editing · tips · writing

Romance vs. Women’s Fiction


warm kiss

In January, I sent out my brand new query letter to go with my sparkling manuscript. I bought a $20 book on writing queries, read it, and wrote my letter. I was sure I’d done my due diligence. I mean, a $20 book for one letter had to practically make me an expert, right?


That book may have given me insights I was previously lacking, though I’ll be honest I’ve found almost every tip in that book in other places on the web after the fact. It gave me the impression of knowledge instead of the actuality. What I didn’t do, because I was sure I already knew, was verify my genre. That seemed like a dunce step, a complete no-brainer, but I started out to write a romance, so by-gum that’s what it was. I’ve been reading romance novels for over twenty years, surely I should know one when I see one. The answer is, yes I do. I wrote a romance but I didn’t know how to describe a romance in a query letter to make it distinguishable from women’s fiction.


What is the difference? I’ll tell you, because now I know. Romance is just that, a story that revolves around the growing romantic interest of two people. It ALWAYS ends like the fairy tales. And they lived happily ever after…awwwwww. Women’s fiction is focused on growth of the main character (female) and what she must do to accomplish her goal. There are generally romantic notions within, though it is NOT the main arc of the story. Clear as politics?


In my need to describe the story in a paragraph that told “the story”, I thought writing about the growing romance was, well stupid. Of course there is romance, that was the whole point. I told the rest of the story, the intricacies, not that two people come together to be stronger together than they were apart. THAT is why when I sent out my first (now I realize) not-so-stellar query, I got back the reply, “I think you’ve got a really strong women’s fiction. You’ve got some talent writing, but it will need re-writing to be a romance.”


Wow. I wasn’t sure whether to float on cloud 9 or jump off. How is it that I didn’t know my own story? I did. I simply did not summarize it in a way that let a professional know that it wasn’t about twisters or overcoming hang-ups (though, those things are important to the tale and it would be boring without those things). It was, at its soft, squishy heart, a romance that I didn’t do justice to in my four sentence opportunity to do so.


When you know better, you do better. I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking of new ways to summarize my story to get at its true nature. These are potentially the most important four sentences I’ve written to date. Onward and upward.

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