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What's An Aspiring Author To Do?

This column is based on questions Margaret gets asked by those who also want to write romance novels. The answers are based on her personal experience. Every author must and should find their own way along this path; however, sometimes it helps to know how it was for an author who's reached the goal of publication.

This column's question:
Okay, I sat down to write, but then I couldn't decide which one of the many ideas I have percolating in my brain I should write about. Help! How do I choose?

Margaret answers:
When I first started to write, or even think about writing a romance, I was naturally drawn to historicals. As a kid, I loved Errol Flynn movies like Robin Hood and The Seahawk, and the first romance I read was THE WOLF AND THE DOVE by Kathleen Woodiwiss. But then, like many a fledgling author, I heard about other types or sub-genres of romance. I read the guidelines from several romance houses (see below for Harlequin/Silhouette guidelines). Some books, particularly short contemporary romances, were much shorter (60,000 words, compared to about 100,000 words for a historical). Wow, that's gotta be easier, right?

In my case, wrong. Very, very wrong. It was like pulling a particularly stubborn tooth to come up with a plot for a contemporary. Mind you, I'd been out of the work force for a couple of years, so maybe that was why. But for whatever reason, I found it very difficult to come up with characters and plots set in the present day.

So I went back to my original story idea, about a scarred and wounded knight who, after a long and difficult journey, arrives home from the Crusades to find things very different at home. This became A WARRIOR'S HEART, the first book I sold.

So my advice to aspiring authors is: think about what you most enjoy to read. Do you like to read short contemporary romances best? Or do you enjoy a longer story with more characters and subplots? That's what should be your guiding light, not what sounds easy, or that you hear might be an easier sell. Writing can be a great career, but believe you me, if you're trying to write something just because you think it'll be easier, or easier to sell, you're making the task that much more difficult.

Wondering about some of the terms Margaret's using? Here's a fast reference:
Publishing Terms

Harlequin Guidelines
There's much more here, too.

Index of Aspiring Author Columns
This material is Margaret's intellectual property. If you would like to print it out for your personal use, feel free. If you belong to a writing group and would like to reproduce it for your fellow writers, please e-mail Margaret at maggiejmoore @ (no spaces). All other use is prohibited.

Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Wilkins. This material may not be copied without permission.