Australia’s Queen of Romance, Valerie Parv leads an all star line-up of romance writers who have revealed their secrets of success in the new book, Heart and Craft.
So you want to write a romance novel. But as anyone who has ever tried to write a romance will tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks. Like all forms of writing, success requires a little talent and a lot of practice – and of course, it helps if you are a devoted reader of the genre.
Most authors of romance started out as devoted fans of one of the major sub-genres of romance fiction: historical, suspense, paranormal, contemporary, inspirational, and young adult. Within each of these sub-genres are many categories published under even more imprints. To give you an idea of how big the world of romance publishing has become – the world’s leading publisher of romance, eHarlequin.com publishers more than 40 imprints in both print and eBook format.
Valerie Parv is the author of more than 50 romance books and has written quite extensively on the subject over the course of her thirty year career. Valerie says there is no magical formula for writing romance that sells. But aspiring authors can take heart in the fact there are some techniques and tips you can learn to make the road to publication a little smoother. And in her latest book, Heart and Craft, Parv has assembled some of the most accomplished authors of romance in Australia and New Zealand to teach these all important techniques.
Between them, Robyn Donald, Helen Bianchin, Lilian Darcy, Meredith Webber, Elizabeth Rolls, Kelly Ethan, Alexis Fleming, Daphne Clair, and Jennie Adams, have more than two hundred years worth of experience as published authors.
Robyn Donald, a New Zealand author who has seen 78 of her books published, admits her own writing apprenticeship lasted for more than a decade. ‘I was just having the most enormous fun in what was probably the longest and least useful apprenticeship any writer every had!’ she wrote in Heart and Craft.
Even after Donald’s first novel was published by Mills & Boon in 1976, she took quite a relaxed approach towards her career as a writer, only producing the written word whenever her ‘muse made an appearance.’ But as Donald was soon to discover, changes in the world of romance publishing would require more from their authors after the 1970’s.
A New Zealand born author now living in Queensland, Helen Bianchin, started writing at a time when sex scenes took place off the page and behind closed doors. Today, Bianchin and others, spend their days creating sexy Latin lovers and powerful foreign rulers to bed equally strong heroines, between the book covers of imprints such as, Blaze, Sexy and Desire. Both romance authors and readers of these imprints will insist it’s not just about the sex, but rather, the context in which sex scenes are written. Bianchin wrote in Heart and Craft: ‘The focus is romance, the emphasis is intimacy, the key is emotion.’
For romance writers, creating emotional depth is possibly the hardest skill of all to master. Valerie Parv says romance writers need to get in touch with their own emotions in order to inject emotional depth into their writing. In Heart and Craft, Parv reveals that she was raised in what she calls ‘a socially dysfunctional family’:
‘My parents elevated not getting angry to an art form, which meant, according to a counsellor I consulted, that both ends of the spectrum became unsafe territory – joy and passion as well as the negative emotions…It wasn’t until I learned it’s not only okay to get angry, but essential for mental and spiritual health, that I was able to explore a full range of emotional responses. The more I got in touch with my own emotional responses, the more clearly I could see where I needed to go in my books. You can’t write what you don’t feel.’ [page 41 of Heart and Craft]
When asked whether anyone can succeed as a romance author, Valerie Parv replied with a firm, ‘NO’. “It’s like asking if anyone can be a writer – there has to be some talent to build on and not every writer’s voice is going to be a good fit with romance,” she said.
The popular Australian author, Lillian Darcy, says no two writers are alike and it would be mistake for any aspiring author to write in a particular genre just because it sells. ‘To a very large extent, our writing voice is something we’re stuck with.’
So if romance sells in such huge numbers, does this mean all romance writers are wealthy? Apparently not. Although a very small percentage of romance writers have earned millions, some struggle to earn a living wage and even greater numbers earn little more than ‘pin money’ from the sale of their books.
Valerie Parv told Australian Women Online, “When I started it was possibly easier to make a living than it would be today. Like so many other aspects of business, publishing has fragmented and you’re looking at smaller pieces of the pie for each individual working in it. Having things like ChicLit come along, having paranormal elements come along – this means writers and writing in more narrow specialisations. But there are only so many readers out there and if you cut the pie into smaller and smaller pieces, then each author is going to get less of it.”
“We’ve also gone in the direction of having more [free] online and mobile phone reads. So perhaps I was very lucky when I started because it was easier to get a foot-hold in the market and I consider myself very fortunate that I’ve been a full-time writer as my day job, for 25 years,” she said.
To protect the privacy of their authors, publishers do not release income figures to the public. However, US author Brenda Hiatt, does maintain a list of average income earned by romance authors on her website. You can view the list ‘Show Me the Money!’ at http://www.brendahiatt.com/id2.html
However, for those who persevere to publication, the income earned from writing romance is secondary to living the dream and following your passion.
Each of the contributors to Heart and Craft has a different story to tell about how she achieved writing success, proving there are as many different roads to publication as there are published authors. “It takes years and many books to master,” Valerie told Australian Women Online. “But you can learn all the techniques and every book is still going to be like writing the first book, the learning process never ends.”
But the good news says Parv, is that a book doesn’t need to be perfect to be published. What a manuscript needs most is some spark of originality that grabs the editor’s attention.
Using examples from their own published works, these popular authors demonstrate what every aspiring author needs to know about romance writing in general and the different sub-genres of romance fiction. ‘This book is about learning by doing,’ wrote Parv in her introduction to Heart and Craft.
I’ll leave you now with one of my favourite quotes from the book by Australian author, Meredith Webber: ‘It’s never too late to start and never too early to begin to hone your writing skills…Just keep in mind that, first and foremost, you are writing a romance, and show the reader the love blooming between the hero and heroine, a love the reader can believe will last forever.’
Heart and Craft by Valerie Parv is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now from book shops for AU$24.95 (recommended retail price).
To learn more about Valerie Parv and her books visit her website www.valerieparv.com