Posted On August 24, 2011 by Print This Post

Breaking the Rules with Louisa Edwards

Let’s give a big RU welcome to author Louisa Edwards! Louisa combines her love of cooking and writing romance by penning big burner stories about delectable chef heroes and heroines. Today, she talks about how pushing the boundaries can enhance your story and why there’s no tried-and-true recipe for writing romance.  

Breaking the Rules

One of the most annoying misconceptions about the romance genre is that it’s formulaic—that every single romance novel essentially follows a paint-by-numbers set of guidelines that makes them a snap to write. 

Four books in, I have to say, I almost wish that were true. Deadline Week would sure be easier to deal with! 

Those of us who read it, write it and love it all know romance is more complex than that. Other than the fact that the story has to end with the heroine and hero living happily ever after, there really is no set formula. Romance novels transport us all over the world, through different time periods, with stories that take the kinds of unexpected twists and turns no formula could ever predict.

But…we also all know that there are a few unwritten rules when it comes to romance. Heroes and heroines are always young, fit, and gorgeous, they don’t have jobs like actor or rock star or sports celebrity, and, of course, a romance is between a hero and a heroine, exclusively. Right? 

Well, not necessarily. Sometimes the real magic of romance happens when we break the rules. My first contemporary romance trilogy featured an ongoing romantic subplot between two heroes, a lanky, punk-rock chef and a photography student paying his way through college as a server. And I won’t lie—as much as I loved them, and as important as it was to me to tell their story, I was a little worried about what reader reaction might be. But you know what? To this day, 95% of my fan mail is letters from readers who adore Frankie and Jess, and want even more of them. 

I’m hoping readers will fall just as hard for the boundary-pushing subplot in my new trilogy: a scorching hot, slightly boundary-pushing romance between a straight-laced French woman and a much younger man…who also happens to be a rock star famous for throwing lavish parties with fabulous food. 

They’re first brought together in Too Hot to Touch to be judges of the Rising Star Chef competition, the high-stakes culinary challenge my main hero and heroine are entering, and from the moment Claire and Kane hit the page together, sparks fly, proving that a difference in age is no obstacle to passion. 

Realistically, if we want to write mainstream romance to appeal to a mass audience, there are certain lines we agree to color inside, in order to get our work published and widely distributed. The world is changing, due to the advent of self-publishing—self-published authors, unconstrained by the need to fit into any mold, are beginning to make available a variety of works that were deemed “unpublishable” by New York editors. 

But I believe the rules of mainstream romance can be changed over time. And subplots are a great place to push the envelope. If you abide the rules (or most of them) with your primary hero and heroine, in the secondary romance, you can introduce readers to characters and storylines that stretch their boundaries in exciting new ways…and maybe even stretch your readers’ idea of what a romance can be. 

So the next time you sit down to write, throw the rules out the window! And the next time you’re looking for a new book to read, take a chance on a story that pushes your boundaries a little bit. You might just find magic! 


Do you color outside the lines when you’re writing? Have you created characters that toe the line of mainstream romance?


On Friday, August 26th, Theresa Stevens joins us with her monthly column, Ask an Editor. 


Bio: Louisa Edwards grew up in Virginia before moving to Manhattan to work with some of the biggest names in book publishing. She also worked as a restaurant reviewer for a small-town newspaper, a waitress at a retirement home, and behind the counter at an organic bakery before she decided to bring her love of romance and cooking together by writing contemporary romances with hot chefs for heroes! She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, who, sadly, doesn’t love to cook…but makes up for it in other ways.

If you want to check out a risky romantic subplot, start with Too Hot to Touch! It hits shelves (and e-readers) on August 2nd. Louisa would love to hear what you think of Claire and Kane! Email her at, connect with her on Facebook at, and follow her on Twitter at

Look for Louisa’s new Rising Star Chef trilogy, starting with Too Hot to Touch on August 2, 2011. It will be followed by Some Like it Hot on November 29th, and Hot Under Pressure in April 2012.  

Visit Louisa Edwards’s website at: You can also connect with her on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter @LouisaEdwards!

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25 Responses to “Breaking the Rules with Louisa Edwards”

  1. Hi Louisa,

    Thanks so much for joining us today. Yes, I definitely color outside the line. My debut novel is a historical romantic thriller that opens with a torture scene and has another scene that I KNOW is going to get me some ugly reader email.

    According to my editor and agent, it was my opening scene that nabbed their attention.

    Regarding genre/subgenre formulas…in every type, readers have an expectation and, if we don’t deliver that expectation (i.e. romance = happy ending, thriller = heart-pounding action), our fan base is going to remain rather small. If that’s formulaic…

    Thanks again for joining us!!


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | August 24, 2011, 4:22 am
  2. Morning Louisa!!

    Great post! You mention you received fan mail from people who loved Frankie and Jess, but did you also get complaints from anyone? I always worry about that….

    Thanks for posting with us today, and I’m loving! the cover of your book!



    Posted by Carrie Spencer | August 24, 2011, 6:51 am
    • Carrie – I am still sort of shocked about it, but I never received a single piece of fan/reader mail bashing me for having a gay romantic storyline. I’ll be honest, there are a couple of ugly, bigoted reviews on Amazon, but for the most part? I’ve been amazed and touched by the support of my readers.

      Posted by Louisa Edwards | August 24, 2011, 10:40 am
  3. Hi Louisa,

    My heroines aren’t thin and like to eat. My latest manuscript features a baker. Her cakes don’t always turn out perfect and it would be a shame to waste them.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | August 24, 2011, 7:18 am
  4. A chef as a hero? I LOVE it. An older woman and much younger rock star serving tasty food at his wild parties? Love that too. I’m not sure why, but I love when food is brought into novels. Not sure why, but there’s something about cooking breakfast, having a snack, or dining at a fab restuarant that always sucks me into a story.

    Posted by Mercy | August 24, 2011, 8:26 am
  5. Louisa: I love how you break the rules. I am working on a book now which will push some boundaries for my target publisher but I think that they make for a fantastic story. I have biracial main couple and strong secondary characters who are gay men in a committed relationship. We’ll see how it goes . . .

    Someone asked me the other day if we try to bring up stuff for the “shock value” – in order to get the eye of an editor. I don’t, my characters are who they are, but I was wondering if anyone ever asked you that.

    Thanks for being here with us!

    Posted by Robin Covington | August 24, 2011, 8:35 am
    • Interesting, Robin–I’ve never gotten the “shock value” question. And it seems like maybe the question of someone who doesn’t know how the publishing industry works, at least on the genre fiction side. Coloring far enough outside the lines to actually be shocking wouldn’t catch an editor’s eye in the right way, I’m afraid.

      But your story sounds intriguing! Best of luck with it.

      Posted by Louisa Edwards | August 24, 2011, 4:46 pm
  6. Hi Louisa!

    Ummmm…sorry, I forgot what I was going to say. I was momentarily blinded by the guy on your book cover. Holy shemoley – that is one hot cover!!!

    I love books where the romance pushes the envelope or surprises me in some way. One of my favorite romances is Jenny Crusie’s BET ME, which features a less than svelte heroine.

    Normality is a stretch for Willa, the heroine of my paranormal romance. No matter how she fights it, when it gets close to the full moon her wild, wolfish side takes over. The older she gets, the harder it is to control. Sharing her freakish nature with her husband cost Willa her marriage. She learned the price of honesty the hard way – it’s a mistake she won’t make twice.

    Physically, my hero and heroine fit the classic mold. It’s underneath they are both messed up.

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | August 24, 2011, 8:39 am
  7. Louisa –

    It’s so great to see you at RU after we “shared” lunch at RWA! Thanks for being here.

    My first contemporary manuscript included a subplot with the hero’s mom exploring her “sexual freedom” (not as icky on the page as it sounds here – LOL). The mom’s relationship was a major source of conflict between the hero and heroine because he resisted seeing his mom dating and the heroine encouraged it.

    On another note, do you think it takes some type of theme/hook to catch a publisher’s interest in a contemporary romance? For example, cooking, knitting, small town, etc.?

    Thanks so much!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | August 24, 2011, 9:01 am
    • I love the parents-finding-love subplot! So cute. One of my favorite Nora books, The Villa, has a wonderful version of it.

      I don’t think you *have* to have a specialized hook–but it can’t hurt. And with the market saturating with small town romances, I’m not sure that alone is enough of a hook anymore.

      Posted by Louisa Edwards | August 24, 2011, 4:52 pm
  8. Hi Louisa! Hope you’re staying cool down there in Austin. 🙂

    I like to break the rules but I’m afraid I’ve been doing it with my main characters and that’s why I can’t sell. In the manuscript I have on submission now, the heroine is an actress. Not finding many people who love her.

    I’m trying to take a more traditional approach with my current manuscript. Maybe I’ll throw in a line-crossing secondary character for fun! Thanks for being here today.

    Posted by Kat Cantrell | August 24, 2011, 9:22 am
    • Kat – it’s a hard line to walk between writing the story you want to tell, and writing a story that an editor can sell to her marketing and sales departments as being appealing to a wide audience. Keep trying! You’ll find your balance.

      Posted by Louisa Edwards | August 24, 2011, 4:53 pm
  9. Hi Louisa. Welcome to RU! Thank you for hanging out with us today.

    I personally love rule breakers. If it’s done well and I can connect with the characters, I’m happy.

    I broke a few rules myself in my upcoming release. What was fun about it was my editor encouraged me to do it. The character is emotionally damaged and my editor felt like breaking the rules would push that character into realizing she had to make changes.

    It was fun being a rule breaker!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | August 24, 2011, 9:49 am
    • Adrienne – aren’t rebellious editors the BEST? Mine is so supportive and encouraging about letting me push the boundaries. But she has a good sense of where to draw the line, too, and rein me back in a little. : ) Congrats on the upcoming release!!

      Posted by Louisa Edwards | August 24, 2011, 4:55 pm
  10. Hi Louisa!

    I’m all for bending and breaking the rules.

    With the advent of e-publishing, I’m hoping more writers will push the boundaries and give readers something different and memorable.

    Thanks for being with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 24, 2011, 12:02 pm
  11. Louisa, I’m giving you a standing ovation for encouraging us to break the rules. All bets are off in publishing right now and I have a feeling the readers are going to let us know that it’s all right to be daring. Novels are all about escape!

    Thanks so much for the great post. Wishing you much success.

    Posted by Rochelle Staab | August 24, 2011, 7:24 pm
  12. A big thanks to our readers and to Louisa for joining us today!


    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | August 24, 2011, 7:38 pm
  13. Love the idea of boundary pushing in the secondary plot. Thanks so much for addressing one of my biggest pet peeves- the evil formula myth.

    Posted by Avery Flynn | August 25, 2011, 10:56 am
  14. Thank for your ideals in love is good to learn more.In order not to fine difficult in ones relationship, to be able to know the dos and don,t of one partner perfectly.thanks

    Posted by Patricia Konadu Amaning | August 23, 2015, 8:35 am

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