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Write Your Best Book – Episode 4

Hey, folks!

I’m your host, Christina Kaye, and this is episode 4 of Write Your Best Book. Today’s topic and guest host have me super excited. We’re going to discuss how to write romance novels with romance author and VP of Communications for the San Francisco chapter of Romance Writers of America (or RWA). Now, I know there’s been a lot of controversy lately involving RWA, but these folks really work hard for romance authors, and I want to put a positive spin on the whole thing by showing you just a bit of what RWA can still do for romance writers everywhere. 

Jessica McBrayer lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. She enjoys reading voraciously as well as writing and is often daydreaming about her next book. A die-hard San Jose Sharks fan, you can find her during hockey season wearing her favorite player’s name on the back of her jersey and yelling at the TV. She never wants to find out what the world would be like without Harry Potter or hockey in it.

Now, let’s just dive right into today’s topic, shall we? 

I’m not a romance author, as you all know by now. I write suspense. I did take one little trip down the romance novel writing lane with my book Confessions of an Old Lady, a motorcycle club romantic suspense novel full of romance, DEA agents, bad biker boys, murder, and mystery. So, I’m not an expert at writing romance. But about 75% of my editing projects have turned out to be romance of one subgenre or another from erotica to sweet to MC and even a military themed romance. I’ve sort of been forced to learn a lot about what it takes to create a great romance novel including romantic tension between the sympathetic heroine and her oh-so-hot, intriguing hero and the perfect ending, which we’ll talk more about later with our guest host.

 One thing I think is essential for a great romance is the theme of the story. Every great book, especially romance, requires that the author be keenly aware of their theme. Maybe it’s revenge, maybe it’s true love conquers all or how friends can become lovers. Whichever you choose, once you’ve decided on your main plot points, you’re going to want to figure out your theme and stay consistent to that theme throughout your manuscript. Most importantly, the theme should be underpinned at the end of the novel, and it should be clear to the reader. 

There are many more essential elements for writing good romance, but let’s bring in someone with a bit more experience in actually writing (and reading) good romance. 

Let’s welcome Jessica McBrayer to the show, folks!

CK: Why don’t you start by telling us a bit more about yourself both as a writer and in your role at the RWA. 

JM: I’ve been seriously writing for about ten years now. I’ve written twenty-one books during that time. I write paranormal romance and I just recently branched out into new adult sports romance. RWA or Romance Writers of American has been with me through all of it. Giving me opportunities to learn about craft, marketing and branding, editing and anything else a writer would need to become successful. At this time thought, I’m on the board for the local chapter and I feel like it’s kind of my way of giving back to the community.

CK: That’s great. That’s quite a few books. You must be a prolific writer. Just, if you don’t mind me asking, how many books do you get to write a year?

JM: It depends. This last year I wrote seven books. 

CK: Ok.

JM: And before that, I took a couple years off, but I average three to four books a year.

CK: That’s great! Today’s topic is “How to Write a Romance Novel,” which is a perfect topic for you, considering you write romance novels and are a board member for the RWA. Why don’t you start by telling us some of the fundamental elements that must be included in a romance novel in order to fit well within the genre?

JM: There are two things. In order for a story to be a romance, it must have a central love story and it must have an optimistic or emotionally satisfying ending; which means it has to have the happily ever after or at least the happily for now ending. Those two things are just non-negotiable. They’re not a romance if you don’t have them.

CK: Could you explain, for listeners who may not know what you mean when you say, happily for now?

JM: Happily for now gives you a satisfying ending. Usually it’s used if you are going to have a series, so you don’t have a definitive end to the story. It’s just that they’re happy. The hero and heroine have resolved any major issues in the story, but you can see there’s room to grow in the future still with another book.

CK: Ok. I gotcha. Well, in my experience in working with so many romance novels, as an editor, there seems to be several subgenres that fall under the genre of romance. Can you talk about some of the most common subgenres and explain what sets each apart from the others?

JM: Sure. There is so many different subgenres now. Just to name a few, there’s contemporary, Christian, historical, paranormal. Everything from sweet to erotic, suspense, young adult. These are just—you know there’s many more still. Obviously, paranormal is about supernatural. You can have fantasy features in that too. Historical is anything before the last twenty years or so. 

CK: Ok.

JM: And it can go all the way back to the beginning of time, if it’s a paranormal. Things like that. Contemporary just has to deal with today. Christian obviously has religious aspects to it. Then you get suspense, which I tend to write a lot of suspense into my books, but they’re still classified as paranormal or romantic suspense. And then YA definitely deals with young adults and is normally a sweet romance. I think it kind of has to be a sweet romance. There’s a lot of fun to be had in YA adventure romances and instead of having a relationship—a sexual, intimate relationship on the page—there’s a lot of tension instead. A lot of emotional tension and sexual tension that goes between the characters.

CK: Ok great.  There really are several different subgenres in that category, I know.

Let’s pause before we continue our interview with Jessica so I can remind you that this episode of Write Your Best Book is brought to you by Top Shelf Editing. It’s a full-service editing company which offers a wide variety of services for authors, but by far our most popular service remains book edits. We offer line editing as well as content editing, but authors love the fact that we also offer a combo package that includes both at a substantially discounted rate. We do this because we feel it’s crucial for all authors, especially indies, to have a full and thorough content AND line edit done on their book before they showcase it, and especially before they publish it on Amazon or anywhere else. To learn more about Top Shelf, simply visit and check out our services and rates page, our about us page, our success stories page, and maybe the coolest page of all, our ever-growing author resources page where you can find the best cover designers, PA’s, website designers, and a list of websites and resources for authors which we love most. Then email us at and ask how you can get your FREE sample edit and quote.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

In any romance genre, I think it’s crucial to have a sympathetic heroine or protagonist. Do you agree? And if so, can you talk a bit about why that is?

JM: Sure, I agree that they should be sympathetic. You have to have a balance between the hero and heroine so that the two complement each other. I think that’s just essential. That might not be obvious at first though. A popular trope right now is the enemies-to-lovers romance. I personally don’t like that situation, but I understand it. I’ve never written that type of story myself. I like to have my hero and heroine on the same page when they start. They’ll have–definitely—growth and ups and downs throughout the story, but I like them to at least be attracted or like each other in the beginning.

CK: And what about the hero? What are some essential features the hero must possess? 

JM: Again, personally, I like to see a strong hero. A part of their growth may be that they developed that confidence throughout the story or they may be the typical alpha male at the beginning and they soften up a little bit because of their love to the heroine. The hero must be someone who has traits that the heroine finds attractive or in common. Love stories are based on connections and you just have to make sure you’ve built those connections in your story.

CK: Talk a bit about romantic tension between the protagonist and her love interest and why it’s crucial to have that tension between them.

JM: I love this part of writing. Whether they hate each other at first or it’s love at first sight, the reaction to each other needs to be strong. It builds your whole story. That connection shouldn’t just be handed to you or the reader. It should have been grown slowly, letting the tension rise. In creating tension, you take along the reader in the character’s journey towards their happily ever after. The more thrown in their way, the sweeter the ending is I think. 

CK: That’s great. That’s really good. I mean tension can cause all the difference in how well the readers receive a certain story or not, so that’s wonderful to hear. In my experience, a vast majority of romance novels, even the darker ones include an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending. Tell us more about how to properly end a romance novel.

JM: Sure. Romance must have that satisfying ending for the reader. This is trickier when you’re writing a series because you need a satisfying resolution but you want to set up the reader to want to continue with the next book. Keep them coming back for more, but still not giving everything away in your story. What makes them want to continue is have you started a secondary romance with another couple? Is the couple’s happily ever after something that you could see building and growing? One of the ways you can do this is by doing a reader magnet. This is something that is separate and a bonus. A lot of times, a free little bonus that you offer your readers. For example, one of the first books in my sports romance series had a satisfying ending. They resolved all their conflicts, but then I had another part of their story to write. But, it just didn’t fit in the first book. So, I offered this as a reader magnet for people to download if they’ve read the first book. It included like the wedding for the couple, things like that. 

I’ve done some mentoring of authors just starting out and I remember a particular manuscript where the hero dies at the end. The love story was there. The tension was there, but it ended in such a disappointing and jarring way—

CK: Oh

JM: That it negated all the work the author had done and put into the manuscript. It was not one of those satisfying endings. There’s lots of ways to end a romance, but it’s not a romance unless it is a happily ever after. That just is critical.

CK: Ok, great. Well, thank you, Jessica, for joining us on Write Your Best Book.  It truly was an inspirational episode, and I know all my listeners learned a lot by listening to you.

JM: Thank you for having me. 

CK: Anytime. 

Well, there you have it, folks. Now, if you’ve got a romance novel banging around inside your brain, you have the essential tools necessary to sit down and write your best book. And if you would like to work with an editor with a ton of experience in the romance genre, please feel free to reach out to me at I also offer 30-minute consultations for anyone who just needs a little nudge in the right direction. A link to my calendar is in the show notes.

Before we sign off, I want to share this week’s book plug. Do you miss the Vampire Diaries? Then you MUST pick up The Dark Awakening, by DL Blade, available now on Amazon. Blade is one of my legacy clients, and I edited her entire Chosen Coven Series. Book 1 in the series, The Dark Awakening, was nominated for the 2019 Author Academy Awards, and trust me when I tell you…if you love witches, vampires, and werewolves with a bit of romance and mystery thrown in, you have to check out The Dark Awakening. Go to the show notes now for a direct purchase link! 

That’s all the time we have for today, folks. I hope you’re enjoying the show so far. Stay tuned for next week when I sit down with none other than THE Jane Frickin Friedman (as my Executive Assistant Chasidi and I refer to her) and we talk about how you can publish your book. In the meantime, be a sweetie and rate the show and leave us a comment. I’ll soon begin reading one review each episode, and I just might choose yours for a quick shout-out! 

Talk soon, and in the meantime, go write your best book!