Last night I attended the monthly meeting of the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild. The guest speaker was Christina Alexandra, a romance writer and California Dreamin’ writers conference organizer from Orange County. She spoke to the group about writing and publishing romance, and gave us lots of information about the industry and its authors.
Here are my Top 10 Takeaways from her speech:
10 – Romance is for everyone
Romance includes every genre – and it’s more than just heaving bosoms!
This is a stereotype that romance writers fight against, constantly.
Romance is, in fact, the biggest seller for ALL of the Big Five publishers. Approximately 49% of all novels put out by traditional publishers are categorized as romance. They keep the lights on!
9 – What makes a story a romance?
There are only two requirements for a story to be considered a romance:
- The main focus must be on the couple (or threesome… or moresome).
- There must be an “emotionally satisfying” ending (either a “HEA” = Happily Ever After, or “HFN” = Happy For Now).
8 – Choose your subgenre
Romances set in a time period after the 1950s are considered “Contemporary.” There is also a current trend for romances to be considered “Retro” if set during the time period between the 1950s and the 1980s.
Paranormal Romance is a huge subgenre, and typically features borderline erotica levels of heat. Shape-shifters are big within this subgenre, and include werewolves, dragons, and other creatures that can change back and forth into human form.
Another huge subgenre is the Old West Romance.
Regency Romance was recently considered dead, but is again making a comeback amongst readers. Regency refers to a very specific time period, from 1811 to 1820 in England, which was categorized by Christina as “the time period when George III was mad, but not dead, and his son was the Regent.” One of the most well-known examples of Regency writers is Jane Austen, who wrote romances as well as social commentary of her time.
7 – Choose your heat level
Guess what? It’s not all about the sex! There are, in fact, varying degrees of heat in romance novels, ranging from “sweet” (usually ending at a closed door) all the way to “steamy” (more graphic, but not quite erotica).
In romance, there’s something for everyone.
6 – Choose your book length
Word counts for romance novels can vary greatly, depending on the publisher and the subgenre in question. Many of Harlequin’s books are around 40,000 words. These are considered short, and are produced quickly. Paranormal romances are usually about 100,000 words, while historical romances range from 70-110,000 words. Avon and Harper Collins books typically range from 70-85,000 words.
5 – Choose your age level
Romance really is for everyone, because there are YA romances, too. These are typically more on the sweet side of the heat range, and are aimed at teens. Modern day examples are often set in dystopian societies, and all YA books typically address current issues for young people in relationships.
There’s also a new subgenre called New Adult (NA), which aims at readers aged 18 to 25. These books deal with topics a younger adult audience faces, like learning how to be or become an adult, discovering oneself and one’s sexuality. These books are often set on college campuses.
4 – Choose your gender and sexuality
Romance isn’t just for women. Nope! Approximately 12-20% of romance readers are male. And why not? Men enjoy romance in their relationships too, right? With books that often alternate between the female and male romantic leads, male readers can get a good glimpse into the minds of the female characters.
And let’s not forget: not all romance is about male/female pairing. There are tons of romance novels aimed at the LGBTQ rainbow of relationships, in addition to the more traditional stereotype of the Fabio book cover with a woman swooning in his arms. Hell, I’m not even sure how to classify Chuck Tingle‘s books (his most recent title, as of this blog post, being Domald Tromp Pounded In The Butt By The Handsome Russian T-Rex Who Also Peed On His Butt And Then Blackmailed Him With The Videos Of His Butt Getting Peed On), but they’re definitely in a category all their own.
3 – Do the research
Christina says she gets many of her ideas from her research into the Regency era. She attends Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum exhibits in LA, which rotate monthly, to explore period clothing and costumes. She also talks to museum docents about paintings from the time period, and explores the history behind them. She has even visited England to do extensive research, touring homes and exploring more of the British National Archives from that era. She also notes that there are lots of historic newspaper articles on file, with great tidbits you can use in your stories.
2 – Write what you know
Christina gets a lot of ideas from her job in law enforcement, though she typically doesn’t write about that particular setting. Since she writes Regency-era romance, she will use her experiences in different situations, and even bases her villains on people she doesn’t like. (Don’t we all?!)
1 – Read and write romance
The romance writing community is very welcoming. If you want to learn more about writing and publishing in the genre, be sure to check out Laurie Kahn’s 2016 film Love Between the Covers, a documentary featuring many of the writers behind the industry’s bestselling books. And if you’re a romance reader, be sure to check out The Ripped Bodice in Culver City (near LA) – the country’s only romance bookstore.