I met Harlequin editor Patience Bloom via Twitter – and immediately asked her to post with us on RU! Now Patience has written her own book and wants to share with us what she’s learned from being a writer.
While writing Romance Is My Day Job—out February 6, from Dutton Books—I realized that some of the issues I faced as an author applied to my job in romance publishing. Working with an editor was a fascinating process, and, let me tell you, my editor’s guidance shaped the book in ways I couldn’t have done on my own. She gave me such great suggestions, ones that have since helped me as an editor of romance novels. Here are the top ten lessons I learned.
Never Take Setting for Granted: I just assumed that people would know the location if I mentioned it. I went to the office. That’s all a reader needs, right? No. A reader requires a few more bells and whistles, hallways, carpeting, cubicles, offices, a receptionist playing FreeCell during idle moments. Description informs parts of the story.
Write what people want to read: My editor wanted me to flesh out parts I didn’t even consider. What was prep school like? Could I describe the office at Harlequin? What books was I reading during the course of my life? Think of the most page-turning aspects of your romance, those elements your reader is itching to know about. As an example, some readers adore descriptions of meals, the small town, what the heroine was wearing at a glitzy party. Emphasize the “fun” of your story.
Make characters interesting: I thought it was a given that my characters were fascinating. Strong heroes and perky heroines are beyond overused, so how could I convey the uniqueness of my characters without sounding cliché? I had to think hard about the people of my book, bring out their zaniness, their unique and memorable qualities. For my mother, I needed to show her depth because she’s my mom. Usually, she’s in charge—especially in a restaurant—so I wrote about how she orders food and manipulates people into eating. Conversely, she took a step back and let me plan my wedding, watched with wonderment how this bridal thing was done. In my opinion, she is unique because she doesn’t stick to one path. People are multi-dimensional and readers should see this on the page.
Spice is nice: This may seem obvious: With romance, there should be a hint of spice, of connection, the suggestion that intimacy could happen behind closed doors. I found this incredibly difficult because my Aunt Mary Anne might read the book and I couldn’t have her knowing too much about that part of my life. But then, I threw up my hands and forged ahead, thinking of the romance reader who wants more (my book is fairly PG). When I talk to authors, I suggest writing to one’s comfort level, maybe pushing beyond it a tad. In the end, a romance should have some, well, romance.
The heroine should be down-to-earth, relatable: Even if she’s a bad girl or kick-ass heroine, the reader should want to go on that adventure with her. In romance, I see this as the most difficult part. She can’t be too perfect, can’t be too quirky, too cliché. How do you make her stand out? In writing my book, I had to re-read my diaries, express myself in a candid, relatable way.
Remind the reader where she is in the story: The chapter breaks are there for a reason. Sometimes, the reader has to put down her book. When she picks it up, make sure your chapter opening has some reminder of what came before.
The parts you think are great may not be the best: I wrote pages and pages on subjects that didn’t enhance my central story. These pages got cut. I thought they were amazing, but the awful truth was clear that they didn’t move the narrative. That cute scene where the hero teaches a dog to fetch his slippers–dump it.
What is the bigger theme of your book? This is a question you might want to ask at the beginning. What do you want readers to get from your romance? From the moment I started writing Romance Is My Day Job, I knew that I wanted readers to come away feeling hopeful that good things could happen, even after “giving up.” Think about the bigger picture, and don’t deviate from it (I’m not talking about plot because we all know how this can change in the writing).
Slow down: We live in an age where we must give the scoop in 140 characters or less. In a romance, if you tell the story too quickly, gloss over details, you’ll lose your reader. Both my editor and agent asked me to slow the pace and describe the scenes. I had to allow the reader to experience the moment. Fast can be too fast.
No pain, no gain: I’m sure there are writers who write blissfully from beginning to end. I’m not one of them. In my view, the struggle of writing is as important as the joy. Writing a book is work and it is hard. I had moments where I thought, “I don’t think I can do this….” But the stakes were high and I didn’t want to mess up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wrote one more sentence, one more page, one more chapter. In the end, I’m blown away by the rewards of this struggle. I would do it all over again (and again).
The amazing part about writing is that it is chockfull of lessons to learn. With each book, there are new challenges. I’m humbled by the strength of romance writers. They just keep writing book after book—and we editors have the privilege of working on them. From the outside world and in the romance community, this business tests writers on a daily basis. In the long run, isn’t it all worth it?
RU Writers – what is the most important lesson YOU learned from writing your first book?
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Bio: PATIENCE BLOOM has been a romance editor at Harlequin for sixteen years. After living in Connecticut, New Mexico, and Paris, she now lives in New York City.
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