Posted On November 6, 2009 by Print This Post

Is it Romance or Romantic Women’s Fiction?

I’ve decided Therese Walsh doesn’t sleep.  When would she have time?  Her debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, was recently released, she is a co-founder of the blog Writer Unboxed, and she just spearheaded the creation of RWA’s new women’s fiction chapter.  Like I said, I don’t think she sleeps.

Let’s turn it over to Therese and see how she juggles it all.

Congratulations on the debut of The Last Will of Moira Leahy.  How does romantic women’s fiction differ from romance?

official book picture - jpgThanks so much!

Women’s fiction is a different genre than romance, though I see them as sister genres—especially when the women’s fiction novel has strong romantic elements. While romance deals with the relationship between a man and woman, with plotting and story arc depending entirely on that relationship, women’s fiction involves itself primarily with a woman’s journey and it’s her journey that dictates the course of the book. Sometimes that journey involves a love interest, hence “romantic” women’s fiction.

My debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, is romantic women’s fiction—about a woman recovering from the loss of her twin and re-engaging with life again after purchasing an artifact from her past. Through interwoven narratives, we travel with Maeve Leahy in the present day as she unravels the truth about the artifact—who’s following her and leaving her notes—as layers of her past are peeled away and the course of her future is forever altered. The romantic part? One of the main players in the story is a beautiful half-English antiques dealer named Noel—and, yes, he has something to do with her altered future.

Do you still do freelance work? If so, how do you balance that with fiction writing?

I stopped doing freelance work once the fiction deal came in, because it was a two-book deal. As my first book took several years to write and I had to have book two to Random House by 12/10, I thought I’d better concentrate almost exclusively on that commitment. That said, I do miss working on my nonfiction sometimes. I have a great fiction editor, but I also had terrific nonfiction editors, and I miss interacting with them.

The group blog you co-founded has been named one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 best websites three years running.  How was Writer Unboxed developed?  How do you think Writer Unboxed has helped your career?

Writer Unboxed was born one day when Kathleen Bolton and I decided to blog together.

We’d been writing buddies and even published an article in the Romance Writers Reports in which we analyzed The Lord of the Rings with a fellow writer. (I know: Lord of the Rings in the RWR? But we made it relevant for writers of any genre. We’ve posted the article on WU, so you can read it if you’d like.) We liked analyzing what made writing work well, and I knew from working as a nonfic health writer that empowering information was a potent force in the marketplace; by combining those two things we knew that we could craft a unique blog. Writer Unboxed was born!

WU has definitely helped my career. Funny, because there were soooo many times when I felt the blog—good karma aside—was a time suck. But it was working for me all along in ways I would later come to appreciate. It enabled me to create lasting and meaningful relationships with other writers—published and soon-to-be published. It also allowed me to dive into the minds of experts by conducting interviews with authors whose work I admired and industry pros who knew how to crack into publishing. So I was essentially being educated along the way, which was great, as I was a science major in college.

How do you manage the blog with so many contributing writers?

Kath and I call ourselves the blog mamas. We contribute posts once or twice a week (sometimes more often as required)—usually a weekly regular post and then one of us contributes an interview with an author or industry pro. Our contributors each post monthly. It’s up to Kath and me to make sure their posts come in on time, so we send reminder notes, find pictures to compliment their posts (we love pictures at WU) and sometimes post their content for them. We have a schedule on the blog that Kath and I refer to often, reminding us whose day it is to post, that sort of thing.

Sometimes we lose a contributor, and it’s up to Kath and me to find a replacement. We have a slate of contributors that covers a variety of genres; we like to keep things well balanced. Our current slate is our best to date including Allison Winn Scotch, author of mainstream fiction; Ann Aguirre author of romance and urban fiction; Barbara Samuel / Barbara O’Neal, author of (romantic) women’s fiction; Donald Maass, agent extraordinaire and founder of the Maass Literary Agency; J.C. Hutchins, author of seriously unboxed technothrillers; Juliet Marillier, author of epic (romantic) fantasy novels; Ray Rhamey, independent editor and author; and Sophie Masson, author of YA and fantasy novels. Susan Schwartzman, an independent publicist, blogs with us occasionally, too, and her posts are always enlightening.

We’ll often invite guest bloggers as well, especially if they have something new to add to the conversation. Recently, for example, Richard Mabry, who writes medical suspense novels, guest blogged with us about how to write authentic medical details in a story. Richard was the perfect person to write this post: He’s not only a friend and frequent commenter at WU, he’s also a physician. Add to that bounty, his post was an interactive Q&A with NYT’s bestselling author of medical suspense novels, physician Michael Palmer.

What advice do you have for not-yet-published writers in this economic climate?last will cover 4

Gosh, I’m almost afraid to touch this question, because every situation is different: every book, every plan, every queried agent, every house.

Regardless of the economy, if you’re seeking an agent for your work now—or about to start the hunt—I highly recommend subscribing to Publishers Marketplace (PM) for a month or so; it’s pricey but worth it. There, writers can cross-reference list of agents you might have accrued by looking through the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents with activities by agents posted *daily* at PM; it’s where you’ll learn what agents are actually SELLING not just what they wish they could sell.

If you have an agent and have yet to sell—and you’ve been trying since the economic downturn—try not to lose heart or faith. I know of many people who have fantastic manuscripts sitting with fantastic agents, and the agents just can’t sell the scripts. The reason, I think, is because publishers are nervous of taking a chance on those authors who don’t already have an established fanbase or whose novel may be out of the realm of ordinary. That doesn’t mean the scripts won’t sell or shouldn’t sell, but it means they’re not going to sell right now. Once the economy has healed—let it be soon, right?—then I think publishers will be less skittish about taking chances on new voices in fiction. Until then, use your time to write write write—especially if you have an agent who’s confident in your voice and abilities.

Please tell us about the new RWA Women’s Fiction chapter and how it came to fruition?

TW: I’d been a part of RWA but felt a little “homeless,” as there wasn’t a way to connect with other women’s fiction writers in the organization. I did look at the Elements chapter and the Chick Lit chapter but I didn’t feel they were hitting quite the right note for me. I wrote a blog post about the issue—a bit of a rant, really, and I’m not usually a ranter. A few people commented that I should start a new chapter, but I received more notes privately and realized there was a large group of writers within RWA clamoring for exactly this sort of group. So I took the steps—contacted National, filled out the paperwork, set up a nonprofit organization, established bylaws, and went in search of my officers and “charter members.” An unbelievable number—92 women—said they were interested in becoming charter members of RWA-WF. Though we’re officially Official with RWA now, we’re still a young chapter. Our website will be up and running by 11/1 at, and we’ll be opening our doors to non-charter members after that date. Anyone interested in learning more can contact our secretary, Susan Crandall at


Thank you to Therese for being here.  Therese will be checking in throughout the day to answer questions.

To our readers:  Were you aware of the differences between romantic women’s fiction and romance?  We’d love to hear from you.


Therese Walsh‘s debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy, will be published on October 13th, 2009 by Shaye Areheart books (Random House). She is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a blog for writers about the craft and business of genre fiction. Before turning to fiction, she was a researcher and writer for Prevention magazine, and then a freelance writer. She’s had hundreds of articles on nutrition and fitness published in consumer magazines and online. She has a master’s degree in psychology; and she loves music, art, crab legs, Whose Line is it Anyway?, dark chocolate, photography, unique movies and novels, people watching, strong Irish tea, and spending time with her husband, two kids and their bouncy Jack Russell. She’s currently working on her second novel—another story about self-discovery, acceptance and magical journeys—at her home in upstate New York.

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19 Responses to “Is it Romance or Romantic Women’s Fiction?”

  1. Hi Therese!

    Thank you for spending time with us today. I’m really curious about your first month of publication. Your debut book hit the shelves on October 13 – in hardback, no less! How has your life changed?


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | November 6, 2009, 6:24 am
  2. First, I have to say, I spelled complEment wrong up above. Yeesh.

    Hi Tracey,

    Thanks for the welcome.

    I wouldn’t say my life has changed over the last several weeks, but it’s definitely changed since the deal came through last summer. I had no idea how all-encompassing the business side of publishing could become. Especially time consuming (not including edits) were establishing a website, reaching out and developing strong social networks, and then working on my blog tour. You can literally spend every waking minute on publicity as the publication for your book nears. You have to take care to find time for balance– time for yourself and your family, and time for the next book.

    All best,

    Posted by Therese Walsh | November 6, 2009, 8:30 am
  3. Hi Therese and thank you for being here. Congratulations on your debut. The cover is gorgeous.

    Can you recommend some other women’s fiction authors (besides yourself, of course!)?

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 6, 2009, 8:31 am
  4. Hi Adrienne,

    Thanks so much for having me and for your comments. I have to admit–I love my cover, too!

    Others who write romantic women’s fiction include Barbara Samuel O’Neal, who is our chapter’s “Wise Woman” and whose latest novel, “The Lost Recipe for Happiness,” is truly delicious. Marilyn Brant’s debut, “According to Jane,” is romantic women’s fiction that has been widely embraced by the romance community, in part for its play off Jane Austen; her book is currently sitting in my teetering TBR pile. A lesser-known author of romantic women’s fiction is Marsha Moyer. Her debut, “The Second Coming of Lucy Hatch,” should be read by everyone hoping to define how similar yet how different romance and romantic women’s fiction can be. And fans of the first Lucy book will be happy to know there are others in her series.

    If you don’t mind curving outside the genre a bit more, Juliet Marillier writes novels that are a blend of fantasy and romantic women’s fiction. Her debut, “Daughter of the Forest,” is just glorious. Juliet is a true wordsmith, and the romantic relationships in her books are always satisfying.

    Just off the top of my head…

    All best,

    Posted by Therese Walsh | November 6, 2009, 8:48 am
  5. Good morning, Therese!

    Thanks so much for being here. I have Writer Unboxed feeding into my Yahoo! reader. However, I don’t stop by often enough. You talked about times when you felt the blog was a time suck, but have found it’s helped you in numerous ways. Can you comment on one or two (I know there are more) ways you feel Writer Unboxed has benefited you personally and professionally?

    Looking forward to reading The Last Will of Moira Leahy!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | November 6, 2009, 9:04 am
  6. Hi Kelsey,

    Thanks for your welcome and of course for the WU love.

    How has WU helped me? My mind is overrun with examples!

    On a personal level, it’s gratifying to interview the level of talent we have at WU, including Lois Lowry, Cornelia Funke, Blake Snyder, Brunonia Barry, Audrey Niffenegger and Sarah Addison Allen. (And p.s. I should’ve mentioned Sarah on my earlier list; she writes great romantic women’s fiction, including “Garden Spells.”) And who wouldn’t want the opportunity to pick those brains?

    An example of how the blog has helped me professionally: One of WU’s contributors, Allison Winn Scotch, provided the e-handshake between my would-be-agent, Elisabeth Weed, and myself. Elisabeth was on my radar anyway, but I know Allison’s introduction made an impact on Elisabeth and prompted her to request a partial.

    Writer Unboxed has also reinforced something I learned while working at Prevention Magazine. Aim high. Ask to interview people you are dreaming of interviewing; ask people to become contributors who you dream of becoming contributors–and, of course, write the book you dream of writing.

    All best,

    Posted by Therese Walsh | November 6, 2009, 9:31 am
  7. Great interview! Therese, I loved your book, and Barbara O’Neal’s, too. I have According to Jane in my TBR pile. It will be next. I’ll check out the other books you recommended.

    I often feel the same way about Magical Musings, that it’s a time suck. But I have met so many amazing people through it that it’s a good time suck.

    Interesting about the subgenres in the WF genre. Would you say that Jodi Picoult is mainstream WF?

    Posted by Edie | November 6, 2009, 9:40 am
  8. Hi Edie,

    Thank you! I’m so happy that you liked Last Will. And Magical Musings is a fantastic site; thanks for all you do.

    I would say Jodi Picoult is mainstream WF, yes, as is Anita Shreve. We may love to read these books, but they’re different from romantic women’s fiction in that they don’t offer a romantic arc we know will satisfy.

    All best,

    Posted by Therese Walsh | November 6, 2009, 10:12 am
  9. Morning Therese!

    Sounds like you are a super busy woman! And successful…congrats on your book, I agree, the cover is fabulous!

    How do you manage your time, now that you’ve got a new book with a due date, a blog that has to be ‘baby-sat’ and oh you know, things like doing dishes and going out for supper occasionally? Do you try to compartmentalize your writing times?

    thanks for the post!


    Posted by carrie | November 6, 2009, 10:15 am
  10. Thanks, Therese, for clarifying the sub-genre, “Romantic Women’s Fiction”, and best wishes on the new chapter.

    Posted by Barbara Ann | November 6, 2009, 10:22 am
  11. Hi Carrie,

    Good morning to you!

    I’m going through LWML publicity withdrawal right now and putting a much bigger emphasis on book #2. In the mornings, I write until I need a break, then I get up and stretch, check Twitter, check the blog, send important emails. In the afternoon, I edit what I wrote, catch up on more business, put out any fires. I spend early evenings being a mom and wife most of the time (last night, I made penne pasta w/ broccolli, garlic and pesto–simple but yummy), and hanging with my favorite breathing people. After my kids are in bed, I’ll sometimes tie up any remaining loose ends–emails, blog duties, etc… and think about what I’ll need to write the next day.

    Because I have so many balls in the air (too many sometimes!), I try to make things as efficient for myself as possible. I’d like only to have to think of things two or three times: (1) I receive a task. (2) I do the task. (3) I follow up on the task. Sometimes when something hits my desk, I’ll finish it right away (like a Q&A for the book). Other times I have to set it aside, but I don’t want to end up ruminating over it or worrying I’ll forget, so I rely heavily on the “tasks” function on Outlook. Without those task reminders popping up to tell me things like, “Remind Allison she has a post due this Thursday,” or “Don’t forget to write a blog post for XYZ,” I would be much less efficient. And I would have more gray hair.

    All best,

    Posted by Therese Walsh | November 6, 2009, 10:33 am
  12. Thank you, Barbara Ann!

    Posted by Therese Walsh | November 6, 2009, 10:33 am
  13. Oh, p.s., anyone who’s interested in reading one of Juliet Marillier’s fantastic books, which are a combo of fantasy and romantic women’s fiction, should know we’re currently giving away two copies of her new release. Heart’s Blood is Juliet’s spin on Beauty and the Beast, and has been very well reviewed. You can leave a comment on our site to qualify for a chance:

    Good luck!

    All best,

    Posted by Therese Walsh | November 6, 2009, 10:44 am
  14. Very interesting…I learned something new today. I’ll be putting “The Last Will of Moira Leahy” on my TBR list. This is exactly the type of book I enjoy. I just have to share a book I’m reading now called “Love Tag” by author Peter Shianna. The book completely hooked me from the first page. I’m reading it every free minute and enjoying every word!

    Posted by Betty | November 21, 2009, 2:46 pm


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