Writing a Romance Class (online)

Begins June 13, 2016!

If you’ve ever thought of writing a romance, you’re not alone. Romance is the bestselling fiction genre, so who hasn’t thought about trying her hand at one? But romances are harder to write than you might think.

I developed this class for people interested in learning the basics of writing romance. Whether you’re still toying with your idea or you’ve already written the first draft, this class can help you avoid the most common pitfalls new romance writers make. Not only am I a romance writer myself, but I work for publishers as a romance book developer – the person who helps writers make their books great.

Here’s what this class covers:

Week 1. We talk about what romance is about—and why it’s the hottest-selling genre in book publishing today. You’ll find out why readers enjoy romance and you’ll learn why thwarting those expectations will result in an unpublished romance. We’ll also discuss the main subgenres of romance (e.g., paranormal, suspense) and what readers expect to see in them (for example, in a romantic suspense, the suspense plot cannot become more important than the love relationship between the hero and heroine).

You’ll delve into finding and polishing a storyline that will appeal to readers. We’ll cover classic storylines that romance readers love (secret baby, older woman/younger man, reunited love) and discuss how you can put a new twist on these beloved (but sometimes overused) classics. We’ll cover the importance of starting your novel in the right place, and how not to gum everything up by dumping in too much backstory in the first chapter.

Week 2. You’ll start plotting your book (or attend to any problems in your work-in-progress’s plot). Your plot will be based on creating a believable conflict between the hero and the heroine. You’ll discover how to create plot points that are based on motivation/action/reaction (e.g., what real people would actually do in a given situation). You’ll find out about common pitfalls waiting for unwary romance writers (such as creating a conflict that could be solved if the hero or heroine asked one question.)

You can’t have a romance without a likeable heroine and a hero your reader will fall in love with. This week, we’ll discuss favorite types of heroes (the alpha male, the soldier, the friend-turned-lover) and how you can turn types into real peoples. You’ll create character sketches for your main characters. We’ll also cover secondary characters and how not to let them take over your plot.

Week 3. Your romance takes place somewhere and it’s told by someone. The setting may be contemporary Chicago, or 1855 London, or a planet in a different solar system. This week, we’ll cover the importance of world building. What does your reader need to know and when is enough enough?

We’ll also delve into the question of who is telling your story. In romance, the preferred perspective is third-person limited, with the point of view shifting between the hero and the heroine (without head-hopping!) We’ll discuss what perspective is and what your choices are (first, second, third) and why you should stick with convention. We’ll also discuss how to create deep perspective and how to realistically convey the opposite sex.

Week 4. This week is all about making sure your romance has a romance! Not every romance needs a sex scene, but they all need love scenes. This is where the hero and the heroine show their attraction to one another (and sometimes consummate it). This is not a class aimed at erotica writers, so we’ll keep the conversation PG-13. When you’re writing love scenes—whether they’re sweet or sexy—the emotional punch is the key. And if you grew up reading the purple prose of 1970s and 1980s romance, you’ll have to discard everything you think you know about writing compelling love scenes for contemporary readers.

This week, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of getting your hero and heroine’s relationship down on paper, focusing on the importance of creating convincing dialogue and showing rather than telling.

This class is only $299! Use the Paypal button below to reserve your spot:

If you’re an FLX member, use this button for the members’ discount:

Write Your Book Proposal Class (Online)

Starts June 13, 2016!

For many writers and experts who’d like to write a nonfiction book, putting together the book proposal is the most intimidating—yet most important—part of the process. Veteran book author Jennifer Lawler’s ecourse will walk you through every step of the way, from idea to finished proposal.

In this four-week class, you’ll learn how to:

  • identify a salable book idea
  • hook an editor with your book description
  • develop an irresistible outline
  • create the kind of platform agents and editors want to see
  • develop promotion and marketing ideas for your book
  • size up the competition and make your book different – and better

Each Monday, Jennifer will email you that week’s lesson with an assignment. You can do the assignment whenever you have time. Once you’ve worked through the assignment, the information is yours forever. You’ll be able to apply what you’ve learned to any book proposal you write.

Jennifer will respond to email questions as soon as possible and will critique each part of your proposal as you write it. By the end of the session, you’ll have finished your book proposal. (Please note that this does not include the sample chapter or chapters that many agents and publishers will ask for before making an offer on your book.)

Jennifer is the author or co-author of more than 30 published nonfiction books. She has written for small presses (Wish Publishing), medium-size publishing companies (McGraw-Hill) and huge media conglomerates (Penguin Putnam). She has written everything from how-to to reference to self-help. She works as a book development editor and was formerly a literary agent for Studio B Productions. She knows what book publishers look for in a proposal.

She’s helped many writers break into publishing, and her ecourse can help you do the same.

A testimonial from a recent student:

“If you’re serious about writing your book, then take this class first! Jennifer offers straight-shooting feedback and thoroughly understands book proposals. She breaks the process into do-able pieces and pushes you to excel. Jennifer knows just what agents are looking for. I found an agent ready to accept my book just 1 week after completing this class. You can buy a ‘how-to’ book off the shelf and muddle through a book proposal, or you can take Jennifer Lawler’s class and get direct, personal feedback on your project. It can’t be beaten. Jennifer knows what she’s talking about. She knows the formula that works and helps take your book ideas to a salable level.” — Heather Shumaker

This class is just $299!

To register using PayPal, click on the Buy Now button below.

To pay by check or for more information, contact Jennifer at

For the FLX members’ discount, please use this Paypal button:

Query and Synopsis Class for Novelists — Starts June 13!

Getting Past the Slush Pile:

Writing an Attention-Getting Query and Synopsis for Your Novel

Starts June 13, 2016!

You’ve finished your novel. It’s as perfect as you can make it. Now it’s time to find an agent or a publisher. To do that, you need a query letter and a synopsis. If the very thought is enough to make you archive your novel for about six months, you’ve come to the right place.

In her four-week Getting Past the Slush Pile e-course, Jennifer Lawler – a novelist who is also a former fiction acquisitions editor and a former literary agent – will show you the ins and outs of writing a query and a synopsis that will help your novel get out of the slush pile and into the hands of a someone who can help you make your dreams of publication come true.

Every Monday, you’ll get a lesson covering that week’s assignment and you’ll email your assignment back to Jennifer at your convenience.

In Week #1, we’ll cover the basics of how fiction acquisitions and book publishing works, and why you need to have a solid query and synopsis even though your manuscript is already written. This background will help you create the right type of query and synopsis for your project. You’ll be asked to investigate your genre and develop an understanding of where your book fits in the market.

In Week #2, we’ll get into the specifics of writing the query, and you’ll receive feedback from the instructor on ways to make your query shine.

In Week #3, we’ll delve into the difficulties of the synopsis – what it needs to do and how it needs to do it. You’ll receive feedback from the instructor on ways to polish your synopsis. You’ll develop two synopses: a one-to-two page brief synopsis and a five-to-seven page fuller synopsis so that you’ll be ready to supply whatever is requested.

In Week #4, you’ll create a submissions plan to keep you on track to find the agent or publisher your book needs. You’ll research your options and come up with a plan that’ll help you deal with rejections instead of letting them set you back.

The four-week class is just $299! Use the Paypal button below, or email for more information.

On how to see

I am doing an in-person interview because the editor who has hired me to write the piece I’m working on prefers her writers to do in-person interviews. This is important only because while I understand the point—it helps build rapport with someone you are about to ask a bunch of very personal questions—I am thinking of time, and how I don’t have time for this, for shoes and combing my hair and driving into town and hunting for a parking spot.

The magazine is paying me a lot of money so I am making the time. But I don’t have it. I am working on a developmental edit with a tight deadline and teaching a feedback-intensive class and trying to deal with Jessica transitioning from pediatric to adult medical services, which for a lot of people amounts to making a new patient appointment with an internist but not for Jessica. For one thing, I have to deal with a bunch of people who refuse to talk to me, despite my being her legal guardian, because she is eighteen. Apparently Jessica is the only young adult in the world who isn’t fully capable of taking care of herself. Anyway, don’t get me started.

She is living with me full-time now. For a few years she split her time more or less equally between her father and me but now she is living with me. In her idea of the world, she is a grown up and we are roommates.

In my idea of the world, I love her dearly and I would never consider her a burden but she takes so much time.

I have a novel I am trying to finish and I hate the novel but I would like to finish it but I am doing all the paying work because it is available and I like to stack up money in the bank for when the work slows down, which it will, inevitably.

Right now there is no time so I am cramming together the interview with buying some lentils at the grocery store and picking up some of Jessica’s glass from the ceramicist who fires it.

I arrive at the studio and she begins packing the pieces in bubble wrap and placing them in a box. There are a few candleholders that turned out very well and then some trays, and we both frown down at the trays, our hands on our hips.

The glass has bubbled. It looks as if the bubbles you get in a pot of boiling water have hardened, as if this were the glass version of the bubble wrap Melissa is using. I have never seen this happen before and I don’t know why it has. I do know that glass is hideously expensive. All I can see is a hundred and thirty five dollars I might as well have set on fire.

“I wonder if it’s the glue,” Melissa ventures but I shake my head.

“It’s the same glue as always. And she only put a little on the corners to hold the pieces in place, not where the bubbling is.”

I frown. Jessica is trying a new approach, fusing big slabs of glass together, then slumping them into shapes, but something is going wrong in the process. It’s always something. Like with my writing. Just when I think I know what I’m doing, it turns out I don’t have the slightest clue. This is why I hate the novel I’m working on; it has bubbles like this and I don’t know how to fix it.

Jessica doesn’t have the technical knowledge to understand what’s happening; kilns and cones and firing cycles are too complex for her to understand. It is one more thing for me to figure out and I don’t have time. It is an especially difficult challenge when someone else is doing the firing. If I had my own kiln, I would test until I found out but to have my own kiln I would need my own house or at least my own studio; the small rental I live in with Jess has no room for a kiln. Plus imagine trying to explain to the landlord.

So I have to buy a house with a shed out back and hire an electrician to install the commercial 220 volt power I need and so far I haven’t been able to scrounge together a down payment. I don’t know why she couldn’t have found something simpler to love, like horses. Her grandmother has a barn and a pasture. Horses would have been simpler.

But glass is her thing and I respect that and I understand that this is all part of the process; it is like the one million words I’ve written that will never see the light of day because they were the wrong words in the wrong order. But it is an expensive process, costing more time and money than I have.

“I suppose it could be air getting in between the layers,” Melissa says. “These big slabs . . . air might be getting under.”

I nod. “Right, and to secure the pieces so no air gets in, you’d have to use a lot of glue and that much glue will burn.” We’ve had that happen before. Two hundred and fifty dollars of glass with burns on it.

I sigh. I will have to see what I can find out about the problem and how to fix it. Maybe the people who run the glass society I joined a few months ago will know or could recommend a book.

“Thanks,” I say, and carry the box to the car and wonder how I am supposed to keep doing it all, forever, keeping my daughter’s dreams alive and my own, too, while making sure we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. I am fifty-one years old and it should be easier by now; I should know how to do this but somehow I never do.

I am just in time to pick up Jess from school. When we get home, we unpack the glass. I lift one of the candleholders to the light.

“Look at that,” I say. “Gorgeous.”

But she is not looking at the candleholder. She has taken out the trays. She has removed the wrappings and set the pieces on the table. She is running her fingers over them, studying the bubbles with her fingertips. She leans down to look at each tray in turn. The bubbles have formed in different patterns.

“I wonder how that happened,” she says.

“Not sure. I talked to Melissa—”

She looks up at me. “I love the texture. It is like the glass is breathing. It is like it is alive. If you look hard enough you can see it move. I want to do more just like this next time. I will try to get more bubbles in. Mom, aren’t these beautiful?”


On holding still

I am talking to Pete (not his real name) at the coffee shop. It is probably more accurate to say I am listening to Pete. Pete is homeless, and he passes many hours of each day at the coffee shop, usually sitting outside except on the coldest days of winter. Most days he greets everyone by name including, occasionally, people who are not there.

Some days when he is having a hard time and his demons, whatever they are, get the better of him, he doesn’t greet anyone at all.

I don’t know why I talk to Pete. It’s not my job and I always have something else I should be doing, a manuscript to work on, a document to review. Pete can talk for a very long time if he can get someone to hold still for it. He doesn’t expect anyone to listen but he always appreciates it when they do and thanks them afterward.

The secret is in not breaking stride. You answer his greeting, one hand on the door, and then you slide inside, no harm done. In other words, I know how to avoid him. It is just that some days I don’t. I have no idea why.

Today it is a beautiful Friday afternoon with a light breeze and a sunny sky. It is the first day that feels like spring, a perfect spring day, the kind we don’t get nearly enough of.

I’ve taken my coffee outside and Pete starts talking. It’s not as if I have to listen to him. I could get started on my project, which I have spread out on the table in front of me. He will take the hint and won’t be offended.

Instead I lean back in my chair, coffee in my hand. Every now and then I’ll interject a comment and he listens carefully and when I am through, he will say, “Yes, that’s right,” or “Yes, but here’s what I think.”

He is never adversarial. No one is ever wrong, they just don’t have all the facts. His talk covers foreign policy, Greek mythology, Erich Fromm, and the cultivation of innate talent. I realize halfway through that I talk with Pete because he’s more interesting than 99 percent of the people who enter my orbit, prattling on about their multilevel marketing plans for Christianity and how about those Royals.

Today he tells me something his wife used to say, then adds, “She died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.” I don’t know if this is something that happened recently or a very long time ago. It seems to be both at once, fresh and remote. Like he is trapped in a temporal fold, and the event keeps playing over and over. He can’t escape it. He has had a while to get used to it but he still can’t believe it happened.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“You didn’t know that?” He sounds a little puzzled, and seems to sort through his memory, trying to figure out what I know about him, which isn’t much. I’m not trying to save him or be there for him or anything like that. I’m just listening to him because he’s interesting. Believe me I wouldn’t bother if he were prattling on about the ten pounds he needs to lose.

He seems to know a good deal more about the inner workings of the federal government than a sixty-something homeless man ought to and for a while I imagine he is a retired CIA agent or maybe a diplomat who had a little trouble with drink at his last posting. He is tactful, the way I imagine an ambassador would be, or maybe the protocol officer on an ambassador’s staff.

But then his talk about the government shades into government conspiracy theory and I realize he is just someone who reads a lot.

Today he is roaming over his past, apparently having decided it is safe enough to entrust it to my keeping, and it comes out that he first started having trouble in third grade, when he didn’t understand the purpose of school. I think how young that is for it to already start going wrong.

Then he tells me he is sharing his stories because he thinks someone can learn from them and I guess that means me, and maybe I will. Right now I am lifting my face to the breeze and sipping coffee and listening to Pete straighten out the world. I think he would be very good at it except when he has his bad days but maybe then we could just have a substitute, or close the offices for a holiday.

He is talking about playing soccer and not understanding the rules and he laughs a little and then he says, “I just thought you kicked the ball down the field. But you had to be part of a team. I never learned how not to be alone. I don’t know how to do it.”

And in that moment I am right there with him. It is curious and hard, to be apart from the world, to see the games and not understand them. I think maybe someone will invite me to play or that I can invite myself and I try that but I still don’t know the rules. Everyone else seems to know them. But when I try it turns out I cannot play, because I do not have job promotions to crow about and my daughter isn’t getting college acceptance letters and I’m not celebrating twenty years together this Tuesday.

I think the anxious bleating about Courtney and Stanford and the waitlist is just window dressing, that there is something more serious beneath, but it turns out they think Courtney and Stanford and the waitlist is serious; they think it is just about the most serious thing that could be. The vapidity is not just surface; it goes clear through. I can’t begin to imagine being like that. I cannot begin to imagine wanting to.

Maybe all of us feel this way. I don’t know. How would I know? I can’t seem to scratch beneath the surface of anyone. I think most people fit in okay. They’ve taken the stray ends and tucked them in so they can belong. Belonging is powerful and safe and I get that, I understand it but I don’t believe in it. I used to, until I learned that you can’t buy safety no matter how good you are or how much money you have.

I see the apartness grow, the gulf between becoming wider and wider, the connections dropping away. My ex-husband calls my life “streamlined” because there is just me and my daughter and my work and sometimes I’m pretty damned doubtful about the work. I long ago stopped believing it was worth doing or that there would be some reward other than a check payable to, so maybe all I have left is a habit. If I didn’t have my daughter, my next stop would probably be homelessness, too.

Pete is talking about his friend, who made a scene downtown and was arrested. “She just wanted attention,” he says and I know he doesn’t mean like a kid acting up although in a way he does. He means she wanted someone to say, Yes, I see you there. Yes, I see you.

“They gave her pills,” he says. “It wasn’t pills she needs.”

That’s a favorite solution, like two round white pills will do the trick. That what is wrong is something to do with brain chemistry or socialization. Maybe it is. But I somehow doubt it. People think the homeless would stop making scenes downtown if only everyone had access to some round white pills and a kindly social worker to pass them out. But human lives are complicated and mental health is hard, especially when we pathologize every difference. It used to be that conformity was suspect. Now it is nonconformity that alarms people. Twee hipsters pose at it but they are just as invested in the games as anyone else.

I probably became a writer to try to bridge that apartness, to have a conversation and not just an echo. But sometimes all I hear is the echo.

I sip my coffee. The breeze stiffens into  a wind. I realize I have more in common with the homeless guy than with any of my friends. That is a fact worthy of contemplation though I have no idea what to make of it.

But for a little while, as the heavy trucks barrel down 23rd Street and I strain to hear what Pete is saying, I’m not alone at all.

Week 9. On practicing perfectly

One of the things I love about writing is getting into that mental state where the words come effortlessly, without my having to think too hard about it. That moment where I’m lost in the work, and have no awareness of the ticking clock or the buzzing fly. Just me and the work. Beautiful. Zen.

Unfortunately, flow is also a state where you, or at least I, can produce an endless amount of crap. Flow, by its nature, circumvents the editor on your shoulder who hates every other word you write. Now, often the editor on your shoulder will keep you from writing if you let her, so you have to find a way to shut her up. One way is to just get into flow, where she can’t follow you. EOTS hates flow.

On the other hand, the editor on your shoulder is often right. You’re writing crap, and you need to do better.

Here’s the thing: practice does not make perfect (this is something we learn in martial arts). Perfect practice makes perfect. That is to say, if you practice a sloppy kick ten thousand times, all you’ve learned how to do is kick in a sloppy way. That is not mastery. It’s not even competence.

So the problem with flow is that it can be sloppy, and not in an organic, generative way where you can make something of it. It can be a form of masturbation. And while you may enjoy that, no one else really wants to see it.

When you’re doing the work, you need to be able to do the work even without flow. Even with the editor on your shoulder criticizing every third word. Even when it’s just no fun at all.