Wednesday, December 15, 2010

20 WOW Wednesday: Roni Loren on Breaking Rules

This week's WOW Wednesday is about following your bliss in writing, and we're delighted to have Roni Loren talk about starting with YA and following inspiration wherever it leads. Congrats to Roni and her fabulous agent, Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary, for the sale of Roni's 2012 debut novel!

On Learning the Rules and Breaking Them Anyway

First of all, thank you ladies for inviting me over for WOW Wednesday! I'm so excited to be here. :)

As I was sitting here thinking through what I should talk about today, I realized that I spend a lot of time on my blog, Fiction Groupie, talking about rules. Writing rules. Query rules. Critiquing rules. Social Networking rules. We writers are faced with a daunting amount of information on what we should and should not do.

And rules are important. If you send a query and don't follow the agent's submission guidelines, you're going to get a no. If you type up your entire novel without punctuation, you're going to get rejected. And if all you do on Twitter is promote your blog/book/excerpts/whatever, people will run away screaming. Rules are there for a reason.

However, I also think that focusing so much on these rules can also smother some of our creativity and kill a story that may become THE story for you. You know the one that gets you THE agent and THE book deal.

Don't believe me? Well, let me talk a little about my journey thus far.

Why It's Important to Know the Rules...

I started getting serious about writing two years ago. I had always had writing dreams. I even wrote a really, really awful novel when I was in high school. But I'd never really sat down and said--okay, I'm going to do it. So when I had my son and quit my job to stay home with him, I had no more excuses. I had an idea for a YA paranormal romance and decided to give it a shot.

Writing it was a dream. I never got writer's block, the words flowed. I had fun! (And I also had no freaking idea what I was doing.) I didn't know the rules. Didn't know that those oh-so-creative dialogue tags every other sentence and adverb vomit were bad things. Didn't know that my main character was supposed to have some internal motivation and actually move the plot forward instead of things just happening around her. I was in ignorant bliss.

And then I made the mistake almost all of us make--I queried that sucker. Before I ever had anyone read it besides my husband and mother. Before I read any book on craft. Before I perused any writing blogs.

So what happened? I got a few full requests from some great agents. Even Richelle Mead's agent requested the full. I was already picturing my book on the shelf.

Then reality hit. Form rejections came left and right. All fulls and partials were declined with a polite no. One full did get a personalized rejection that kindly told me "you can definitely write and have a good voice" but that the story wasn't different enough from what was out there. She also said for me to feel free to query her with my next project.

That one form rejection gave me hope. A few simple sentences that said--you don't completely suck, but you need work. I could live with that.

So I geared myself up for a mission--I would learn everything I could about craft and about the publishing business and next time would be different. So I started blogging and reading industry blogs. I bought craft books and devoured them. And I found a critique group that wasn't afraid to tell it like it is.

Why It's Okay To Break the Rules Once You Know Them...

And that's when I started breaking rules...on purpose. My crimes? Well, let's see...

Broken Rule #1: Find your genre and then hone your craft within that genre.
Well the next idea that came to me was for a grown-up romance not YA, so I wrote that. (That book is still under consideration at Harlequin.) Then the idea after that was a -gasp- erotic romance, so I wrote that. I followed the muse instead of containing myself in one genre box.

Broken Rule #2: Don't do unconventional things if you're trying to break in, save it for after you're established.
My erotic romance was demanding to be told in a dual timeline format. I.e. One chapter of present then one chapter of past, all through the book. Yes, that means half the story is BACKSTORY--omg, rule-followers everywhere are gaping in horror.

Broken Rule #3: Follow genre conventions.
Well, erotic romance typically means that you have a love scene very early--sometimes the first chapter. These books are sexy and you want readers to know that from the get go. BUT, my story didn't unfold that way. I don't have the first  major love scene until a third of the way into the book. Putting my characters in bed before that wouldn't have been right for the story or the characters.

So I broke these rules consciously, knowing that I was taking a risk, but trusting that the story needed to be told a certain way. I hoped that even if I couldn't find an agent with this book or land a NY publishing contract, maybe I could place it with a digital-first publisher who wasn't as worried about unconventional stories. But regardless of where it ended up, I believed in my story and the way I was telling it.

And guess what?

That little story that refused to be told in a conventional way landed me my superfantabulous agent--Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary. And two months after that, we sold the book to Berkley Heat (Penguin) in a two-book deal. My publishing dreams will come true in early 2012 when my book hits the shelves. :)

It's been a wonderful ride and I'm so thankful. But here's what I've learned:
Know the rules inside and out first. Writing without it is wasting your time.
If you break a rule, know WHY you are breaking the rule and make sure it's a good reason.
Don't query your first novel until you have critique partners who are not related to you read it.
Yes, pay attention to the market, but don't stifle your muse. Tell the stories that demand to be told. I never planned to be an erotic romance author. I just wrote the stories that spoke to me.

So what have you learned on your journey? Any other queried-too-soon writers out there like me? What rules have you broken--on purpose or by accident? Which have you wanted to break but were scared to? 

Roni wrote her first romance novel at age fifteen when she discovered writing about boys was way easier than actually talking to them. Since then, her flirting skills haven’t improved, but she likes to think her storytelling ability has. After earning a master’s degree in social work from LSU, she worked in a mental hospital, counseled birthmothers as an adoption coordinator, and did management recruiting in her PJs. But she always returned to writing. Though she’ll forever be a New Orleans girl at heart, she now lives in Dallas with her husband and son. If she’s not working on her latest sexy story, you can find her reading, watching reality television, or indulging in her unhealthy addiction to rockstars concerts. Her debut novel, EXPOSURE THERAPY, will be published by Berkley Heat in early 2012. 


  1. Great post Roni. I too had to teach myself how to write through my mistakes and sent my manuscript out too early.

    Good luck with your books. I'd so love to have Sara as an agent. She sounds fabulous.

  2. Thanks Roni for the inspirational post. And I'm so happy that your dreams are coming true. Pure awesomeness! Oh, and p.s., I so made all of the mistakes you've made and more.

  3. Fabulous interview, Roni, thanks so much.

    Like you, I did query too early with my first. Broke a few of those same rules. Now that I know better I hope I'll get some fulls on my latest.

  4. Roni is filled with awesome, and I can't wait to read her books.

    I queried my first book too early. I only had teen beta readers read it (they loved it), but I didn't know how to tighten my writing back then, which is what I needed to do.

    I've always thought I'd only write YA, but I'm now exploring other genres outside kidlit. It's tough though. As if there weren't enough YA books I want to read as it is, now my TBR pile has grown infinity taller. ;)

  5. These are really great tips, so thanks for sharing! I haven't queried my first book yet (still writing it) so it's nice to read this advice before I do so I don't make the same mistakes. :)

  6. One of the earliest rules I broke early on was making an important character very one-dimensional. It made for a rather flat story.

  7. Oh, very yes! So many rules and so many ways to break them. I started my YA novel with not only a prologue (gasp!) but the first chapter began with dialogue (faints dead away!).

    Here's what's weird: I got picked up by a publisher out of the slush pile. So know the rules, then break them if they help the Story. Everything is about the Story.

  8. Great post, Roni. I almost did the same thing as you by querying too early. Now, the perfectionist in me won't let me venture out. Maybe some day. I just have a few more revisions to do. LOL

    Lynnette Labelle

  9. I think you make an excellent point Roni. I mean sure rules are meant to be broken, but I believe that you have to make sure you are breaking them on purpose, and with a reason, not just for the sake of breaking rules (or because you weren't aware of them).

  10. Great advice, thank you for sharing Roni.

  11. Hey Roni,

    Love breaking the rules! I'm thinking of breaking one myself. I write YA but I'm contemplating a move to middle grade for one project.

    Great post!

  12. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Your encouragement is invaluable to other writers. It's been a thrill to watch you achieve your publishing milestones.

    Can't wait to buy your book!

  13. What a great post, Roni (and Marissa and Martina)! Congrats on the book deal. I hear you on knowing when and how to break the rules. AWESOME!

  14. This is a great one. I think breaking rules with purpose can lead to some amazing writing. The issue is, a person needs to know the rules and why they are there first.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  15. Great to read this, thanks for sharing your story. I'm sure I thought all my first novels were ready to send out, but the first 9-10 weren't! Practice, practice...

  16. Awesome piece, Roni! Great advice. I think we've all broken a few rules along the way--glad to hear it can end well!

  17. Roni is a rock star!! Awesome advice. :-)

  18. After 20+ rejections I realized I had to stop go on a query hiatus and polish my ms. Roni your critique helped me a lot. =)

  19. Great post with the key point being, You MUST know the rules to (successfully) break them.

    I used to rush my short fiction out the door before giving it (and my brain) time to rest. It was only when I started giving my work a fresh, unhurried look that it started getting published.

    This post was a nice reminder since I'm in the process of readying my current WIP for submission.

    Thanks, Roni~

  20. Thank so much for all the great comments and I'm glad I'm not the only one who made all those mistakes! lol

    And thanks a ton to Martina and Marissa for having me over here today (even if I'm not a YA writer right now, lol.) This has been a lot of fun. And you guys have a great blog over here!


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