Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter,
Hearts Talk, in December, 2009. Due to the passage of time, some information in the
article may no longer be relevant. Please ensure you research your chosen genre
thoroughly before submitting.
Romance Writers of America have just published their latest ROMStat report. In this tough economic climate romance fiction sales only experienced a slight drop last year. As a published author and reader of inspirational romances, I was delighted to see they have 7.82% share of the romance releases tracked by RWAmerica in 2008. This did not include sales from all shops, including Wal-Mart. Only a few weeks ago I saw a good number of inspirational romance novels in the book department of one of their massive shops in Texas.
Most avid romance readers could agree that all romance books should be “inspirational” in one way or another. So what makes these different?
What are Inspirational Romance books?
For their prestigious RITA and Golden Heart contests Romance Writers of America describes this category as:
Romance novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religion or spiritual belief system) are a major part of the romantic relationship.
Remember the same basic principle applies to inspirational romance novels as to all romance sub-genres. Romance between a hero and heroine leading to a satisfying, emotional conclusion remains the main theme throughout the book. Within this context there is a wide variety of inspirationals from 20,000 word novellas to over 100,000 word single titles. Books classified as Inspirational Romance include contemporary, cosy mystery, suspense and historical. In the general Christian fiction market there are also women’s fiction, fantasy, science, family saga etc type books that may contain romantic elements. But without romance as the dominant theme, they are not clearly defined as inspirational romance.
How much faith?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions, but it varies between publishers. As well as checking out their guidelines for submissions, it is very important to read several books released by the publisher you are targeting. This will give you the best information about how much faith and how it can be expressed. However I believe what Barbour Publishing guidelines state should be true of all good inspirational romance novels: “It is not enough to mention that main characters are Christians. Their faith must be evident in their daily lives. . .”
It is very important to understand that no publisher wants books that are considered “preachy”. Readers do not like to feel they are being “preached at”. They like to see the faith—or lack of faith—shown by the attitudes and actions of the characters. “Show” not “tell” is especially important in developing the inner spiritual journey of the characters. Where the heroine and hero have spiritual issues throughout the book, the conclusion needs to show their basic unity on spiritual matters, as well as have a romance novel’s satisfying, romantic conclusion.
It may be normal for most people with a personal relationship with God through faith in Christ to pray, to read the Bible, to talk about their beliefs at certain times and in certain situations. Just how to adequately “show” this as normal for a character I often find very challenging. For example, in some contexts it is enough to mention the character prayed. For several reasons there are times it will be more effective to write at least some of the words of that prayer as thoughts, or better still, of course, as speech. I do both and although I can’t share too much of the scene and risk spoiling the story for readers, here is one example from one of my recent single titles, Return to Baragula. The hero has been told news by the heroine that devastated him. Instead of uttering any more furious words at her he storms off. At this point there was need to show facets of the hero’s character in how he handles his anger and anguish as well as his feelings for the heroine. While the heroine’s own faith had grown weaker than his, I wanted to acknowledge he is by no means “perfect” and also to reveal more about his faith and what it meant to him at that time. Here is part of how I tried to show more of his more private faith walk.
Then he was on his knees amid the grass and fallen leaves. “Oh, God. God! Help me. Forgive me. How should I respond to this? What should I do? I can’t do anything about this without You.”
Matthew held his head in his hands and was silent for a long while. At last he whispered brokenly, “And please help me to forgive Emily.”
The same principle applies to directly quoting scripture. All direct mentions of faith must be there for specific reasons like deepening characterisation, highlighting conflict between characters about faith and to also simply develop the story. In other words, as in suspense and mystery where danger and intrigue can be used to reveal the main protagonists’ character and romantic relationship, so in these books faith—or lack of it—should also do that. Remember that their religious beliefs must be a “major part of the romantic relationship” and not just tagged on.
How much sexual content?
One part of Harlequin’s imprint, Steeple Hill, guidelines says: “. . .the characters should not make love unless they are married. These are ‘sweet’ romances. Any physical interactions (i.e., kissing, hugging) should emphasize emotional tenderness rather than sexual desire or sensuality. Please avoid any mention of nudity.”
Update: As they have for previous Silhouette lines, Harlequin has deleted their Steeple Hill imprint for their inspirationals. They are now Love Inspired, Love Inspired Historical and Love Inspired Suspense.
The other main publisher of category type inspirationals is Barbour Publishing through their Heartsong Presents line. The guidelines for Barbour romance fiction on their main website states: “All manuscripts considered for Barbour Books should present an overall conservative, evangelical Christian worldview. Manuscripts that are not grounded as such will be returned to the author.” Their Heartsong Presents guidelines for their category books are extensive and must be followed closely. They include: “Physical tension between characters should not be overdone” and “. . .we can tell a great love story without going into excessive physical detail.” They also have a list of controversial items to steer clear of and things to avoid in use of language, divorce, doctrine and a list of activities unacceptable for heroes and heroines but add “. . .for non-Christian characters, these conflicts can be explored, so long as the consequences for such actions are given in a realistic manner.”
Other Christian publishers who release single titles also have similar guidelines and do not publish books with romance that crosses certain lines of passion. However, just recently I have been told some well established authors are being permitted to push the boundaries on this. As always, the market will decide how far!
Who writes them?
A good writer and story teller who can do sufficient and accurate research should be able to write any kind of book. However, to write good inspirationals from the heart with real understanding and passion I believe the writer needs to have a personal faith and knowledge of the God of the Bible.
Many writers of inspirational romance also have or are still writing in other romance sub-genres. These include a past president of Romance Writers of America—Robin Lee Hatcher, Francine Rivers, Roxanne Rustand and Gail Martin.
Who publishes them?
Unfortunately, as far as I am aware my small publisher, Ark House Press in Sydney
is the only publisher considering any kind of Christian fiction in Australia. A new publisher has just appeared in England, Rose and Crown: www.roseandcrownbooks.com.
I am unaware of any others except in America and most of them will only accept manuscripts through an agent. As Gail Gaymer Martin states in her excellent book Writing the Christian Romance, Christian publishing houses vary on certain elements of Christian romance. Steeple Hill and Heartsong Presents are the only ones currently releasing category type books each month and unlike many other publishers do not require submissions through an agent. Browse the shelves and websites of Christian bookshops, especially like Koorong and Word chains in Australia and check out the publishers of inspirational romance novels you like the most. Obtain their submission guidelines from their website or request them via mail.
Update: Two new royalty paying Australian publishers now accept inspirational romance
Even Before Publishing in Queensland www.evenbeforepublishing.com
Hyaline House Publishers in Western Australia www.hyalinehouse.com.
Who reads them?
In single titles especially, in Christian fiction today there is something for every level of reader. If more heat, more passion, there are books out there – without excessive physical description of course. If you want really sweet, those books are there also.
After several medical romances released by Harlequin Mills
& Boon, Mary Hawkins decided to concentrate her writing time on her first love, inspirationals. Four of her earlier Heartsong Presents titles became best-sellers in Barbour’s anthology Australia.
Her latest Baragula series is being released by Ark House Press in Sydney. Book Three, Justice at Baragula, was released in May 2011.
Mary has been an active member of Romance Writers of Australia since it commenced.