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Writing a Romance Novel? Read These 5 Books First.

There is no shortage of romance writing craft books available to writers today, but after years of reading through countless, these stand out as my time-tested favorites.

1. How Not To Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman. This book, though written for general fiction writers, is nevertheless one I turn to again and again. Part of that is because it's hilarious, written with the kind of sarcastic slant you'd expect more from a British comedy than a book about writing books. But it also offers so many good lessons for new romance writers on what to avoid when penning their first romance novel. Every pitfall discussed comes with an example to show writers what to look out for, something not all writing craft books do, but which is great for visual learners. 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 I've found.

3. Romance Your Brand by Zoe York. It's not an exaggeration to say I've recommended this book to at least 20 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 writers who write, or are thinking about writing, romance novels with sex scenes. As a romance ghostwriter, I find sex scenes the most difficult to write. It doesn't matter that I've probably written hundreds at this point. Each time my characters' relationship progresses to physical intimacy, it feels like so much is at stake. A misplaced leg or inexpertly timed orgasm could make or break the book. And while that fear is definitely Imposter Syndrome and the lovely low confidence so many of us writers are hit with from time to time, it is true that sex scenes are among the most important scenes in a romance novel with steam. They're integral to the progression of that book's romance story arc, and, when done right, offer readers a new light in which to see the main characters. So, with so much riding on them, it makes sense to turn to the Gabaldon, whose sex scenes in Outlander are tear-jerking masterpieces of sensory description.

5. 2k to 10k by Rachel Aaron. Those who've worked with me will know that I am very much a believer in the phrase "fast is the enemy of good." That's due in part to the many years I spent as a ghostwriter, tied to my desk, trying to bang out 10,000-20,000 words each week when really, my creative brain works far better at the leisurely pace of 2,000-5,000 wpw. But no matter your writing pace, this book is worth a read, because in it Aaron offers tips on approaching scenes, building characters, and learning to love editing, tips I use to this day.

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