Author Workshop: Romance Edition

After our Romance Authors 5×5 comes a Romance Workshop with four lovely authors. So if you’re an avid romance reader, aspiring or current writer, you’ll want to read this piece.

Author Interviews Author's Corner Book Culture Female Authors Female Voices On Writing

As we continue to celebrate Romance Awareness Month here at Bookstr, we have prepared more excitng content for you. After our Romance Authors 5×5 comes a Romance Workshop with four lovely authors. So if you’re an avid romance reader, aspiring or current writer, you’ll want to read this piece. Now, let’s get to know our authors and see what they have to say about writing romance nowadays!



1. Kat Martin

New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. Currently residing in Missoula, Montana with her Western-author husband, L. J. Martin, Kat has written sixty-five Historical and Contemporary Romantic Suspense novels. More than sixteen million copies of her books are in print and she has been published in twenty foreign countries. Kat is currently at work on her next Romantic Suspense.


2. Chantel Guertin

Chantel Guertin is a Toronto‑based beauty expert and television personality, well-known to audiences of Canada’s number‑one daytime talk show, The Marilyn Denis Show, and a frequent guest of morning news shows. Previously, she worked as a beauty editor at fashion magazines. Find her on Instagram at @chantelguertin.


3. Rebecca Zanetti

Rebecca Zanetti is the author of over forty romantic suspense, dark paranormals, and contemporary romances, and her books have appeared multiple times on the New York Times, USA Today, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iBooks bestseller lists.  She lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her own Alpha hero, two kids, a couple of dogs, a crazy cat…and a huge extended family.  She believes strongly in luck, karma, and working her butt off…and she thinks one of the best things about being an author, unlike the lawyer she used to be, is that she can let the crazy out. 


4. Alexandra Ivy

Alexandra Ivy graduated from Truman University with a degree in theatre before deciding she preferred to bring her characters to life on paper rather than stage. She started her career writing traditional regencies before moving into the world of paranormal with her USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times bestselling series The Guardians of Eternity. Now she writes a wide variety of genres that include paranormal, erotica, and romantic suspense. 


Tell us a bit more about yourself and your book(s)! 

Kat: I’m fortunate to live in Montana and also have a home in Prescott, Arizona. Best of both worlds. I wrote dozens of historical romance novels before I started writing Romantic Thrillers. In total, I’ve written about 80 books, many of them, top-ten New York Times bestsellers. I’m lucky to have a job that lets me do what I love.  

Chantel: I’m the author of seven books—most recently, Instamom, which is the story of Kit Kidding. She’s an Instagram influencer who’s made her living being proudly childfree by choice—then she meets Will, an arrogant but sexy chef. She has a one-night stand, only to realize two things: he’s a single dad, and she’s falling for him. Her picture-perfect career path is suddenly clashing with the possibility of a different future that’s messy, complicated, and real. As for me, I’m married and have a 7-year-old boy, and two teenage stepkids. We live in Kensington Market in Toronto, Canada. 

Rebecca: I’ve had a lot of careers (art curator, lawyer, senate aide, college professor) but have found my love in writing. So far, I have around sixty books published, and I have so many ideas that I hope I can keep writing for decades. Also, I’ve been happily married for almost twenty-five years, and we have two kids, both in college. We just took our daughter to college this past weekend, and our house feels too quiet. It’s time for a new normal, I think. Is it okay to text your kids several times a day when they’re in college? I’m asking for a friend.

Alexandra: I came to writing from my love for theatre. I’ve always been a huge reader, but when I was younger I hoped to work on stage as an actress. After taking a playwriting class in college I realized I actually preferred to create my own characters rather than mimicking someone else’s. I still get inspiration from the great playwrights such as Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde, but I put away my half-finished play and decided to concentrate on writing fiction. My first books were regencies since I adore Jane Austen. Those were published under the name Debbie Raleigh. I moved onto the larger, sexier historicals and changed my name to Deborah Raleigh. From there I fell head over heels in love with Buffy The Vampire Slayer and tried my hand at paranormal. I changed my name yet again to Alexandra Ivy and the Guardians of Eternity was born. I really enjoy writing that series, but of course, I can never be wholly satisfied if I’m not trying new things. I think it’s important that a writer challenge themselves with new projects, even if they seem overwhelming. And since I am currently obsessed with Lee Child and David Baldacci, I knew I had to enter the world of suspense. I’m so glad I did!  

What books do you like to read? Do you exclusively read romance?

Kat: I love reading in general, read pretty much anything and everything, but I especially like to read Romance. Historical Romance and Romantic Suspense are my favorites. 

Chantel: I love romance, rom-com, dramedies, contemporary women’s fiction, mysteries, and YA. Basically, my ideal book makes me laugh while I’m reading and think about it long after I’ve finished it. 

Rebecca: I read everything I can get my hands on, including court opinions. If those are written well, they’re fun to read. Thrillers have always been a favorite of mine. Oh, I definitely read romance, and I love paranormal, romantic suspense, chick-lit, and lately I’ve been reading fantasy romance.

Alexandra: I read everything and anything! From non-fiction biographies and history books to suspense to fantasy. Romance will always have a special place in my heart, of course, but when I have time to sit down and read for pleasure I often seek out big sword and sorcery series like Wheel of Time and Game of Thrones. I love the world-building and continuing characters from book to book.

What are some of your favorite love tropes that you like to read/write?

Kat: I don’t have any set favorites. I like fresh new stories written in a way that keeps me turning the pages. I’m a little tired of serial killer novels, which a lot of authors write simply because the plot is already laid out for them. I’ve written a few myself and enjoy reading them on occasion, but they don’t make for a great night’s sleep. 

Chantel: I love love love enemies to lovers. I love the opportunity for witty banter and snide comments that have a layer of sexual tension below the surface. I also like the friends to lovers trope!

Rebecca: I really like enemies to lovers, amnesiac character, fated mates, and surprise baby. For the surprise baby, I don’t like when the pregnant mom purposefully doesn’t tell the father, but I do like when he’s a super-spy that she can’t track down, so there’s a huge surprise coming for him. I’m also a huge fan of wounded heroes and bands of brothers.

Alexandra: My favorite tropes always include some sort of danger. Either a couple on the run or forced together to overcome an obstacle. I’ve always had some sort of mystery or suspense in my books, even the regencies. I like the added edge of peril to keep the story moving at a fast pace. And of course, like everyone who reads for years, my tastes have changed over time. Right now there’s nothing I love more than a kickass heroine who takes charge of the story.

What’s the first romance book you read or remember reading? Do you think that played a part in shaping your writing today?

Kat: The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss and Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor were my first two romance novels. They were powerful, wonderful stories and I like the think they influence what I write today.

Chantel: Can we count Sweet Valley High as romance? I definitely loved the romance elements to these books, but also that they were such page-turners. I would read these books in a day under my desk at school during class. That’s my definition of a great book—one that you cannot put down and risk detention just to keep reading. I also read all the Nancy Drew mysteries as a kid and loved how Nancy was the strong female character who solved her own problems. Work was her priority and her relationship with Ned was important and fun, but he never solved her issues for her. They were two distinct individuals, and a lot of the time she was better at things than him! 

Rebecca: My first romance was a Nora Roberts McGregor romance, and I was hooked from that day forward. I’d had no clue there was kissing in books, and when I read that one, even though I was probably a little young to have found it, I was all about the romance in books.

Alexandra: I started reading with Nancy Drew (they created my love for adventure), but the first true romance I remember reading was Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt. It sent me into a reading frenzy! I glommed every book I could find and then moved onto Jane Austen, who I adore to this day. It absolutely inspired me to try writing my own historical. From there I continued to expand into fantasy and suspense.

Now that we’ve gotten to know these lovely ladies better, let’s get down to the workshop part of the interview!


What is the best and worst advice you were given when writing romance? 

Kat: The answer is the same for both questions: “Stay loyal to your publisher, don’t leave and they will promote you.” That’s the worst advice and also the best. If I could have afforded to stay with one publisher I would have, but in order to make more money, I had to move somewhere else. I’ve done that many times. It’s way easier to stay with the same publisher – if they do a good job promoting you – but you have to do what’s best for your career.

Chantel: I think romance gets dismissed as “not important.” I used to feel self-conscious, as though the type of books I love to read and write isn’t valid. I stand up to people who dismiss it now. 

Rebecca: The best advice I received was to put everything you have in this book and don’t save anything for the next book. New ideas will come for that book. The worst advice was to avoid writing about vampires. My first book that sold to Kensington was a vampire book, and we’re on book fifteen of that series now, with several spinoffs having been released as well. I’m glad I ignored that advice.

Alexandra: The best advice I was ever given was to write the stories I love to read. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to follow the trends, but unless your words come from your heart, they’re going to fall flat to the reader. Plus, trends are called trends for a reason. By the time you’ve finished your book and sold it to a publisher or had it professionally edited so you can self-pub, there’s already a new trend. Write the story that is burning deep inside you. The one that absolutely refuses to leave you in peace. The worst advice I was given was that I had to belong to a writing group and dozens of people had to beta read my book before I could send it to an agent or editor. I live in a very remote area and none of that was available to me when I was starting out. Turns out, I didn’t need any of that. Just grim determination and a refusal to quit!

What would you say is the most important part of writing romance?

Kat: I’d say emotion is the most important element. Making people laugh and cry is a great way to involve your readers in a story.

Chantel: Figuring out who the main characters are, and why they can’t be together (even though we know they will be!)

Rebecca: Remembering that every book is really about the characters. Yes, you want a great plot, but if readers don’t connect to the characters, then what’s the point? That conflict between romantic partners, the one that really matters, comes from within. It’s also what people who denigrate romance really don’t understand. It’s tough to write a realistic conflict between romantic characters that doesn’t just end in chapter three when they figure out they should be together forever. A good romance makes those characters work for it. 

Alexandra: The romantic journey between the characters. There’s a tendency to rush to get them together or on the other hand, waiting until the last second and then throwing them in bed. The journey should feel natural. Just like falling in love in the real world. The first spark of attraction, the hesitant getting to know each other, the inevitable annoyances, and at last the acceptance that you’re meant to be together.

Do you think all romance novels should have a HEA?

Kat: I think they should imply a happy ending. I don’t think it has to be marriage, but certainly, a togetherness that will continue through their lives.

Chantel: I think that we’ve come to expect that romance novels have a HEA ending. That’s not to say that you can’t change up the format, but most readers are looking for the HEA, so they will likely be disappointed because it wasn’t the mindset they had going into this book. I think that if it’s not marketed as a straight romance it’s much easier to write whatever ending you want to—and sometimes, the only difference is the cover art, title, and jacket copy! So write the book you want to write and work with your publisher on how to market it.

Rebecca: Yes. Double yes. Definitely yes. When I pick up a romance to read, no matter what those characters go through, I want a ‘riding off into the sunset moment in the end.

Alexandra: Yes, or at least Happily For Now. I think it’s at the very core of the genre. When a reader picks up a romance it’s with certain expectations. They want the romantic journey to reveal a genuine love that ends in a commitment to each other. Otherwise, it’s Women’s Fiction or a dozen other genres they could choose. Of course, there are writers who would have another opinion.

How do you usually go about building your stories? Do you start with an idea? A character? A couple? A setting? What is that starting point that unravels the rest of the book for you?

Kat:  I consider myself a plot-oriented writer, so I am always looking for an interesting storyline. That said, I like to write trilogies or series, which means certain characters are already established. In my new Blood Ties series, I’m writing about the Logan brothers. I’ve finished Kade Logan’s story, The Last Goodnight, which will be out at the end of October. I knew I wanted to write a Romantic Thriller set in Colorado, so the setting was important. The ranch story evolved from that, but I knew it was going to be about Kade Logan, so character was important from the start. Kade’s brother Gage is next, The Last Mile.

Chantel: I start with the story—for me to get excited about writing a book, I need to come up with a story I really want to tell. Then I figure out who the main character is, that this story would be important to her, and then who the love interest is, and what’s keeping them apart.  

Rebecca: I start with a couple and write the first chapter really not knowing a thing about them. It’s just a scene in my head, and I’m off and running. Then I have to figure out who these people are, why they’re on the page, what’s going to keep them apart, and what’s going to ultimately bring them together for that nice kiss at the end.

Alexandra: Most of my books have started with an idea. I hear something that captures my attention or read an article in the newspaper. I start to think how I would react to the situation and then I start imagining how other people would react. From there I scribble out an outline and let it stew in the back of my mind. Either I forget about it and it stays in my ideas notebook, or I start filling it out with scenes and characters. When that happens, I know I have a story. Oddly, my suspense books have uniquely been inspired by a setting. The Intended Victim was inspired when I was driving through Wisconsin and all I could see was rolling fields covered in newly fallen snow. In my mind I could suddenly see a dead woman posed on that pristine whiteness with blood dripping from her throat. My upcoming book Unstable was inspired by a visit to the graveyard. So, it does change from book to book.

What’s your take on love scenes in romance novels and finding the perfect balance between overly steamy and tame? 

Kat: I think that’s a tough question. I think an author should write what they are comfortable with. Steamy or sweet, there is an audience for both. Personally, I try to stay sort of in the middle, hot but not erotica.

Chantel: I love the sexual tension—sometimes wanting to kiss is better than actually ripping each other’s clothes off, so I try to find a balance so that I’m not just writing 17 sex scenes in one book. I think that’s a different type of book—not bad, just different than the style of romance I write.  

Rebecca: That’s a tough one. I think it flows naturally from the characters and what has happened so far in the book.  

Alexandra: I’ve written everything from erotica to sweet regencies and I’ve discovered that for me it’s all in the word choice. You can make a light brush of the hand down the back just as sexy as having them naked in the shower. I try to allow the book to determine the level of heat. Some couples are the type to enjoy a physical relationship from the moment they meet, and others who don’t get together until the very end. 

Finally, what’s a piece of advice you’d like to give to someone who wants to write romance but doesn’t know where to start?

Kat: There is only one way to start. Sit down in front of the computer screen and write something. You can learn as you go. Take some classes, go to a conference, meet other writers. And keep reading other people’s books. That is the best way to learn.

Chantel: Start with a story or an issue that’s important to you, that you want to explore, and think about why. In a way, all novels are the same: they’re stories about relationships and how characters feel. For us to care about them, we need to get to know them and know what they care about. In the case of romance, they care about being in a relationship or finding love, and there’s something that’s preventing it from being simple. That’s what you need to figure out. 

Rebecca: Sit down and write, take some workshops, and put it all on the page. Don’t worry about your first-grade teacher reading it. Just write and don’t hold yourself back. Also, it’s all about the book. So much is coming at authors right now about social media, marketing, promotion…none of that matters if the book isn’t good. A million-dollar marketing campaign will sell your book, but only that book will sell the next one to that same reader. Also, this is fun. Make sure you’re entertaining yourself as you write. Your book needs to entertain you before it can entertain anybody else.

Alexandra: Read, read, read! For some reason, people always assume that romance is super easy to write even if they’ve never picked one up. I actually think there are few genres more difficult. You not only have an ongoing story arc, but you have the character arc, as well as the romance arc. They all have to be woven together into a seamless HEA. The very best way to learn how to write a romance is to read them. And after you’ve discovered what you love about them and what you think you can do better (we always think we can do better!) then sit down and write the book. Don’t stop until you reach the end, even if you decide that it’s junk when you reach the middle. If you can get to the point of THE END you’re already ninety percent ahead of most people who want to be a writer.

That’s all for this Romance Workshop. We hope you enjoyed learning more about writing romance, and if you’e interested in similar content, check out our Romance Authors 5×5 here!