So You Want to Write a Book?

Romance novelist Marilyn Tyner presents a writers workshop at the Yardley-Makefield Library.

By: Daniel Shearer


Staff photo by Daniel Shearer
Yardley, Pa., resident Marilyn Tyner recently published her seventh romance novel, Love is Not Enough, with BET Books. She’ll lead a workshop for aspiring authors at the Yardley-Makefield Libary Jan. 31.

   Marilyn Tyner knew nothing about the publishing industry until she mustered enough courage to carry her first manuscript to the post office.
   "Even after writing it," says Ms. Tyner, a Yardley, Pa., resident, "it sat in the drawer for five years before I sent it anywhere.
   "Finally, I thought, ‘OK, it might get rejected, but if you don’t send it anywhere, it definitely won’t get published.’"
   Nearly 10 years later, Ms. Tyner has just celebrated the release of her seventh romance novel, Love is Not Enough, published in December by BET Books. She’ll visit the Yardley-Makefield Library Jan. 31 for an afternoon workshop designed for aspiring authors.
   Romance fiction is big business. In 2002, the genre accounted for more than half of all paperback sales in the United States — a whopping $1.63 billion, according to figures released by Romance Writers of America, a professional association with more than 8,000 members. Ms. Tyner is a member of the Bucks County Romance Writers, an RWA affiliate that meets each month in Buckingham, Pa., one of six such chapters in Pennsylvania.


   "We have people in our group who don’t write romance," she says, "but we have in-house workshops and programs that give good feedback, just to know you’re not alone, that other people have been rejected, that whole kind of support group."
   Long before getting published, Ms. Tyner started reading romances at the urging of her sister, Alice Wootson, a Philadelphia-based author.
   "Alice got me into reading romances," she says, "and I read a couple of them and thought, ‘I can do this.’ She was the one who pushed me to try it, and to go to a couple of writers conferences. Actually, I had written the first book and finished the first draft for the second book before I got enough nerve to send it anywhere."
   Ms. Tyner, who retired last year after more than 30 years as a case worker for the state welfare department, had never considered being a writer. But she soon started forming stories of her own. Her first book, Step by Step, featured a full-figured heroine.
   "I was tired of all those tall, willowy creatures," she says, laughing. "That particular one dealt with a young woman whose mother and sister had been in abusive relationships, and she had seen what it had done to them, and it had affected her relationships with them."


   Ms. Tyner approached a small publisher, who expressed interest in the manuscript and later forwarded it to an editor at Kensington, a larger publishing house that released the book as part of its line of Arabesque novels, marketed to African-Americans. Arabesque was later purchased by BET Books, Ms. Tyner’s current publisher.
   "I was a little surprised that they did it because nobody was doing full-figured heroines," she says. "They bought it in ’95, and it was published in ’97, and at that time, most of the heroines were tall, skinny and blue-eyed. So that was the first book, and then the second one, I decided to set in Yardley," she says, pausing, trying to contain a giggle, "because I didn’t want to have to do any research."
   The approach paid off. Ms. Tyner started out writing about places she knew — the Pittsburgh area, where she grew up, Yardley and Philadelphia — eventually branching out to more exotic locales.
   "For the third book, ‘False Impressions,’ I created an island off the coast of Georgia," she says. "Your best bet, if you’re not familiar with a place, is just to create a fictional town. Now I know there are islands near Savannah, but this particular island does not exist."
   Once Ms. Tyner published her first book, she found an agent. But she acknowledges that her experience entering the industry isn’t typical. In fact, publishers rarely read unsolicited manuscripts. These, she says, often wind up lost in a "slush pile," the final resting place for many books that never make it to an editor’s desk. Even finding an agent can be difficult. Several publications, including Writer’s Market and Literary Market Place, can point potential authors in the right direction.
   "They tell you what kinds of things agents handle," she says, "what kinds of books the publishers release, what the requirements are for a specific kind of book, who to send it to. Those publications give you that kind of information, and you send a query letter."
   Writing conferences are another path to publication.
   "Most conferences will have agents and editors there," she says. "Before you go to the conference, usually there’s a place where you can request an appointment with an editor or agent. It’s not advisable to do it unless you have a finished manuscript. You can sit down with that agent or editor, you pitch your book, they tell you if they want to see it, and then you go from there, but there are a lot of things that publishers will not take without an agent."
   Worthwhile agents will provide references, but beware open-ended contracts. In particular, new authors should know that many contracts contain a clause allowing the agent or the author to terminate the agreement with 30 days notice.
   "That way," she says, "if you give this agent your work and six months or a year later they haven’t even gotten a nibble, take your stuff back and go elsewhere, unless you can get some feedback from them or at least some evidence that they’ve presented it to somebody."
   Ms. Tyner is now searching for a new agent, with two new manuscripts in the works: a historical romance that follows a Louisiana quadroon — a term for someone who is one-quarter black — as she becomes part of the great Western migration of the late 1800s; and an unusual romance involving time travel. She’s also been busy with book signings for Love is Not Enough, her latest book.
   "None of my heroines are skinny," she says. "They are normal-sized people, but I gave another twist to the latest one. I gave her a size-6 mother who can’t deal with having a full-figured daughter and the heartache that goes with that, and showed how she had to grow to get over that. Also, just dealing with society’s general picture of full- figured people, I got a lot of stuff off my chest."
   Ms. Tyner and her sister also are board members with the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, a nonprofit organization founded in 1949.
   "The conference usually draws around 150 to 170 writers," she says, adding that this year’s conference will take place June 11 to 13 at the Holiday Inn on Fourth and Arch streets. "That was the thing that got me to the point where I actually submitted something. It really is good in terms of networking, so you’re not just this lone writer sitting in your garret typing away."
So You Want to Write a Book, a program led by novelist Marilyn Tyner, will take place at Yardley-Makefield Library, 1080 Edgewood Road, Yardley, Pa., Jan. 31, 1-5 p.m. Free admission. For information, call (215) 493-9020. For information about the Bucks County Romance Writers, visit Meetings take place on the first Wednesday of each month, 7:30 p.m., at Buckingham Police Station, Route 413, Buckingham. Pa., Upcoming program: Joy Nash — editing, with a focus on "boring verbs," Feb. 5. Marilyn Tyner on the Web: For information about the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, visit