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So You Want To Publish a Romance Novel

Some time ago a newcomer to a forum I’m a member of had said that he had decided that the money in writing was in romance so he was going to write one. His job had been cut and he’d decided to start a new career as a writer. He needed money right away and he wanted to know what was the best way to become a money making writer. Well… I’m not sure what exactly to say to that. Frankly, this person’s posts rubbed me the wrong way. Was he assuming that anything he wrote would immediately sell, and sell well? That he would be the next JK Rowling by this time next year? There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing to earn money. But it’s not that easy. Not everything written and submitted will be accepted. Not everything published will be a best seller. Or even a good seller. I have sold only one story as of yet, so perhaps I’m not an expert on this subject. But I do have some experience. If you want to write and sell a romance novel, here are my suggestions to help you on that journey:

1. Read Romance
Read lots of romance, both printed books from large New York publishers and electronic novels from epublishers. I suppose it is possible to write what you don’t love, but the idea seems alien to me. Would the story be cold and mechanical if it were written by someone who didn’t feel strongly about romance? Also, by reading romance you will learn what is currently being published, what sorts of stories are selling, the general story outlines for romance and what sub-genres are being published.

2. Research Publishers
All publishers have websites these days. Go there. Read about them and find out what they publish. Also, do a search on them. Find out what people are saying about them. Are they reputable? Are their authors happy? Sites like www.erecsite.com will help you make an informed choice.

3. Read Submission Guidelines
Again, go to the publisher’s website and read their submission guidelines. Are they even accepting submissions? Would your story match what they publish? If you have a sweet contemporary romance but they publish erotica then your story will probably be rejected right away. Check out what they want for a submission. Just a query and synopsis? Do they accept only queries from authors represented by an agent? Do they have formatting requirements? Don’t waste your time or theirs by submitting your single spaced manuscript in Old English purple font if they want a double-spaced manuscript in Times New Roman black font. Read the guidelines.

4. Join a Writers Group
Romance Writers of America has branches all over. And if none is close to you then perhaps one of their online groups would work for you. But if you don’t want to spend the money for the membership fee there are many free online groups and forums to join, like Coffee Time Romance and Romance Divas. I think the camaraderie on this type of site is encouraging, especially when you feel the sting of rejection or the daily struggles that come along with writing. Also the other members of these groups will have personal experience with writing and submitting and being published. They will probably share their experiences if you ask nicely. And maybe that is a good place to find a critique partner.

5. Critique
Even the most talented writers need a second opinion. My friends don’t make the best critiquers. They love me too much to say: “What the heck is this paragraph in here for?” or “This bit of dialogue is weak. I can’t tell who is speaking or what info is being conveyed in it.” And we as authors are so close to the story, practically inside it, that we don’t see the weaknesses that hurt our stories. Get a critique partner who will be encouraging and honest.

6. Be Reasonable
Be reasonable in your expectations. If you submit a novel and expect to be living off the royalties of that book you will almost certainly be disappointed. Only a very small percentage of submissions are accepted. In the epublishing world the acceptance rate is higher than New York publishers, but still well under 10% and much lower for new authors. An editor for Samhain Publishing (one of the best selling and well established epubs) recently wrote that they accept about 8% of submissions, and many of those are by authors they have previously published. Even if your story is accepted and published how much can you expect to make from it? $500? $1000? $5000? Probably not enough to build your dream home. It takes many many books being published and kept in print for those kinds of royalties. See Show Me the Money for some more precise money numbes.

7. Keep Writing
A rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your writing sucks. Maybe it wasn’t suitable for that publisher or that publisher simply didn’t have room for it right then. Try another publisher. If you are lucky enough to get a rejection with suggestions for improvement, rejoice. Above all, keep trying. If the first story didn’t sell, write a different story. If Stephen King had quit after his first ten rejections the world wouldn’t know his name today. Keep writing.

~ ~ ~ ~

Being a famous author who makes a good living just from writing would be wonderful. But don’t kid yourself: there’s not that many beginning writers who do that. Heck, not even all established writers can do that. Writing is work. And just like with any other career, a writer has to be dedicated to his/her job to get to the top. They have to put in long hours. They have to be professional. They have to be trained and disciplined. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

So good luck in your pursuit of being published. It’s partly talent and partly luck, but mostly hard work and keeping at it.

7 Responses to So You Want To Publish a Romance Novel

  • Let me add to #4 Finding a Writers Group. I wouldn’t pay to join anything when there are online places such as Romance Divas where you can hang out for free with more experienced authors. Membership fees for the RWA club? No way. I don’t think you’ll get enough bang for your buck, although maybe I’m way off base.

    I also wouldn’t spend a lot on how to books, not when that same information is available online. I believe there can be a tendency with beginners to think “If I get a new computer, a better workspace, more time, these books or this class, then it will transform me into a writer.”

    Top priority is perserverance, ability to suck up rejection and keep going.

    • Good thoughts, Bonnie. I know not everyone gets a lot out of RWA, but others do. I think it depends on your local group. And yeah, it’s way too easy to make excuses to keep yourself from writing, or submitting, or re-submitting, especially, after a rejection. A successful writer is a stubborn writer.

  • I think you’ve covered it very well, Maddy. Especially right now, with the economy circling the drain, writing as a means to support yourself is a tough road to take. The process of writing a good novel is a long one and add to that shopping it around and finding a publisher. A novel I wrote in 2006 finally made it to electronic shelves in 2009 and to print in 2010. Even if someone is lucky enough to turn out a fantastic story and sell it over the course of a few months to an electronic publisher, they likely still won’t see royalties until three months after release, which could be as long as a year after submission with some of the busier houses.

  • The ability to accept criticism and rejection is essential. Both can be crushing, whether the comment boils down to an accurate assessment that the writing sucks or a notice that it is not exactly what the publisher needs right now. An author must have the emotional resilience to keep moving forward, keep hitting keys.

  • Great advice.

    I would add: write, write and write. Don’t expect to be good straight away. It’s not failure, it’s a learning curve. After all, nobody just sits on a bike and rides perfectly the first time (or, perhaps there are some who really do that, but they are hardly the norm anyway).

    No time spent writing is wasted. It’s kinda like doing crunches. 🙂

  • Great post! Thank you.

    Perhaps it’s just my nature, but I research like crazy whenever I want to do something (sometimes to a fault). So going into writing I was hit with the realism bat pretty early. Writing it a tough road to take.

    I’m never sure to whether to feel sorry for these deluded new writiers or be exasperated by them. There’s definitely a ton of info online about writing and the road to publication. I only hope they read it before getting their hopes naively high.

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