While organizing my writing office, I ran across lovely rejections from Harlequin editors from way back in 2005. No matter how bad my manuscripts were (and they were bad), the editors were very kind and constructive in their notes. I'm happy to say I've gotten four Harlequin contracts in the past few years, and it's entirely because I have listened, studied, improved, gotten help, and never given up.
I once heard Catherine Mann and Joanne Rock speak at a writing conference, and they said they had approached writing novels as if it were a college course and they were studying it. That was great advice, and I am currently a student of the genre, devouring books on the craft of writing and trying to get better every day. I owe it to my readers! It's also fabulous homework to read several romance novels a week as "research." Best homework ever.
If you are an aspiring writer or just happen to love analyzing what makes a book great, here are some books on writing I highly recommend:
Wired for Story by Lisa Cron
This book is amazing and I keep re-reading it. It reminds us why human beings crave stories, and suggests ways to keep your reader so engaged she can't put down the book. My favorite chapter (and the one I need to listen to most) is "What can go wrong, must go wrong--and then some." Lisa Cron understands brain science and what makes a great story. She has helped me immensely!
Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan
I reach for it constantly. I adore the sections such as "50 Romance Plots" and "25 ways to show a character is a jerk." She gives so many concrete ideas I can actually use! Especially helpful are the lists of character names like "200 Names for contemporary heroines" and "100 Very common last names in the U.S. today." Helps me every time I get stuck!
Got High Concept by Lori Wilde
My editor (whom I love) is always telling me to "raise the stakes" and "deepen the conflict." I'm thankful that talented writers like Lori Wilde are willing to share their advice! This is a must-read. It made me think harder about how to cause problems for my characters and reward them in the end. Great advice on creating high stakes plots with lists of ideas and tropes.
Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes
I saw this one recommended by a romance writer friend on Facebook. I just got it in the mail today and have already read the entire thing. It's fun to read, but also very informative. Hayes includes a "Beat Sheet" where she gives a point by point outline for category or novella romance. I'm going to use it in all my future writing, beginning TONIGHT with the manuscript I'm struggling to get off the ground. Now I know why. Thanks, Gwen!
Writing the Great American Romance by Catherine Lanigan
Written with Catherine's heart, warmth, and wit, this guide to writing a story readers won't forget is just wonderful. I've read it twice and highly recommend it. Great discussion of the sub-genres of romance, and intuitive information about the audience for romance novels.
P.S. Catherine is also a Heartwarming author and has an impressive backlist and career! In addition to her personal success, she is gracious and kind to everyone--especially newcomers like me who still have a lot to learn!
I know there are many more wonderful books out there on the craft of writing fiction. I would love to hear your recommendations! The thing I love most about being in the community of romance writers is the willingness of authors to share their knowledge and experience. No one is climbing over other authors on her way to the top. The respect for the genre and for each other is truly Heartwarming.