maple leaf bullet How To Write A Romance
maple leaf bullet Think of Your Favourite Heroines
maple leaf bullet What Romance Editors Are Looking           For
maple leaf bullet What Romance Editors Are Looking           For In A Query

Did you know that more than half of all the books sold in North America every year are romance novels? In 2015, that meant an estimated $3 billion in revenues from about 82 million readers -- and the numbers are growing. Of course, 93% of the readers are women -- but men read the books too, many of whom, believe it or not, are prisoners. Yes, you heard us correctly --prisoners -- people sitting in jail cells, reading. Dare we say that reading a romance might be a good "escape"?.

The largest publisher of these novels is Harlequin Books, a Canadian-based company which has earned worldwide acclaim for its romance novels. If anyone knows the romance genre, Harlequin does. So if you want to write a romance novel, chances are good you'll be dealing with Harlequin. We found Harlequin amazingly easy to deal with in an industry that is notoriously tight lipped about their business (particularly the greeting card people), Harlequin is very generous with their advice. They receive over 10,000 submissions a year and tell us they "read every one". On their web site, they offer a writer's quiz (to see if you've got the stuff to make it as a romance writer) and they even offer courses in romance writing!

We've culled a few of their thoughts from their web site here.


Your story should be upbeat, lively, fast-paced and well plotted. It must celebrate the pursuit of love in interesting locales. It must contain a range of emotional and sensual content, supported by a sense of community within the plot's framework. Your heroine must be confident and caring, the leading man tender but tough. Their dynamic relationship is at the center of your story and their real-life love is the best fantasy of all!

Create strong and appealing characters.

Your hero must be someone the reader can fall in love with and the heroine must be able to earn a reader's empathy. If your characters are not likeable, the reader won't care what happens to them and the chances are good they'll put the book aside.

Remember that the romance is the focal point of the story.

Don't allow your plot to overshadow the romance. The hero and heroine should meet early in the book. Once they've met, they should not be separated for lengthy periods.

Make sure the conflicts arise from strongly felt internal motivations.

Secondary characters who create external conflict or minor misunderstandings will not be able to sustain the story. If there is no strong conflict, there will be no story. Conflict is absolutely vital.

Be chronological in your writing.

Readers realize that the story will result in a happy ending, but what interests them most is how the characters will achieve their happy ending. And that's pretty much it! If you don't focus on the hero and heroine and the "how" of your story the reader will get bored, even if you are the most talented author in the world!

Find your own unique writing style

-- which is basically your identity, your writing personality. You must be able to get inside the skin of your characters to make their motivations, actions, and thoughts consistent, believable, and real.

Write regularly and write often.

Make it a habit. Absorb every technical detail and nuance about writing. Also, be sure to write to the end of your story -- even if it doesn't appeal to you. You can always return at a later date and improve your ending. Once you've finished writing your story, take what you've learned at the end and massage it into the beginning. As you write, the characters will develop and reveal themselves to you. Make sure your characters stay consistent throughout the story. Whether these characters are orphans struggling to survive in a cruel world, spoiled Southern belles flirting with every handsome man, or today's woman juggling with career, family, and friends, these intrepid women say and do the things your reader wishes she could say and do. A romance novel heroine falls in love with a fantastic hero-after giving him the requisite hard time, of course.

Great literature is replete with great heroines. Take a moment to consider your favorite female heroine. What characteristics of hers appeal to you? Did you want to be her? Your readers' empathy is very important because they will want to identify with your heroine. Consider these favorite ladies from the world of literature.

1. Jane Eyre in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre.

Jane was a heroine contrary to the popular style. She was plain with no fortune. Her appeal, however, was in her frank opinions, her convictions and her soul.

2. Catherine Earnshaw in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

n this story of passion, obsession, and revenge, Catherine dared to love outside of society's dictates. Although her mistakes are many, we never doubt her devotion to Heathcliff.

3. Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Elizabeth is all class -- with humor, intelligence, strong loyalties and a willingness to admit to her prejudicees. She is a woman every woman aspires to be.

4. Bridget Jones in Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary.

Although Bridget is a mess due to over-drinking and smoking and obsessing about her weight and constantly falling in love with the wrong man, she's endearing, vulnerable and plucky. Young women who are still seeking their identity will identify with Bridget.

5. Mary Elizabeth Potter in Linda Howard Mackenzie's Mountain.

No matter what happens, Mary is always strong and her strength and love are required ingredients in transforming the story's hero. Her story is a combination of the Ugly Duckling and Beauty and the Beast.

6. All of Betty Neels's heroines.

Resourceful and determined, Betty Neel's heroines aren't glamorous, but they are deserving. They will sacrifice their own desires to help another. Now that's heroic!

7. Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind.

Scarlett dispenses with protocol and does whatever she wants. She covets Ashley while totally ignoring Mr. Right. However, she does have redeeming qualities. She perseveres when everyone else gives up.

8. Isadora Peabody in Susan Wiggs's The Charm School.

Isadora refuses to be as ladylike as everyone expects her to be. She insists on being herself, even though that means ostracism -- until, of course, her Cinderella-like transformation on board a ship renews her self-confidence and opens her mind to new experiences.

9. Adelia Cunnane in Nora Roberts's Irish Thoroughbred.

Adelia is a spirited Irish lass with a fiery temper. Strong-willed and independent, she speaks her mind. From the outset of the book, Nora is destined to be a star.

10. Lucy Savage in Jennifer Crusie's Getting Rid of Bradley.

All of Jenny's heroines are fun, caustic, and quick-witted, but Lucy is the Queen!

A dramatic and original opening!

You've got to get your reader's blood pumping right from the get-go. That means a dramatic opening, something unique, a plot that starts to sizzle at the end of the first paragraph.

A heroine that every women wishes she could be.

Nobody wants a spoiled, humorless or ruthless woman to get her man. She must be warm, likable, intelligent, and spirited. Every woman must be able to identify with the heroine.

A hero we wish we could meet.

Your hero doesn't have to be the President of an international company, but someone who has instant impact. He has to be strong, self-confident, honorable and sexy without knowing it!

A story line that dares to be different!

Happy endings happen in a million different ways. Be creative: an editor must be surprised and captivated by a story line that twists and turns and challenges all expectations.

Dialogue that sparkles!

Pepper your dialogue with great lines. Your characters must address each other with energy, wit, and feeling. Avoid corniness. Be believable with scintillating, entertaining dialogue.

Emotion that leaps off the page.

Your characters must be on an emotional roller coaster. The reader wants to read about and empathize with their sorrows and joys and doubts. When they turn that last page, you want to evoke a sigh of emotional fulfillment!

Sensuality that simmers!

Your characters must desire each other: physically, emotionally, and with burning intensity. If they make love, avoid being explicit. Instead, make the lovemaking a thrilling romantic experience!

A pace that keeps the reader hooked until the very last page.

Twists and turns in the plot, emotional dilemmas that keep unraveling, lively interaction between the characters. The editor is looking for a story she can't put down!

A setting that adds color and interest, but stays in the background.

A romance novel is not a travel brochure! It's good to give a description of your location, the color and atmosphere, but there's no need to quote the rates at the local Ramada Inn. Keep your plot focused on the romance!

A romantic buzz that puts a smile on a reader's face!

Everybody pines to fall in love, so your novel should capture that emotional exhilaration. That's the magic of a romance novel: creating a believable, feel-good high that lasts for days!

The query letter is the most important part of the submission process. In the query letter, the writer is given a chance to present her work to an editor. It's an opportunity for an editor to discover new stories and voices, as well. Here's what Editors look for:

Awareness of the genre. Science fiction writers, literary prose writers, poets or crime writers need not apply for this job. Writers who understand and appreciate the genre will stand out in a query letter.

Strong internal emotional conflict. A romance must have conflict to drive the story. At least one consistent emotional conflict must span the entire story and the more romantic, the better.
Interaction between Hero and Heroine. The hero and heroine must fall in love. Often, their meeting is either by chance or forced. One may not like the other, but there is a definite crackle in the air -- something that keeps them on each other's mind. Their next meeting is the corker.
An exciting opening. Your story must pull the reader into the conflict quickly. They must be convinced to read the entire story
Originality. Romance publishers receive hundreds of queries each week. They're looking for something that stands out, something unique.
Likeable characters. Heroes should be heroic; heroines should be easily identifiable and real. Secondary characters should be used to help the plot along, but never overshadow or distract from the romance.

Enthusiasm.

The tone of the letter should be professional while stimulating excitement for the plot.

A strong setting.

Although your novel doesn't have to take place in exotic locations such as the Catecombs or hills of Machu Pichu, it does need to take place in an interesting location. Be specific in your description of the location.

Spelling mistakes and grammatical errors will kill your query letter just as surely as a pin bursts a balloon. If your query letter is sloppy, the editor will suspect that your manuscript is equally sloppy. Editors don't have time for either. Every writer has a copy of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Grammar may be boring, but it's definitely very important.

Query letters that omit the ending. The editor is looking for the entire story from beginning to end. Don't be cute and say "please send me an approval before I tell you the ending".
Inappropriate language. Queries with casual wording, off-color comments, or a sarcastic tone just don't cut it. A writer must be serious about his or her craft.
Disregard for Submission Guidelines. Avoid sending partials or complete manuscripts that were not requested. The failure to format a query properly suggests a writer hasn't taken the time to fully research the publisher.
Unheroic heroes. People lacking in dignity, social responsibility or the graces have no place in Romance novels.
Too complicated a plot. If the plot overshadows the romance, it's not a good romance plot. The love story must always take precedence.
A long period of time before the hero and heroine meet. The hero and heroine should meet early in the story.