I recently participated in a panel discussion about writing sweet romance. One of the first questions was, “Why did you decide to write sweet romance?”
(For those of you who do not regularly hang out in the world of romance novels, sweet means romances without any sex in the book.)
That got me thinking. Writing sweet was sort of a natural evolution for me. When I wrote my first books, for the Harlequin Superromance line, the stories definitely had a bit more spice to them!
A silly secret….
First off, I’ll share a funny fact with you. My Superromance books had more heat in them simply because of the books I chose to read to become familiar with the Superromance line.
I was published quite by chance. I’d entered the first chapter of my first, barely-finished manuscript into Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest, knowing almost nothing about Harlequin. I picked Superromance as the category for my book when I entered the contest because it seemed like the word count and the description of the line fit my book well. But I didn’t quite know what a Superromance was.
That might seem kind of negligent on my part, and it probably was. But it never occurred to me that I’d get a publishing contract out of the contest. I entered it to put time pressure on myself so I’d finally finish the first draft of my book! My brain likes deadlines, and to be in this contest you had to commit to having a finished book by a certain date.
So… when an editor contacted me after the contest and wanted to read my entire book, I realized I had no idea what kind of book she was looking for, because I’d never actually read a Superromance!
A surprise submission inspires seven somewhat steamy stories.
I quickly bought a few ‘Supers’ from Amazon, picking randomly from those that were recently published and had several positive reviews. And those books happened to have a fair amount of spicy scenes in them. I thought Oh no, I’d better add some more of that to my book! So I did, and sent it off to the editor and eventually, after many revisions, she offered me a contract. (And became my mentor, and taught me so very much!)
Well after that, I continued to assume that some sexy scenes were just a necessary part of writing for Superromance. And it was kind of fun to write them at first. But I didn’t feel like I was very good at them and after a few books, I felt like my ability to convey passion in an interesting way was getting stale.
Then I met a few Superromance authors who didn’t write any detailed love scenes. I was pretty surprised! It turned out that a particular heat level wasn’t required for Superromance. Some of the writers ‘closed the door’ on their love scenes. It was just random chance that I’d chosen some ‘warmer’ books when I was trying to get to know the line.
Still, I kept the heat turned up for all seven of my Superromance books. I was writing a series, and it’s just not a good idea to change heat levels in the middle of a series. You’ve promised your readers a certain type of story, and that consistency is important.
I loved writing those books, (my Sierra Legacy series) but with each book I became less enthusiastic about writing detailed love scenes. I’d get to the end of my first draft and realize that I’d used my entire allotted word count on my hero and heroine’s emotional connection! I’d end up having to go back and cut words, then add the love scenes in. That was when I realized that maybe I was meant to write something a little different!
I also noticed that reviewers kept using adjectives like sweet, uplifting and heartwarming to describe my stories. I felt really happy and fulfilled to know that my stories were warming people’s hearts! That’s why I want to write; to spread hope, and provide escape, and to transport readers somewhere sweet where love triumphs.
When Harlequin closed the Superromance line, I knew that I was meant to focus on sweet, uplifting romance going forward. I told my agent that I wanted to write for Harlequin’s Heartwarming line and set to work on a proposal. And then a second proposal when the first one wasn’t quite right. (Don’t give up, friends!)
I did hear a fair amount of advice that perhaps going sweet and writing for the Heartwarming line, (which isn’t sold in stores) might not be the best career move. And honestly, those folks were probably right. But I knew inside that writing sweet romance for Heartwarming was exactly what I needed to do for myself and for my development as a writer. So, just like the characters in my stories, I followed my heart. And I’m so very glad I did!