Romance Writers: Here's How To Be Successful
I write sweet romance.
I’ve been a published romance author for almost three years now, but I’ve spent most of those years trying to shrug off this sentence, to run from it. I’ve tried to make my descriptions of what I write more sexy, more risqué, and I’ve sometimes tried to portray my work as something it just isn’t. I’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out how to sell my fade-to-black romance as something more marketable. I’ve attempted, at least mentally, to worm my way into the most popular segments of the genre only to find myself not quite fitting.
It’s not that I’m ashamed to write sweet romance. It’s just that for most of my career, I’ve found myself in a defensive position of my writing. It is through these defenses, however, that I’ve learned a lesson valuable to any writer, but especially to those in the romance genre.
Taking Heat For Not Turning Up the Heat
I didn’t start my writing journey determined to focus on sweet romance; it just sort of happened. When I put my fingers on those keys and drafted my first novel, sweet romance just flowed out.
I could attribute my sweet romance and lack of sex scenes to many things. Perhaps it was my love of Nicholas Sparks that encouraged me to write books focused on the emotional side of relationships. Maybe it’s that my introverted, conservative personality never allowed conversations about sex to be quite comfortable. Or maybe it’s partially the fact that as a high school teacher, I knew I didn’t want to have to blush knowing some of my students were reading those scenes.
Whatever psychoanalysis we want to attribute to the cause, I know the outcome is that my works are lacking in the hot sex-on-the-page sort of scenes.
It’s not that my characters are chaste or that I can’t appreciate the value of sex in romance. I truly do. I think we all have our preferences when it comes to spice in our novels, though, and I believe there’s a place for all types of heat levels in the romance genre.
Regardless, I’ve found myself “taking heat” for my notable lack of heat. Over the years, I’ve heard comments about the lack of sex in my books and the disappointment over the lack of physicality. The words “sweet romance” seem to incorrectly conjure images of cheesy, unrealistic scenes where everyone is constantly happy, and life is perfect. I’ve been accused of skipping crucial segments of the genre.
Again, I get that and appreciate the value of those comments. We each have our preferences and our tastes. These are the greatest gifts literature gives us—stories to fit everyone’s desires and the freedom to critique the stories that don’t speak to us. As an English teacher, I try to impress upon my students the idea that every single book has value, even if it doesn’t strike a chord with you.
Nonetheless, for so long, I’ve had a hard time appreciating the value of my own work. Daunted by a market that is seemingly owned by books with heat, I’ve questioned my writing. I’ve felt the “sex sells” society values creeping in on me. I’ve questioned what could happen if I just jumped the “no sex” hurdle. I’ve tried in my drafts to be sexier and more risqué. I’ve considered crossing that not-so-invisible divide within the genre.
And you know what? It didn’t feel right. At all.
It was with my last release, which is perhaps one of my sweetest romances, that I realized one important thing: Your own truth is the one you should value when it comes to your writing.
For me, that truth is that I am a sweet romance writer. I will never fit into the Fifty Shades kind of world in the romance genre, and that’s not a bad thing.
It is only when I had this epiphany that I realized my own value as a writer and the worth of my stories. It was when I came to terms with exactly who I am as a romance writer that I could better appreciate my successes and stop focusing on what I am not.
Write Your Story
It’s not just sweet romance that is marked by incorrect stigmas. At several book events recently, I’ve seen the other side of the spectrum. When I mention the word “romance,” I see a shriveling of the nose accompanied by one of the following statements:
Through these comments I realized: No matter what type of romance you write, spicy or sweet, you’re going to have critics. You will never suit everyone’s tastes.
And you know what? That’s perfectly okay.
As romance writers, we cannot measure success by what’s popular or what the market demands. We can’t base the heat level of our book on marketing trends or on variables like reader preference and opinions of strangers.
At the end of the day, we must learn to value our own instinct, our own passion, and our own voice. We must learn to be true to our stories and characters. We must write in the way we are called to write. We must tell the stories we yearn to tell in exactly the way we want to tell them.
It is only when we learn to listen to our own voices and let our guts be our guides that we can truly reach success in the genre.
So sweet or spicy, sex or not, learn to write the story that speaks to you, and the rest of this arduous but rewarding writing journey will lead you to the exact point you are supposed to be.
Lindsay Detwiler is a contemporary romance author with Hot Tree Publishing, a contributing blogger for The Huffington Post, and a high school English Teacher. To celebrate sweet love, visit her on Facebook.
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