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Romance Novelist

Romance novels are big business, generating more than $1.08 billion per year in sales. They're fun to read, but what's it like to write one?

"There's the incredible satisfaction of creating worlds for others to enjoy," says Jo Beverley, author of more than 20 published novels.

Romance novelists plan, research and write fictional stories focusing on a relationship between a man and a woman. Their novels include a variety of stories, characters and settings.

Romances can be historical or current, sensual or sweet -- they can even be supernatural. But the happy ending is guaranteed.

Being a romance novelist requires discipline, originality and perseverance, along with a love for the genre and the ability to tell a story.

"It isn't enough to write a book as good as those currently on the racks," says romance author Jennifer Blake. "It has to be better."

According to Tim DeYoung of a romance publishing company, "It takes a combination of hard work, strong plots, careful research, well-developed characters and timing" to make it as a romance novelist. "Those with a unique perspective and writing style stand a better chance."

The Romance Reward

Being a novelist also requires good financial management skills, since a novelist's earnings can be erratic and no employment benefits are provided.

According to Romance Writers of America (RWA), cash advances can range from $1,500 to $1 million a year. A typical advance for a first novel can be between $2,000 and $5,000, according to Beverley.

Royalties, the percentage the author receives from each copy sold, are generally six to eight percent of the cover price. The actual amount of royalty income varies: some authors may make $20,000, while others collect $500,000.

Income depends on several factors, according to RWA: the author's publishing history and current popularity, the number of books released per year, and the novel's foreign distribution.

Of course, there's always the chance an author can beat the odds and become an extraordinary success, leading to a six-figure income over time.

Tools of the Love Trade

A writer's tools include word processing software, grammar and spelling checkers, a printer, and a good library of reference books.

Writers can perform research online and easily correspond with others in the industry.

Romance novelists can write anywhere, but an office will help minimize distractions. Blake treats her writing like a job. When she's actively working on a book, she's in her office five days a week, writing about six hours a day.

Writing can be a lonely life, but novelists can interact with other writers by using the Internet, attending writing conferences and joining a romance writers group. And the solitude has its benefits.

"There's a tremendous amount of freedom in being totally alone," says writer Leigh Greenwood. "It gives you the time to really delve into your heart and mind, something any writer must be able to do to be successful."

Once an author completes a novel, a publisher must acquire it. Although it's possible for a new novelist to be published without an agent, a good agent can get material into the hands of the right editors quickly, and can assist the writer with contracts and negotiations.

The Harsh Reality of Harlequin

It's a very competitive industry. Harlequin is the largest publisher. Although they accept submissions from people with no agents, they publish only one percent of the 15,000 they receive annually.

Once books are published, they are distributed to bookstores. Because there are far fewer book distributors now than in the past, a single person may make the book buying decisions for a large number of stores. This adds to the competitive nature of the business.

To increase the chance of success, potential authors should read a wide variety of romance books. They should also research the various publishers' guidelines, which will indicate each publisher's particular requirements.

Even within a single publishing house, different lines vary by length, tone and level of sexuality. A novel submitted to Harlequin's Temptation line, for example, would differ from a Harlequin Intrigue novel.

It's difficult to estimate how many romance novelists there are -- some keep their day jobs and labor on their love stories in private. Romance Writers of America is the largest non-profit genre writers' association, with over 10,000 members and more than 140 chapters worldwide.

Education and That Love Thang

No specific education or background is required to be a successful romance novelist. Many colleges offer creative writing programs, but since they may not be geared to the romance genre, some writers feel they may be more harmful than helpful.

"Every successful writer does things a little differently from everybody else," Greenwood says. "It's up to the individual to discover what works best for them and then concentrate on honing those skills."

What advice do published romance novelists have for those considering the career?

"Write because it's impossible for you to do anything else," says Greenwood.

"Expect rejection," advises Beverley. "It's part of the learning process, and not wasted. Very, very few of us had our work accepted for publication at our first attempt."

"Follow your dream," says Blake. "Dozens of them come true every year, and one of them might be yours."


Jennifer Blake: Romance Novelist
Publishing history, along with 10 tips for writing more effective romance novels

Romance Writers of America
Find a chapter near you

Absolute Write
A great resource for the beginning writer

Writer's Digest
Find information on how to write this popular fiction genre

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