You may be surprised to learn that one of the most common reasons I reject manuscripts isn’t poor writing, a lackluster plot, or lack of character development…it’s that the novel simply isn’t a romance. With the growing popularity of “chick lit” and women’s fiction, the line between romance novels and other fiction marketed to women has become blurrier. However, The Wild Rose Press is still a ROMANCE publisher, which means all our books must have a romantic relationship at their core. So, how do you know whether you’re writing romance or more general women’s fiction? I’ve put together a list of some questions to ask yourself and use to evaluate your manuscript. If you’re at the beginning stage of a writing project, you can use this checklist to determine whether the story you want to tell is really a romance and, if so, how you can make sure the focus stays on the romantic relationship. If you have a completed manuscript, this list will help you decide which publishers are best for your work—and may spare you a few rejections in the process.
1. When do the hero and heroine meet?
In a romance novel, I like to see the hero and heroine meet in the first chapter if at all possible, unless there’s a really good reason to put off their meeting. In women’s fiction, where the focus is more on the heroine, the author may take a few chapters to develop the main female character before introducing a love interest. In romance, the female character still develops and changes—but she does so within the context of the romantic relationship. If your hero doesn’t appear till Chapter 3 or 4, there’s a good chance you’ve got a women’s fiction novel rather than a romance.
2. What point of view are you writing in?
Romance is generally written in third person, alternating between the hero and heroine’s viewpoints. Chick lit is more often written in the first person, which makes sense, since this places the focus more clearly on the heroine. I have accepted romances written in the first person, either exclusively from the heroine’s point of view or alternating between the hero and heroine. However, the vast majority of successful romances are still written in third person. In addition, while some genres of women’s fiction might include a wide variety of characters’ viewpoints, romance usually limits the POV to the hero and heroine. While a romantic suspense might include a few sections from a villain’s POV, unless there’s a compelling reason to use a third POV, it’s usually a safe bet to stick with your hero and heroine’s viewpoints.
3. Is the romance the main source of conflict?
Yes, I want to see a well-rounded heroine who experiences character growth in all aspects of her life. However, if you find that the character’s job, or female friendships, or relationships with parents or children (just as a few examples) are taking up more page space than the romance, you probably have women’s fiction on your hands.
4. Is there a Happily-Ever-After ending?
In a romance novel, readers expect and are gratified to see the hero and heroine come together for good by the novel’s end. In women’s fiction, there’s a broader range of possible conclusions to your story.
I hope you find these tips helpful, and remember, rather you’re writing inside or outside the romance genre, it’s always a good idea to consider the specific expectations of your market throughout the writing process. That way, by the time you finish writing and revising, you’ll have a good idea of where to submit your manuscript.
-Stephanie Parent, Editor, Champagne Line