Interview: Tips for writing category romance from published authors in the genre.
Dos and Don’ts and Tips in Category Writing
© 2000 T. L. Gray
This isn’t everything you ever wanted to know about category writing, but thanks to two wonderful category authors, Renee Roszel and Susan Crosby—who were gracious enough to provide me with information for an online workshop I did some years back--I’m able to pass along a few tips.
Category romances are limited by their word count. Therefore, limit the number of secondary characters and subplots. The key to writing salable category romances is to remember the focus should always be on the growing relationship between the hero/heroine. Everything else is gravy. Traditionally, the H/H always live in a moral world. They must come to love and respect each other. Pacing is critical. Understand what plot points are, where they should fall, and then make sure your story has them. There’s not a lot of room for retrospect. Keep it fast-paced, with lots of dialogue and action.
Within the general topic of category there are several elements: Traditional, short-contemporary, long contemporary, young adult, long and short historical, time-travel, intrigue, and paranormal.
Tip #1—Know your market. To know the market you must read in the genre you expect to write in. Be able to answer this question about your manuscript before submitting: “What line are you targeting?” Don’t assume the editor will read it then pass it on to the appropriate editor/line she thinks it will fit. The editor wants to know that you know which line your ms fist, what’s expected and accepted within the line you’re targeting. This tells her you’ve done your market research.
Tip #2—Find out which lines/houses are really looking to acquire and target those lines. This is your best chance to publish. Even if you don’t intend to stay in that line forever, it gives you a start and a track record.
Tip#3—Learn the word YES. When an editor calls and wants to know if you can do something that you’ve never done before (even if you’re not sure you can) say, “Yes, I can do that.” You can panic after you’re off the phone. Once you calm down, sit down and see if you can do it. If you can’t say yes, get out of the business. That’s YES to revisions, to coming up with a new story line by tomorrow and zipping off a synopsis on time, writing a ranch book when you’ve never seen a cow.
Tip #4—Always be positive, professional and never talk to an editor about your personal or family problems. You don’t want them carrying this baggage while they’re reading your work. It can provide ammo for then comment, “I’m afraid your concerns with your family problems are affecting your work.”
DO—understand each line within a publishing house is distinctive. Learn the differences.
DO—read authors who are new or relatively new to the line. This is the best indication of what the publisher is buying now. Authors who have been around for ten books or more have earned the right to write stories different from what is acceptable from a new author.
DO—query first. Send a cover letter and synopsis (check publisher guidelines)
DO—wait 2-3 months before contacting the publisher as to the status of your ms.
DO—learn what those rejection letters mean. Is it really a request for a revision or a command never to darken their door again?
DO—use lots of dialogue, but not the everyday, “Hello, how are you?” Skip right to the point. Write the way people talk, using fragments, ums, stammers, etc. Interruptions in a person’s speech pattern are normal.
DON’T—have a love scene that isn’t followed by some kind of change. Like everything else in the book, love scenes must forward the story. The characters/story must change because of their lovemaking. Immediately after consummation trouble should start again.
DON’T—be afraid of conflict. It’s the lifeblood of your story. Sexual tension keeps it pumping. If there’s no conflict, there’s no story.