Rejections are difficult—for the author to receive, and also for the editor to write. Many times, an author will write a quick response thanking us for the feedback, or to let us know they will work on revisions. These emails are great. Unfortunately, there’s a flip-side to great. Sometimes we get a response where the author feels compelled to state that we have misunderstood his/her reason for writing the book. After all, he/she intended to convey a message so that readers could become better at a specific task.
Whenever I receive one of these emails, I feel the resignation that many editors feel, and the frustration that makes me go once again to check our guidelines. Yes, we editors, even though we know our guidelines well, often revisit them to be sure we’ve not given our authors a reason to write something other than what is stated.
WRP readers read romance.
We don’t sell self-help, how to get rich quick, how to meditate, how to become a nurse, how to become a millionaire, or how to become a celebrity. We don’t sell stories on when you should get life insurance, where to find a dairy farm that sells milk in glass bottles, or what portion of your paycheck should be invested in whatever investors say it should be.
WRP readers read romance.
Romance is the relationship between two people that develops when they are attracted to one another.
What romance is NOT:
Romance is not about the heroine’s complete past history all the way back to second grade and every crush she’s ever had. The heroine’s story should begin when she meets the hero. All past history that is relevant to that romance can be mentioned in a sentence or two at a time sprinkled through out the story at appropriate moments. If you need more than this, then re-evaluate what you are writing, because the heroine’s whole persona should be focused on the hero, from the first chapter to the last.
Romance is not the hero’s obsession with a particular sport, vehicle, job or hobby. The hero, from the moment he meets the heroine, should be completely focused on the heroine. You may mention his passions for other things, including the fact he’s a football player, race car driver, spy or woodworker…but even while engaged in these hobbies, he can and should be thinking about the heroine.
There can be plot devices that take their attention – and please note that I said “their.” Whatever the device is, in some way, both need to be involved. Both do not need to be the active participant in the plot device. If one is a police officer and the other is not, it is not expected that the non-officer would know the details of the officer’s job. One can simply be the observer as the other goes through the plot in an active role.
Romance is not about a secondary character. In many manuscripts I evaluate, the secondary character figures so prominently that much of the book is about that person instead of the hero and heroine. It doesn’t matter if the secondary character is a Siamese twin, if the story is a romance, it must be about the heroine and hero and the twin needs only to be a confidante or observer to the development of the romance. He/she doesn’t even need a Point Of View unless it can be added seamlessly and promotes the romance.
This brings me to the secondary character who serves the purpose of making sure the heroine knows all the hero’s sterling qualities (or vice-versa). Instead, allow the hero and heroine to notice each other. Show them actively observing and interacting with each other.
Romance is not about preaching to the masses. If the author has a message, she/he needs to write a non-fiction book that conveys that message more thoroughly. Romance is not the vehicle to get your personal teachings or experiences across to many people. The hero and heroine can do good deeds, they can be preachers, teachers or self-help gurus. You can use your experience in these fields to make the romance sound authentic—and perhaps even get a subtle message across—but an overt message from the hero and/or heroine is not for the reader of a WRP book…romance is what our readers are interested in. That’s why our readers buy the books. If they wanted self-help messages, they’d buy a different book.
I know authors complain that editors don’t want a good plot. Actually, we do. But the romance, which is what this company sells exclusively, must be foremost. Romance is not about anything that takes the focus off the hero and heroine – including all the details of how a job is done. I’ve read endless pages of job details that have nothing to do with hero and heroine…their jobs, yes. Their developing relationship, no.
Developing your character goes further in a romance than any plot. How a hero or heroine reacts, responds and resolves the plot around him/her develops a rapport with the reader and clearly allows them to identify with him/her. Since romance focuses on Happily Ever After, by its nature, the hero and heroine should have a clear sense of self, and the confidence to pursue their resolution, even if they are scared, sad, unhappy or terrified of the situation. That sense of self must be uplifting – the plot can be something shocking, but the hero and heroine must show character and growth through it.
Therein lies the crux of romance. Romance is not about making readers think in a different way. Romance is not about improving their lifestyles. Romance is not about preaching right from wrong. Romance is not about teaching them a skill. Romance is not about learning to overcome addiction, alcoholism or some other trait. You can include these issues—use them as conflict points—and perhaps touch a reader’s heart, but those heavy-hitting messages need to be so subliminal that the reader doesn’t realize they are there until some relevant “ah-ha” moment much later.
What message do WRP romance readers want to read?
There should be only one criteria: The developing relationship between two people who love each other and who work and plan to spend a lifetime together.
Romance IS the message.
As Christians privy to the greatest romance ever written, we know how powerful and life-changing that message can be.
Go forth, and write it.