Thursday, November 18, 2010


By Deb Werksman
Editorial Manager
Sourcebooks Casablanca

One of the things that’s so wonderful about the romance category is that it crosses over so beautifully with the sci-fi/fantasy category in paranormal romance and with the mystery/thriller category in romantic suspense.

However, each of these categories is distinct, both at the bookstore level with different buyers, and at the level of reader expectations.

In the romance category, the relationship between the hero and heroine—the love story—is the raison d’etre for the book. It must be central to the plot and the tension between them must be sustained throughout the entire story. Where in the sci-fi/fantasy category the world-building is the raison d’etre of the book, in paranormal romance the world-building must take second place to the love story. Where in mystery/thriller the suspense is the raison d’etre, in romantic suspense, the suspense must take second place to the love story.

The reason I bring it up is because I’m seeing so many manuscripts where the love story is being superseded by something else—and these books are intended for the romance category, so it’s a problem. It’s the main revision I’m asking for these days—and not only from debut authors.

So it’s important to ask yourself, what’s the source of the reader’s emotional experience in my book? Is it the world I’ve created? Is it the mystery/suspense that gets unraveled? Or is it the love story?

If your answer isn’t “the love story” then you need to either reconceive, or aim toward a different category. Today’s marketplace is categorical for a reason—with so many books being published (1.2 million last year!) booksellers need a very clear idea of where to put the book to reach its readership.

Here’s some data:

Top 50 Romance mass market bestsellers and Top 50 Thriller/Suspense mass market bestsellers each sold about the same quantity last week, with Thriller/Suspense ahead by about 2,000 units

Top 50 Sci fi fantasy mass market bestsellers sold through altogether about 14% of what Romance or Thriller/Suspense sold

Top 50 Mystery mass market bestsellers sold through about 25% of what Romance or Thriller/Suspense sold

Here’s what I’m looking for:

*Single title romance 90,000 to 110,000 words in all subgenres: paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, contemporary, erotic romance

*a heroine the reader can relate to

*a hero she can fall in love with

*a world gets created

*a hook I can sell with in 2-3 sentences

*the author has a career arc

I can’t wait to see what you all are writing!


  1. Ah Deb~ You always give us great information no matter where we are in our career. There are some things you just need to hear over and over again. Thanks for the great reminder, now back to my writing.

    Robin :)

  2. Very good information and important to remember!

  3. When I pick up a romance book, that's definitely what I'm looking for. And that's all I read any more! Well, an occasional true story. But happily-ever-afters make me feel good and so give me a romance any day over one that doesn't have one and I'm happy. Thanks for bringing more romance into our world, Deb!!! Readers love you for it! :)

  4. Emotion in Motion! Good to be reminded what is the core of good romance.

  5. It seems that romance stories are still the top sellers...and always will be, I think. There's just something irresistable about true love, and it's why I keep writing. :}

  6. As one of those debut authors who benefitted from Deb's advice to trim back on the worldbuilding to bring the romance into stronger focus, I heartily agree!

    I read across the spectrum, but when I pick up a romance, the relationship has to be front and center--not the spaceship. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. I just judged a contest, so I know exactly what you're talking about. Great reminder.

  8. Virginia Kantra, a romance writer and one of my mentors, says she keeps a sign over her desk that reads: It's the relationship, stupid.

  9. Hi Deb,
    It's always good to hear from you.
    I agree 100% with all you said because I'm a romance kind of girl!
    I also like what Sandra Brown said years ago in a workshop I attended. "Make them laugh, make them cry and make them wait."

  10. Great post, Deb! If my hero/heroine are not in a scene together, I start to get antsy. Maybe it's overkill, but I want them together as much as possible or at least thinking about each other. More often they're doing each other, but...

    As I was saying, great post, Deb!

  11. Deb, wonderful advice as always! Thank you so much for yet another great blog sharing your editorial insights!!

  12. Thanks for your insight and clear direction. I'm learning a lot!