Write Better. Right Now.
Blog post Ten Steps To Your Best Romance Novel

Ten Steps To Your Best Romance Novel

If only following these ten steps guaranteed publication. If only it were that easy. I started writing fifteen years ago. I had completed and submitted ten manuscripts over seven years to many publishing houses before I ever sold a novel. As a New York Times Bestseller, I can tell all aspiring writers that although there is no magic formula, there are some things that are necessary for you to learn in order to get published and to succeed:

Learn the basics 

Sounds simple, right? Think you know basic grammar? Think again. Make sure you understand passive versus active voice. Learn how to engage a reader with your writing. Don’t try to emulate your favorite author. You can learn grammar. You can’t be taught voice. Just be you!

Know the market

Research the publisher you want to write for? Which editor? What are their tastes? Likes? Dislikes? Be sure to do your research so you aren’t shooting yourself in the foot before you start. You want to look knowledgeable from the get-go (In other words, don’t submit a historical romance to a contemporary romance publisher.) Read the publisher/imprint/editor’s authors and their books to see what they are currently publishing. Learn what you can ahead of submitting.

Watch for the Sagging Middle

In other words, make sure you have enough “plot” to sustain the story. You don’t want to hook the reader in the beginning only to lose them before they find out how it ends. One way to help in this area is to make sure you have your characters goals, motivations, and conflict (external and internal) laid out ahead of time. Even those who write by the seat of their pants as opposed to plotting (like me!) should have these basics nailed down first!

Revise and polish

Make sure you are turning in the cleanest possible draft. You don’t want to look careless or turn off an editor from page one. Join Romance Writers of America www.rwanational.org – and then join a local chapter this step changed the course of my career and thanks to RWA I learned much of what I am imparting here.

Learn proper manuscript format 

The Gather.com First Chapters contest** states: The manuscript must be delivered in complete form, drafted in 12 pt. Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins throughout, paginated and double-spaced, and must include numbered chapter breaks. You must also attach the first two (2) chapters, sequentially, in a separate document. As for me, I use Courier New, 12 Point, aprx. 250 words/page which is about 25 lines per page. HOWEVER publishing houses are going about word count differently these days so always do your research when you are submitting your manuscript. Find the information online or call and ask.

Submit properly

If you are submitting to a contest, read the rules again and again and make sure you are following them to the letter. When submitting directly to a publishing house, it is important to know that not all publishing houses (in fact, few publishing houses today) accept full manuscripts without a QUERY letter first (a letter asking a specific editor if they are interested in your novel “and a letter that gives reasons why they should be inclined to request the manuscript)” so make sure you know the publishing house’s policy do they take online query letters or by mail only? Do they take the first three chapters with the query letter or must they request it first? Do you need an agent to submit or can you submit on your own? Not sure? Again, look online or call the publishing house and ask. Once you’ve submitted your manuscript, what comes next? Do you lounge around and wait for “The Call”? No, you get back to work on your next project!

Learn patience and perseverance 

While waiting to hear the fate of your current manuscript, write your next novel so that if novel 1 is rejected, novel 2 is ready to be submitted; or if novel 1 is purchased, you have novel 2 ready to be reviewed for possible publication. This prevents you from having a huge gap between novel 1 and 2; and it also keeps the submission cycle going. Trust me, I learned a lot in my seven years and ten completed manuscripts. Learn to be patient.

Be willing to revise

Whether or not a publishing house rejects or is willing to buy, there is a high probability they will also ask you to revise at some point in your career. Swallow your pride and do it. An editor loves to work with an author who is willing to learn and grow. As tied as you are to your work and your characters, have an open mind. Revisions can lead to publication.

Develop a thick skin

Rejection is a part of the business but so is resubmission and learning how to take criticism. The earlier you learn this, the easier the process becomes.

Get your name out there and keep it there

Submitting your work frequently means that editors will get to know your name. They will learn your talent. They will realize you are a pleasure to work with and hopefully they will guide and work with you until they can purchase your first book!

**CAVEAT As with all contests, I am highly recommending that the entrant READ AND UNDERSTAND the rules of the contest, the rights they are giving or signing away by entering. I am not suggesting you enter based on my say so but with any choice, you make an EDUCATED decision that is right for you by reading the rules and regulations.


Carly Phillips
Carly Phillips started her writing career with the Harlequin Temptation line in 1999 with Brazen and she's never strayed far from home! Carly has since published more than 21 books and hit the New York Times, Publishers Weekly and USA Today bestseller lists. Her famous "Reading with Ripa" pick, THE BACHELOR was the first romance ever chosen for a nationally televised book club. Carly currently publishes with Harlequin (HQN) and Warner Books in both hardcover and paperback. Carly lives in Purchase, New York with her husband, two young daughters and frisky Wheaton Terrier. Her favorite pastime is reading and she's an avid ABC Soap Opera and Alias fan. Carly loves to hear from readers so feel free to drop her a line, email or snail mail at: P.O. Box 483, Purchase, NY 10577.

Latest Blog Posts

Write better. Right now.