s more a women’s fiction genre trope than romance.  

If your hero or heroine dies, your book cannot be classified as a romance. I’m looking at you, Nicholas Sparks. In that case, it’s a fiction novel with romantic elements. For the record, Romeo and Juliet is not a love story either.  It’s a tragedy about two teenagers who have more hormones than common sense.

If you get a romance reader to buy your book and you kill the hero, I guarantee you will have lost a reader for life. That’s a big mistake, because romance readers are loyal and voracious. It’s very common for a romance blogger to read and review five to seven books a week out of sheer love for the genre and for a romance reader to actively share your work with friends and other readers. Free marketing and viral popularity like that is golden in the book marketing world.

Aside from killing off the hero/heroine in the book, another sure way to lose a romance reader is to refer to your book as “smut,” “Mommy porn,” or “dirty.” The whole Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon, while giving the genre a boost in publicity and popularity, has also brought about unwarranted stereotypes and assumptions about romance books, readers, and authors in general. The romance genre gets lot of scorn and is looked down on in the media. I’m not sure why. Is female sexuality that scary? Are books about love and hope really a cause for derision?

I’ve always wondered why it was more socially acceptable to write about a cannibal serial killer than it is about a healthy and happy relationship between two consenting adults. At a cocktail party, the thriller writer’s spouse never gets asked, “Does he practice on corpses in your basement?” or “Are her murder scenes inspired by you?”  Yet my husband always gets an elbow nudge and a wink and gets asked, “Does she try out what she writes in her book in the bedroom?” and “How much of that is based on reality?” Luckily, my husband has a sense of humor and quips back, “Well, how often do you have sex?” And then laughs when the person gets offended and says, “That’s none of your business.”

Stephen Colbert’s 2019 interview with then Democratic 2020 hopeful Stacey Abrams is a good example of this type of ribbing. Instead of reading from her #3 New York Times bestseller, Lead From the Outside, he reads an excerpt of an older romance book she wrote under her Selena Montgomery pseudonym.   While a late night television show isn’t supposed to be serious political reporting, Colbert mocks her, hoping to get a reaction. Stacey handled it with grace and dignity, if with a little embarrassment. After listening to the excerpt she merely said, “It was a really good kiss.”

While there’s always exceptions to the rules, modern romance novels are smart, sensual, and promote female empowerment. They’re plotted just like any other genre novels with character arcs, themes, and a progression of events that lead to a dark moment before the characters earn their HEA or HFN. At the core, romance novels are also a feel good escape about two people overcoming difficulties to find joy and fulfillment with each other. In 2020, these types of stories are needed more than ever.

Related links:

•    Romance Novel Bashing
•    The Unexpectedly Subversive World of Romance Novels
•    The Romance Publishing Industry and Its Reputation

USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes erotic contemporary love stories and paranormal romances.  Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #65 on USA Today, #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks.  Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists. The first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time, and is a #1 Amazon bestseller.  Her book Stud is a 2018 Romance Writers of America Rita® Finalist in Erotica. Her dragon paranormal romance series has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.” Partnered with New York Times bestselling author and actress, Jenna Jameson, Jamie’s hardcover debut, SPICE, continues Jenna’s FATE trilogy.

Are you ready to start writing your book? Let us help! Show the Institute for Writers a sample of your work here.


Janice Hughes Shipp Moore
September 1, 2020

I am a student already.

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