Sunday, February 25, 2007

Romance Versus Love Stories

I have wanted to post something for a long time about this topic, but just haven’t really had the time until now. I represent romance, but what I usually get in terms of queries is love stories. There is a distinct difference in these two types of books, and to be perfectly candid, I really, really don’t like love stories. In fact, I despise them. I am a genre kind of girl, not a mainstream person, and except for work from our clients and a few classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and such, I avoid it. Mainstream is Robert’s area, and he can pick out the gems from the pebbles. To me, they’re all pebbles. This is not meant to be offensive at all to mainstream authors, many whose work I truly admire. It just means that when I go to the bookstore, I walk past the fiction and literary fiction, unless I see a pretty cover, a sale tag, a client’s name, or Robert desperately trying to get my attention, and wander off toward the romance section. That is just the type of reader I am. If you have considered querying our agency on romance or mainstream, you might keep this in mind.

When I get a query on a love story-type book, it’s an instant rejection. Do I forward these queries on to Robert? Not usually, and not because I am mean or somehow offended myself. It is because there is such a difference between the two types of books, in my estimation, that if a writer doesn’t know the difference, then that’s a big red flag for me. They don’t read the same, don’t feel the same, don’t even give me the same sense of the story. To me, and I don’t speak for other agents or editors or anyone on this, love stories are not in any way genre romances, although people, and, sadly, writers, often confuse them because some mainstream writers have been considered romance writers as well. To me it is either red or blue, with no room for purple, so that’s what I represent because that is what I know and like. Other agents and editors and publishers may feel differently.

Romance is very genre-specific, with everything centering around the main love story between two adult beings (I’m leaving room here for the paranormal) and with a happy ending. By happy ending I don’t mean the couple has to get married, but they need to be on the road to some kind of committed togetherness with most of the kinks worked out of the relationship. There are variations on this, because, like with any type of fiction, the genre has grown and changed as readers have grown and changed. Please, if you are going to query me on romance, know that I seek pure genre romance and nothing else.

As for love stories, I will not even attempt to define them because that is just not my area of expertise. I can tell you, however, and Robert the mainstream guy will back me on this, if in your alleged romance your main character is a man and he occupies over half the book, you have, in most cases, a mainstream love story of some kind. This is not always true, but it is a clue to look for when trying to identify what you have written.

If you aren’t sure about the differences and similarities between love stories and romances, do some research and lots of reading. The first rule of getting published is to know what you have written; otherwise, you will waste your time on querying an agent or publishing house that really isn’t looking for your work. There are sometimes fine lines between the different types of books, so let me state again that this is just what I look for, and others may feel differently. There are also professional organizations that offer information that can help you with this as well, so I suggest seeking out those sites to get information.

Hope this helps.--Sharene


Scott Jensen said...

"Hope this helps." I doubt it. You cannot take a sentence or two and give a definition of "Love Story"? Other than if the story is 50% about the guy, it is a love story. Your post is titled "Romance Versus Love Stories" and you define one but not the other and yet complain that people don't know the differnce between the two? You admit that the public and writers are confused about the distinction and, again, don't tell what the other half of the distinction is. How can you be surprised you get writers submitting both to you when you don't tell what you seek and what you don't. This should be right there on your form. "A romance story is..." and "A love story is...". "Submit former and not latter. Thank you." Then if someone submits a love story to you, you have a right to complain, but not before.

Now I don't write romance or love stories, but the above is just common sense.

P.S. When I entered in a URL for "Your Web Page", it said it should end in .com or .net. I did submit one that ended in .com and it wouldn't accept it because it said it wasn't ending in .com. I know it is a real URL since it is mine and numerous people have visited it. Odd. Someone might want to look into this

Anonymous said...

Scott, I disagree. A writer who writes romance should know the difference and if he/she doesn't then it's up to her, the writer, to find out.

I think what Ms. Martin-Brown is saying here is that it's up to the writer to know what he or she is writing. If she doesn't, then maybe she's not ready to publish in that genre. There is loads of informtion about the Romance genre online so look and find the difference on your own. As far as having it on the form, don't you think they have gone far enough? Hand-feeding writers is not something agents should have to do.

Scott Jensen said...


First, let us assume that not everyone that reads her post does know the difference between the two. I don't. Wouldn't it make sense to tell their blog readers the difference so her post makes more sense?

Second, no, I don't think they have done enough. If they're getting people submitting things they shouldn't, complain about people doing so, and complain how it wastes their time, then taking the time to give submitters her definition of what is a love story and what's a romance story is just a no-brainer. From what she wrote, it sounds like it is a common problem that both the public and writers are confused about. I will go also out on a limb and guess that a romance story can have elements of a love story and vice versa thus a defintion of what she thinks are the definitive classifications is called for. Whatever are those elements. I have no clue since she hasn't told us.

Third, this isn't hand-feeding writers something they should not have to be hand fed. This is informing professional writers what her definition of the two are so they know. Again, by her own words, there is confusion. Her taking the year-long endeavor to write two definitions is I know too much to comtemplate, but if they set aside a million dollars and hire the entire Yale English department, I'm sure it is doable.

Anonymous said...

It's no wonder she didn't want to define them. See what the experts say. Even RWA can't define the difference.

ziggy said...

Scott, I think what she's saying is that she doesn't like mainstream. She seems to like pure genre romances, those of the 1980s variety and those kind have pretty much gone out of vogue. Most new romance authors write women's fiction, which is in all actuality mainstream. But that's neither here nor there, she can represent what she wishes to represent. If she says that she wants to represent pure genre romance, then it behooves those who want query her to be sure that's what they have written. It's very simple and I can understand why she didn't try to difine it if the RWA can't seem to to it either.

Red Pen Pal said...

"Geez oh peez"

Actually, and maybe it's because I'm female (? maybe that has nothing to do with it), I felt like she did give a good explanation of the difference between the romance genre and mainstream. And I so disagree that: "Most new romance authors write women's fiction, which is in all actuality mainstream." No, no, no,

well, I will just have to continue my comments later, I am in the middle of writing something (actually 3 web pages!), and need to stop goofing off.

Red Pen Pal

Brandi C. Russell said...

I write love stories . . . not romances! I hate having to submit my story as a "romance" genre. There is a difference. Thank you for this blog.

brandi c. russell said...

Romance is a fling. After reading a romance you look for the next one. It affects one's sensations... and a love story touches your soul. Its ever lasting... you reflect back and read it again to gain new understanding. Writing a romance is easy. Writing a love story is brilliance.

Is is not the reader who s determine where it falls for themselves... aren't all artist judged in this way... its the critics who determine if it is a work of art or a work apart... to each their own.

DanStrohschein said...


Agents aren't here to teach writers, professional or otherwise, about the industry. The fact that the blog exists at all is a measure of niceness, not something that is required. Your comments toward this post are disrespectful at best.

As the others have said, a writer who writes in romance should know the difference between the two genres. Her complaint here is that people are submitting works that don't fit the genre, because they DON'T KNOW THEIR GENRE or they DON'T KNOW THEIR WORK. She's not complaining about the fact that she receives stuff that she doesn't carry. It's that she receives works that are categorized by the author as one thing, but are really another.

This is a common problem among agents. Read more of their blogs, and you'll start to recognize this complaint as something industry wide. My Advice: Don't judge an agent when you haven't been around the business long enough to recognize the issue.

Besides, if you don't think the blog is helpful - don't read it.

Scott Jensen said...


I took the time to ask for clarification of what she was wrote in her blog post. I suggested that if she has a problem with submissions that she clarifies what she is seeking.

What do I get in return from you? Being told that your blog isn't to inform us readers. Being accused of being disrespectful. Being told I should be grateful for whatever you two write in your blog. Being put down that I cannot talk because I haven't been in the industry long enough. Being shouted at. Being told to "love it or leave it".

Is this really how you think bloggers should treat their readers that take the time to leave a comment?

DanStrohschein said...


Don't confuse me with WM - I don't work for them and I'm not one of their clients. I'm just a guy who's watched, read, researched, and listened to many agents, editors and publishers for a long time. You can call me an idiot or whatever you'd like, I just wanted to help you gain an understanding of the situation here.

I don't want to be offensive, I just wanted to put this whole thing into perspective. The blog doesn't exist to gain comments. The agents that run this blog, run it to give whatever advice they have time for, as a measure of kindness. Several times I've heard them wonder if they should bother keeping it up or not. Their job is to represent authors to publishers, not to teach, not to help amatuers like us, and not to blog about the industry.

What I got from your comment was a complaint about this free information. What I'm saying is that complaining about freely given information, any at all, is like slugging a gift horse in the mouth with an anvil. Agents are very busy people - with 150-200 queries coming in a week, on top of their client list, on top of partials and fulls for potential clients, it's a wonder that they take the time to write in this blog at all.

I can see your side of the story - you were hoping for more info. But your post could be read as a critique of their business practice, when you suggested that they define the genres for the authors, and called doing so common sense.

In the case of being grateful for what's in this blog - you should be. You should be grateful for anything any agent, acq. editor, publisher, or industry member writes. All of that information is gold to writers. All it can do is help you. And none of them get paid to write it - they borrow time from their lives to post it for us. I didn't intend to shout or sound as though I were putting you down for not having industry experience. Although I don't see anywhere that I said Love it or Leave it, I wanted to infer that you don't have to listen to just WM - there are lots of agents out there which blog, and if you don't agree with what WM says, you're not stuck to having to take their word for it.

Scott Jensen said...

To WM,

Sorry for mistaking Dan for you. My apologies.

To Dan,

I think you lost perspective here. This is a blog. WM here are bloggers. They are here to communicate. In that post, one of them did a poor job of it. Her closing remark makes it clear that she does want to be understood. I informed her that she wasn't being understood and explained why.

Did I tell her how to do her business? Yes, but in a very limited way. I offered a suggestion on how to correct that specific problem she says she's having. I gave her free advice. Is my advice worth listening to? I thought it was just common sense so I saw no need to roll out my credentials for making it. But if that's what you need before considering my words, I can do so. Go to and click on "The People". You'll see me there. That's who I am. I am a marketer. My job is to communicate and help other communicate. My advice to WM was to help them better communicate their needs as well as via their blog.

And this blog is meant to get comments. If it wasn't, there wouldn't be this comment section here. Comment sections are not required for blogs. Having one means you seek comments. From past WM comments, they enjoy getting comments and see value in them.

This blog also helps them in the industry. Not just with writers but with publishers, writing convention organizers, and other agents. WM would jump for joy if they found out that their blog became essentially required daily reading by the major publishing houses. It also helps them attract writers. Without this blog, they're just another face-less soul-less lit agency. The blog gives their agency a soul. I will give them credit and say they understand this so this blog isn't charity but a way to improve their professional standing and image of their agency. A wise move.

As for your love or leave it statement, read over your last sentence. There it is plain as day. And you did come across as offensive. While your current reply is better, it too has a harsh nature to it. I can only read what you write so I take it that such is what you want to project.

And while I am grateful that they have this blog because I view it as a source of good information on the industry, that doesn't mean I should not or cannot point out where it could be better and where it is lacking. If WM are wise bloggers, they should be thankful that their readers are communicating back to them. They would be fools to only want praise and humble bows. They need some negative feedback to improve. The degree of negativity can be debated but you need to know when you're not getting your point across and should be grateful (yes, grateful) that when it isn't, one of your readers takes the time to let them know that is the case.

DanStrohschein said...

I grant you this much Scott, then I'll leave this matter be. I think I can see where you're coming from. Your take on the blogging is correct when it comes to authors and other businesses. Agents don't need blogs. They don't host them to spread the word about their business or to market it. They don't have to.

Good agencies grow out of other agencies. New agents become agents by starting out as readers, then assistants, until they can become full time agents. This process grants them time to kindle relationships with Editors. They don't use blogs to build that relationship.

This blog doesn't exist to gain comments. It doesn't exist to open communication up between amatuer writers like us and agents. Most agents do not want communication between us and them. Can you imagine, 200 different writers, each week, all vying for one moment of your time, who aren't clients, trying to talk to you?? Can you imagine the letters and emails and phone calls they already get from angry writers who can't take rejection? Agents don't like encouraging communication with anyone other than Clients and editors.

Think about it like this, Scott. Agents don't ever need to troll for people to send them manuscripts. You'll not find a legitimate agency posting advertisements anywhere but Publisher's Marketplace.

The blogs that are hosted by WM, Lori Perkins, Miss Snark, Evil Editor, Jennifer Jackson, etc are hosted to provide information to try to cut down their load of bad queries. They aren't used as marketing tools.

If you want to trade credentials - I'm the senior IT Systems Analyst for Mitsubishi Power Systems, the President of the IT Committee of the Florida Writers Association (a 1200 member group), and I've written well over 500,000 words within the last 3 years. I'm a published author, and I work closely on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, with Agents and Editors within the industry to support their IT needs.

I just want to help you understand the industry and why it's different, why the normal business rules don't always apply. The more you know about this, the better off you are as an author to find success.

Good luck with your books.

Red Pen Pal said...

The Two Little Words That Mean So Much

Scott wrote:

"In that post, one of them did a poor job of it. [...] I informed her that she wasn't being understood and explained why."

It's not that she wasn't being's that she wasn't being understood BY YOU. Yes, those are the two little words that mean so much. I understood her perfectly well. I understood her so well, that, the last time I went to the grocery store, I actually stopped to peruse the "kiosk bookcase" thing-y they have by the customer service desk, which has the 15 top-selling books on its shelves - labeled with NUMBERS. That's right, big labels that read #1, #2 etc.

They had a romance novel on it - you could tell just by the fact that it was paperback, and the way you opened the cover to find artwork of a reclining, sculpted-muscle couple, nude, with a red sheet tastefully covering "the particulars." You could tell also by the blurb on the back cover. I think it was #12.

Then, there was women's fiction, hardcover, and it involved a white woman's discovery that she had a black grandparent upon the birth of a child (something like that). It was not a romance novel. I think it was #7.

There was also another Linda Fairstein detective novel (now, I do read Linda Fairstein occasionally). She was somewhere between #12 and #7.

I am struck by there being a few comments by Ziggy, brandi c. russell and anonymous...related to the romance genre...and then a debate by two men about...?? blogs, or agents' blogs, or credentials necessary to criticize blogs...and it turns out neither of them write anything even vaguely related to romance or mainstream/love yi yi...

I myself don't read romance novels, I don't write them. I do have the problem of determining the genre of my novel, which includes two romantic relationships that, over the arc of the novel, go from first meeting to an awareness of deep connection/strong attraction ...I wrote a "holiday" novel - they had those on the bookshelf-kiosk thing-y at the grocery store and displayed at Barnes & Noble in December...there was something by Nicholas Sparks, and then a "double-header" containing two Christmas love stories; they had some Christmas classics, and holiday books for kids. So I am trying to figure out, what do I need to say in my query letter to get my novel on that kiosk-bookshelf in December? And on into January, since the holiday in my novel takes place in January.

So I find any and all comments by any agents (Miss Snark, other message boards, blogs, etc) about...anything...useful...I even blindly emailed a marketer for some advice recently, and amazingly she emailed back and gave me some (free) advice...again, the two little words...what agents, marketers in publishing biz, editors have to say, thoughtfully or off the cuff, is very useful...TO ME. I can't speak for anybody else!

Red Pen Pal

Judythe Morgan said...

I’m jumping in here very late, but I just found the website in my search for agent representation.

While differences between a love story and purely romance may be subtle, that difference explains why when romance readers buy a book with a romance genre classification on the spine, they are often times disappointed.

Romance craft (and most romance writers know their craft, those that don’t should study more) clearly identifies stages of romantic growth that must be present in a romance book. From the meeting to the first kiss to the Happily Ever After, the couple’s story is about their romantic journey. Anything else is secondary. Fiction readers may not catch the nuances, but diehard romance readers will. And, romance writers who are seeking publication as I am had better have those romance elements in their story along with the character arcs and plot resolutions.

So why is the distinction important? That’s easy, look at the romance market statistics from RWA. Romance sells and that’s what this publishing business is all about—finding a story to fit the market.

Red Pen Pal said...

More weird (too hot for March!) Michigan weather...I wonder if I post on blogs more when the weather is strange, as a way of draining off global warming anxiety?

"Judythe Morgan," you are probably off somewhere in cyberspace, never to return, but I wanted to say I appreciate your having written:

"From the meeting to the first kiss to the Happily Ever After, the couple’s story is about their romantic journey. Anything else is secondary."

Part of me thinks, "aha! that's why I don't read romance novels!" And the other part of me realizes, in my own novel, which has more than one couple in it – there are no "first kisses." Not one! My brain instantly fastens on one scene where it would be very easy to "drop a first kiss in." Viola! Well, still I won't have written a romance novel OR a "mainstream love story." Virginia Woolf said there is a knack to writing newspaper articles, either one has it or one doesn't – I think the same thing applies to romance novels. I googled romance novels and found this great site:

They've got an ad for a book there, which reads: "First he gave her a wicked kiss...Then he gave her wicked nights of pleasure" - title: "The Wicked Pirate." And then there is a "Top 100 Romances Poll for 2004" poll...I admit, just reading the titles, 100 of them in a row...I cringe!!!!!!!! AAARGGHH!!!!!

But, to each their own: I myself love...disco. If you put the titles of the top 100 disco hits in a row, I'm sure there are those who would cringe at that. But think: There's probably at least one romance novel and disco hit sharing the same title, if not more. Hmmm - if they came out with a line of disco-themed romance novels...I MIGHT become a reader!

I thought the essays about feminism and romance novels were really interesting, the whole idea of the mystery genre becoming acceptably "gentrified," but not romance novels (as yet):

Thanks again for posting,

Red Pen Pal

Red Pen Pal said...

Oh, one more thing...

"Romantic journey" versus other kinds of journeys...who knows how this fits in with anything...but, one of the things that most interests me in a book is "the crucible of power" - for instance, the most interesting "couple" I have ever read about, were President Truman and General MacArthur...the meeting they'd had on Wake Island, to clear up a few "misunderstandings" - i.e., was MacArthur trying to start WWIII with his thoughtless comments to the press? Etc...

One of Truman's advisors thought it was a bad idea for the President to fly all the way out to Wake Island to meet MacArthur, because: "When does the king go to the prince?"

And then MacArthur shows up to meet the President of the United States dressed in "his regular uniform and stained cap."

I think this was one of the most intense scenes I have ever read in my life!

Well, maybe regular romance readers (and writers) would feel the "romantic journey" and the "crucible of power" aren't mutually exclusive propositions...I just saw on TV, David Mamet quoting film critic Pauline Kael, who said movies were about "bang bang kiss kiss." Isn't that also an apt description of two very popular (most popular?) literary genres: mysteries and romance novels?

Red Pen Pal, oh, well, back to work, let's stop goofing off...

Kika said...

My name is Aska Barros,i'm 14 and new in the writing business,so please reconsider my request.
I need help!
I just started a fiction which is thankfully turning out pretty good,that is comparing to what i thought it would be but i still need to hear someone else's perspective,which i hoped would be yours!
I have this question:
Does the agent have to be located in the same city or state as the the author?

Please, reply this humble "writer".

Truly yours,

Aska B.

Just in case here's my e-mail:

Thank you.