Grace's Mosaic Moments

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rules for Romance?


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.


  1. Hi Grace - great topic. I am a stand for 'no rules' which is contraindicated with many romance publishers. That's why I keep switching publishers - searching for places to fully express myself without having to conform to some of the rules I've been given: 1) don't focus too much characterization in side characters; 2) don't even think of coming close to rape scene; 3) never let male character have sex with another character after he has sex with heroine; 4) don't go off on subplots since it will bore your readers, 5) make sure they fall in love before they have sex. Those a few - ugh

  2. To be honest. I think rules, at least rules governing romance writing should be broken. I think it adds to the author's voice and writing style. But that's coming from a new author stumbling through the rules and learning each publishing house has their own set.

    Good luck on your endeavors.

  3. Oh Grace, it sounds like a fabulous book. I cannot wait to read it!

  4. This is the fourth time I've tried to comment. I didn't learn about Romance Rules until after I'd had a few books published. Then I attended a conference workshop on POV. When I got home I phoned my editor and told her I'd need more time because I'd broken all the POV rules. She laughed and told me to send it in. (I showed the thoughts of everyone in the room) So I firmly believe that rules should be broken.
    I'm currently retyping a Southern Plantation novel that is most likely politically incorrect. They fell out of fashion a few years ago and I'm wondering if it was publishers who stopped liking them, and not readers. I'm going to take a chance. When I'm finished retyping I will put it up on Amazon as an ebook.
    Virginia Henley

  5. It's a difficult question for an author who writes outside the normal parameter set by the industry. I write romance (in my mind) yet most would consider it women's fiction -- secondary female characters taking prominent roles, a journey of self-discovery and personal growth for the heroine...

    But what do readers think? As you pointed out above, readers are the key. They are responsible for moving your book to #1 (congratulations!) not the editors.

    And when all is said and done, don't we as authors have to write the book of our hearts? Isn't that what being a writer is all about?

    I don't know about the others, but for this one, it is.

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  7. So far, it looks like mostly "rebels" are posting comments. I've also heard similar comments from several who were unable to post for some reason. Not that I want to play devil's advocate, but I'd like to hear from those who played by the rules. Did you find the writing satisfying - or just the money? Or are you one of those who is blessed by not having an odd kick to your gallop?

  8. Oh Grace, you don't need rules. You are so talented you should write "your" rules and others will follow. You have always been a leader in my book... Good luck & God Bless..

  9. First, I really enjoy the rise of non-traditional publishing for all the lovely books that are finally getting noticed! Awesome :)

    Second, I started out a rule breaker, and became a rule-follower - but it turns out that's where I needed to be. I originally wrote Regencies with 'common (non-gentry)' heroes and heroines. When those weren't well received, I switched to Westerns because people had more tolerance for the 'common man.' I'm extremely grateful those early books didn't sell, because I LOVE what I'm writing now.

    Plus, in the last year or two, I'm seeing a change in Regencies. So maybe someday I can try the genre again. But for now, I'm loving my prairie books :) Following the rules worked for me, I guess...

  10. Sherri, I too caved to the rules when I wrote all those traditional Regencies for Signet. After all, they were willing to pay me money for them. And I found I loved doing it, and I'm delighted you've found a genre you love. But when Signet's Regency line closed, I felt the need to return to being "different." I ignored branding in favor of the stimulation of experimenting with other genres. I wrote Romantic Suspense, mysteries, even a Futuristic. And I'm currently enjoying the creation of a steampunk romance. It may not be career-building, but the mental gymnastics involved appeals to me. And keeps me young.

  11. I think we're all lucky to be doing what we love!