This past weekend I attended the URWA Conference in SLC. Definately an eye opener, and that's a nominal thing for me at a writer's conference. First of all I'm not what they call a romance author. Yes, there is romance in each of my books, but I do not follow the formula of writing romance.
Formula? Isn't that a math concept? At a recent presentation a young lady said to me, "I wish I was creative enough to write, but I'm only good at math and finance stuff."
Did you know that writing a romance is a scientific process? It's mathmatical and quite fascinating. Many new writers don't understand the time spent in figuring out word count, chapter length, the proper ratio of dialog-to-internal thought, the number of pages you can go without using dialog, and on what page the heroine meets the hero (that's page one, by the way). A romance novel should be 100,000 words minimum (but not over 120,000). The age of a contemporary heroine should be 28-35 years old. Historical can go younger--single woman under 25; widow/spinster 28-33. And no love scenes before page 100. (See all those numbers?)
Really. And adverbs are out. Well, those associated with dialog. If your character says something "quickly," that should be made evident in the dialog itself or the action surrounding the dialog. If your dialog adverbs get past the editors, the reviewers will not be kind.
What I really learned at this conference (and has been reiterated at other conferences), is for every opinion expressed by an agent or editor, another agent or editor has the completely opposite opinion.
Here are some that I found over the years:
1. Write a detailed synopsis--a paragraph for each chapter. Keep your synopsis under one page.
2. Mention writing contests that you've won. Only mention writing contests that you've won in which it was judged by a well-known editor/agent.
3. Paranormal is in. Paranormal is out.
4. Include short background history in query. Include no background history in query.
5. Query letter needs to be absolutely perfect and determines whether or not the agent will continue to the sample chapter. Query letter is an afterthought, and the sample chapter is read first.
After the opposites, I heard some interesting things:
1. When writing romance, the hero and heroine must meet on the first page.
2. If you spell the agent's name wrong, you won't even make it to the slush pile.
3. Historical may be on the rise.
4. Watch the movie trends, and that's what the book trends will be.
5. Stick with formula until you are published. Then deviate.
6. Don't give the agent ANY reason to reject your submission. Do not give any closure at the end of the first chapter. Start the chapter in the middle of a scene, and end in the middle of a scene.
7. Add humor if possible. Humor sells during war-time.
8. Chicklit is more than dead. If you see a new chicklit on the shelves that's because the publishing house bought it 2 years ago and couldn't get it out of its pipeline. And if you have written a chicklit, do not pitch it to any editor or agent.
9. Enter writing contests only if they are judged by agents or editors. Agents don't care much about winning regional contests. But I have my own disclaimer here--enter those regional contests that include judging feedback--that's invaluable to determine whether or not your writing is competitive. And it shows the agent/editor that you are serious about your work.
10. Don't buy used books. The sales can't be recorded, and the author won't get credit. This can determine whether or not that author gets another contract. If you like the author, buy the book! Then you'll see him/her in print again.
11. If you want to sell your manuscripts you must know what the publishers are BUYING, not what is sitting on the shelves.
12. Writing is not art; it's commerce.
13. You are writing your book to the editor. She is your first reader. Look at what the editor or agent publishes/represents. That's what she likes.
14. Don't write a novel that has a backdrop of a recent catastrophe (i.e. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina)
15. Agents are really a necessity.
16. With that said, you can submit to publishers and when you get interest . . . procure an agent before you sign a contract. This is two-fold. The agent can get you more money, and an agent is very keen on an author who has an interested publisher. 15% of something is much more powerful than 15% of nothing.
17. Follow submission guidelines to a T.
18. Agents are looking for (get your pens out):
Paranormals with time/nature (vampires or werewolves have plateaued)
Romantic Suspense--historical or contemporary
Older heroines (40'ish)
Issue-driven fiction for women in their 20's (replacing dumbed-down chicklit).
Women's fiction (might have romance in it, but doesn't have to have a happy ending)
Mom-lit (this will probably be a very short trend, so submit if you have something ready)
Historical romance is getting hotter