Timing is everything, right? So when I received an email from author Liz Crowe about writing a guest post for WFW about writing women’s fiction after (and while) she was writing romance novels I thought it was a great topic. Drawing the faint or dark line between romance and WF is something many authors think about. Many books overlap that line as well. I asked Liz to share her unique experience so that YOU (and I) could know what she went through making this transition, how her writing career has evolved. I knew it would be interesting. What I didn’t know was that it would also be fun to read! I love the information Liz shares below and I love her voice.
As someone who’s about to hand in Book #3 to my editor by April 1st, this was a topic near and dear to my heart. While I’ll read a romance or a romantic novel on occasion, I am pretty sure I don’t want to write one. Why then is the main character in my new book tangled up in a quandrangle with three men? (I couldn’t just leave it at triangle, could I? No, I had to go all geometry on myself.) In The Glass Wives and The Good Neighbor, romance was a third-string player. That’s the way it needed to be in those books. But in Book #3 (the working title is Left To Chance) things are different. So, I was curious to see what Liz had to say—and I’m glad she shared her experience and insight!
What are your thoughts on writing women’s fiction and writing romance? How faint is the line in what you write? In what you read? Let us know in the comments! And please welcome Liz Crowe to WFW!
Love. Or Something Like It.
By Liz Crowe
The Rules of Romance Novels are clear. The narrative must revolve 100% around the two characters involved—the Hero and his heroine (the H/h) and it must always (always always always) end happily. The HEA is paramount to a romance reader’s positive experience. Pretty simple, and easy to place anywhere: on earth, in space, back in time, in a werewolf pack, a witches coven, a vampire—something or another. But it must be About The Romance, keep all other elements as secondary, and it must end on a happy note with a little angst thrown in for good measure and satisfied fans.
“Women’s fiction” is a much broader category with a single rule: a woman’s experience is at the heart and soul of the narrative. This woman can fall in and out of love, she can cheat or get cheated on (a Big Time Romance No-No, trust me I know), she can be young or old or in-between and it could also be set just about anywhere or any time. Her relationships with other women tend to loom larger than her relationship with a lover/spouse/partner. “A woman’s journey,” is how some publishers deem this genre. Pure and simple. Heavy on her growth, light on the hot-n-heavy romance. The genre can include, In My Humble Opinion the sub-category of “chick lit,” the Michelob Lite of women’s fiction—enjoyable yet somewhat forgettable.
I have learned this over the course of a few years writing and getting books published. But in the interest of full disclosure, I learned it the hard way. By making some fairly grievous errors and assumptions about how solid the line is between these two genres.
My publishing journey began way back in 2008. These were the dark ages when names like Hugh Howey, J.A. Konrath, Chuck Wendig, and yes, even E.L. James were barely known. Or if they were known it was within a small circle of fans as they worked on the foundations of whatever empire they were constructing.
I will admit to jumping right into the fray and not doing my homework first. When I read advice posts and hear speakers talking today to pre-published authors about “understanding your genre” I wince because I most definitely did not.
Liz (indignantly): “I am a Creative Being and I shall allow The Muse (his name is Hans, he’s hot and he likes beer but I digress) to guide me along the rolling green pastures to the pinnacle of literary success. Poo poo on your homework! This is not a business or school work. This shall be the fruit of my long-suppressed imaginative genius!”
Anyway, you get the idea. The starting-out author ego is a very large and puffy thing, like a delicious marshmallow cloud.
Bottom line here: I did not “get my genre.”
That didn’t stop me from writing, mind you, as you probably have deduced. Oh no. I dove into the really deep end of the pool and didn’t come up until I had the beginnings of a trilogy—a “romance” trilogy. This later went on to become The Stewart Realty series, finish up at 9 books and with more Super Pissed Off Romance Fans than I can shake a stick at—mainly because the final, long novel Good Faith is very much not romance and is not even marketed as such but once again, I digress….
I also wrote and had a stand alone “Romance novel” published that shoved me even further down the road towards turning my fluffy white marshmallow ego cloud into a pit of tear-filled despair. “Paradise Hops,” while one of my favorite Liz novels, garnered me my first, but by no means my last, twitter hater/flame campaign.
I later realized that the tiny publisher who’d enabled me to essentially break every single rule of romance might very well have smothered my nascent writing career in the crib. But this power—this “non understanding” which later morphed into a bit of “up yours”—was a heady thing. Mainly because for a while I had decent sales for a rookie with a nano publisher behind her, to back up my assertion that “I break rules and f*ck you you if you can’t take a joke.”
Mind you, I do not ever plan to change any of these books in any way. They are what made me, what taught me an awful lot of lessons, and what allowed me to move into self publishing. Once I realized that it was not as difficult as all that and since I sold things for a living already, why not?
When I concocted my first self-published series, The Love Brothers, I really thought I would stay the romance course. I’d learned my lesson via haters, flamers, virtual poison darts etc. While I had a core group of loyal fans, I did not garner the sort of wild and rapt fangirls that so many other authors—the ones who’d done their homework—did. My fans skewed much older than your average romance reader. Many if not most of them were moms of adults, working full time or retired already, and while they’d admit to being titillated and “drawn back to reading” by the Empire of E.L. James, they were not inclined to keep toiling in that field, book-wise. They latched on to my Stewart Realty series, and a few stand alones including the Super Heretical “Paradise Hops,” and did not let go. Many of them are now excellent Beta Readers but there’s that digression thing again.
The Love Brothers, I decided, would go the full-on romance route. I’d recover my backsliding ways. I’d capture more readers. But by about halfway through book one, I had to step away from the keyboard and admit that I was once again writing something that simply did not cooperate. By the end of the original trilogy plus a novella about four stubborn-as-mules grown brothers in a mixed Irish/Italian heritage family in horse country Kentucky, I was satisfied with it, if a little worn out by these guys and their myriad f*ck ups. But I was intrigued by someone else—someone who was named time and again by my fans (some new ones now) as their “favorite.” Someone whose presence permeated the narrative in a necessary, loving, bossy, nosy way.
Their mother. “Lindsay Halloran Love.” Or “Mama Love” as she is known in the first books. And I did one other thing that lead me to my first women’s fiction writing experience. At the tag end of this messy tangle of testosterone, there’s a Love sister. Angelique, the girl Lindsay always wanted—except by the time she was born, things were not so great in the Love family and the relationship Lindsay dreams of with her only girl is sour almost from the very beginning.
At last! I had a relationship story! A mother/daughter novel! And I tried something else with it too—While Lindsay’s back story is told in my usual third person point of view, I let Angelique Love tell hers in first person. But I will admit it again: I did not really do my homework on the women’s fiction genre until after I’d written the first draft (nearly 100,000 words over the course of two hot summer months). I let that pesky Hans the Muse lead me through this story and He must have done His homework because what resulted is firmly in the “women’s fiction” genre.
Yes, you get a love story at first. Lindsay’s selfish obsession with one of her father’s employees results in this family—but their road to happiness is paved with unplanned pregnancies, leaky roofs, unpaid bills, arguments, stress, and the usual accoutrement of Actual Marriage. More than once, Lindsay questions her sanity and they do split up once briefly, but she soldiers on and thank heaven for that because those boys, husband included (and the girl, ultimately) come to rely on her as their true rock.
Angelique is a hot mess. She’s Amy Schumer Trainwreck times a thousand. She’s known nothing but being spoiled by her father and brothers, mostly ignored by her mother, and her young adult decisions and actions reflect that. But HER growth, HER journey is the absolute crux of this novel. The relationship between Angelique and Lindsay Love is The Story.
Almost all of my 30+ novels are side character heavy. All of my “h’s” (romance heroines) have friends, families and others they rely on and who play an active part in the narrative. So shifting the focus away from a central love story to the way women rely on their families and friends – and come to discover by trial and lots of error that your Mama may seem cold and distant but maybe you are too, so meet in the middle why don’t you? –was an easy shift for me.
Now, this is not to say that if you are writing your first or your fifth or your fortieth novel you should meander around and through the various genre forests until you find a campsite you’re comfy with. I don’t recommend that at all. I don’t anticipate that I will ever have the sort of E.L. James (or La Nora, Evanovitch or Sparks) Empire. For a lot of reasons, some of which are not pertinent to this post as such, but mainly because I wander around too much. I write what I want to read. In the process I believe concocted a pretty compelling series that cross-over readers like myself will enjoy. I have proof that old and new fans have both enjoyed and hated this series—a quick gander at the reviews for it will reflect that! However, the final novel Family Love, while it does not have the most reviews of the series, it has by far the most number of positive ones.
Do your homework. Understand your genre. Write your book the way you want and determine whether or not you are willing to break rules and piss people off A La Liz Crowe or not. But understand that this is a business and whether you pick romance, women’s fiction/chick lit, or even thrillers—Yes, I have one of these too and it’s nearing an epic number of rejections but I did my homework on it so I’ll keep trying—if you fully comprehend what a reader wants and expects, you will be successful. But it’s a long ride, so buckle up and hang on tight, be ready to accept honest critiques without hiding in the fluffy marshmallow ego cloud and enjoy!
Amazon best-selling author, mom of three grown-ups, Realtor, beer blogger, brewery marketing expert, and soccer fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales and fund raising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse.
Her early forays into the publishing world led to a groundbreaking fiction subgenre, “Romance for Real Life,” which has gained thousands of fans and followers interested less in the “HEA” and more in the “WHA” (“What Happens After?”). More recently she is garnering even more fans across genres with her latest novels, which are more character-driven fiction, while remaining very much “real life.”
With stories set in the not-so-common worlds of breweries, on the soccer pitch, in successful real estate offices and at times in exotic locales like Istanbul, Turkey, her books are unique and told with a fresh voice. The Liz Crowe backlist has something for any reader seeking complex storylines with humor and complete casts of characters that will delight, frustrate and linger in the imagination long after the book is finished.
Don’t ever ask her for anything “like a Budweiser” or risk bodily injury.
Blog (not just books but lots of fun!)
Sign Up for Liz Newz and get two full length novels as part of my Real (Estate) Romance series. These books are not available at any ebook retailers. I just wrote ‘em, got ‘em edited and am giving ‘em away!
Wattpad where you can also read my new ongoing chick lit serial novel, Lady Balls!
Ostensibly Book 4 of The Love Brothers but can be read as stand alone or as lead in to the series.
A wealthy horse farmer’s rebellious daughter meets a sultry stable hand…but the result is far from the average tale of forbidden romance.
The epic saga of one family’s turbulent beginning is entwined with the challenge of a mother’s relationship with her youngest child, the longed for only daughter, Angelique. But a secret Lindsay Halloran Love has kept for years could rip the tight-knit clan apart for good.
When novelist Aiden Love publishes his parents’ story he has no idea the trauma it will cause. This mash up of New Adult Romance and Women’s Fiction will satisfy your craving for the REAL “backstory” with a twist that is guaranteed to leave you, and the entire Love Family, breathless with shock.
Available on Amazon. Free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member.