This topic came up over lunch a few weeks ago, and I begged Ramona Richards * to write it up for a guest post to run during my vacation. This is just what you need to know!
Separating the Women from the … Other Women
I recently had an author I admire a great deal try her hand at a romance. I was all for it; she has a great voice and has been nominated for a number of awards for her women’s fiction.
The manuscript she turned in made me laugh, and it was a lovely story. It was not, however, a romance. Nor was it entirely women’s fiction. The macro editor made a number of suggestions to bring it in line with a true romance, but neither the author nor I were thrilled with what it would take. So after a long conversation, we decided the author should shift the book to women’s fiction. That’s more her brand, and it’s a genre she’s comfortable with.
This edit took place on a level few authors ever have to deal with, but it reminded me of how often I hear questions from new writers about the differences between women’s fiction with romantic elements and a romance.
There are variations on each, but the basics are simple.
A ROMANCE focuses on the love story. It features a likeable hero and heroine and dual points of view that must have equal weight. Both characters must grow (with defined character arcs), changing as they fall in love. The conflict is relationship based. The obstacles must be real and not something they could clear up with an honest conversation over dinner.
WOMEN’S FICTION focuses on the heroine’s journey, usually through a period of trial or significant life-change. Ideally it features only her point of view, and she is the one who has the prominent character arc. While there can be a romantic element, that’s not the primary point of the novel. The conflict is based on obstacles that prevent her from reaching her emotional/spiritual goal.
Authors sometimes protest that conforming to genre conventions restrict the author’s voice. And how such conventions shift frequently. And how every publisher seems to be different.
But remember that genre conventions aren’t just publisher requirements; they describe reader expectations as well. A consumer who picks up a book described as a mystery expects such a novel to follow expected conventions of the mystery genre. If it doesn’t, they will let you know.
Readers who love women’s fiction know what it is about that genre they adore. Same thing with romance. If your novel doesn’t fit within either of these basic formats, then it may be another genre altogether. The best path is to learn the conventions of all genres, including mainstream, and see which comes the closest to fitting your story.
* Fiction acquisitions editor for Abingdon Press, Ramona Richards has edited more than four hundred publications and worked with such publishers as Thomas Nelson, Barbour, Howard, Harlequin, Ideals, and others. She’s the author of nine books, including the recent Memory of Murder from Love Inspired. An avid live music fan, Ramona loves living in the ongoing street party that is Nashville.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”