Romance is in the air. So much so, the romance genre dominates the book industry. Following a big bang in the 1980s, romance publishers and sub-genres exploded. Today, love stories enjoy the lion’s share of the market: this infographic shows a full 40% of Amazon’s eBook sales are in the romance genre.
If you thrive on tales of love, writing them can bring big rewards. As an author, you call the shots. Conjure the heroine and her hero. Crush their love with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Mold the perfect HEA, or “Happily Ever After.” You might also draw a paycheck.
For love affair connoisseurs, you’ll know the style of romance book you like to read. Maybe you see a gap in the market and you’d like to try to fill it by bringing a new voice to the fray.
Maybe you’ve watched the documentary Love Between the Covers. The makers of this film rounded up romance authors and devotees to discuss their close-knit community and found that many of the best romance writers joined “the movement” to put stories they wanted to read on the shelf for the first time. Someone had to write the first paranormal romance.
Romancers are quick to point out that this genre foots the bills in the fiction industry. To keep up with demand, leading romance authors leapfrogged from penning one book every two years to producing two to three titles a year. The industry is innovative: embracing eBooks early on, for example, to help sate the voracious appetites of audiences.
Perhaps you’ve been to a Romance Writers of America convention, or a similar event. These are the meet-and-greets of the industry, and you can pick up tips on everything – from editing to cinching up corsets.
Given the regularized patterns of commercial romance novels, you’ll want to figure out where you fit in. Romance has clear and demanding genre expectations. Readers reward creativity, but key rules are etched in stone. You must concoct a great hero and heroine, confound them with obstacles, and make sure love conquers all. No deviations allowed. You must have an HEA.
In the end, romance is still the same old “boy-meets-girl” story. Actually, it’s better described as “girl-meets-boy” as the majority of romance book writers and readers are female. And it’s girl-meets-boy with a big twist: the romance genre is defined by hindrances. Sacrifice – personal, financial, professional, or otherwise – is essential, and don’t think to let it fall on the shoulders of the woman alone. Partners must equally bear the cost of overcoming.
While not overly realistic, seemingly impossible challenges make for compelling fiction. It’s like the whodunit puzzle in a murder mystery. How can you fall in love with the man who bought your family farm and turned it into a shopping mall? How do you fall in love with the son of your family’s sworn enemy – or a soldier from the enemy army? Seeing the road love travels to conquer all is why they’ll pay the price of admission. Everyone knows the ending, which makes the journey the thing that really matters.
The battle for love can be played out in any background: past, present, or future; reality-based or fantasy. You can have any type of couple from any walk of life, just make sure you fit into a sub-genre or risk trying to become the exception and create your own.
You’ll want to check the requirements for any publishers you are interested in approaching. For example, by convention, romances are written in the third person, past tense.
Ask the question, Is it a love story?
Of course, you can still write a love story outside the romance genre. Romance is a staple of all types of literature. So when is it a “romance” and when is it just a book with a love story? Usually, it’s obvious.
Twilight is an epic love story but not a romance. Why? Bella and Edward face the obstacle of his past: he’s a 117-year-old vampire who finds her smell intoxicating. They overcome this relatively quickly, and there is so much more to the story, along with werewolves and marauding vampires, for it to count as “only” romance. This blockbuster is a fantasy with a very memorable love story inside it.
Fifty Shades of Grey is equally focused on a couple but exceeds the boundaries of “romance” because it strays too far from the formula. It puts Christian and Anastasia together at the get-go.
It is also a deal-breaker to kill off the hero – or the heroine. With death, you’re back to love story. The need for an HEA is inscrutable.
So, given that you know the story you’re panting to tell, get on with it: Fill the world with love.
Looking at the data, we see 40% of Amazon’s eBook market share belongs to romances, and the genre grosses a whopping $1.14 billion a year. A quarter of bestsellers are romances, and romance novels are the type of book most likely to be read to completion.
We know the length of your book should be 375 pages. On average, each sentence will contain 9.3 words. In 1811, when Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility, the average was 23.7, but times have changed.
For profession, lawyers and detectives rank top for protagonists. So, our couple can be a lawyer-detective duo. The numbers dictate the protagonist be female and America the setting.
But, what if you are a thriller writer? Then you should write a thriller, of course. Just know you’ll potentially meet the tastes of a smaller section of the reading populace. Unless you write a romance thriller that crosses over and grabs romance readers as well…
But of course, this is all academic, and mostly just for fun. In the end, the answer is to write what you are best suited to write, bearing in mind the facts about what this might mean for sales and the size of your readership. The world of traditional publishing is propped up by a huge infrastructure built over decades: going “insider,” when it works in your favor, means traveling on a freeway. Landing on a niche, however small, might mean less competition and a rabid readership.
Though you’ll have difficulty finding a more rabid fan base than in the romance genre. Those folks love a good love story.
To Your Success,