Copyright Rules for Settings

In my day job as a publishing lawyer, I often get asked how copyright impacts an author's ability to use a specific setting in works of fiction. Like many other copyright questions (and, honestly, every other question a lawyer gets asked), the answer is "it depends."

Fortunately, the applicable rules are fairly straightforward and easy to analyze.

The key to understanding how copyright (and infringement) relates to settings is remembering that copyright law protects an author’s unique expression, but does not protect either facts or the “building blocks” of expression.

A setting which is unique, or created entirely by the author, receives far more protection than settings based on historical events or real places…but that’s not the end of the story.

A setting (like a character or other elements of an author’s work) receives increasing protection as the author "creates" it with more distinct and original detail.

Entirely fictitious settings--like J.K. Rowling's famous Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or the "Battle School" that appears in Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game--receive the highest level of protection, because they are entirely fictitious, and the authors' own creations. You cannot use someone else's entirely fictitious setting without permission. Doing so is copyright infringement.

Semi-fictitious settings--like the version of the shogun's palace I created in my second mystery, Blade of the Samurai--receive protection to the extent of their original, creative elements. I based my shogun's palace on a real place (Kyoto's Nijo Castle), and although I can't claim copyright ownership of the Nijo Castle layout, it would infringe my copyright for someone to copy the fictitious details I layered onto the building and grounds to create my fictitious version.

"Real world" settings - for example, the Oval Office of the U.S. White House -- receive less copyright protection still. As with other settings, the copyrightable elements are only those which the author creates; the factual or historical details can be used (or re-used) by anyone.

Let’s take a closer look at some important key components:

Copyright Law Does Not Protect Historical (or other) Facts.

If you write a historical novel based on the explosion of the Hindenburg, you can’t prevent other authors from using that topic. You cannot prevent them from using the Hindenburg as a setting, and you can’t claim infringement if the real historical figures who appear in your novel also appear in another author’s work.

Copyright Does Give (Limited) Protection to Unique Expressions of Historical Events.

You can protect the unique, creative way in which you describe and express historical events, but the closer your expression comes to duplicating historical facts, the thinner the protection you receive. For example, you can’t stop another author from using  the actual newspaper headlines that appeared on the day the Hindenburg exploded. However, if you create a fictitious newspaper, and write a fictitious headline, you can prevent other authors from using that portion of your work.

Fictitious Locations Based on Genuine Ones Receive More Copyright Protection Than Real-World Locations.

Actual facts about real-world locations can't be protected by copyright. If you set your novel at the Empire State Building, and describe it accurately, you can’t stop other authors from doing the same. You can stop copying of the creative elements of your work, but not the use of facts.

The level of protection increases if you use a fictitious building based on—but different from—a real one. Consider Nakatomi Plaza, the office building in the movie Die Hard. Nakatomi Plaza isn’t real place; the building the director used in the film is called Fox Plaza, and it’s located in Century City, California. By fictionalizing the building, the scriptwriters allowed themselves not only more leniency in constructing sets, but also ensured that no one could legally duplicate those exact descriptions for use in another work.

Completely Fictitious Locations Receive the Highest Level of Copyright Protection.

J.K. Rowling’s wizard academy, Hogwarts, is located . . . somewhere. Rowling constructed a completely fictitious (and highly creative) setting for her novels, which also means she receives the highest possible level of copyright protection. By making Hogwarts a completely fictitious place, with a layout and description she created, she ensured that it belonged to Harry Potter’s world—her world—alone.

If you copy identifiable details from Hogwarts (aside from ones that would qualify as “basic building blocks of expression”), you may be infringing Rowling's copyright. (Note: Unlicensed "Fan Fiction" is almost always copyright infringement, even if it's not prosecuted by the copyright holders.)

What is a “Basic Building Block” of Expression?

The answer is as simple as sandwich cookies and Oreos. The idea of taking two cookies and putting a filling between them, thereby creating a “cookie sandwich,” is a basic building block of expression—a generic concept.

Anyone can make a sandwich cookie, with any cookie and any filling.

However, if you use a particular recipe of chocolate cookie, with designs on one side, and you fill it with a specific mixture of white, sugary filling, and if you have the courage to stamp the word “Oreo” on the side, you’ve copied something that belongs to someone else, and you may get sued. (In the baking world, the lawsuit would be for trademark infringement. If you duplicate an author’s wordsmithed Oreo, the result is copyright infringement.)

The basic building blocks of expression are generic concepts, settings, and character archetypes: the whodunit mystery, the subway, and the cop.

The farther an author strays from those basic, generic archetypes, the higher the level of copyright protection his or her creation will receive.

Any author can write about “a cop.” An ex-cop who becomes a butcher receives a little more protection. But give that ex-cop butcher a love of tapioca pudding, a pet tarantula, and a vaccuum phobia, and you’re getting into territory nobody else can copy without consequences.

The takeaway lesson? It’s fine to use fact-based settings (and most of us need to, when our works are based in the “ordinary world”) – but know that other authors can use those settings too, as long as they don’t copy your work. The more creative (and fictitious) your settings, the more protection your work receives.

So . . .write the most creative story you can, and use even real-world facts in as unique and individual a manner as possible.

Your copyrights--and your readers--will thank you for it.

Taming the Worry Monster

Quick - grab a piece of paper and a pen and jot down a list of things you are worrying about. Don't stop to think whether they are rational or irrational. Don't try to prioritize. Just scribble them down. Do it now. I'll wait. While I wait I will contemplate this still life photo of a random penguin.Random PenguinWhat is the penguin worried about, I wonder? Does he know that worrying expends valuable energy without creating any positive result? Does he understand that one of the best ways to deal with worry is to take positive action toward a goal?

Since we can't get a look into the penguin's head, let's all focus on our own. Have a look at your worry list and pick one to work on, preferably something writing related. Got it?

Okay. Now take your pen and paper and do the following.

  1. List all of the people involved in this situation.
  2. Now draw a big, fat, scribble line through all of those names.
  3. Below the crossed out list write your own name, because YOU are the only person you have any control over.
  4. Now brainstorm a list of all of the possible actions YOU can take to resolve this issue. Remember that if the action requires participation by somebody else, it doesn't go here. Try the format Your Name + Verb + Object (optional) If you are worrying about trying to find an agent, for example, your action list may look something like this:
  • I will craft a query letter
  • I will email five friends and ask them for feedback (note that YOU are asking. How they respond is out of your control)
  • I will research agents and make a list of ten who are looking for my genre
  • I will submit my polished query letter to those ten agents and search out ten more
  • I will send out another query letter for every rejection I receive

And so on. If your worry is interpersonal, such as conflict with your agent or a crit partner or a problem with your editor, the action list still takes the same format. You can't change another person. You can't change what they think or feel or what they do. You probably have no control over editorial decisions. But you can let them know how you feel and what you think. Communication is a direct action you can take. So your list might look more like this:

  • Write a letter to my agent explaining my point of view
  • Ask my editor for an extension
  • Message my crit partner and ask if we can talk.

Maybe the thing that's keeping you awake at night is a book launch and your fear that your new release won't sell enough copies. Every writer has been there. Again, make a list of positive actions that you can take, and then do those things.

Sometimes action is the best self care. Relaxation and breathing and meditation are wonderful things, but so is knowing that you have taken positive action to resolve a problem.


The Afterglow of Revision

At last, I hit Control Save on my revision of my second thriller, Red Sky, and emailed it to my editor. Woo hoo!! As writers I’m sure you all know how great it feels to type the end and know you’ve finished a scene, a chapter, a book. You also know how painful it can be to have someone critique your work.

I am a true believer of critique, but it didn’t prepare me for the editor.

When I sent in my first completed manuscript in 1999, I was sending it to an editor who hadn’t bought my series. The editor who had signed my three-book contract had moved on and a new editor inherited my series. To say she was less than enthusiastic about the book I turned in is putting it mildly. She sent me a three-page single-spaced revision letter that told me to remove one character completely from the story. She never wanted to see him again.editor

I cried, then I called my agent.

My agent, being a wise man, explained to me how I had two choices. Do the revision or let the editor pay a “kill fee” (essentially the advance money I’d already received) and revert the rights to the series back into my name. Of course, I wanted to have my book published, so I tackled the revision. It took me a month and half and, after I turned it in, my editor told me she was surprised that I had pulled it off, then offered me two more books on the contract for a total of five.

With her, my longest revision letter was the first one. The second book didn’t have any revisions. The third book a few minor things, the fourth book needed a thread tied up, and the fifth book went straight to copy edits. None of it prepared me for the revision letter I received on DARK WATERS, the first book in my thriller series. That revision letter was over seven pages long single-spaced and the manuscript looked etched in red track changes.

I cried, then I called my editor.

I asked him why he had paid me for a book he didn’t like. He laughed. He said he loved the book, but he thought it would be improved by a few small changes. The “small changes” turned out to require a total restructuring of the first half of the novel and some not so small changes to character and plot. Again, I buckled down to the work, finished the revisions in a month and half AND I got back another three page single-spaced revision letter.

I cried, then I called my editor again.

He calmly assured me that he loved the book, that we were almost there and then complimented me. He told me that I had shown the mark of true writer. When I asked what he meant, he told me that often authors dig in their heels about making changes. They like their book the way it is, they resist any changes or suggestions, and they insist their purple-ist prose is golden. From his perspective, an editor is there to make your work the best it can be.

For what it’s worth, I agree.

dark-waters-final-cover-200x315DARK WATERS ended up nominated for multiple awards, sold to book clubs, sold internationally, sold in audio. That book got wonderful praise from colleagues, friends and authors I respect and admire. The book was better for my editor’s work and suggestions, and I thank him and share with him the credit for how well that book has done.

The second book went to a different editor for the first go-round. She was a bigwig at HarperCollins and now does freelance editing. She had four single-spaced pages of revision suggestions and the manuscript was etched in purple track changes.

I cried. (Have you noticed the trend?)

Then I didn’t call anyone. I complained to my husband, stomped around the house and complained to my dog. I let the revision letter sit for a week, took another look at it, let it sit a while longer, and then I picked it up and got to work. I didn’t agree with all the recommended changes (I never do) and I didn’t make every suggested change (I never have), but she was dead on with about 90% to 95% of what she felt didn’t work. The issues were different than the issues my editor had with the first book, and yet some things had a familiar ring. I’m a quick learner, and I’m not. This time it was the second half of the book where I needed to do some restructuring, fortify character motivations, and lay things out more clearly.

Now my original editor has the book, and I truly expect to get another revision letter before we’re done. I look forward to it. Having finished the hard work of going through the manuscript and making the first set of changes, RED SKY is a much better book. If going through it again will improve it more, I’m game. In fact, the final edit is sometimes the best. It’s when you can tweak the words, change some of the passive verbs to more active verbs, rewrite the clichés and make the similes and metaphors more original. It’s when you can put that final polish and touch on the book making it stand out as yours.

It’s my belief that every book is better for having a good editor—someone who takes the time to look at the big picture of what you’re attempting to do, who scrutinizes the story line and is willing to point out where things go awry. It’s also better for having a good writer—someone willing to take a hard look at their own work, to dig in and to make the necessary changes.

Go forth and revise--and if you have any revision stories of your own, I'd love to hear them.


The Writer’s Nightmare Before Christmas

The holidays are coming…can you feel your writing time slipping away?

I love the holidays, the lights, the costumes, the decorations, the family, the baking—presents. The one thing is, those months ALWAYS knock me off my word count track.

Usually this is not a huge problem. I pick back up in January and keep plugging along, but this year’s a bit different. The final book in my Ascendant Trilogy is due out Summer of 2017 and I need to get that manuscript to my editor by March to make that happen. I don’t have time to fall off the yellow bricks and into a Christmas tree.

This year, my holidays need to run different.

I had brunch today with two of the most supportive and encouraging female writers I know. (We’re partial to Linger in Highlands, fantastic food and a great atmosphere. If you haven’t been, we highly recommend!) Among the many writerly conversations we had, we came up with a few ideas to help all three of us enjoy the holidays while still being productive with our individual writing projects. Here they are.

Make writing a priority

Too often it is easy to make writing last on our never ending lists of things. It must be a priority. This often requires nothing more substantial than a shift in our thinking and the actions we are choosing to take during the day. If I think, “I need to get one thousand words written BEFORE I tackle anything else on my list” instead of, “As soon as I accomplish these other twenty things, then I can sit down and write one thousand words” I have completely shifted my priorities for the day.

Make a plan

Everyone feels most creative at different times of the day, but for me, first thing in the morning has ALWAYS worked the best when it’s crunch time. Even though I’m home writing full time now, I can easily fill my entire day with all the other things that need management and attention. Getting up at four in the morning, before my kids are awake and getting ready for school, gives me two magic hours of utter silence in my house. Plus, since I know that time is finite, it keeps me from messing around on the computer reading all your fabulous, but highly distracting, facebook posts. Maybe the evening works better for you, or your lunch break at work, whatever the time of day, set up a reoccurring schedule reminder and stick to it through the holiday months.

Set daily, weekly, and monthly writing goals

Great, writing is a priority, I have a plan to get up early, so what sort of word count promise should I make myself while trying to get ready for:

  • trick-or-treaters
  • traveling to Montana with two kids and two puppies for a week over Thanksgiving
  • getting out those Christmas cards
  • shopping for presents
  • decorating the tree
  • watching A Christmas Story, Elf, and National Lampoons Christmas Vacation

How about I make an easily obtainable one? I usually crack out 1000 words a day while working on a book, but I'm going to cut myself some slack. From the posting date of this blog, there are seventy-five days until New Years Eve. If I were to only write 500 words a day, starting today until New Years Eve, I will have 37,500 words toward my new book completed. That is almost half of the whole book done before the end of 2016! 500 words is roughly 2 pages a day. I can write 500 words a day in my sleep! This blog post is longer than 500 words.

Be honest with yourself

I sometimes use the busyness of my life as an excuse to not write. Yes, there is always a lot to do in my life—but that never changes. I never obtain PERFECT LIST COMPLETION no matter how much I would love to. There is always more. So the next time I forget my priority to write, scrap that plan and hit the snooze, or decide to shrug off that 500 word count goal, I don’t get to hide behind a pile of laundry or sigh about the lines at Target. I made a choice that day, and that choice was not writing. Lying to myself about that only keeps me from getting where I want to go.

Nominations are now open for two Executive Board positions, Vice President and Treasurer.

rmfw-logoWhen asked to write a paragraph or two about the value of volunteering with RMFW and the VP and Treasurer positions in particular, a multitude of thoughts scampered about. To sort them out, we thought it would be interesting to see what some experts say about volunteers.

In a 2014 Psychology Today article on 5 Reasons You Should Volunteer, Dawn C. Carr MGS, Ph.D. referenced Mark Granovetter, a John's Hopkins Sociologist, and his study on the important role of "weak ties."

"Weak ties are those relationships that are outside of one’s close-knit social network. These relationships are important because they provide access to new information and opportunities. Volunteering in your current career industry—or an area you’d like to transition into—is an especially effective way to leverage social connections for career gain."

Weak ties grow strong in RMFW. (The Force is strong in this one!)

For example, attending RMFW events provides an intense dose of fun, support, opportunities to learn, and (drum roll) weak ties. Volunteering leverages those connections. Plus, on top of those very tangible prospects, everyone knows how satisfying it is to help others. Kind of like a big ol' bear hug that leaves your soul glowing.

With that in mind, we want to remind you that nominations are now open for two Executive Board positions, Vice President and Treasurer. But wait, there's more! Besides the warm glow, there are benefits to both positions. Conference is comped, you become acquainted with lots and lots of members, help select award winners (Jasmine, Gold Nuggets, etc.), and most importantly, you help guide our exceptional organization.

Neither position is particularly time consuming.

The VP backs up the President, may run a few meetings, is involved in all operating decisions, and along with PAL and IPAL reps, coordinates the WOTY and IWOTY nomination and selection process. And gee, that includes coordinating the BookBar and Tattered Cover events. Who wants to get acquainted with our local book sellers? Go on, raise your hand.

Another fun aspect of the VP position is reading the sample chapters of all of our WOTY and IWOTY nominees, and because of that the spring months do require more hours than later in the year, but overall we estimate an average of six to eight hours a month.

Treasurer is, of course, a vital job, and requires some knowledge not every member may have, but if you've worked in accounting or management, understand budgeting and can read a financial statement, you're in! RMFW's bookkeeper handles much of the day-to-day work, and the Treasurer oversees all of our numbers, raps our knuckles once in a while, writes checks and manages expenditures, files a few reports and coordinates the year-end tax filing, and keeps the credits away from the debits. Just like the VP, Treasurer is involved in all operating decisions, and we also estimate six to eight hours per month, with a heavier workload late in the year during the budgeting process. Knowledge of QuickBooks online is a bonus but not absolutely necessary.

Volunteering on the Executive Committee is rewarding beyond what we can measure. The relationships and networking have created their own magic, giving us knowledge of the craft and industry we’d never have gained isolated in our own places.

So, we hope you'll sit back for a moment and consider nominating yourself or a friend for VP or Treasurer. To do that, by October 25, 2016 please send nominations to all three members of the Election Committee:

Vicki Rubin,
Christine Jorgensen,
Susan Smith,

Best regards,

Janet Fogg, Vice-President
Shannon Baker, Treasurer
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers

Allied Powers


When it comes to sales and promotion, DIY is not necessarily the best solution. It's much easier to promote somebody else's book than it is your own. It's also less likely to get you tossed in the spam hamper with Nigerian Princes and <Body Part> Enlargement Salesmen. For this, you need allies. Allies you can use to help promote your work to their audiences.

The best part of this? They don't even have to be aware of it. You can use the power of Amazon's ecosystem to promote your books on allied authors' descriptions. The catch? You have to promote theirs. The reality? It's going to happen anyway, you may as well take advantage of it.

The secret sauce is in the Also-Boughts. That magical ribbon of titles that shows up after you've sold a few books that says "Customers who bought this also bought:"

If you haven't got them, it's a function of sales over time. It's actually possible to go without sales long enough that they age out and go away. It's a good marketing ploy to try to keep that from happening by selling a few books now and again. The best way to do that is to publish another book, ideally in a series, but that's a different topic.

The beauty of the Also-Bought is that while your book points to somebody else's book, their book generally points back to yours. If you have a few pages of Also-Boughts, that's a fair number of people helping to support your title. You can help the process along by talking up their books. If there's somebody you'd love to have in your Also-Bought ribbon, you might get that person's latest book and read it. Assuming you like it and think your readers will too, then tell them about it. Write about it on your blog. Tweet about it on twitter. Add it to your Book of Face. Try to get more of your fans to buy it.

Once it gets ahead of a critical mass (the secret sauce of which is apparently guarded more diligently than the Colonel's Secret Recipe of Herbs and Spices), those books will start showing up on your ribbon and your books will start showing up on theirs.

You can also find allies on your Author Central page where Amazon helpfully tells people that readers who bought your books also bought books by a list of other authors. That's a great place to actually prospect for allies. You might write to one or two and tell them how much you admire their stories. Perhaps you can offer a pull-quote (sometimes call a "blurb") for their product description or cover copy. After a while, you might even ask them if they'd consider offering a blurb for your upcoming release. Some will say "no." Others will say "not this time." Some will say "sure."

The point is that other authors are not your competition when it comes to readers. They're your allies. Close bonds with allies can yield amazing results.

Offer to meet them in Yalta and see what they say.


Photo Credit: By U. S. Signal Corps - Library of Congress , Franklin D. Roosevelt Library & Museum, Public Domain,

When Scouting Goes Live

Call Me Zhenya-goldOn September 23, I finished yutzing around with my Scout entry and uploaded it. The campaign is now underway, ending on October 23. How are things going? I have no idea… But I’m learning a lot. One of the things I’ve learned is to ask for votes everywhere! So please! If you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts or learned one or two things from it or if you just want to help me put my kids through college (I have TWO of them who are BOTH in college RIGHT NOW!), toss me a vote! I’ll be eternally grateful, and the karma will be awesome. Also, if they choose my book for publication, you’ll get a free copy! And then you can taunt your friends! HA HA! I got this book free and you didn’t!


On to the substantive (I hope) portion of the post.

Entering your book into the Kindle Scout program is pretty straightforward. You have to upload a formatted manuscript in .doc form. (For those who have been paying attention, yes, this means all my research into Scrivener vs. Vellum was useless for this project.) You’ll also have to have a bio, a completed cover, and blurbage for your book. The length limitations for the blurbs are pretty severe—I had a 100-word version of the blurb and still had to trim it. A side note--I paid someone to do my blurbs for me, because I wanted them to be kick-ass. I was pretty happy with the results.

Once you upload, you wait. You’ll get an email letting you know whether your book is accepted into the program. This actually didn’t take very long—I had my approval email within 24 hours. They send you information on your campaign link and tell you when it will go live (you have a few days to prepare).

Every day, you’ll get updated stats on your page views. See below for what this looks like. An interesting note here—the data provides page views, NOT the number of nominations. It also provides info on where your votes are coming from and provides some “also nominated” info. This means books your scouters also nominated. This inspired me to look for “allies,” like Nathan Lowell mentioned in his hella awesome workshop on Amazon at Colorado Gold.


kindle-scout-data-10-11-16The screencap here shows the first page of my stats for October 11. (Click for a .pdf of the full stats--it's 2 pages) On page 2, you can see that a little less than half my page views are consistently coming from Kindle Scout directly. The rest are from outside links, and so are the result of my promotional efforts or from other people passing the links around, etc. The big bumps occurred at the beginning, when I posted the link to Facebook and Twitter and also sent out a notification via my reader newsletter. There’s another big bump after my friend Marteeka Karland posted about the book in her reader newsletter, which is about five times the size of mine, subscription-wise. I got another bump when Kate Douglas, another friend and a long-time Kensington author with a good-sized following, posted a link on her author page with some praise for the excerpt (as in, if this isn’t published soon I’m going to HUNT KATRIENA DOWN!!). (We luff Kate :-])


Some other things I did, all of which seemed to have produced small bumps in page views:

Ran a Book-a-Day giveaway at The Romance Studio. This was a drawing for a paperback version of the book, which I’ll send out after Kindle Scout lets me know whether they’re buying the book (they buy only electronic rights, so paperback rights will belong to me either way).

Ran guest blogs on other authors’ blogs. This included a person from the Also Scouted list. I noticed one of the books popping up was one I’d already nominated, so I contacted the author and asked if we could exchange blog posts (an ally! And I’ll probably do this again with another author or two before the campaign ends). She only had a few days left on her campaign, so I made sure her post went up promptly, and she posted mine a day or two later. I also posted a blog at The Romance Studio a few days before the Book-A-Day giveaway.

Ran a Thunderclap. This didn’t pan out—I didn’t get enough backers to activate the campaign. I came close—76 out of 100—but couldn’t quite get it over the line. I’ll probably give Thunderclap its own post later, since I have some Profound Thoughts about the process.

Some things that didn’t happen that I’d hoped would happen:

I didn’t seem to get any pageviews from the Thunderclap recruiting. If you know how Thunderclap works, it’s pretty obvious why this didn’t pan out. There’s no direct link to your book until the campaign goes live (or if there is I didn’t find it). Again, there’s a lot to talk about regarding Thunderclap.

Amazon allows you to add your other books to your campaign page, and I’d hoped this would generate some sales. I figured some people would see the campaign, notice the other books I’d written, and check them out. So far I see no indication that sales of my Kindle self-pub books have spiked at all. On the other hand, I’m noticing that Amazon linked to a lot of out-of-print editions, so that might be my own damn fault for not tweaking the links when I had the chance. On the other hand, Authorgraph tells me a few of my Samhain titles have gone up in the rankings, so...maybe?

The numbers overall are lower than I’d hoped. On the other hand, I’ve spent a good amount of time in Hot and Trending, which doesn’t suck. It appears that the magic number to be featured in that part of the site is about 60 pageviews (you can see these stats on page 2 of the pdf).

As of now, I’m sort of running out of ideas for promotion. However, I have a book I’m consulting, and I’m going to pull ideas from there and execute them over the last stretch of the campaign. The book is called Crowdfunding for Authors by Bethany Carlson, and it’s not actually out yet. I got an ARC copy because I supported the book on Indiegogo. I’d suggest keeping an eye out for it when it does become available, because so far it’s looking like a pretty good resource.

That’s about it for the State of the Scout this month. Next time, I should know whether or not the book has been accepted for publication, and I can report on the beginnings of that process or let you know where to buy the book when I release it myself.

Again, to drop me a vote for Call Me Zhenya, drop by my campaign page!!

What Makes a Romance Novel a Romance Novel

Before we get too far in the tips and how-to’s of writing romance, we should define romance as a genre.

Over the years, romance has gotten a bad rap.  In the early days of the romance novel - in the days of Kathleen Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers - there were books that, by today’s standards, would be viewed as rape stories.  These were stories of vulnerable females who were “owned” by strong alpha-males who had their way with the women.  The heroines could fight all they want - the “hero” won in the end - and eventually the heroine would realize that he was the man for her and they’d end up living happily ever after.

Bodice Rippers.

Here’s a definition that alludes back to this time:  A romantic novel or film marked by seduction of a female protagonist, sustained drama, and sometimes violence. American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language.

As the genre grew, this type of story became politically incorrect and gave way to stronger, less victimized heroines.

So what qualifies as a romance anyway?  Understand please that the answer found here is ONLY for the GENRE of romance.  But if you’re going to write books in this genre, you must know the rules.

Or you risk turning your reader against you.  And we don’t want that.

Let’s get to it then.

Googling “definition of a romance novel” can be fun.

Wikipedia says this: “The romance novel or romantic novel discussed in this article is the mass-market literary genre. Novels of this type of genre fiction place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an ‘emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.’”

The bastion of romance-writing - Romance Writers of America -  says it this way:  “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

RWA goes on to make it clear that there are many types of romance novels, from historical to mystery to erotica.  But no matter what, the love story is the main story.  A suspense novel with a side of romance doesn’t qualify as a romance novel.

To get this definition of romance from the RWA, there was quite a long and involved discussion amongst the leaders in the genre.  When they got to the “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending” part, they realized that a “happy” ending meant different things to different people.

Here’s Jennifer Crusie (one of those involved in this discussion) - “My feeling on this, which I have expressed loudly and often, is that the romance novel is based on the idea of an innate emotional justice in the universe, that the way the world works is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished. The mystery genre is based on the same assumption, only there it’s a moral justice, a sense of fair play in human legal interaction: because the good guys risk and struggle, the murderers get punished and good triumphs in a safe world. So in romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice, unconditional love in an emotionally safe world.”

I’ve always said that romance was defined by a “happily-ever-after” ending but after reading about emotional justice in Crusie’s words, I might borrow that.  Don’t we really all long for a story in which, after all is said and done, good triumphs over evil?  And if you’re a believer in love conquering all, emotional justice might really be what you’re after in reading romance.

Leigh Michaels - writing for Writer's Digest - says it like this: “A  romance novel is the story of a man and a woman who, while they’re solving a problem that threatens to keep them apart, discover that the love they feel for each other is the sort that comes along only once in a lifetime; this discovery leads to a permanent commitment and a happy ending.

There are the rules summed up in one paragraph.

●   A hero and a heroine

●   A problem that threatens to keep them apart

●   A realization that this is “the one” and the struggle to make the relationship work

●   A commitment - whether that’s marriage or simply the implication of marriage - at the end.


I couldn’t have said it better.

As long as we’re here, let’s quickly look at what the RWA calls the two formats for the genre:

Series or "category" romances: books issued under a common imprint/series name that are usually numbered sequentially and released at regular intervals, usually monthly, with the same number of releases each time. These books are most commonly published by Harlequin/Silhouette.

Single-title romances: longer romances released individually and not as part of a numbered series. Single-title romances may be released in hard cover, trade paperback, or mass-market paperback sizes.”

I balked at this definition because I use the term single-title romance to mean any romance novel that isn’t part of a series.  Let me give you an example.  I have written a 5-book military romance series.  But I also have a “single-title” paranormal romance coming out in 2017 that is not part of a series.

I think I’d revise their formats and leave the word “series” out.  I’d make it Category Romance and Single-title romance.  Then within the Single-title format I’d put Series and Standalone.

But that’s just me.

As an aside, Category Romance used to be a sort-of laughing stock of the genre.  But not so anymore.  If you aren’t familiar with the amazing variety of categories in Category Romance, stop by the Harlequin/Silhouette website and check it out.  And before the dawn of Amazon and e-books, the authors of these books had, literally, thirty days to sell their books.  Kudos to the authors who made that work and thrived in that environment.

I’ll be back next month and we’ll get into some of the tropes of the genre.

Until then, campers, BIC-HOK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.



Current Climate in Publishing: The Sky Didn’t Fall, So Now What?

After the recent Colorado Gold Conference, I found myself wondering about indie/self-publishing and traditional happy-b-day-picpublishing. When I joined my first Gold Conference back in 2008, I/S publishing was the DEVIL. No, really, like the actual end of the world four to five horsemen. (I first typed horsemint, which is, according to word, any various coarse mints. Thought you might enjoy my overeagerness about just how bad it once was to I/S publish, that or my fat fingered typing ability).

This past conference, the vibe was MUCH different, and in fact, most of the I/S pub workshops were filled (I should know, our Rejection Panel went up against Nathan Lowell’s Amazon workshop Saturday morning. Thank you to the five people who joined us). Also, for the first time, iPAL the independently published version of PAL, was awarded a Writer of the Year (Lisa Manifold, who deserved it greatly for a) successfully writing and marketing great books, but more so b) being a leader in our community).

So my question to you, dear readers, and for once, comment dang it!, how do you feel about publishing these days? When you think of your current WIP, is it slated for traditional route or a more indie one? Have you come to the dark or maybe light side (depending on who you ask) of publishing?

Right now I publish with both. I see good things and bad for each. Nothing is ever going to be simple or perfect in publishing. Yet this is the first time I see I/S publishing tipping in favor to traditional. Or maybe just with my tribe. So let’s hear it. Good and bad. Beautiful and ugly. What say you about today’s publishing format climate?

Announcing our 2017 Colorado Gold Keynote Speakers!

As embers of 2016 Colorado Gold Conference cool and the ashes are brushed away and collected in the bin, I find it's hard to get back to everyday life. Time with our tribe ignites the flames of creativity and comradeship, reminds us that we are part a larger whole, and—if we're lucky—fuels us until the next time we can gather together.

There is some awesome stuff brewing for next year's conference that I can't share just yet, but in the interest of stoking the flames for next year, it is my distinct pleasure to be able to share the identities of our 2017 Colorado Gold Conference Keynote Speakers.

Please join me in welcoming authors Sherry Thomas and Lori Rader-Day!


Sherry Thomas is a hybrid author who writes historical romance, historical mystery, and young adult fantasy.

On the romance side, she is one of the most acclaimed authors working in the genre today, her books regularly receiving starred reviews and best-of-the-year honors from trade publications. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award.

On the young adult fantasy side, THE BURNING SKY, book 1 of the Elemental Trilogy, was a finalist for the 2014 RITA® Award for Best Paranormal Romance, the 2014 Pick for Tayshas State Reading List (Texas), has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and been named to the Autumn ’13 Kids’ Indie Next List.thomassherry_coversOn the historical mystery side, her brand-new A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN, releases October 18th, 2016 (available for preorder) and has already received critical acclaim:

“Clever and absorbing. Thomas’s gorgeous prose and expert characterizations shine in this new incarnation of Sherlock Holmes. Readers will wait with baited breath to discover how Thomas will skillfully weave in each aspect of the Sherlockian canon, and devour the pages to learn how the mystery unfolds.” – Anna Lee Huber, National Bestselling Author of the Lady Darby Mysteries

"Gender bending is just the first sign that unusual happenings are afoot in this origin story for a revamped Sherlock Holmes series by bestselling author Thomas...There is also a tantalizing, slow-burn love story between Holmes and a longtime friend befitting Thomas' skills as a romance novelist....The ground has been laid well for future incidents in the professional and intimate life of Charlotte Holmes." —Kirkus

Sherry writes in her second language. She learned English by reading romance and science fiction—every word Isaac Asimov ever wrote, in fact. She is proud to say that her son is her biggest fanboy—for the YA fantasy, not the romances. At least, not yet…

Be sure to check out Sherry's website and follow her on social media:

Website • Facebook • Twitter • Goodreads

Lori Rader-Day is the author of the Anthony Award-winning mystery THE BLACK HOUR  and the Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning mystery LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, both from Seventh Street Books. Her third novel, THE DAY I DIED, will be published by Harper Collins William Morrow on April 11, 2017 (available for preorder).


Her fiction has been previously published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, TimeOut Chicago, Crab Orchard Review, Freight Stories, and in the anthology Dia de los Muertos (Elektrik Milkbath Press), and others. Bestselling author Jodi Picoult chose her story as the grand prize winner of Good Housekeeping’s first fiction contest.

Originally from central Indiana, Lori grew up frequenting the local libraries, reading all the Judy Blume and Lois Duncan she could get her hands on. Then she discovered Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. She may have wandered off the mystery writer path a few times, but everyone knew she would get back there eventually.

Lori studied journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, but eventually gave in to her dream and studied creative writing at Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Now a resident of Chicago for fifteen years, she has a favorite deep dish pizza and is active in the area’s crime writing community. Lori is the president of the Midwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and a member of Sisters in Crime Chicagoland, and the International Thriller Writers. Chicago is a really great town in which to be a mystery writer.

Be sure to check out Lori's website and follow her on social media:

Website • Facebook • Twitter • Goodreads

Hooray! The new year hasn't even turned over on the calendar and already our 2017 Colorado Gold is shaping up to be fantastic! I'm looking forward to sharing more new and exciting updates for conference as our plans solidify. Can you feel the heat of the Colorado Gold crackling in the background? I sure can!