You may not know this, but among the many observances and holidays in the month of August, there are two celebrations perfect for all the romance lovers out there. When I discovered that August is dubbed not only Romance Awareness Month, but also Read-A-Romance Month, I immediately thought about the recent uptick in the popularity and sheer quantity of romance novels out there. Whether this rise can be attributed to TikTok or to a general shift in perceptions of the genre, it is undoubtedly relevant to talk about these books, especially this month! To learn more, I spoke with independently published romance authors AK Landow, Brooke O’Brien, Jade Dollston, and Maggie Rawdon about their experiences writing in the genre.
Getting started and getting inspired
Whether they were prompted to start writing because of online reading communities or a long-held hope in the back of their mind, all of the authors I spoke with had their own unique reasons for picking up the pen or consulting the keyboard. For Maggie, it began as an experiment to see if she could complete a novel for fun; for Brooke, it was a bucket list goal that finally came to fruition. However, the main point they all seemed to get across was that becoming a novelist requires a bit of a leap of faith – you just have to begin, somehow. AK recalls a piece of advice she got from author T.L. Swan’s private Facebook group for readers: “Her number one message was just to sit down and start writing. So, one day that’s what I did. I was addicted from that minute on.”
While Jade says that writing was always something she loved and was known for loving, she notes that her husband had expected maybe a mystery, not necessarily a romance novel, for her first book. It felt natural for Brooke and Maggie to fall into the genre, but AK didn’t aim for the romantic comedy category when she began; when readers began to praise her humor, she adopted the label with open arms.
How these authors approach their writing is a story in itself. Maggie and AK write scenes and chapters based on what occurs to them in the given moment, while Jade is committed to chronology. And regardless of their authorial methods, inspiration for these novels can arise from just about anywhere: Brooke, for instance, draws insights from song lyrics.
Oftentimes, while keeping things entirely fictional, real life can be a huge inspiration, too. AK explains that her own humor and personality shines through in her work more and more, and Brooke clarifies scenes in her novels by recalling emotions she herself felt in similar experiences. Jade notes, “I think most authors write what we know. Whether I’m thinking, ‘What would I do in this situation?’ or ‘This character is totally different from me, so what’s the opposite of what I would do here?’ there’s something from my own life and experiences in each of my characters.”
Establishing the main features and tropes
These influences play a big role in deciding many of the basic details about a book that we first encounter as readers. When it comes to titles, Maggie and Brooke normally use a play on words related to the novel’s theme (i.e., sports-related terms). Jade and AK typically consult and collaborate with fellow authors in this effort. The process can be similarly varied for character names, which can be sourced from the brain, selected from baby name lists, or intentionally plucked from real life for their uniqueness or rarity.
The chosen tropes – ways that the plot unfolds – are also a fundamental aspect of a novel. There are, of course, many tropes that can be popular at a given moment or particularly beloved by readers, like enemies to lovers; though it is clear that for many authors, there is a balance to be struck between exploring a variety of themes, writing tropes that they personally enjoy, and putting their own spin on tropes they know readers enjoy, too. Brooke explains, “There’s something so exciting about putting the characters in situations where the passion and chemistry between them brings out the most honest and raw parts of themselves.”
Additionally, Brooke and Jade both underscore the role of research in handling these themes correctly; whether it’s the Stanley Cup playoffs or a life-changing medical condition, gathering the facts of the topics they’re writing about has proven extremely important for accurate storytelling.
Another major decision when crafting these novels is figuring out whether the characters and stories within them will carry on into future books. After speaking with the authors, I’d say this is in large part determined by the characters themselves, whether these are side characters practically begging to come into focus or groups of characters with complex dynamics to be explored further. Additionally, it can become difficult for authors not to write more about these characters, as they can become incredibly real over time. “I love writing friend groups and found families. I won’t say that I’ll never write a true standalone, but I really enjoy writing a world, and a friend group and building that in the background through a series of interconnected standalones. It makes it hard to leave the world, though, because by the end they feel like old friends,” Maggie says.
Curating the book’s look
We might all claim not to judge a book by its cover, but often, when it comes to actual books, we do, even subconsciously. The visuals and cover art associated with a story can be a deciding factor for someone to pick up a book or not, and these aesthetics are also super important for authors who want their vision actualized in a fulfilling way.
To attain the right cover art, whether through stock photographs or professionally photographed models, takes time and collaboration to find people that match the look of written characters. As the authors point out, cover designers can really bring the photos to life and connect them to the essence of the story. Brooke explains that it’s worthwhile to examine market trends and consider what other books in the genre are doing to let readers get a sense of the story. While it is definitely an investment, as AK notes, and research is a key component, as Jade emphasizes, taking the time to put together this imagery and create merchandise from it helps to cohesively tie together the themes from a series, while giving fans ways to show their support.
Doing it on your own (sort of)
These authors, though independently published, are thoroughly connected with a rich network of people who assist and encourage them throughout their writing process. The significance of these author groups and their ability to relate to and collaborate with each other is enormous. Brooke says, “I stand by the phrase, ‘It takes a village.’ It’s so true! … I lean on and learn a lot from my peers, especially those who have been doing this for a while. That’s something I love about the book community, how wonderful everyone is in supporting each other, sharing advice and knowledge, and lifting each other up, too.” Jade shares these sentiments, pointing out that social media has been an awesome way to form these friendships and gather perspectives from around the world.
Furthermore, beta and advanced reader copy teams, who read early copies of the novels and contribute their thoughts on the piece before publication, are also critical to shaping the final product. They provide authors with keen insights and refreshing angles on their work in addition to helping share their books with others.
These connections could not be more important when independent publishing leaves authors taking on many responsibilities – beyond writing – by themselves. Brooke notes that collaboration helps her to make wise decisions about her work and her writing as a business. Despite its many advantages in terms of creative control, vision, and direction, which Maggie and Jade describe, publishing your own stories requires time and energy dedicated to tasks outside of the typical authorial realm: designing, promoting, managing, etc. Furthermore, pirating and copyright issues are now rampant online. AK and Maggie, among many other independent authors, are making every effort to keep their books on Amazon, because if too many sites illegally provide their books for free – through no fault of the authors themselves – their books get removed from Amazon’s site.
Hearing from readers
With the advent of social media, not only have authors been able to befriend and support each other, but readers can now connect with authors directly through a variety of platforms. These sites have given these authors the power to promote their books and reach a larger audience via digital content. Thus, beyond being a major source of encouragement, as fans can reach out and express their love for a novel, social media has been an important mode of marketing: “I probably wouldn’t have sold a single book outside of my family if I hadn’t started marketing on social media. It’s definitely an invaluable tool for self-published authors,” Jade adds.
Naturally, having a fanbase also means that authors come face to face with lots of feedback from readers, both good and bad. In light of negative reviews, Brooke and AK try to remember that a novel can’t always please every single reader or be a best seller. Even when reviews are positive, praise can add pressure. “I want each book to be better than the one before. When readers tell me that they feel my fictitious family is real, that’s extremely rewarding. I know I’ve done my job,” AK responds.
Perceptions of the genre
Romance novels have held a stigma for a long time, and these dismissive frameworks tend to reduce the genre to its steamier content without considering the vast complexities of these works. While it in some ways boils down to not being everyone’s cup of tea, it is significant that romance works are seen as just as “literary” as anything else on bookstore shelves. The growing realization that these books can be empowering and authentic, illustrating both real-life obstacles and actual relationship dynamics, has been pivotal to the genre’s growth.
Oblong Books co-owner Suzanna Hermans emphasizes that it is significant for booksellers to engage with and be non-judgmental toward these books, as they can offer essential acceptance and understanding for many. “There is such a beautiful range of diverse stories being told in romance these days! Many of our most popular titles feature queer stories and BIPOC protagonists. It’s been wonderful to see the inclusivity in these books, and it has brought a more diverse readership to the genre.” Brooke echoes these thoughts, and the importance of characters that people from all walks of life can relate to and immerse themselves in.
So, if you find yourself strolling around a bookstore or library this month, don’t shy away from the romance aisle if you feel like exploring the world of fictional love. You might just discover a story worth falling for. •
To learn more and read the full interviews with AK Landow, Brooke O’Brien, Jade Dollston, and Maggie Rawdon, you can access them here. There you will also find where to connect with the authors online.