Romance has always been a big part of my life. I started reading Mills & Boon novels as a young teenager, swept away by the love stories, the exotic destinations, heroes who seemed like nothing or no-one I’d ever met – or could hope to! I even remember getting in trouble in school for reading one particularly steamy novel during a maths class, but what quadratic equation could ever compare to a story about a hot Latino lover?! I then went on to study literature at university, where the three Js (Jilly Cooper, Jackie Colliins, and Jill Mansell) often provided an often-much-needed escape from highbrow literary fiction and poetry.
Then, upon graduation, I was lucky enough to find a business where I could bring my passion for romantic fiction in to my job, when I became an editor in a large publishing house, focusing on women’s fiction & romance. Some years later, my career carried me over to the digital side of publishing – but when I got there I found romance flourishing like never before! And now, as the merchandiser for the Kobo UK website, reading romance is absolutely still a massive part of my life and my job. Even better – now I don’t just look at the books that I love, but the books that other people love too, working to ensure every customer is recommended the titles they will fall for too (and often finding new favourite authors for myself in the bargain!).
So what do I look for in a romance novel? Well, aside from the need for a powerful and convincing love story, actually it’s the same as for any good book – a strong and complete plot, engaging characters, and a sense of individuality. The latter is ultimately the x-factor here, in my opinion. What will make your novel stand out from the crowd? Can you create a character, a situation, a story like no other? Will you inject humour, or heartbreak? Tragedy, or triumph? Will you set it in a place your reader might never expect love to flourish? Or challenge your characters to break conventions and carve their own paths? How will you make your story memorable? Well – only you know the answer to that last question. But I, for one, can’t wait to find out.
Isobel Akenhead has worked in publishing for nearly 12 years – first as an editor of bestselling women’s fiction and romantic comedy at Hodder & Stoughton; subsequently in digital sales at Hachette, and now as the store merchandiser for Kobo in the UK, Ireland and South Africa.
Isobel is member of the panel of judges for the Romance Writing Life Competition.