Could you make a fortune writing Mills & Boon?

KindleHave you ever read a book and thought you could write a better one?

Ever think that you should sit down and write a novel yourself? Here's what you need to know to write and submit a romantic novel.
I want to be a paperback writer
Every journalist I know is an aspiring author. We've all either written one or are in the middle of writing one. Some of us haven't actually started but just nurse the burning conviction that we'd sell more than Milton if only these pesky article deadlines didn't keep getting in the way.

Of course, I am no exception. I'm always in the middle of writing the next classic British novel, I just run out of steam before it ever comes together.
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But what about a Mills & Boon? They're shorter at between 50,000 and 55,000 words. I've read a few and they follow a fairly specific formula. I like to think I could write one if I put my mind to it.

And, if you'll excuse the pun, how hard can it be? More importantly, is there any money in it?

Do you have to write about, you know, sex?

Mills & Boon is most famous for being raunchy and certainly not the kind of thing you'd buy your mum. But if you can't quite bring yourself to use the word "throbbing" then fear not.

The publisher has a variety of styles, including the exceptionally sexy 'Blaze' series but also the 'Cherish' series, which focuses more on falling in love than falling into bed.

How hard is it to write?
They may seem to be simple romances but Mills & Boon require a very specific style and tone, and not everyone will find it easy to bend their style.

Aspiring Mills & Boon writers need to familiarise themselves with what's needed for each series before they put finger to keyboard.

For example, the guide to the Modern Romance series specifically states: "When the hero strides into the story he's a powerful, ruthless man... Yet he has depth and integrity, and he will do anything to make the heroine his. Though she may be shy and vulnerable, she's also plucky and determined to challenge his arrogant pursuit."

That might sound like the standard Mills & Boon fare but the series all have different demands.

For example, the 'Heartwarming' series guidelines state:

"Plots unfold in a wholesome style and voice that excludes explicit sex or nudity, pre-marital sex, profanity, or graphic depictions of violence: references to violent incidents in the past are acceptable if they contribute to character development." You need to know what's expected before you start writing."

The writing guidelines are all available on the Harlequin website, which is the publishing house behind the Mills & Boon brand.

If you need more information, Mills & Boon also runs writing workshops across the UK, many of which are either free or cheap. Check out the website for details of up and coming events.

Of course, if you're burning to write a specific idea then Mills & Boon may not be the right publisher for you.

But it could be worth finding a publisher that suits your style and then using any guidelines it offers to help shape your work. This may help you avoid rewrites when you submit to a specific publishing house.

How much could you earn?
Well, we're a money site, so this is probably the most pertinent question. Assuming that you ever finish a novel and find a publisher and it's more than a one-off then how much can you earn?

Is this a chance to make tens of thousands of pounds working for yourself, or a few hundred quid in your spare time?

Well, according to a report in the London Evening Standard, Mills and Boon writers can make anything from £2000 to £30,000 per book.

And looking at the wider market for authors, a 2007 Bournemouth University study showed that average earnings for the profession in 2004 were £16,000 a year. But of course, that's skewed by blockbuster writers.

The survey found that typical (median) earnings were just £4,000. It's a nice amount but if I ever manage to finish a novel it doesn't sound like I'll be giving up the day job in a hurry!

How to find a publisher
Finishing the novel is simply the first challenge, although for many people it's an insurmountable obstacle. After that, you'll need to find a publisher.

If it's a Mills & Boon romance you're writing then there's good news. The publisher really does read every submission it receives – just make sure you read the guidelines so you send the right information to the right department.

For anyone who hasn't written a romance, it can be far harder getting your precious manuscript in front of a publisher.

You'll find plenty of guidance online, as well as forums filled with aspiring and successful authors sharing stories and advice.

There's little point in me repeating it here – especially since I've not been published myself! However, I've found the advice published by Waterstones particularly helpful, especially in addressing whether or not you need an agent.

A warning
There are many, many publishing houses out there that make their money by asking the author to pay for the publishing costs.

As a general rule, if you see an agency requesting submissions it's a good idea to run a quick internet search to see if it's likely to ask you to invest in your novel's printing costs.

Established, traditional publishers tend to have more submissions than they need.

Of course, self-funded publishing isn't necessarily a bad thing but it is something to be aware of if you're daydreaming of hefty royalties.

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