By Anna J. Stewart

If any of you are like me, I bet you have your publishing career, or at least part of it, all mapped out. I had that map. I made that map when I was fourteen and discovered romance novels (and hence, the career of my dreams).

Funny things about maps. Depending on how you look at them, they can take you on a completely different route than the one you plan.

My first love is paranormal romance. It’s what I obsess over; it’s what I love writing more than anything. But my big dream was to be a traditionally published romance author and, well, NY wasn’t into my paranormal stuff at all (even after I finaled in a national contest and signed with my first agent). Clearly it was time to re-evaluate my plans, er, map.

What was my real goal?

To publish paranormal romance or to publish? To keep playing with magical stories that might not get me anywhere, or switch tactics and test the waters in another sub-genre?

The answer was simple: it was time for a change.

So, in 2013,  after more than 10 years, I put the paranormals away. I opened myself up to new possibilities, rewrote my very first book (a spicy contemporary romance), and told my critique partners to challenge me. And one of them did. She had an idea for an anthology for Harlequin’s Heartwarming line. Heartwarming? Never heard of it. Oh, their sweet romance line. What does sweet mean? At the time it translated to clean and wholesome (the definition has since shifted to varying degrees). Yet again, I found myself at a crossroads: do I take a chance and write something I never thought was possible—a *gasp* romance without sex? Or do I pin my hopes on one book that was making the rounds.

Fling the door wide

If you take only one thing away from this blog, it’s this: When opportunity knocks, answer the door. Fling it wide and embrace whatever is on the other side. Because you know what I got when I said yes to that anthology? My first contract with Harlequin writing for their Heartwarming line (I’m now on my third). Two weeks after getting that call, I got another offer from a different house—the contemporary romance book sold and they wanted two sequels. Two publishers in less than a month.

But here’s the real kicker: I discovered I adore writing sweet romances.

**An aside here. I take issue with the term “clean.” Clean implies there’s something wrong or dirty with sex and there’s not. It’s a basic necessity of life and hey, let’s face it, it’s fun (if you’re doing it right). But for marketing purposes, “clean” means no sex and very little if any, physical contact between the hero and heroine. In the past, the sweet romance sub-genre has been reserved for religious or inspirational romances. Not the case with Heartwarming. We are religion- and faith-free. Some people just don’t want to read sex scenes. I’m cool with that. Okay? Moving on.**

How sweet romance made me a better writer

While I now write for Harlequin’s Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense (spicier) lines, it’s the Heartwarming books that have made me a better writer. Those stories, they’re all about the emotional connection between the characters. They’re about growth and understanding and overcoming personal conflicts and issues.

Without having those love scenes, I’m forced to focus on making sure the two people fall completely and utterly in love with one another. It makes me dive deep into who they really are and why the other person cares so deeply, far beyond physical attraction, even though it clearly plays a part. It’s what I call soul attraction. And honestly? That’s what romances are all about anyway. Two people finding who they belong with.

Leave nothing off the table

So on your personal road to publication, make sure you watch for those unexpected turnoffs, the side roads, the rest stops. Explore everything. Consider all options. Leave nothing off the table because one of those unexpected stops might just get you exactly where you want to go. How do I know? Last month I published the first of three paranormal romances in Heart’s Kiss magazine. I’ve come full circle.

Which means it’s time to see what else is down the road.

Anna J. Stewart at Career AuthorsAlways the Hero, by Anna J Stewart

USA Today and National Bestselling author Anna J. Stewart writes sweet to spicy romance for Harlequin’s Heartwarming and Romantic Suspense lines. When she’s not writing, you can find her at the movie theater or binge watching her favorite TV shows and dealing with an overly affectionate cat named Snickers. You can visit her online at