Writing Romance in Sin City

On the third Saturday of every month, romance overtakes the Enterprise Library located on South Las Vegas Boulevard. Shortly after the library opens, twenty or so people, mostly women, file into one of the meeting room. There, the secrets of romance publishing are revealed to the attendees of the monthly meeting of Las Vegas romance writers who belong to the Cactus Rose chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Well, okay, the information disseminated at these meetings isn’t secret. But it is offered by people with real-world experience in the industry. Typically, Cactus Rose speakers, who offer advice on writing craft or industry concerns, are published authors, but editors and agents have also been guest speakers in the past. This month, the speaker was Sue Ann Jaffarian, a mystery author with two series in print. Like speakers, attendees are not limited to thosewho write romance fiction. Cactus Rose welcomes writers of any genre interested improving writing skills and learn more about the publishing industry.

Sue Ann Jaffarian speaks at the September meeting
Sue Ann Jaffarian speaks at the September meeting
Photo by Steve Fey

Who are the writers who come to soak up this information? Well, one of them is yours truly. Yes, it is true. In addition to being a lawyer in a ginormous law firm known for its serious business representation and cut throat litigation teams, I am a bona fide published romance author. And as a novelist, I love writing groups. I love this one most of all.

The word “romance writer” might evoke the image of Barbara Cartland reclining on a gilt lounge with a fluffy dog at hand while she dictates her tales to an assistant. But although I’ve met many hundreds of romance writers, I’ve never once met one who dressed or worked like that. Instead, romance writers (like all writers) tend to be relatively ordinary people from all walks of life. Quite a few are lawyers like me (or used to be, before they started writing full time). In Cactus Rose, aside from those who write full time, we have a university professor, a massage therapist, a few schoolteachers, one or two stay-at-home moms, an editor for a romance publisher, and representatives from other professions.

At present, all of Cactus Rose’s members are women, but not all who write romance are female. I’ve met a few successful male romance authors over the years. However, women definitely dominate in this profession. In fact, women dominate throughout the romance industry, not only among the writers, but among the agents and editors, as well. I can’t help but wonder whether it is the prevalence of women in this industry that makes those who have found success so willing to give their time to help others achieve their publishing goals, as well. The romance industry is a community.

Cactus Rose serves as the Las Vegas branch of this community. It is the local chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA), the trade association for romance writers. In this small library meeting room, we come together to share knowledge, celebrate successes, commiserate over disappointments, and revel in the communion of our writing spirits. Newcomers are always welcome here.

Speaker Sue Ann Jaffarian takes questions after her talk to romance writers.
Speaker Sue Ann Jaffarian takes
questions after her talk to romance writers.
Photo by Tami Cowden

Says Cactus Rose member Ginger Duran, “”When I was new to Las Vegas and in search of a writer’s group, Cactus Rose welcomed me with open arms. Those arms have remained open not only for me but for all who seek to hone their craft. I’ve been gratified by their support and inspired by their enthusiasm.”

RWA has more than 10,000 members worldwide. Through its monthly journal, Romance Writers Review, national conference and contests, and the programming of locally affiliated chapters like Cactus Rose, RWA offers considerable education and support to both its published and unpublished members.

Like Cactus Rose, RWA chapters across the country hold meetings and workshops where speakers share their insight and skills. They help their members form critique groups, publish newsletters with helpful articles, sponsor contests offering editorial review to finalists, and celebrate the successes of their members. There are many writing organizations out there, but none that can rival RWA for educating and helping members advance through all stages of their careers.

Romance writers often don’t get the respect they deserve, but that may be because many don’t realize just what a player romance fiction is in the publishing world. Far from being a niche market, it is a billion dollar industry. According to Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2009, sales of romance fiction in 2008 were over $1.37 billion ; a similar peak is expected this year even in these hard economic times. Even the religious and inspirational market, the second highest selling genre, has sales equal to less than 60% of the romance segment.

One reason for the popularity of romance is that it encompasses so many subgenera under its umbrella. While maintaining the constant of telling how two people overcome their internal obstacles to find lasting love with each other, romance novels come in many flavors. The stories may be set in the past, the present or the future, and in any part of this world or of an imaginary world. The hero and heroine may refrain from so much a single open-mouthed kiss, or they may indulge in the kinkiest of sexual exploits. Heroes can include the boy next door, the vampire down the block, or the casino mogul on the Strip, with the possibilities for heroines also limited only by the writer’s imagination. Stories may center on small town values, big city excitement, or international suspense and intrigue. Target audiences range from teenagers to seniors, and everything in between. And make no assumptions–not all readers are women; a survey several years back showed that one in ten romance reader was male.

Writers take notes during the September meeting.
Writers take notes during the September meeting.
Photo By Steve Fey

Writers in Cactus Rose are working on contemporaries, historical, and futuristic; inspirational and erotica; romantic suspense and romantic comedies. And whether published or aspiring to publication, we meet each month to help each other get a little farther along in our books, and in our careers. In Romance, we call a book’s resolution the happily ever after – or HEA for short. Cactus Rose is all about helping its members achieve their own HEAs.

To become a member of Cactus Rose, you must also be a member of RWA. However, anyone who’d like to receive details and reminders of meetings is welcome to sign up on the group’s Meetup site


6 responses on “Writing Romance in Sin City

  1. Tami,

    This was a great overview of the romance industry. I often have to explain to people outside of our business that “romance” means that the book has a central couple dealing with their relationship and reaching for that HEA, but that the canvas their story plays out against can be almost anything–a mystery, a thriller, fantasy, science fiction, and a huge variety of historical periods.


  2. Thanks, Alexis. I think the misconception that romances are all about “girl getting guy” rather than about the emotional journey of the characters is one reason why romance doesn’t get the respect its position in the industry deserves. The truth it, it is an incredibly rich genre with something for everyone, and its sales numbers reflect that reality.

  3. Loved learning about HEA! That was new to me. Also enjoyed your POV about the romance industry. Well, back to my WIP!

  4. huh, definitely not something i would have read if not on this site. but it is one of the things i like here, the variety of interests.

  5. Marti, thanks for the comments and especially for noticing that we do have a HUGE range of topics and subjects that we cover here.


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