So... What Is A Romance Novel?
A romance novel typically depicts love relationships. They can also be called "love stories". My favourite term is "kissing books".
Some of the distinguishing features of a typical romance novel are:
Romantic love is one of the most important themes in these books. If you come across genres such as romantic suspense, the suspense will be secondary to the romance. If a reader wants suspense, they'll read Lee Child.
They usually contain an elaborate and often dramatic plot that focuses on realistic, interpersonal relationships. The concept of "love at first sight" is not the same as true love. It's easy to be blinded by infatuation, which is a different type of feeling altogether. When you are in love with someone, it should feel completely different from when you're infatuated with someone. Love at first sight can often be attributed to physical attraction, and sometimes people confuse that for love. Infatuation can also come from physical attraction, but it usually comes about after spending time with someone and getting to know them better.
The setting may be contemporary or historical, with some featuring explicit language and scenes of sex.
1. Understand Your Audience
The success of a romance novel hinges on the understanding of an audience that reads romance novels. It requires a deep understanding and knowledge of what kind of story the audience wants to read.
Lots of authors may not understand what is appealing to their readers just by looking at the sales numbers. But, if you understand your readers, you can create better stories and sell more copies.
You should spend time really understanding who your readers are. The best way to do that? Go hang out with them! There are romance readers groups all over the place — Facebook and Goodreads are the perfect places to start. On Goodreads, go to Groups > Books & Literature > Romance and get hunting. On Facebook, search for 'romance readers' and you're good to go.
2. Find The Right Plot Line
What is the perfect plot line for a romance novel? If you are asking this question, then you probably haven't read many romance novels. There are so many plots that work for this genre, from forbidden love to the wrong guy and everything in between.
The key to success with any novel is to keep the reader hooked. This can be done by making sure that your characters and your plot line are both intriguing enough to keep them reading. You also have to make sure that your novel has a good balance of character development, plot twists, and dialogue all at once.
You need to find a new idea for your romance novel or find a new angle on an old one, one that will make it stand out from the rest.
You can read around for inspiration and find other plots and ideas by reading books in genres similar to yours, or by looking at popular TV shows, movies, or books in the same genre. Just don't copy the plots exactly, okay? It'll make you look lazy.
3. Make Your Characters Come To Life
Romance novels, like all novels, are all about the characters. You want the readers to feel like they know them, that they can relate to them and are there with them through every rollercoaster of their lives.
Give your characters a clear goal: give your protagonist a goal that they're striving for and, as the story progresses, they'll be able to achieve it and get what they want: love! It will be meaningful for them, which means it will also be meaningful for your reader. Get into the mind of your character and experience what they would go through in the situation that you are writing about. This will help them feel more real and human.
Give your characters empathy: we enjoy reading about people who we can sympathise with — people who have problems we might also have or who just remind us of ourselves. Write everything that the character would be feeling at a given moment, even if it doesn’t contribute directly to advancing the plot-line. In fact, write about all the emotional wounds they have before the novel starts. Get it all clear in your head. That way, it's clear in your character's head, too.
Give your characters an obstacle: not everyone has an easy life. In fact, give them at least two obstacles — one internal (what's going on in their head that's stopping them from being open to love?) and one external (what circumstances are stopping them from achieving love?). You can give them more, but make sure one of each is dominant. Too much, and your character's baggage will weigh your reader down.
Get into their dialogue and listen for certain vocal qualities, like tone or cadence, as well as body language or gestures in that dialogue exchange. (Go easy on the um's and ah's — novel dialogue is not the same as that in real life.)
4. Create An Emotional Conflict That Breaks A Reader's Heart
Romance readers want to feel that their time has been well spent. They want to be hooked; they want to be invested, and they want to be ripped apart by an emotional conflict. The key aspect of a wonderful story is its ability to hold your attention and keep you hooked from the first page to the last sentence. In order for a story to have these qualities, it must have forceful characters who have a compelling backstory and/or powerful motivations, as well as some sort of emotional conflict that will break the hearts of your readers.
Creating emotional conflicts in romance novels is tricky. Make the readers feel that they have a stake in the outcome. By creating an emotional conflict, you can make your readers identify with your characters and stay interested in reading more about them.
Emotional conflicts can come in many ways: a forbidden romance, a love triangle, a tragic event that happened to one of their family members. They also occur when the two characters are too scared to take the first step and confess their feelings or when they feel like they don’t deserve each other because of their pasts.
Think about what type of conflict your protagonist(s) are going to face — these conflicts should be much more emotional than physical — then figure out how the conflict will result in romantic tension until the 'all is lost' moment when your readers are screaming 'just get together already'!
5. Position Your Book For The Widest Market Appeal
I write romance, but I won't achieve the same numbers as someone like Nora Roberts because I write about men who love men.
If you've set your heart is set on huge sales, then you're going to have to target the widest audience you can. Just like a marketeer, build up a picture of your ideal reader. (You've created believable characters, so this should be relatively easy, right? Riiight?) What do they do with their days? What's their outlook on life? What's their favourite book and why?
Remember: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was pitched at kids. JK got lucky in the fact it exploded to the entire population.
Take a look at Amazon or Goodreads and read through the reviews as much as the book jacket copy. You'll soon see what readers love about the bestselling romances. Read the bestsellers and look for how the author created the things those readers loved.
* I can't guarantee you'll sell bucket loads of books — publishing is all about luck and timing — but this will give you your best shot!
As a romance writer, I can't recommend the genre enough. It's fun and heartwarming and it makes my heart go squish.
If you're still not confident, I would love to help. Go ahead and book a free, thirty-minute call with me, and I'll be happy to talk things through. I won't give you the hard sell — I took a sales job when I was at university and lasted three months.
If I'm not the right coach for you, I can find one who is!