"Writing for the Romance Genre" with Connie Laux

Thursday, September 7, 2000

MODERATOR is Kristi Holl, author of 24 books and more than 100 articles, and web editor for this site.

Connie is Connie Laux, author of nine historical romances including Devil's Diamond, a 1998 release that was nominated as historical romance of the year by Romance Writers of America. This month Diamonds and Desire was published by Signet. She's also written two contemporary romances published by Dell.

Names color coded in blue are viewers who asked questions.

Interviews are held on Thursday nights at 9-11 p.m. Atlantic/Canada, 8-10 p.m. Eastern, 7-9 Central, 6-8 Mountain, and 5-7 Pacific.

MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome! I'm Kristi Holl, your moderator, and the web editor for this site. I'm here this evening with Connie Laux to discuss "Writing for the Romance Genre." Connie has published nine historical romances including Devil's Diamond, a 1998 release that was nominated as historical romance of the year by Romance Writers of America. Romances represent a HUGE chunk of the adult publishing market, and Connie is here tonight to tell you how you, too, can break into this market. Welcome, Connie!

Connie: Thanks. Nice to be here.

MODERATOR: Connie, how did you get started writing, and when did you get into the business?

Connie: I started writing in college, but at the time was doing nonfiction newspaper articles and such. My first couple full-time jobs were with corporations doing writing like speeches and brochures and employee newsletters. I started writing fiction about 14 years ago. It was something I'd always dreamed of doing but never had the nerve to try.

MODERATOR: Besides your nine historical romances, what other types of writing have you had published?

Connie: I've written 7 books for young adults, one middle-grade book (2nd - 6th grade or so) and I've got a contemporary romance coming out in December.

MODERATOR: Do you juggle a day job or raising children with your writing?

Connie: I don't have a "real" job other than writing, though many of my writing friends do. I do, however, have 2 children and one of the things that attracted me to writing in the first place was the chance to work at home and around their schedules.

MODERATOR: If you're busy with work and with kids, how do you find time to write?

Connie: I'm a firm believer in the motto that you'll never FIND time to write. You have to MAKE time. When I first started writing, I promised myself I'd do one writing related thing every day. It didn't matter what it was. Sometimes it was a letter or a page or maybe just some research but I started out with that, then gradually increased the time I spent writing.

MODERATOR: Turning to tonight's subject, by definition in publishing, what is a romance?

Connie: I like to define romances as fantasy based on believability. Romances are stories that are relationship-centered. They concern a hero and heroine who are drawn out of their normal existence into a whole new world because of their relationship with one another.

MODERATOR: Why do you think romances are so popular, making up 50% of the mass market sales each year?

Connie: You're right that romances comprise a huge segment of the market. As a matter of fact, the last figures I saw said 58% of all paperbacks sold are romances. As to why they're popular? I think because they send such positive messages. Romance heroines are like the women we'd all like to be: strong and good and sure of themselves (for the most part). Romance heroes are the kinds of guys we'd all like to fall in love with. Readers respond to the positive messages in romance and to the wonderful prospect of a happily ever after.

MODERATOR: Amazing figures to me! Who reads all those books?

Connie: I've got some figures there, too. Latest figures say that 41.4 million people have read a romance in the last year. More than 50% of those readers are married and they come from all age groups. There are even statistics about how much $ is made in the households that read romance. Surprisingly (at least to me), more than 60% of our readers come from rural areas. I'm not sure why but it would be interesting to find out more about that.

AnneKelly: Are the readers mostly women?

Connie: Yes, the large majority are women but according to the figures I have, 9% of our readers are men. I know at least one of those is my husband. My books are required reading around here!

Duckywriter: My mother is an avid reader of romance novels at 80 years old.

Connie: Hurray for Mom! I'm not surprised. Romances appeal to all age groups and economic classifications. Again, I think that goes back to the positive message we're sending. While some books leave you feeling depressed or as if there's no hope for civilized people, romances leave readers with the thought that things can get better. They also appeal to people who believe in "traditional" relationships, that is, people who think marriage and family are as much a part of a happily ever after as love. What all this means, of course, especially for all of us writers, is that there's a huge market out there for romances.

AnneKelly: Are romances more about romance than sex? They seem to have more of a fantasy effect, at least the historical ones do, I think.

Connie: Well, this is one of those tough questions to answer because there are as many different kinds of romances out there as there are writers writing them. The one thing all romances have in common is that they are relationship stories. But of course, the way each author handles those relationships is different. Some authors (and I think I'm one of them) handle the sex as just a natural part of a healthy, loving relationship. Other authors emphasize it more.

AnneKelly: There's a far cry between Harlequin romances and Jackie Collins. But I don't think Jackie Collins would be classified as romance, would she?

Connie: No, as far as I know, Jackie C. wouldn't be considered romance. A couple things to remember about romance: romances always focus on a hero and heroine, and they are always in a monogamous (hope I spelled that right!) relationship, which means a sort of jet-setting, bed-hopping story would absolutely not be considered romance for the most part (though there are exceptions). Neither would a book about adultery or infidelity.

MODERATOR: What types of romances are there?

Connie: A good question. There are a lot of different kinds of romances. Let me give you a breakdown of the different ones. First of all, there are the contemporary romances, what most of us think of as Harlequin romances, though Harlequin is only one of the publishers. Contemporaries are set in today's world and feature today's characters. Most publishers define them as being set "after the wars" but I think they're even more specific. They are set in the here and now and feature heroes and heroines we would know and admire in our own lives. I've recently written my first contemporary, a book that will be published by Dell this December. It's called Reinventing Romeo and is about a modern, millionaire hero who has to hide from the mob. The heroine is the FBI agent assigned to keep him alive. Very different from what I usually write, which is the next breakdown category.

Historical romances: historicals are books set any time before the wars. There are some time periods you'll see more often than others. Medievals are popular as are books set in Regency England (early 1800s). I'm a sucker for Victorians so my historicals (including the one I have out now called Diamonds & Desire) are all set in Victorian England. Obviously, these are very different from contemporaries. There has to be a sense of time and place inherent in the book along with that all-important relationship that's vital to every romance.

Ready for the next breakdown? That would be inspirational romances, a relative newcomer to the romance market. These are books that have a strong Judeo-Christian theme.

Next come paranormal romances, what I like to call woo-woo books. These are books that have ghosts or vampires or angels and such. Not a huge segment of the market, but very popular with some readers.

Next come Regency romances, set in that time period of the early 1800s we mentioned earlier. These are Jane Austen-like stories, very specific as far as manners and mores of the time.

Next comes romantic suspense, very popular right now. If you read books by folks like Tammi Hoag and Sandra Brown, you'll know what romantic suspense is like.

Finally, there's time-travel romance, a book in which one or both of the characters travel between time periods. Whew! It's a big list.

AnneKelly: Which wars are you speaking of? The two World Wars or after that?

Connie: Sorry. I meant the two world wars. Right now, historicals are considered before the wars, contemporaries are after. But as I said, I think contemporaries might be more specifically referred to as books taking place in the here and now.

kmadsen: Would Bridges of Madison County be a romance? I thought it justified adultery and therefore didn't think it fit the definition you gave a few minutes ago.

Connie: No, Bridges would definitely not be considered romance. Remember, in order for a book to be a romance, there has to be that monogamous, committed relationship between the hero and heroine and a happy ending.

sunnystuff: Was your first book for the adult public a romance novel?

Connie: Yes, my first book was called Twilight Secrets. It was a historical that was published by Berkley back in '92. The book was set in London in 1872.

AnneKelly: Along the same lines, I guess The Prince of Tides would not be a romance. Does this also mean it has to have a happy ending for the hero and heroine?

Connie: Yes, it's the hero and heroine's happy ending I'm talking about. A romance needs to end with the hero and heroine in a committed relationship. Most often that means they end up being married.

AnneKelly: Maybe you've already answered this, but what if the hero or heroine dies? Does that mean it's not a romance because it's tragic?

Connie: Right. Although I have to tell you, there are exceptions. Let me preface this by saying that by and large, if the hero or the heroine dies, you wouldn't have a romance. But (there's always a but, isn't there?) there have been romances that work around this. I remember a paranormal romance that was out a few years ago...don't remember the name of it...the hero was a ghost. At the end, the heroine died. That gave them their own kind of "happily ever after!"

kmadsen: So, if the hero and heroine have to end in a committed relationship, what about the ending of Gone With The Wind? Would that not be acceptable to today's editors?

Connie: Gone With the Wind would definitely not be considered a romance in today's market. There's not enough emphasis on the Scarlett/Rhett relationship. Then there's the problem of that ending!

MODERATOR: I hope this isn't a touchy subject, but for the sake of new writers, I'd like to ask anyway. There's a common misconception that "anyone can write a romance." Is that true? Are the requirements for writing a romance "less than" writing regular fiction?

Connie: No, not a touchy subject. I think this is definitely something we should talk about. Are romances easy to write? Let's put it this way: there are more than 8000 members of Romance Writers of America, the professional organization of romance writers. Of those 8000, about 1200 of them are published. So right away you can see that not everyone who wants to write romance can or can get it published. The other component of this is, I suppose, is romance any easier to write than any other genre? And as an aside, let me explain for those who might not know, by genre, I mean any easily defined fiction, i.e. mystery, sci-fi, etc. Again, the answer would have to be no. Every genre has its own requirements, like that happy ending we talked about. But that doesn't mean it's any easier to write than anything else. As a matter of fact, some writers find it harder to write because there are those certain "constraints" and some writers simply can't work within them.

MODERATOR: How much [and what kind of] research do you do for historical romances?

Connie: Wow. A loaded question because, of course, historicals require a great deal of research. I have to confess something, though. That's one of the reasons I write Victorian. The Victorians weren't really all that different from us. And I'll tell you something else. I would never write a book about people who didn't have running water! Seriously, yes, every historical requires research. In addition to the general history of the times, you need to know about things like what people wore, what they ate, how they talked. I can't tell you how much I admire writers who write about the Medieval period. Like I said, Victorians aren't that different, but imagine trying to recreate life in a castle...amazing. And not easy to make it all work.

Not that this is exactly on the subject, but I want to mention this here. I talked to my contemporary editor recently and she said she thinks it's harder to write a contemporary than it is to write a historical. I didn't believe her at first. Figured all that research made historicals harder right off the bat. But she says she thinks it's harder because certain historical periods are automatically romantic in a lot of readers' minds (like the Middle Ages or Regency England). She says with contemporaries, you don't have that built-in element and it's harder to make real, present-day life romantic.

MODERATOR: Is historical accuracy a "must" all the time? Where can a writer fictionalize?

Connie: I wouldn't fudge dates or make some kind of queen live in a book at a time they didn't really live. Again, I've seen it done. I just wouldn't do it.

MODERATOR: Do you use real historical figures in your historical romances?

Connie: I have mentioned historical figures. For instance, my last three historicals have been based around Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee that happened in 1897 and was the celebration of her 60th year on the throne. Victoria appeared in a couple of the books, only as a minor character and only as she related to the hero and heroine. Again, this is the kind of thing that depends on the author. Other authors use real people extensively in their books.

MODERATOR: Does setting matter in a romance (other than historical)?

Connie: Yes, setting is very important, in historicals and in contemporaries. Let's look at contemporaries first. There are certain settings that are very popular, especially Western settings in contemporaries. Ranch books are big business. There are other settings you wouldn't be able to get away with in contemporaries, just because readers don't view them as interesting or romantic. These would probably include places like Turkey or India, not that there's anything wrong with Turkey or India! But readers don't find settings such as this appealing. As a matter of fact, I think you'll find that by and large, contemporary romances have US settings. The same holds true for historicals. Certain settings just would never fly. You might write a great book about 12th Century China but I think you'd find that readers would think it was "too foreign". But a book about 12th century Scotland might be fine.

MODERATOR: How was it different writing Reinventing Romeo (a contemporary romance) after publishing nine historical romances?

Connie: Writing Romeo was a very different experience. For one thing, Romeo is a comedy and it was a great way to exercise some writing muscles I haven't had a chance to use. The other thing goes back to research. When I research my historicals, I'm largely doing that in books. I spend time in the library and on the Internet, but Romeo is set in present times in the city where I live. That gave me a chance to actually do the things the characters do in the book, to go to the places they go. I have to tell you, my favorite thing to research was a Friday night bingo game. I'd never played bingo before and I found out I'm really bad at it. But it's a very different sort of experience, something I couldn't have made up. Had to be there to see it and believe it! I will also confess, though, that though my characters go to a WWF wrestling match, I did not! Watching Smack Down on TV was enough for me!

AnneKelly: When you use the Internet, how do you know your information if accurate?

Connie: I try to find two sources that corroborate my research. Sometimes, of course, that's not necessary if I find the dates of (say) when Queen Victoria was on the throne. In my set of encyclopedias, I can pretty much count on that being right, but if I'm looking for something a little more esoteric, I try more than one source. Case in point: my last year's Diamond book was called Diamond Rain. In it, both the hero and heroine own fireworks companies and they're competing to put on the show for the Queen's Jubilee. I needed to find not only information about fireworks, but information about fireworks in the late 1800s. That took a little digging.

MODERATOR: Since you've written both historical and contemporary romance, what's next? What are you working on now?

Connie: I'm working on another contemporary romance. As I mentioned, Reinventing Romeo is about a millionaire and the FBI agent who's watching over him. My editor loved the book and suggested I'd found my "niche" with law enforcement books, what we're calling romantic suspense comedies. So continuing with that theme, my next book is called All Shook Up. The hero is with the US Marshals Service. It's another book where I'll be able to do some on-site research.

MODERATOR: Sounds fascinating! Connie, we sometimes think of the romance hero being the stereotyped bare-chested "stud" and the heroine being a tad ditzy and top-heavy. True or false?

Connie: For the most part, false, but that doesn't mean you'll never see it. Remember, there are 1200 published members of Romance Writers of America, and that means 1200 different ways of writing books. But for the most part, I think heroines, both contemporary and historical, are reflections of the kinds of women we admire. They are strong and smart and determined. They are willing to go through hell and high water to get what they want. That doesn't mean you'll never see a bimbo. I'm writing about a bimbo now in All Shook Up. But I think it means that though she may start out looking like a bimbo, readers--and more importantly, the hero--find out there's more here than meets the eye. As for heroes, there are lots of different kinds of heroes, too. I saw a survey from RWA recently. They asked readers what they liked to see in their heroes and heroines. The three most important character traits for the heroine are intelligence, beauty and strength. The three adjectives for the hero are: attractive, kind/compassionate and intelligent. Not a bare chest listed in the bunch!

MODERATOR: What about their relationship--is there a set pattern or formula you need to follow?

Connie: Not a formula, no. That would be way too easy, but I think there are certain things readers expect of the heroes and heroines in the books they read. In general (and again, it might not be true in all cases) you'll probably find a hero and heroine who are physically attracted to each other, but who have plenty of good reasons not to act on that attraction. In Romeo, the heroine is the FBI agent who is supposed to be protecting the hero. She knows it would be a big mistake to give in to her attraction. She also knows that this guy has a reputation for being a playboy, and she doesn't want to be just another name on the list. The hero, too, is attracted to her. And he admires her courage and her skills and her dedication to her job. But he also realizes she's the kind of woman who wants more from life than just the kinds of wild flings he's used to, and he's not sure he's the man who can give her what she deserves. So you see, there is a certain push and pull between the characters--what we in the genre call sexual tension.

What you'll probably also see in most romances is the sort of boy gets girl, boy loses girl scenario. There is usually a black moment at the end of the story, something that makes the reader worry that the "happily ever after" she anticipated might not happen after all. In Romeo, it's when the hero nearly gets killed by a hit man, and the heroine realizes she wasn't doing her job and that by doing that, she nearly cost the hero his life. The hero blames himself. It's their black moment and what we want to do is make the reader wonder--if only for a second--how on earth they'll work things out and if they'll get together in the end. So in that respect, I guess there's a formula. The thing to remember, though, is that every writer handles the elements of that formula in her own special way and that in the hands of 1200 writers you'll get 1200 versions of the formula!

MODERATOR: Do the huge popular romance series give you a formula to go by?

Connie: A formula? No, not really. What some of the publishers do provide, however, is what's known as guidelines. This is especially true of the contemporary houses. Guidelines tell writers what's acceptable for each line. Let me explain. Someone mentioned Silhouette. Silhouette publishes more than one kind of contemporary romance. For instance, each month, they publish so many Silhouette Desires, so many Silhouette Special Editions, so many Silhouette Romances, etc. Each line is a little different and each line has its own special requirements. The guidelines provided by the publishers let you know what those requirements are. They'll tell you how long each line is. For instance, a Romance might be 50,000 words, a Special Edition might be 75,000. They'll also tell you the level of sensuality they're looking for. Romances, for instance, have no explicit sex scenes. Desires do. The reason publishers have guidelines is to avoid submissions that aren't right for them. Readers know what they want when they pick up a Desire, or a Romance, or a Special Edition. And it's the job of the publisher to give it to them. But again, it's important to remember that while all writers follow these same guidelines, the guidelines allow enough latitude to make sure each of their books is different.

MODERATOR: How can an author get publishers' guidelines?

Connie: Back in the old days, when snail-mail was all there was, you used to have to send for guidelines and include an SASE. A lot of publishers publish their guidelines now on their web sites. And on the subject of guidelines, it's important to note that some publishers don't have them at all. Many of the historical publishers as well as the publishers of bigger, single-title contemporaries don't have official guidelines. They suggest you read what they publish in order to know what they're looking for.

MODERATOR: What about sex scenes? Implied? Explicit? You said they're different for different series? Are they a requirement?

Connie: It depends on the book and the publisher and the author. As I think I mentioned earlier, each author handles sex scenes in her own way. But yes, certain publishers (especially of the short contemporary romances we think of as Harlequins) do have certain requirements. This all goes back to what their readers are expecting to find in their books. In a Romance, for instance, there are no sex scenes. Desires, on the other hand, sizzle. Lots of sex and sensuality. With the single-title and historical publishers, that can vary. Sometimes an editor will have a preference for how much is/isn't included, but more often than not, that's up to the writer and her story.

MODERATOR: What about viewpoint? Are romances told through the heroine's eyes, or through multiple viewpoints?

Connie: Point of view is one of my personal writing crusades! Again, this can depend on the line but I won't quote anything for sure because I don't write category contemporaries (the kinds published by Harlequin and Silhouette). I won't pretend to know what they want. By and large, I think they are looking for both the hero and the heroine's POV in the story. This is certainly true for historicals and the bigger contemporaries. Again, this is the kind of thing you can learn from the publisher's guidelines or from reading the books they publish. Personally, I like to use both the heroine's and the hero's POV. It gives readers an emotional stake in each of the main characters and it helps move the plot along by helping the reader understand things like motivation. To me, POV is one of the most vital weapons in a writer's arsenal, very important to practice and use wisely and well.

AnneKelly: Are romances ever written totally from the male point of view?

Connie: I don't think I've ever seen one written completely from a male POV, but just as an aside, there are a number of male romance writers. They write under women's names, so you'd never know!

kmadsen: What's the hardest part of writing for you? Research, first draft, revision?

Connie: Another tough question. It's all hard, and depending on which I'm doing, that's usually the one I think is the hardest! Research can sometimes be challenging, but I never think of it as hard. Like most writers, I love doing research. I guess if I had to pick one, I'd say first drafts. Once the words are on the paper, or on the computer screen, it's easier to play with them. But getting them there in the first place--that can be a real challenge!

AnneKelly: In a romance, is there still conflict and odds that the hero/heroine have to conquer before the happy ending? I would think it could get boring if they didn't have to "work" for their love.

Connie: Definitely! You'll find conflicts in every romance. You're right. It would be boring without some conflict. I guess that's another important thing to point out here. In spite of the fact that the central part of the book is the relationship between the heroine and hero, that doesn't mean there's no plot! Often that plot involves conflict, like that FBI agent heroine and the millionaire hero. In some books, the conflict is all internal--that is, it stems from something inside the hero and/or heroine. For instance, you might have a heroine who's been burned and is afraid to love again, or a hero who is afraid of commitment because his father left the family when he was a child and he doesn't believe he could ever be any different. In some of the shorter books (those 50,000 word ones I mentioned earlier) there isn't time for more than internal conflict. In some longer books, you'll also have external conflicts, things happening outside the hero and heroine's relationship that are keeping them apart. This could be another person or circumstances of some other kind. In my new historical, Diamonds and Desire, the heroine is a Victorian tabloid reporter. The more sensational she can make a story, the better. The hero is a notorious jewel thief and as soon as she finds that out, she knows she has the story of a lifetime. There's some conflict!

kmadsen: Do you do a lot of outlining before doing a first draft?

Connie: I didn't used to outline. I used to be a seat-of-my-pants writers. I knew where I wanted a story to start. I knew where I wanted it to end, and I just sort of played it by ear in the middle. What I'm finding is the more I write, the more I realize the value of at least some kind of outline. If I have a better idea of the structure of a book, I work faster. It also helps me plan what's going to happen. This isn't exactly a writing secret but it's a technique I've used and it's successful. As I plan a book, I make a series of squares on a paper, one for each chapter, then I fill them in. Sometimes when I start, more are empty than are filled, but as I work and figure out the plot, I start gradually filling them in. By the time I'm writing Chapter 5 or so, I usually have all the squares filled.

MODERATOR: What advice can you give viewers who want to break into this genre?

Connie: I think the first and best advice I can give is: Read! You can't possible write romance if you don't know what romance is. It all goes back to knowing your market. You've got to know what a romance is, you've got to know what kinds of books each publisher publishes. Otherwise, you're wasting your time. After that, I'd say the best thing you can do is write. I know, that sounds really trite. But I know a lot of people who want to be writers, but who don't want to write. It's really not a very glamorous profession. You sit at home a lot and don't talk to much of anyone, but you'll never be a writer if you don't write. You'll never get the practice you need if you don't write. If you want to write mysteries, read mysteries. If you want to write romances, read romances (preferably mine!) That's the way you'll find out what publishers are looking for.

After that, I'd suggest you get involved in the romance writing community. There is an organization called Romance Writers of America, based in Texas, but there are chapters all over the world. There are local meetings, workshops, etc. A lot of the chapters sponsor critique groups where you can read your work and the work of other writers, and work to improve what you're writing. There's also a national conference every year. This year's was in Washington D.C. Next July, we'll be in New Orleans. Tons of speakers, workshops, lectures, demonstrations: always a panel of cops that talks about forensics. This year, firefighters and paramedics had writers out at the trucks pumping water and doing other fire fighter stuff. And of course, lots of writing workshops, everything for beginners on up to pros. Very valuable. RWA is also a great place to find a lot of the marketing information we talked about. They have a monthly magazine and in it, you'll learn which publishers are looking for what, what editors are new or have left, etc. . . . a great organization.

MODERATOR: What if I have a great idea for a romance? Will an editor work with me to polish it and get it published?

Connie: I think back in the old days, and by old days I mean the early 80s, editors had plenty of time to work with writers. I think across the board (not just in romance) that's no longer true. Every editor I know doesn't read or edit at the office. She does all that at home, on her own time. Office hours are filled with meetings and conferences and all the little details of publishing. So editors really don't have the time to work really closely with writers. I think another thing also affects this. Editors have said that since RWA came along (and it provides such wonderful education to up-and-coming writers) that the work they see is getting better and better all the time. So while a good idea is a great place to start, you're going to want to polish that idea until it shines. Otherwise, an editor will find another one that does.

kmadsen: Any advice for a beginning writer like myself who wants to write a story about my great grandparents and their young married life in Dallas, TX in the years 1880-1900?

Connie: From just that little you told me, I'd offer one bit of off-the-cuff advice. Remember that you're writing fiction and remember that real life isn't all that interesting, even if you're basing your story on real people and real events. You'll want to make sure you maintain enough objectivity to remember that you don't have to stick to facts. It may interest your family no end that Grandpa was the checkers champion of Clark County, but readers might find that boring. So the first thing I'd say is if you're going to base a book on real life, remember first and foremost that it is a novel and you'll need to fictionalize.

sunnystuff: After the first germ of an idea for a story is planted in your mind, what do you consider the most important next steps in creating a novel?

Connie: That's exactly what I always start with--an idea. But one thing you have to remember is that an idea isn't a plot. I often meet beginning writers who say things like, "I want to write a book about a man and woman who meet while they're burglarizing a house. Actually, that's the idea I started with for Diamonds and Desire. But you have to remember that there's more to a book than that. While it might be a great place to start and a great hook to grab an editor's and a reader's attention, it's not enough to fill 400 pages. So I generally start with that idea and then I play "What if?" What if the hero and heroine meet while they're both burglarizing the same house? Why would they be there? Who would they be? What's in the house they both want? I ask myself questions and then more questions until I come up with a situation that can be my starting point. Then I build the rest of the book around that. For Reinventing Romeo I started with the title. Don't ask me where it came from, it just came. I really liked it, but then I needed a plot to go with it. So I had to ask myself what story I could tell that would fit the title, and it worked. For other books, like All Shook Up (the one I'm working on now), I start with characters. I knew who I wanted my heroine to be, then I had to create a story where she'd fit and where she'd be able to be the character I saw in my mind.

Ken: I have a historical novel in mind that will have a female protagonist. Any suggestions for a man writing from a woman's POV?

Connie: I guess it would be pretty much the same thing I run into, a woman trying to write from a man's POV! Actually, I heard a great lecture on a topic similar to this at a recent RWA meeting given by one of the men in the group. He talked about how men think differently from women and how we need to remember that while we write. The same holds true in this case. I'm sure there are books in the library that might provide a good jumping off point. For instance, the Venus and Mars books would probably provide good insight for both men and women.

Oma: In reading, sometimes I just don't like a writer's writing. All the elements are there, but I can't put my finger on what I don't like. How can you know what's missing?

Connie: A very tough question because for that writer, maybe nothing was missing. Writing is so subjective. Some of us will love an author's writing, others will hate it. But how do we find what's missing in our own work? One of the ways I think is simply through experience. The more you write, the more likely you are to find your writer's voice. Once you do that, you can read your work more objectively. It's all a matter of practice, practice, practice. On the practical side, you can always have someone you trust read your work. By someone you trust, I don't mean someone who is going to automatically love every word you put on paper! You need someone who is willing to tell you the truth and more importantly, you need to be willing to listen. Not always easy, but sometimes necessary. The other thing I sometimes do is read my work out loud to myself, or to the dog, but he doesn't often listen! Sometimes the ear catches what the eye has missed.

MODERATOR: How important is marketing? What I mean is, how much does a writer need to know about the industry before submitting a book?

Connie: Marketing is just as important as good writing. You'll remember we talked about the different kinds of category romance (Desires, Romances, Special Editions, etc.) Each of those kinds of books is a little different from the others and a little different from other lines of books out there. If you write a book and send it to Desire, for example, and even if it's a great book but it's not right for Desire, it will be rejected. The same is true even for single-title contemporaries and historicals. Some publishers like heroes who are Alpha male-types, you know, tough and hard and bossy. Other publishers like heroes who are more warm and fuzzy. It's a waste of time sending one kind of hero to a publisher that is looking for the other kind. You need to do your marketing homework or you'll be wasting your time. It's a lot like writing nonfiction. You could write the best how-to-cook-pork article in the world, but if you send it to Popular Mechanics instead of Bon Appetit, you'll go nowhere.

MODERATOR: Excellent points! What will a writer need to send a publisher if she wants them to read her book?

Connie: You'll need to start with a query letter. Think of your query as like your handshake. It's the way you introduce yourself to an editor. A query needs to be short and sweet. In it, you tell the editor what you've written, how long it is and, in the case of a publisher that publishes more than one kind of book, what line you intend it for. You would also tell the editor a little about yourself and your writing experience, especially if you've had anything published. You'd also want to mention anything pertinent, i.e., if your hero is a cop and you're a cop, you'd mention it. If an editor is interested, she'll ask to see three chapter and a synopsis of your book. A couple things to remember here: those three chapters are the first three chapters, and the synopsis doesn't start with Chapter 4; it covers the whole story. Writing a synopsis is never easy. As a matter of fact, I'm working on a workshop I'm giving to the local RWA group this Saturday on synopsis writing. It's an art and a craft. You need to tell enough to interest the editor but not so much that you overwhelm her. If after reading your three chapters and synopsis, the editor is still interested, she'll ask to see the entire book. Then the waiting game begins. It can often take editors a very long time to read work and get back to you. You'll need to be patient!

AnneKelly: Do the bigger romance publishers put a lot into the marketing of the books or is it mostly up to the authors?

Connie: Depends on the publisher. Many don't do any marketing at all. With some of the category contemporaries, that's not that important. Readers know which lines they like and buy each book in a line every month, so even new authors can do very well. With single titles and historicals, it's a little harder to get noticed. My Romeo publisher (Dell) is doing a wonderful job promoting the book, but not all publishers do. That's often up to the author.

SaraJ: How much money can you make writing romances? Is it good money?

Connie: Some people make very good money. Notice I said "some"! Like all other kinds of writing, romance is fickle. So much depends on luck, it's hard to say. Many authors I know have additional jobs, but some do make a living at writing.

MODERATOR: One final question, Connie: what will make an editor notice a manuscript? Is it the story? The writing?

Connie: I think it needs to be a combination of both. A good story idea, one that is unique and really packs a punch, will always attract an editor's attention. But after you have that attention, you have to prove yourself with your writing. I know it sounds like a "no brainer," but you can't afford typos or sloppy manuscripts, and you've always got to make sure your writing shines! That doesn't mean you should obsess, but make sure you send in your best work.

MODERATOR: I'm sorry to interrupt here, but I'm afraid we're out of time. Thank you so much for coming tonight, Connie, and sharing this valuable information with our viewers!

Connie: Thank you all. It's been fun!

MODERATOR: Do come back in two weeks on September 2l, 2000 to hear Leslie Guccione speak on the topic "Writing Popular Fiction." What are the rules for writing short and book-length popular fiction? And what rules can you break? Come back in two weeks and ask these questions--and many more--from our guest speaker, Leslie Guccione. Until then, good night, everyone!

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