Monday, 6 January 2014


How much sexual and spiritual content?

What do most inspirational romance readers (and publishers!) accept?

Saw these in Texas, 2009
This again depends on the readers own personal background and preferences.
As far as I am aware, most publishers are primarily  marketing to Christian Bookshops.
However, Barbour Publishing have sold their Christian Romance Book Club, Heartsong Presents, to Harlequin. It now comes under Harlequin’s Love Inspired Heartsong Presents line. At least in America they should be more available in any good shops that already stock the Love Inspired line.
How I would love to see these released in Australia and New Zealand by Harlequin Australia and made readily available side by side the other Harlequin lines in places like our department  stores. 

It is important that whatever kind of inspirational romance novel you want to write, do read publishers' specific submission guidelines. e.g: They are under Extras on the Harlequin website pages for their inspirational lines

I noticed their HP line requirements are still very much the same as Barbour required when I submitted to them back in 1992. For example, it states these are, “Contemporary and historical inspirational romances with an evangelical Christian worldview focusing on faith, hope and love.

Eleven Key elements are then listed, including:No drugs, alcohol, gambling, profanity or immodest dress. No dancing in contemporary stories. No graphic violence or sex within the course of the story.”
I am absolutely delighted that my hard-working friend, Narelle Atkins has signed a six book contract for Heartsong Presents. As far as I am aware, besides myself and one from Jennifer Ryan years ago, we are the only three Australians to have Heartsong Presents books published. I do not know of any in the Love Inspired line. Where are you all? Would love to have many, many more available for romance readers in our own countries.

Narelle is one of the administrators for our ACW writers' group and blog. Very Exciting things are happening in her writing life. Do click on her name and check out her website. 

The Love Inspired books are longer novels and the guidelines are similar but also includes: “Relationships that emphasize emotional intimacy rather than sexual desire.”

And I believe this should be the standard for most, if not all, inspirational romance novels whether they be the category kind Harlequin publishes or other single titles.  

There are publishers who may accept “edgy” romance manuscripts but I strongly suggest this is NOT wise for unpublished authors to try. All love scenes even between a husband and wife stop at that “bedroom door.” 

Of course these guidelines also include points about including faith elements in Harlequin books.  
Handling spiritual content. 

I hope you read a wide variety of inspirational romance novels. Which ones did you think included spiritual content the way you prefer? Were you challenged by the faith elements? Did you like having scripture references so you could look them up yourself? Were you blessed in some way? They should be the kind you need to study and try  to write.

Always take note of who published them but remember also a publisher may vary what they accept. Obtain the submission guidelines for the ones you would like to submit to. If you cannot find them on the internet, ask for them to be sent to you via email or post. And I strongly suggest you do that first before commencing your manuscript. Of course, the very best way is to go to writers’ conferences where publisher representatives are present so you can ask them specific questions!

 I have read some books over the years (including Heartsongs) that have characters only going to church, saying grace before meals, have ‘good” morals, but the characters really not very much different from many in sweet romance novels. Quite frankly, I expect more in ones I read but there may be other readers who simply prefer that. However, for me the spiritual lives of the characters has to be woven into every aspect of the novel. Having said that, of course no one likes to be “preached” at.
For all writers today, the catch-cry is to “SHOW not TELL”. This is even more important in Christian fiction.

Wherever possible SHOW faith by the actions or lack of action of the characters. Remember it is “by their fruit you will know them.” However, I believe how realistic these elements become in your book will ultimately depend on your own personal experiences – your own Christian walk and what you have observed in others. While any writer without any active faith of their own can research and study faith elements for hours, I doubt if those elements will always ring true. Showing your own faith and how you have seen or heard how God works in your own life will give the most realistic, spiritual content in your manuscript.
More "help" suggestions:  

I  have been a member of Romance Writers of Australia since it commenced and owe so much to this great organisation as well as the Faith Hope Love chapter of Romance Writers America. Over the years I have only missed attending a few of the great RWA conferences in Australia. It was such a thrill and privileged to meet other international inspirational romance writers in 1999 at RWAmerica's national conference. If at all possible don't miss at least one American Christian Fellowship Writers conference. The one Ray and I went to simply blew us away.
I have only been able to share so little in these posts about inspirational romance. There is more you should be aware of that romance readers - and publishers - expect. For example, space has not permitted me mentioning the special element needed for a romance book on that very first page, first paragraph to capture the reader. 
There are many “How To...” books and articles about writing  romance and inspirational romance available. As well as searching the websites and blogs of favourite writers, I strongly suggest you invest in some “How To” books.


Writing the Christian Romance  As well as Christian romance, Gail writes sweet romance for Harlequin. It is also an e-book. Gail Gaymer Martin 
Heart & Craft  See the website of Australian romance author, Valerie Parv, especially her Writing Tips page. As well as her up to date information there, this book by her contains articles by at least eleven Australasian, multi-published romance authors.
Plot and Structure (Writers' Digest) The author, James Scott Bell is multi-published in the general as well as Christian market. I am looking forward very much to him being one of the keynote speakers at the Romance Writers of Australia’s annual conference next August.
A Novel Idea is fantastic for any Christian fiction writer. Published by Tyndale with articles by many best-selling romance writers like Francine Rivers, Robin Lee Hatcher, Karen Kingsbury, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Jerry B. Jenkins. 

So, as well as from these professionals, you’ve read various series like Harlequin’s Love Inspired Lines and books by your favourite single title authors from various publishers - hopefully including of course some Australian authors like Andrea Grigg, Rose Dee. Perhaps some of my own books also?

Have you now re-read your favourite books as a writer?
Have you tried to discover just how the writer made you want to keep reading?

You believe you have an idea that would make a good Christian romance novel. You’ve decided on what you thing is a good plot, chosen your hero, heroine and perhaps some minor characters. Better still, I hope you are now a little more aware of at least some of the expectations of avid sweet and inspirational romance readers. 

However, be warned. You need more than just an idea. You need a really GREAT Idea. The most important thing I can share with you is that you must have a really powerful, emotional story. I have read many books over the years that perhaps could have been written better. Better point of view, less typos and other technical problems that I wished had been edited. However, there are novels that contain some of these problems but have such a riveting, fascinating story I could not put the book down until that last page. And be warned, becoming a writer does make you notice these problems more than most readers and may jar you out of the story even more. 

Always remember, no matter the genre, “The Story” is the most important thing of any novel. It should be so powerful it gives many pleasant and sometimes very challenging “emotional experiences” from that first page to “The End".

Mary Hawkins is currently revising her latest Christian romance manuscript, Her Outback Cowboy, and still trying to put into practice what she has been learning about romance writing for nearly thirty years. Last December she celebrated twenty years since her first book, Search For Tomorrow, of 19 titles was published in 1993 by Barbour. She is excited it is again available as an e-book through Barbour’s Truly Yours Digital Editions.
Website and blog:

Currently all her back list Heartsong Presents Kindle editions are on sale. Not sure when they will revert back to full price. (Unfortunately so far only Justice at Baragula, Book Three in her Baragula series, is available as an e-book )


  1. I have noticed that several Harlequin Sweet authors also write for Love Inspired. Perhaps that is why there isn't a lot of difference between the two? If the authors are writing from a Christian world view, it makes sense that their main characters will be Christians, even if the guidelines for the Sweet line don't allow them to make this clear.

    I also suspect it's harder to get the spiritual themes in a shorter category romance where authors don't have the word count to allow much in the way of subplots - and spiritual growth is definitely a subplot in a romance (which should focus on the romance). Jennifer Rogers Spinola, one of my favourite authors, wrote four novella's for Barbour that focused heavily on the spiritual growth, and some of the reviewers gave the book one star, I think because it the stories didn't meet their expectations as romance readers.

    And, for those who live in New Zealand, you don't have to go all the way to Australia to hear James Scott Bell. He will also be speaking at the Romance Writers of NZ conference in August 2014, in Auckland. I'm looking forward to it!

    1. Thank you for your very wise post, Iola. When LI line first commenced I was delighted there were several Harlequin Sweet romance authors' books in their first few months, These included Sherryl Woods and Arlene James and of course more since then. One of the reasons I decided to write my first single title longer romance, Return to Baragula was mainly just the very reason you have mentioned. And I know too that when established LI authors have been established in that line that started to have sweet manuscripts accepted. This includes Lenora Worth's Because of Jane released By Harlequin Australia in a Special Moments edition in 2011. Just found it a few weeks ago!

  2. Mary, great post! It's really important to read the guidelines for your target publisher and know their expectations regarding the faith element and the level of sensuality.

    Harlequin's Heartwarming line has clean, non-religious romances with conservative values and morals. A number of authors rewrote their older LI titles for the Heartwarming line and removed the overt faith element from their stories. The recent releases I've read from the sweet line have a higher sensuality level than the LI or Heartsong guidelines allow. The Heartsong books need to show the characters living their faith, whereas the LI guidelines are less specific regarding the expression of the faith element in the story.

    The spiritual growth in the shorter books is part of the character's story arc and needs to be closely connected to their goal, motivation and conflict (GMC). In my stories, my hero and heroine have their main story GMC, romance GMC, and spiritual GMC which are all closely connect to the story theme.

  3. Thanks for your great post Mary, and the wise admonition to remember 'the emotional' experience for the reader is key. Margie Lawson calls this the visceral response. Has to be loud and clear for each character, to translate into the heart of the reader.
    Bless you
    Dotti :)

    1. Randy Ingermanson continually urges writers to "give the readers an Emotional Experience". Looking back over the years I have realised the books I've read that stick in the memory are the ones that do just that. Perhaps it might depend on my personality though?

  4. Narelle, I am not familiar with that line of sweet romances. Do you know what the Heartwarming series is called by Harlequin Australia, or do they release them in another one here lke Sweet?

  5. Hi Mary, the Heartwarming series are available as ebooks on the Mills and Boon ( website. The LI and Heartsong ebooks can be found under 'Digital Exclusives'.

    1. These things are changing so fast! Thank you for the info.


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