Updated 01 February 2024
There is no shortage of romance writing craft books available to writers today, but these are the time-tested, desert-island favorites I recommend to writers every year.
1. How Not To Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
This book, though written for general fiction writers, is nevertheless an important one for romance writers. It also offers so many good lessons for new writers on what to avoid to write a good romance novel. Every pitfall discussed comes with an example to show writers what to look out for. The essential chapters for romance writers include Chapter Five, on getting to know your protagonist, Chapter Twelve, on interior monologue, and Chapter Ten, on dialogue.
2. Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes
No list of romance writing craft books would be complete without this total classic. I'll go so far as to say that everyone even flirting with the idea of writing a romance novel should read this; it does a better job of communicating genre conventions, reader expectations, and story structure than any other book, podcast, article, or class out there. The caveat, however, is that this book was written back when the concept of a low-angst romance novel hadn't yet entered the zeitgeist, so if you're writing low-angst (i.e., low conflict) romance, your plot thrusts won't be as dramatic, and you might not include a third-act breakup.
3. Romance Your Brand by Zoe York
It's not an exaggeration to say I've recommended this book to at least 20 romance book coaching clients. York succinctly explains the reasons why romance novels must be planned in advance, and why those romance novels should be part of series. And planning here doesn't mean plotting—or at least, not plotting in the way most of us think of it. It means building a series from the ground up, starting with concepts and moving on to blurbs and titles and world-building and characters, with the goal that by the time your fingers hit the keyboard for that first line, you know exactly where your series is going to go and how you're going to market it.
4. I Give You My Body by Diana Gabaldon
This recommendation is for romance authors who write, or are thinking about writing, romance novels with sex scenes. If you're writing closed-door romance, you can skip to the next recommendation. But if you do write romance with any amount of steam, this book teaches you how to write truly great sex scenes. Sex scenes that, like the ones in Outlander, are masterpieces of sensory description.