Thursday, July 26, 2012

Roni Loren and Agent Sara Megibow: A Chat About the Romance Genre

Roni Loren
By Roni Loren, @RoniLoren and Sara Megibow, @SaraMegibow

Part of the How They Do It Series   

JH:A fun treat today. Fellow NLA sister Roni Loren and NLA agent Sara Megibow are here today to interview each other about the romance genre. This is extra fun, because while this posts here, all three of us are at the RWA conference in Anaheim, CA with several thousand other romance writers. It's like time travel. Kinda.
Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. Though she’ll forever be a New Orleans girl at heart, she now lives in Dallas with her husband and son. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars' concerts. She is the National Bestselling Author of The Loving on the Edge series from Berkley Heat.
Sara Megibow

Sara has been with the Nelson Literary Agency since early 2006. Her first responsibilities included reading the query letters, sample pages and full manuscripts that were submitted for representation. In early 2009, she was promoted to Associate Literary Agent and is now actively accepting submissions of her own. From sexy romance to epic fantasy, Sara has loved reading since picking up her first copy of The Hobbit. Sara has a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a B.A. in American History from Northwestern University. She lives in sunny Boulder with her beat-boxing husband, adorable son and two fuzzy cats.

Take it away Roni and Sara...

So coming up with a writing topic for a post for the lovely Janice Hardy is quite a challenge these days. She has so many fabulous posts and guests that it’s hard to find something she hasn’t covered. : )

So I thought today, I’d wrangle my fabulous agent, Sara Megibow, to help me talk a little bit about the romance genre (and erotic romance since that’s my specialty and it’s the hot “trend” right now).

SARA: What's the difference, for you, between being a writer and being a professional author?

RONI: I think the biggest transition for me has been trying to manage my time. When you’re aspiring to be published, you can write on your own schedule. You can take your time, wait for inspiration, walk away for a while if you get stuck. But once you’re a contracted author, there are deadlines--deadlines that are inevitably way shorter than your comfort zone. So there is no “letting things stew.” You have to get up every day, sit at your desk, and write--even when the inspiration isn’t there, even if you have a thousand other things to do, even when you don’t want to.

Also, I think another shift is that you have to become aware that you are being watched now. Once you’re published, you’re in the public eye. So you have to constantly be aware of how you present yourself (online or in person). This mean learning how to keep things to yourself sometimes.

SARA: Who gave you good advice before that first book deal and what was it?

RONI: My mother actually. When I first started writing erotic romance, I had that fear of--what are other people going to think if this ever gets published? I’ve been the quiet, straight-A, nice Catholic girl all my life. Writing about BDSM and ménage and using all the naughty words is going to come completely out of left field for most of the people in my life. So even though I wasn’t embarrassed by what I wrote, I was apprehensive about how others would react. When I shared my fears with my mom, she pretty much told me: “The people who love you will be proud of you for writing a book and accomplishing your dream of getting published. The people who judge you for it don’t need to be in your life anyway.”

And you know what? She was right. And she’s walked the walk too. She’s my biggest supporter. Every time I have a new release, she’s handing out copies to her friends and telling everyone about it.

So don’t apologize for what your write. Ever.

SARA: What is the most common compliment you get on your books from fans? In thinking about that compliment--how do accomplish that element in your writing?

RONI: What I hear most is that my characters seem so real and that my stories are full of emotion. And I think I accomplish that by being a character-driven writer (vs. plot-driven). I want characters with really layered backstories, conflicts, and emotions. The reader may never see half of what I know about a character’s background but I know it and that influences how I write the story. I also come from a psychology/social work background so figuring out what makes people tick is kind of my obsession. :)

And now over to Sara's questions…

RONI: What is the most common mistake or trope you see in romance submissions?

SARA: I LURVE romance novels! Right now I am actively looking for more clients who write romance, so I read submissions hungrily. To be honest, I see a TON of good books--really, really good--especially from RWA members (and no, I'm not sucking up just to get invited to next week's all-you-can-eat-chocolate buffet at RWA Nationals).

Let's say we get 200 queries a day (that's average)--10 to 20 of these queries will be for romance novels. Of these, roughly 50% will be for historicals, 40% will be for contemporaries (both sexy and sweet) and 10% will be for paranormal or fantasy. This does not include young adult romance of which there are also a whole slew every day.

All these queries cycle down to 1-2 requests for a full manuscript per month. I can honestly say that the full manuscripts we read share one quality: really strong writing. This is the backwards way of answering your question--the number one and most frequent mistake I see in submissions is writing that isn't quite strong enough. It may be good, even very good, but it has to be heads above everything else for me to ask for a full.

Here are some specific examples of not-quite-strong-enough-writing:
  • Too much backstory in the first 30 pages
  • Shallow characters (I am especially turned off by a romance hero who sees his heroine in a bar and instantly gets a hard-on, then talks about that for the next couple of chapters)
  • Generic plot or not a big enough hook (in romance, we "know" the hero and heroine will end up together, so "will they overcome their past and choose each other" isn't a big enough hook for me)
  • Too much dialogue (both internal and external)
  • Awkward world-building. This is super true in fantasy, science fiction and paranormal and it happens when the narrator attempts to explain the rules and details of their world in a wordy or unclear way
RONI: With the whole 50 Shades thing, erotic romance is super hot (though we both know it's been popular in the romance community for a LONG time before this.) There are a lot of publishing options writers can pursue with this genre, but if someone wants to get in with a traditional publisher, what do you think is most important for this genre? What are editors most looking for?

SARA: Ooooo, this is a tough one. If I say "more M/M" then there will be someone out there with a terrific M/M that didn't sell, and if I say "strong story" then there will be some book with a weak story that sells for a billion dollars. So, at the risk of saying something that will be proven wrong a thousand times, here's my experience so far:

I've sold three debut romance authors to traditional publishers (that's three for three by the way): Roni Loren's LOVING ON THE EDGE series to Penguin, Tiffany Reisz's THE ORIGINAL SINNERS series to Harlequin, and Ashlyn Macnamara's upcoming historical romance A MOST SCANDALOUS PROPOSAL (and Book #2) to Random House. So, my opinion is based on these experiences:
  • Editors are looking for and will continue to look for solid writing
  • We've got some smokin' hot contemporary erotic romance out there right now--so I predict we'll see a need for erotic historical (how crazy would that be?) and erotic fantasy
  • Male characters other than the uber Dom hero (in fact, I *do* think this opens the door for more M/M stories)
  • Whips and chains, sure, but also creative, scintillating and fun sexuality
  • And most importantly, editors are not just looking for books packed with sex scenes involving all the sexual positions under the sun--it's not necessarily about quantity of sex scene, but rather quality and breath-less-ness and sexual tension.
RONI: Do people ever give you a hard time about representing "those" kind of books? And if so, what do you tell them?

SARA: Oh I LOVE it when people challenge me about my love for romance novels (I win every time). First of all, I have a women's studies and feminism degree from Northwestern University, so I politely explain that the romance genre is pro-woman and written for intelligent readers. Second, I point to the bank and smile. Romance sales represent more than half of fiction sales both in print and ebook. So, as a business decision, representing romance is savvy and profitable.

The short answer is, yes--people do give me a hard time. For the record, when I interact with someone in publishing--editors, agents, authors, film people--they all say "Yippeee, ya HOO" to romance. So, the acrimonious attitude isn't from in-house. It's always people outside the industry. Typically these ya-whos don't even read romance novels, so they don't know what they're missing (or what they're talking about). Sorry, do I sound snotty? (grin)

The romance genre is one of my all-time favorites genres of book to read, to sell and to represent. I'm proud of what I do and incredibly proud of the people with whom I work. So, I defend "those" kind of books vehemently. I'm a 5'2" pitbull when it comes to defending my books.

Back to Roni...

All right, so that’s a little of what we have to stay about romance. What are your thoughts? And if you have any additional questions, feel free to throw them out there. When you’re reading this, Sara and I will be at RWA, but I’ll be sure to stop back by when I get home.

About Melt Into You
(Loving On the Edge, Book 2)

Her first love has returned, and he's brought a friend...

After running away from home and the boy who broke her heart, Evan Kennedy has kick-started the perfect new life with her celebrity fiancé. So what if said fiancé prefers guys? She knew the deal. And with her ticket to The Ranch, an exclusive resort where any fantasy can be satisfied, she knows she can find someone to fulfill her less-than-traditional desires on the side.

She just never expected that man to be Jace Austin, her old heart-breaker—all grown up, hard-bodied, and holding out a collar. She knows it’s probably a world-class bad idea—especially since Jace has brought along his buddy Andre, who’s every bit as irresistible. But if they can stick to the no-strings rules, so can she.

Too bad Jace has never been so good with rules. Evan is convinced “forever” is a word used only in greeting cards, but Jace and Andre have one last fantasy of hers left to fulfill. It’s time to go big or go home. And neither man has ever been a fan of going home.



  1. Awesome interview Sara and Roni. I don't write romance novels but it was interesting to read about. And Roni, I think I'll try to enjoy the lack of pressure for awhile as an aspiring author. You're right that there is pressure to write on a deadline once you get published. Still, it would be exciting to be in that place of having deadlines and books being published. Good luck with your book.

  2. Fabulous interview!! And just what I needed to hear!! Hope is alive for romance and I so can't wait to get mine ready to submit!!

  3. They have all you can eat chocolate buffets at the RWA conventions??

    That's it, I'm ditching Kid-lit and taking up romance!

    Great interviews. Yes, Sara, the romance genre has a bad name in some circles. But it is a fun read!

  4. Interesting interview! And Sara definitely has a point about romance novels. More and more people are reading them, and it's finally being recognized as a legitimate genre. Not to mention most people enjoy reading romance. A story is always more interesting to me if it has romance in it.

  5. Great interview! Love it. Yep, I love romance too. :)

  6. I don't traditionally read romance - not the Harlequin/Mills & Boon ones, anyway - and I don't know if Roni would normally class her story as such, but the blurb makes for interesting reading alone!

    I say I don't write romance, but the romantic between my protagonists is, in fact, the backbone to my story. So maybe I do ...

    That's good to know about the romance demographic. There's no doubting there's a desire in most women to experience it - and, somewhat sadly, it often has to be through books!

  7. Thank you ladies, Roni I loved what you said about what others are going to think. be proud of yourself and your writing. The people who loved you will still love and who cares about the one's who don't. And Sara thank you for defending the genre. I think there are an awful lot of closet erotic romance readers out there, lol. And yes I love a story with strong women. That's what I write and I will keep doing it.. Great interview..