The Challenges of Category Cookery

By Laurel Blount

I am a sucker for cooking shows, aren’t you? My personal favorite is the Great British Baking Show, where contestants compete to create challenging dishes in a specified amount of time. It’s exciting to see the frantic bakers rushing around, trying their best to beat the clock and still produce a delicious, edible masterpiece.

It’s exciting, but it’s not all that realistic, is it? Because, honestly—those people have every ingredient they need at their fingertips, and even work in a special kitchen with lots of bells and whistles.

If you want to talk about a real challenge, ask a cook to create a nutritious, gluten-free, totally organic, easy-to-prepare meal for some very important guests—in an hour. And here’s the kicker, she can use only the specific ingredients currently available in her pantry. Oh, and one more thing: it has to taste so fabulous that everybody asks for a second helping!

I think we can all agree; the cook who pulls that off deserves all the praise and recognition we can shower upon her! And probably a nap.

This, my friends, is similar to the ninja-skills that writing high-quality Christian category romance requires. Ever since I tied on my own literary apron in this particular kitchen, let me tell you—my chef’s hat is off to all my much-more-skilled writer-sisters who offer their readers such delicious stories over and over again, all while staying within the boundaries of the genre.

My publisher, Love Inspired, is dedicated to producing a particular kind of experience for readers. They’ve developed some tried-and-true standards regarding the sort of hooks, plot tropes and characters they love to see in their books. My job as an author is to produce a story that fits within the Love Inspired brand, but which is also fresh and exciting—and which brings my readers back for more.

Just in case you’re ready to tie on your apron for this particular challenge—here are a few tips that you might find helpful:

  1. Start with the basic recipe. Study the guidelines and read the books. I know, I know, everybody tells you that! But the brand is very important in this category, and these elements aren’t usually negotiable. Think of it this way—whenever you cook for an important guest (and our wonderful readers are definitely our v.i.p.s!) you need to know what your parameters are. Gluten-free? Dairy-free? Organic? Diabetic-friendly? No matter how sumptuous a meal you prepare, if it doesn’t follow the requested guidelines it’s likely to be sent back to the kitchen. In one story proposal, I began with the hero already deeply in love with her heroine—who thought of him only as a friend. My editor explained that in Love Inspired, they preferred to see the love grow between the characters during the course of the story. He could be attracted to her, but his deeper feelings needed to develop over time. I changed that element and sold the book.
  2. Once you’ve got the basics down, take a good look into your own particular pantry. What spices can you mix in to make your story uniquely fresh and uniquely yours? For example, in my debut novel for Love Inspired A Family for the Farmer, I pulled on my country-girl experiences of milking a cow, being a midwife to a goat, and coping with a really opinionated goose to add some fun to my story. Sprinkle in your special touch to add a one-of-a-kind flavor to your book!
  3. And finally—be sure to pay close attention to any feedback or tips from the experts. The wonderful editors are the Julia Childs of category fiction. They know their biz inside and out, and they are dedicated to making each author’s story as delicious as it possibly can be! Emily Rodmell, an experienced editor at Love Inspired, frequently offers valuable writing tips via Twitter or Facebook. Look her up!

I’ll leave you with one last tidbit. You know what really draws me to The Great British Baking Show? The sweet camaraderie among the contestants! It warms my heart to see these folks cheering each other on, helping each other solve ticklish problems, and tearfully hugging when somebody gets sent home. They’re each dedicated to doing their individual best in the contest, but they’re equally dedicated to being supportive and helpful to their fellow bakers. I love that—and I’ve found the same type of warm-hearted fellowship among the Love Inspired authors.

If you’re interested in writing for this market, I’d strongly suggest you attend some conferences, attend the Love Inspired workshops and open house events, and meet some of these amazing writers and editors. And be sure to like and follow their professional accounts on social media and sign up for their newsletters, too! (I’d especially recommend joining the Love Inspired Authors and Readers Group on Facebook. That’s one of my favorites!) You won’t be sorry. Not only are these folks talented—they’re also just delightfully fun people!

Okay, enough talking, am I right? The oven timer is ticking, and it’s time to get to work. Grab your spoon—or pen—and start baking up a really fabulous story!

Click to tweet:  This, my friends, is similar to the ninja-skills that writing high-quality Christian category romance requires.


Laurel Blount lives on a small farm in middle Georgia with her husband, their four children, and an assortment of very spoiled animals. She divides her time between farm chores, homeschooling, and writing. She’s busy, but at least she’s never bored!
Laurel writes inspirational contemporary romance, and Hometown Hope is her third title for Harlequin’s Love Inspired. A fourth book is scheduled for publication on January 2020. She’s received a Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award for Excellence and has also finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards. She’s represented by Jessica Alvarez of Bookends Literary Agency.
Whenever she’s not working, you can find Laurel with a cup of tea at her elbow, a cat in her lap, and a good book in her hand. Stay in touch by signing up for Laurel’s monthly newsletter at www.laurelblountbooks.com.

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