SHOULD ROMANCE NOVELS HAVE RULES?
I started re-editing my very first book yesterday, and all the questions and doubts I’ve had about “rules” for romance came crashing back at me. I wrote The Sometime Bride when I knew nothing about rules. When I thought I was the only romance author on the Florida Gulf Coast. Beyond page numbering and double spacing, which I’d learned from typing manuscripts for my mother, a children’s book author, I knew nothing.
And yet, The Sometime Bride is the best book I ever wrote. Where did I learn, besides hearing about writing at my mother’s knee? I learned by reading, which is still the best writer’s primer around. And I learned from the disastrous novels I’d tried to write while my children were young. I simply couldn’t do it. (And I have great admiration for those who manage it!) They were so bad that even my loving mother suggested I might not be cut out to be an author. (And what a glorious moment a number of years later when she said, “You’re better than I ever was.”
And the book that followed, Tarleton’s Wife (with its own set of broken rules), is the second best book I ever wrote. After that . . . after that I began learning the “rules.” Not just by joining RWA, but by the harder lesson of Ballantine telling me they’d be interested in The Sometime Bride if the heroine age wasn’t fourteen. I refused (putting paid to a possibly glorious career), and I refused the same request from an e-publisher more than a decade later. I simply couldn’t do it. My heroine was who she was, a girl of fourteen who grows into a woman of twenty-one over the course of the Peninsular War.
Who published The Sometime Bride? In the early days of e-publishing a newly formed company, Starlight Writer Publications, requested Tarleton’s Wife, evidently after one of the editors read it as a contest judge. They also published Bride, not caring that it was 1) too long; 2) too historical; 3) a bit too literate; that 4) the heroine was fourteen; 5) there were too many POVs; 6) a touch of adultery; 7) head-hopping; and, oh yes, 8) continent hopping. Whatever heinous rule you can name, I broke it.
The Sometime Bride is still the best book I ever wrote. (Talk about the Book of my Heart!) But e-publishers have gone soft now. Who can blame them in this economy? No more chances on novels outside the box. No tolerance for anything but “He said, She said.” Just the romance, ma’am. That’s all we want. Told as simply as possible, but beef up the sex.
Yet the most amazing thing happened recently. A little book, set in the twelfth century, whose only recognition was a nomination for an Eppie, the “Oscar” of the e-book industry, suddenly blossomed when I changed its name and uploaded it to Kindle & Smashwords, being careful to list it under Historical as well as Historical Romance. The Captive Heiress has soared to #1 in two Kindle categories. It trails only The Temporary Earl as the most-downloaded of my nine indie-pubbed books. A true historical with many real characters. Heroine age nine at the beginning. No sex. Wow!
Encouraged by the sales of The Captive Heiress, I began re-editing The Sometime Bride for indie pub. Except I’m scarcely changing a word. It’s historical, it’s Regency, but a classic Regency Historical it’s defintely not. I simply shake my head as I read it and think, “Did I actually write that?” I hope to have it ready for upload as soon as I receive the cover art, promised for October. But it will still be the same book I wrote before I learned the rules, the book that works the way I wrote it. And would be ruined by imposing “rules” on it.
Career-wise, I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I’d gone along with Ballantine’s request so many years ago. Who knows, I might be famous. And wealthy. But The Sometime Bride wouldn’t be the book I wrote way back in the early 90s. Did I cut off my nose to spite my face, as the saying goes? Very likely. And yet as I read it now, I know I was right. This is the way it was in Lisbon, London, and Paris from 1807 to 1815. And I thank indie publishing for giving me the opportunity to once again present Bride in its uncut, unadulterated form.
Your comments on your own experiences with—or opinions of—the “rules of romance” are greatly encouraged.
My books can be found on Kindle, Smashwords, Nook, Sony, Palm, and other e-readers. Please look for books by Blair Bancroft.