Should I Push Romance into my Story?

Whenever I go to a conference, I am privileged to hear about a wide range of stories and ideas. I always want the writer to succeed in marketing work to editors, so often I’ll ask how much romance the story has. Sometimes it has quite a bit. Other times, not so much.

One writer told me that a male character was “intrigued” by a female character, but that was the extent of that thread, and more romance could be added. I appreciated the writer’s candor and willingness to bring the book to a more marketable level. However, after hearing the story’s basic outline, I could see that the romance would most likely feel forced and contrived at worst, and add little to the story at best. I advised the writer to leave the story as is.

Does a lack of romance in a plot mean an automatic rejection from me? Not at all. Many stories are entertaining and enlightening without a trace of romance. Throwing in an unrealistic romance, such as a declaration of love from two characters who have had very little previous interaction will look like a marketing ploy and serve as a distraction or even an annoyance to readers.

Do writers need to consider the market when writing for traditional publishers? Yes.

Should they make their story something it’s not? No.

But what if a writer creates a story that doesn’t fit anywhere? There is no general answer to this one. This is where writer and agent strategize and together, attempt to walk the best path to success.

Your turn:

Have you struggled with making your story marketable? What did you do?

Have you read a book where some elements seem to be an afterthought? Did you keep reading?


23 Responses to Should I Push Romance into my Story?

  1. Brenda Jackson November 17, 2016 at 6:00 am #

    This issue is of relevance to me. I wrote and pitched a historical novel that was NEVER intended to be a romance–my one line pitch didn’t even hint at it. Thankfully, I was asked to submit the manuscript but it was ultimately rejected I think as a disappointment because there was no romance. I don’t blame the house in question because I knew going in they primarily favored books with strong romance story lines.

    But even when submitting a few chapters for critique, those doing the critique ultimately jump to the wrong conclusion about what kind of story it’s going to be–seems most people have a “jump to the romance” mindset. Yes, there is a woman who is significant as the back story impetus for the story’s chain of events w/the male protag and the boy he encounters. But that’s what it is–the behind the scenes story. But my focus is on the lead man and the boy in question.

    So here’s my question: Is it ok that people jump to the wrong conclusion and if not, how can I address it without changing what my story is? I ultimately plan to self-publish, and my novel summary will not be misleading, any more than my pitch-line. But it’s almost like people don’t pay attention to that because they’re programmed for one type of story.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 8:30 am #

      Brenda, that’s a great question. No, it is not okay for readers to jump to the wrong conclusion. They will be disappointed and possibly leave you a trail of one-star reviews.

      For your blurb, I recommend that you focus on characters that would not naturally be romantic leads. Don’t focus on a man and a woman, because that might lead readers to believe that your story is a romance. Perhaps focus on one character and then the nonromantic story.

      Poke around on Amazon and CBD and find novels such as GILEAD that aren’t romantic and see how they handle it.

      I hope this helps!

      • Brenda Jackson November 17, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

        I will check other sources as you mention. Though I still think this has more to do with people having a one track mind and jumping to conclusions than it does any problems on my story’s part. 😎 😎 😎

  2. Diana Harkness November 17, 2016 at 6:10 am #

    Thank you for saying that you won’t reject a novel with no romance. I don’t read frequently read romance novels and anything I wrote would feel awkward if romance was pushed into it.

    • Diana Harkness November 17, 2016 at 6:12 am #

      I should have written that I don’t frequently read romance novels. In fact, I avoid them whenever possible. And the mistakes I make in writing a few morning sentences are the reason why I continually edit and re-edit my manuscripts!

      • Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 8:31 am #

        LOL — No worries! There is a slice of the reading public that avoids romantic novels, and they should be served by us, too. Thanks for posting, Diana.

  3. Yvonne Weers November 17, 2016 at 7:36 am #

    What a great subject. I just had this conversation with a multi-published, best-selling Christian author who is known for her historical fiction with romantic elements.

    I had asked her advice, as an editor has asked me to revise my manuscript from women’s fiction with romantic elements to straight romance. This author told me her agent had asked her to do the same.

    My question to you is, where do we draw the line, as Christian writers, in adding elements versus writing for a whole new genre? The romance genre has very defined rules. I understand it’s all about marketing, but I’m feeling like I’ve been asked to sell out my Christian message to accommodate the market. Quite frankly, I’m not sure I’m okay with it.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 8:37 am #

      Yvonne, if you are saying there is no way you can keep the Christian message if the book becomes more of a romance novel, then I don’t see how you have any other choice than to stick to your principles and story as is. You can always self-publish it, but that move may or may not be in your best interest at this point in your career. Please discuss this with your agent.

      Ideally, could you take a look at the story and see if there is a way to keep your Christian message and bring romantic elements into the story? Since you are obviously in touch with successful authors, perhaps they might be willing to brainstorm with you.

  4. Amanda Cleary Eastep November 17, 2016 at 8:12 am #

    I’m writing YA fantasy, which I also love to read…except when it’s full of teen romance. Madeleine L’Engle and even Rowling did a good job of friendships developing into romantic interests, and I have gone that route with my first manuscript. The second I’m working on currently just doesn’t seem to call for it, although if I continue that story as a series, I could see a romance naturally developing for the oldest protagonist. Thanks for your insight!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 8:39 am #

      Amanda, this sounds like a great romantic arc, and realistic for your characters. Readers should be rooting for the potential romance of this couple, staying with you through the tension you’ve built. Based on what you’ve said here, nice work!

    • Yvonne Weers November 17, 2016 at 9:23 am #

      Oh, yes. This manuscript has been totally rewritten as a straight romance–that part is water under the bridge. But now she’s asking me to homogenize the Christian message. One of my themes is waiting on God. The characters pray, then wait for God’s response. The editor said, after two editing passes I might add, that she likes her characters to be in charge of their goals and decisions. I feel that I’m being asked to compromise an important element that I feel strongly about.

      I don’t have an agent, since I didn’t need one for this particular publisher. I’ve been advised to only seek an agent after they offer a contract, but I’ve been sitting on this manuscript trying to decide what to do. This particular manuscript finaled in a contest, so that’s why I’m in direct contact with the editor. They distribute through ABA, not CBA, so now I’m wondering if I even belong with that house.

      The question for me is, do I want to l whitewash the message and be known as a romance writer, or a writer of Christian fiction. All my books have very strong romantic elements, but they are more plot-driven stories.

      • Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 9:31 am #

        Yvonne, I clicked the link and found your site. Based on what I saw there, I’d start querying agents if I were you. I think you would benefit from guidance concerning your career as a whole, and any agent would need a lot more details from you, details that you wouldn’t want to share on a public blog.

  5. Michael Emmanuel November 17, 2016 at 9:23 am #

    My first manuscript is a thriller with a thread of romance. While discussing with a friend, he remarked that “a romance between two lead characters who hadn’t spent more than three weeks together (the duration of the novel) isn’t completely realistic.”
    His comment was in response to a thriller we both read, but it kicked me into thinking.
    Was the romance in my manuscript practical? Both characters met for twenty-three days, though the female had known the male’s siblings for two years.
    Does that work?
    Another book that comes to mind didn’t have a duration of one week, yet the romance was totally believable. Are there things like soft romance? Does it depend on the writer’s skill? Or should budding writers like me completely avoid romance until we can handle it with expertise?

    • Yvonne Weers November 17, 2016 at 10:10 am #

      Thank you for your advice.

  6. Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    Michael, it’s hard for me to comment without reviewing your work, but based on what you say here, I think a romance of three weeks can work. You would of course want to leave the ending as giving your readers a strong sense that this couple has a future, which is totally different from, “Let’s run off to Las Vegas and get married today!”

    But since your reader said it didn’t work, you’d still want to revisit the issue.

    As for writing romance, you have to ask yourself, “Do I, as a writer, want to write romance in my books? Or do I want to write straight thriller with little or no romance?” I recommend deciding now, rather than changing direction in the middle of your career.

    These are just my thoughts, again, based on the brief information you are able to provide in your comments here. I hope this gives you some direction.

    • Michael Emmanuel November 18, 2016 at 9:11 am #

      Thank you very much ma.
      I’d review your suggestions as I develop the next plot.

  7. Laura Bennet November 17, 2016 at 10:07 am #

    Thank you for your post. I’ve asked myself this question in a couple of my books. In one situation, I was given opposing advice on a manuscript by a few agents/authors/publishers. I attempted to change it each time until I felt like it lost its original intent. I ended up rewriting more in line with my gut feeling of what worked. With another book I was able to add a couple of romantic scenes that created a better foundation for the marriage of the couple in the end. Lately, I’ve been asked by a publisher to add a pretty significant amount of words to make their minimum word count. I’m considering this and looking for ways to do it that will add and not detract from the book. Sometimes marketable doesn’t fit the integrity of the book. I appreciate that you advised someone to follow what worked best rather than simply to “market” it.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

      Laura, you are so welcome! I wish you the best as you lengthen your novel!

  8. Carol Ashby November 17, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

    I’ve been reading and reviewing lots of Roman era novels (ABA and CBA) at my history site. I only write about the ones I can give a positive recommendation for a PG-13 audience.

    There was one about the final war with Carthage by a well-known ABA historical author that I didn’t include because it was too graphic in its battle descriptions. The political intrigues and military maneuvers that were the point of the novel were handled well enough I kept reading.

    However, inserted early in the story was a romantic attraction between the main character and a woman betrothed to his archrival. The motivation for what happened was lacking, and the two of them never had a significant interacted again in the story.

    I would almost bet the publisher told him to add some romance to increase its appeal to women (there was no explicit sex), but it was totally out of character and broke the flow of the real plot. It was too brief and emotionally unrealistic to appeal to a female reader who enjoyed military fiction, and it would have bored a male reader to tears.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 1:51 pm #

      Carol, that’s a good point, and a mistake that is made all too often.

  9. Sheri Dean Parmelee November 17, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

    Tamela, yes, I have had challenges with making my story “sing,” but I have been reading some books on writing creative works and feel that they have made a great difference as I work on showing versus telling.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 17, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

      Glad to hear that, Sheri. It’s always a good idea to keep learning throughout your career.

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