THE BUSINESS OF WRITING
Building a Career in Category Romance
And Knowing What That Entails
Kristi Gold © 2002
So you've decided to try your hand at building a career in category romance. I'm going to operate based on the assumption that you have a deep understanding of what that entails. You know the market, you know the various lines and you've read several books in those chosen lines and enjoyed them for the most part. You haven't decided to change course from, let's say, writing historical fiction to writing category romance just because you want to 'break in' with one of those 'little' love stories. You understand that in order to build a steady name for yourself in category romance, you have to write more than one book. Of course, money isn't your sole motivation because you adore writing series romance and you respect the genre. If you've already found yourself saying, Now just wait a cotton pickin' minute (which I assume is shorter than your normal minute), maybe I should just back up and start over.
Several people have asked how I've managed to write so many series books in what seems to be a relatively short span of time. The answers appear to be simple. A) I write fast. B) Writing is my day job. C) I know what's expected of me. D) Most important-I love what I'm doing. Still, I've learned quite a bit since the release of my first book in 2000, namely series romance is in part about production. This doesn't mean churning out books that don't have any value. Who wants to do that? After all, we should aspire to write a great story. Not only is that possible in series romance, it's a must. To clear up a common misconception, writing a series book isn't as easy as some believe it to be. No 'roadmap' exists other than the one you create while moving memorable characters through a journey toward love and setting up obstacles to the happy ending However, series differs from other romance sub-genres in that you have a limited space in which to tell the story, and that means focusing on a more linear plot. It doesn't mean you don't have to weave a satisfying story. You want your readers-and your editor-clamoring for more.
If you do a lot of time juggling, be it with a day job or family life or both, writing a series romance could work to your advantage because of the shorter format (50,000-80,000 words, dependent on the line you're targeting). But if you want to build a series career, you need to consider why it's best to write more than one book a year. One book a year will make your reader recognition somewhat slower than if you produce more than one. One book a year most likely will not generate enough income (more on this later) to quit your day job unless you aren't dependent on the pay. If writing one to two books a year is all you can manage, and you're satisfied with the results, then that's what counts. Regardless, you have to enjoy the process, which leads to Part One of your motivation for writing a series romance.
If you decide to write a series book, be it long contemporary, short contemporary, hot, sweet, historical, you might want to consider the reasons behind your decision. Simply trying to 'break in' because you assume it's easy to do with a category romance might leave you very disappointed. Nothing is easy when it comes to getting published. At times it seems like you're trying to kill a fly by tossing a brick; it's all hit and miss. And if you are fortunate enough to sell to a series house, your editor will want to know that you're going to continue to write for them. They're in the business of building careers-they want to build careers-and they prefer authors who are willing to go beyond that first sale. And authors who go beyond that first sale know what's expected of them-to write what the house knows it can market. That means focusing on the 'saleable' hooks dictated by market research based on reader expectations. It might seem like great fun to break in with a more standard story and then give them the off-the-wall plot that your sister absolutely loves, but as a newbie author, you don't have any sales numbers and it's best to submit a less risky book. I know, you might be groaning about now, but you have to remember you're writing commercial fiction, and readers do have their preferences be it cowboys, secret babies, marriages of convenience, etc., etc. The trick is to make the story your own, make it fresh, always keeping an eye on the market. That will aid in a second sale. And it's good to know that many editors are willing to work with new authors, but it's important to learn how to grow with each book, greatly reducing revisions-another aspect that will make for a happy editor and author. Which leads me to Part Two of your motivation for writing series romance.
If you are not enthusiastic about writing a category romance, if you intend to just 'get by' until you can write what you prefer to write, then the whole process could become very painful. While writing your series book, if every word is sheer agony, if you don't look forward to going back to the story, if the thought of focusing on saleable 'hooks' makes you want to hurl, then maybe series is not the place for you. It's best to determine this before you take that leap and perhaps sell a book. Once you're under contract, you have to know what works, especially if you're looking to build a name for yourself in category. Having to sweat bullets with each effort will not benefit your productivity. Of course, sometimes certain books don't want to cooperate, but if you have problems every time, then something is amiss and you could find yourself stuck in a place you don't want to be and writing books you don't want to write, or you could fail to see a second sale. I can't say it enough, so I'll say it again-You need to understand and enjoy the process of writing a series book. Unlike many jobs where you can get by doing work that isn't necessarily thrilling, writing a good book (in any genre) is dependent on the author's ability to convey emotion, intriguing characters, great plots and pacing. If you're not happy with what you're doing, it could very well show in your work-work that goes out to millions of readers worldwide.
This is not to say that you can't branch out; authors do it all the time. This is not to say that you can't write in two genres from the beginning; authors do it all the time. This is not to say that you can't sell a series book even if at first you didn't plan to write one; I started out writing mainstream romance. But if you truly want to reap the career rewards, then you have to know what you like, know how you write and decide if category romance is a viable option. You have to know your long-term goals and have a plan to reach those objectives. You have to have reasonable expectations in regard to income. Speaking of that…
When I sit at the computer almost every day, I'm not thinking about my next royalty check. I'm considering my characters, involving myself in their lives and basically having a field day watching them struggle on their way to a solid relationship. Bottom line-I love what I do. If I didn't, I wouldn't be doing it. Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money; I rather like that aspect. You should want to get paid for your efforts. Never forget that publishing is a business. Yet your earning potential in series romance is very much dependent on the line you target, your sales figures and the amount of books you release in a year. You always run the risk of having a book that doesn't sell well for whatever reason so I would advise you not become dependent on the income until you are well established, and some might say not even then. Only you can gauge your financial needs and expectations, but I believe it's best to stay grounded and realistic. You won't get that blockbuster advance writing series romance, but you can find a nice niche-if you're willing to put forth the effort.
So your next question is, When can I expect to sell it? I can't answer that. Sometimes it's about timing, most times about perseverance, and all of the time about writing a good book. You have to learn the craft, submit and develop patience. Now at the risk of suffering the wrath from aspiring authors, I believe it's important to enjoy the writing process before you sell your first book. Any deadlines you face are usually self-imposed. If you want take a break for weeks, months or maybe even years, you have that luxury. If you want to concentrate solely on your favorite pastimes and write when the spirit moves you, you can definitely do that. But after you sign on the dotted line and determine that you want to make writing series romance your career, you're presented with a whole new set of challenges, namely writing more books, not to mention copy edits, final edits, promoting your book-but that's another article altogether.
By all means, after you finish that first book and submit it, write another. And another. And if possible, another. Give yourself that head start so that after you receive The Call, you have more books to offer. Above all, give yourself occasional breaks, occasional breathers, and enjoy life beyond your writing as it will help you immensely when you return to you story. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Remember that you might not write the book of your heart, but you should put your heart in every book. And always keep the faith. Rome truly wasn't built in a day, and neither is a series career.
So you want to have a career in series romance? Good for you. I wish you the best of luck! It's a great place to be!- k.g