Toronto Public Library Homepage

This page has been archived and is no longer updated.

Main | November 2009 »

October 2009

That First Sale - Guest Juliana Stone

October 30, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (11)

I first met Juliana Stone in July 2008 at Pearson, in the departure lounge for the non-stop Air Canada flight to San Francisco where the RWA National convention was to be held. As is often the case, there were a lot of writers headed to the conference on the same flight and we got to talking. Juliana caught wind of the conversation and came over to introduce herself - she was then a new RWA member and an unpublished author, very excited about going to her first national conference. The next time I met Juliana was when she came to my full day workshop at TRW in January 2009 - 6 months later, she had an agent and a two-book deal with Avon. (She just got her cover - have a peek!)

HisDarkestHunger mm Since markets are fluid and the only constant in publishing is change, I thought it would be more helpful for you to hear about Juliana's first sale than mine. Juliana and I talked in July - I'm sure a lot has happened to her and her perspectives since then, and she'll pop by today to answer questions.

My questions are marked DC and her answers JS.

DC - Welcome Juliana! Tell us about making your first sale. What did you do when you got The Call?

JS - The Call.  Love it!  For me the whole process of my first sale took about a week.  On September 4th, a Thursday, I came home from buying myself a laptop and there was a message on my answering machine from my agent, telling me to call her back as she had some news about my book.  I did so immediately and she said that one editor loved everything about the book, hated the ending and was open to a possible re-write.  She also said that a second editor had called back, loved the book and wanted to talk.  She told my agent she’d call me on the following Monday.  Which came and went with no call.  Tuesday she called and we really hit it off over the phone.  I was pumped but cautious.  This editor didn’t say to me, “oh yes, I’m buying your book!”

Wednesday came and went and I was afraid to call my agent.  Thursday, September 11th I was soaking in the tub when the phone rang.  I’d brought it in with me and thank god!  My agent had called to put me out of my misery and tell me that Avon had offered me a two book contract!  My book was sold and the emotions I felt were pretty much indescribable.  I called my husband, mom, friends…everyone!  It’s an amazing feeling to realize a dream and to live it!

DC - Tell us about your book. Is it the first romance novel you've written? How did you decide where to submit your book?

JS - His Darkest Hunger is my first book.  I’m the author others hate!  I’d decided to take a serious stab at writing in the fall of 2007.  This book I started in May of 2008.  I’d started it as a submission for a Nocturne contest on eHarlequin, and the editor asked for the full.  I wrote like the wind, finished in 7 weeks and sent it along.  I decided at that point to query agents and sent out approximately 8 queries.  Within a week I had offers from two.  The agent I signed with, Laura Bradford, was at the top of my list and it was an easy decision to make.  Together we lengthened the book from its category state and she pitched it in July, to seven different houses, and we sold to Avon/Harpercollins.

I’m in love with paranormal stories and this book has jaguar shifters, sorcerers, vampires, a heroine who can’t remember her past and a former lover who is intent on revenge.

DC - Do you have an agent? If so, how did you decide which agents to approach? If not, why did you decide to go alone?

JS - I am represented by Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency.  I decided early on that if I was going to pursue this goal of being published an agent would certainly help me get there. Especially if I was looking to sell in the Single Title Market and hit the New York publishing houses.  I researched my favourite authors to see who their agents were.  I checked out Predators and Editors, and Agent query.  I then made up my list and sent my queries out.

DC - Was there anything that surprised you about selling a book, or about the publisher's expectations from a new author? Anything that you found really exciting?

JS - I think the one thing that still surprises me, and quite frankly by now it shouldn’t, is how SLOW the pace of publishing is.  It gets very frustrating sometimes.  You feel like you’re always waiting on something.  I learned to always look ahead and keep writing. 

For me, because I’m such a newbie every stage has been exciting, however, of note….when I first saw my book up for pre-order on Amazon that was a moment and then the day after I returned from Nationals, my editor sent me a first peek at my cover!  That is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget!
DC - Have you started to promote your book yet? If so, how?

JS - I have not really dipped into concrete promotion yet.  I’ve created an online persona and there are various blogs I visit and partake it.  They help to get my name out there.  I’m taking part in a center page advert in the RT magazine next spring, but other than that not too much yet.  I’m still mulling over the best way for me to go, and I will be working closely with the publicity and marketing department at Avon.

DC - What's up next for you? Will you be writing more books in this series, or are you writing something different?

JS - This series is a planned 3 story arc for sure, with definite possibilities of a 4th and more.  I just turned in the second jaguar book, which will be available next fall and am about to write the option for the third.  God willing, I’ll snag another sale and continue the series. 

I’m also working on YA that I hope my agent will be shopping this fall, as well as a series of shorts for Samhain Publishing, that are romantic time travel.

DC - If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring romance author, what would it be?

JS - First off, write what you love.  Secondly, educate yourself about the business side of publishing.  Research the agents and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Lastly, please be aware that when you’re in an online forum, chat or blog, thousands of people can be reading your words.  Conduct yourself in a professional manner.  Be nice and never talk trash about other authors, it’s just not classy!

DC - Thanks Juliana for sharing your first sale story. I'm sure people will have lots of questions for you.

Juliana's website is HERE. Now, who has a question for Juliana, about that first sale or something else?

Live Chat Link

October 29, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (0)

Did you miss the live chat last night on Book Buzz?

Well, if you did, you can still feel lucky - the chat has been archived right HERE.

More on Submitted Manuscripts - Genres

October 28, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (1)

Another detail that many of the manuscripts submitted through the TPL have in common is that they are not romance novels. This is okay - I read in lots of genres and can provide feedback on these works - but it’s important that you understand what you’re writing in order to structure it in the most marketable way, and also pitch it to the right people.

First of all, any story that includes romantic elements, or a love story, is not necessarily a romance novel. A romance novel chronicles the development of a romantic relationship, between a man and a woman. It begins as close as possible to the moment that they meet and ends soon after they decide to make a permanent bond. There is usually a confession of love in between. Whether they marry or simply agree to be together for the duration will depend upon the particular subgenre - traditionally all romance novels ended in marriage, but in many genres now, there are other forms of commitments made instead. Whether or not they are physically intimate or not during the course of the book will also depend upon the subgenre of the novel.

What you need to recognize, though, is that the point of a romance novel is the story of the romance. That romance provides the spine of the book and is the reason for the book’s existence. All other elements will be subordinate to this main plot.

The other issue is that a romance novel must have all of these elements to be considered a romance novel. So, a romantic story that ends tragically is not a romance novel. A love story in which one protagonist dies at the end is not a romance novel. The H.E.A. is not negotiable. It is a critical element in reader expectation of the romance genre.

Other genres of fiction have their own reader expectations. A mystery, for example, will begin as close as possible to the discovery of the crime that has been committed - that might be the discovery of the murder victim - and will conclude with the criminal being revealed and punished. The spine of a mystery novel is solving of the crime. All other elements will be subordinate to this main plot.

Just to illustrate this more clearly, let’s take the example of a story which includes both a murder and a romance. How this story is structured will determine how the author will market it - i.e. what agents and editors that author will query, how the author promotes the work once it’s sold etc etc. If the book were to be marketed as a romance with a mystery subplot, the romance would bracket the work. The book would begin with the couple’s first meet, the murder would be shortly thereafter - or they might meet at the discovery of the crime. The book would focus on the development of their romance, with the puzzle of the mystery drawing them together and into conflict. (They might suspect each other, for example, but still be attracted to each other.) It would be common for the book to feature scenes from the point of view of both the hero and the heroine, perhaps alternating, and also characteristic for the book to be written in third person. The book would end with the resolution of the romance - i.e. their making of a permanent commitment - which means that the mystery would be solved before that H.E.A.

If the book, in contrast, was to be a mystery with a romance subplot, it would begin with the discovery of the crime. Again, the meet and the discovery of the crime could happen in the same scene, but the balance would be different in this version - there wouldn’t be as much awareness between the two protagonists. Typically, this version of the story would have only one protagonist and the other might not have any POV scenes. It might be written in first person, because that increases the emotional connection between the sleuth/protagonist and the reader. The book would end with the solution to the crime, which would mean that either the H.E.A. between the couple would happen before that, or that it would not happen in the first book. It is common for a series of mysteries with a continuing character to feature an ongoing romance that takes many books to resolve, because that diminishes the focus upon the romance in each mystery.

The two stories might have a great deal in common. They might even have scenes in common. But the tone and the emphasis in the description and the structure will vary, depending upon which kind of book the author decides to write.

Make sense?

Now, what if your love story ends badly? Well, you will need to structure it differently than a romance novel to place it, because of those reader expectations. Here are a couple of choices:

• Women’s Fiction
A genre that is closely affiliated with the romance genre is women’s fiction. You may find it confusing that many authors write in both genres, but if you look carefully, you’ll see that their different books are marketed in different ways. The women’s fiction books, for example, are less likely to be shelved in the romance section and more likely to be shelved in fiction.

A women’s fiction novel focusses on the emotional journey of a female protagonist. It begins when she is jolted out of the rhythm of her life by some triggering event and ends when she has resolved that issue or made her peace with the new form of her life. A women’s fiction book has one main protagonist in the spotlight - although there are ensemble pieces which tell the interlocking stories of four women, for example, one character is always more prominent. Often this character’s journey is more significant than that of the other characters - you can usually tell structurally which character this is because the book will open and close with chapters from this character’s point of view. The classic example of this kind of ensemble women’s fiction novel is THE SAVING GRACES by Patricia Gaffney.

Further, a women’s fiction novel may be written in first person, it may feature scenes all from the perspective of one character (with the exception of the ensemble pieces mentioned above). It may feature a love story that ends badly, so long as the protagonist takes a lesson from that amorous adventure. Typically, these lessons are positive ones.

Authors I would consider to be writing in this genre would include Luanne Rice, Anita Shreve, and Jodi Picoult. These works may be closer to literary fiction, and in fact the line between women’s fiction and literary fiction can be blurry.

• Historical Fiction
Historical fiction has changed in recent years. I think this is because of the success of authors like Philippa Gregory and also the shying away from history, religion and politics within historical romance. There are readers who love the inclusion of history, religion and politics in their fiction, and they, I believe, are the ones buying this growing genre.

Historical fiction now frequently features a female protagonist and is, in a way, much like a women’s fiction novel except that it has an historical setting. We follow this protagonist through her life - she might be a real historical person - from one starting point to an end point. There may be love, romance, politics, sex, murder, death, betrayal, etc., but it is all subordinate to the evolving emotional journey of the protagonist. Again, this work may be closer to literary fiction or it may be more commercial - that will depend upon the author’s voice. I’d suggest that Philippa Gregory is probably the most outstanding current example.

• Literary fiction
Unlike commercial fiction, literary fiction is less concerned with the specifics of story and more concerned with how that story is told. A strong voice and a dexterity with language is important for literary fiction. A compelling protagonist, a vividly portrayed setting, an intriguing conflict - all of these are good additions to the mix but you don’t need to have them all to have a successful literary fiction book. Virtually all of the CanLit authors we know and love write literary fiction.

The other thing about literary fiction is that it is more embracing of different settings or different segments of society than commercial fiction tends to be. If you are writing a story set in a locale that is considered exotic in commercial fiction, literary fiction might be a better direction to pursue. Michael Ondaatje, Anne Micheals, Salman Rushdie, Robertson Davies, Zadie Smith, are just a few examples of literary fiction authors.

There are authors whose work straddles these lines which I’ve marked in the sand - Shawna Singh Baldwin, for example, is marketed as literary fiction even though her stories feature strong female protagonists. You can contrast that, though, with the work of Amy Tan which is marketed as commercial fiction. Read them both and you’ll see the different in pacing, voice, language, even though they write about similar issues - namely the challenges to women in balancing traditional culture and modern culture.

There are also some hybrids that don’t have official names. Midway between women’s fiction and romance is a slice of the market which is sold as romance yet shares many traits in common with women’s fiction. ChickLit is often written in first person from the heroine’s point of view and may or may not feature an H.E.A. - that puts it closer to women’s fiction. Romances sometimes called  Mainstream With Romantic Elements feature a strong romance recounted from the point of view of a female protagonist, but are more likely to end with an H.E.A. than ChickLit was. The four “Coxwell” books that I published as Claire Cross were of this last type.

Remember that books that hybridize two genres never do so in equal measure. One genre is always stronger, and that one genre will always dictate the structure of the book. The genre will define the spine of the book, the opening or inciting incident, and the closing episode of the book. Deciding what kind of book you’re writing will help you to determine how it should be structured.

Those of you with ill-fated love stories in your books need to structure differently than those who are writing H.E.A.s!

Don't Forget - Book Buzz Tonight

October 28, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (0)

Tonight we have a live chat, here on the TPL site. You can access the chatroom HERE.

Book Buzz will run from 7 to 8 PM.

See you there!

Manuscript Format

October 28, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (0)

A number of the manuscripts that have been submitted for critique have not been formatted correctly. This isn't complicated, but it's evident that a number of you don't know what standard format is. So, we'll review it here.

Although it might seem rather strange, the intent of manuscript formatting is to make the mss look like it was typed. So, once upon a time, before we all had word processors, writers formatted their mss correctly, even by accident, because there wasn't a lot of choice. Now we can play with fonts and size but, although it's tempting to do so, you need to stick to the standard.

What's the standard? Here we go:

• mss should be presented on 8.5" by 11" white paper

• the text should appear on only one side of the paper

• the margins should be 1.5" at top and bottom of the page, and 1" on left and right edges

• the font should be 12 point Courier (If you can choose fixed width over variable width, do so.) It should be plain text - sometimes called Roman - not bold or italic. (One of the squishy zones is the indication of text that should print in italics in the ms. Traditionally, this copy was underlined, because typewriters didn't have italic fonts. Now, of course, we can put our italics in italics easily. Although ferocious debates rage in writerly circles about this, you can do either. The Production department will understand what you mean.)

• the work should be double spaced (That means 12 point on 24 point, if you can specify)

N.B. This format will give you roughly 25 lines per page and approximately 10 words per line. 250 words per page helps publishers calculate how many printed pages the book will require, according to the print format chosen.

• the first line of each paragraph should be indented .25" from the left margin

• the type should be set to run "flush left". This means that the right margin will be ragged. Setting type "justified" means that the characters will be spaced out to fill the line fully, making a crisp right margin. Although this is how books are typeset, the varying size of wordspaces makes it harder to read this in mss form.

• it is a good idea to number your pages, because stacks of loose paper tend to fall. It is also a good idea to include your name and/or the name of the mss in the header, in case your mss falls at the same time as another mss. There is no absolute rule for how this should be formatted. I insert a header, set it in 8 point type, set it in italics and flush right. My headers include my surname, the book title and the page number.

• your contact information  should be on the first page of the mss. Because of this information, the first page looks slightly different from the subsequent pages.

    • If you have an agent, list the agent's name and contact information in the top left corner of the first page of the mss. If you do not have an agent, place your contact information in that place. In the top right corner, include the copyright information for the work on the top line, and the word count of the finished mss on the second line.

    • Place the title of the mss in caps about halfway down the page. It should be centred. Place your name below it, in uppers and lowers.

    • The beginning of the book will appear in the bottom third of the first page. Typically only half a dozen lines will appear on this page.

    • Because the contact information is already included on this page, you can suppress your header on the first page of the mss. If you can't figure out how to do that, don't worry about it.

• finally, the paper should be white and it should be clean. The type should be black, and your toner cartridge should be fully charged.

• bind your mss with two elastic bands, one vertically and one horizontally. No binders or clips or rings. The pages will be loose, which is exactly how editors like them.

• if you are invited to submit digitally, set up your ms exactly as specified above and submit it in the current (or a comparatively recent) version of Microsoft Word. Some houses prefer mss in Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format, although this is more common in other markets than New York.

It is not uncommon for editors and agents to decline to accept digital submissions from unpublished authors. If the house does not offer the option of your submitting digitally, but requests a hard copy of any submission, and you choose to submit electronically despite this, your submission will go straight to the "trash". Spam filters are tough guys. Similarly, I declined to accept digital submissions for the mss critiquing done through the residency. If you submitted electronically, despite the directions, I haven't even seen your submission. Librarians are tough guys too.

• if the house publishes guidelines - often available on the publisher website - check them before submission to ensure that your ms is compliant with their expectations.

Good luck!

A Note on Submitted Manuscripts

October 28, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (0)

First of all, congrats to those of you who have submitted partial manuscripts to the TPL for me to critique. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the calibre of work has been quite high. Kudos all around!

That said, I have a couple of general comments.

• There is a standardized format for manuscripts in publishing. I've written a post that will appear later this morning detailing precisely how manuscripts should be formatted for submission to an editor or agent. There are no exceptions. Have a look at the rules and follow them!

• Secondly, I think there is a little bit of confusion about the reader expectations for a romance novel. It may well be that many of you know that you're writing a women's fiction novel and not a romance, but let's just clarify things. I've got a post queued up for this morning on genres.

• And thirdly, you need to be sure you follow the submission guidelines. In this particular case, I asked for a maximum of 50 pages double spaced. That could be either the first 50 pages of the manuscript or the synopsis and first chapters of the ms up to a max of 50 pages. A number of you did not send the beginning of your book, but either chapters from later in the book or a selection of chapters from throughout the book.

Manuscripts, though, are not acquired on the merit of Chapter Fifteen - the merit of Chapter One will determine whether the editor or agent continues to read and/or requests to see the entire manuscript. And this makes sense because most readers will judge the merit of a book - as well as the wisdom of their investing their time in reading the book - on the basis of Chapter One. Some decide on the basis of the first half page. (There is a saying in publishing that if a customer cracks open a book in the bookstore and begins to read, that person will buy the book if they turn to page two.)

No matter how wonderful your Chapter Fifteen might be, it's not going to make the sale for you.  And in fact, if you do not want to show your Chapter One to an agent, editor or writer in residence, maybe it's time to have a hard look at how well that chapter is working as an introduction to your book. It's not uncommon, for example, for new writers to begin the book long before the actual beginning of the story. It might be that you wrote a lot of backstory that you needed to know, but that the reader doesn't need to know until further into the book.

Similarly, if your book has an unusual structure, or if you want to check the progression of a subplot, or if some other variable tempts you to send chunks of your book instead of the beginning, please stop and reconsider. We read books in order - this is common to readers, agents and editors. Submit your book in order. It is the job of  the synopsis, which travels with your sample chapters, to illuminate any structural plan or show the dovetailing of subplot(s).

So, please remember to follow submission guidelines when you send out your work. If you send Chapter Fifteen to do Chapter One's job, most industry professionals will send it right back to you, unread. Because I am not such a tough guy, I will read all of your submissions, even if you did send me Chapter Fifteen, and make some comments for every work submitted.

Readings for Writers - IV

October 28, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (0)

In addition to the usual linked posts for Wednesday, I've added a new post to the queue about Manuscript Format. This is because a number of the mss that have come in for critiquing are not formatted according to protocol, so this is obviously info that people need. It'll be posted shortly.

Today's linked posts are about the synopsis, a tool of publishing which is particularly challenging for new authors to master. When you submit a proposal (or even a complete manuscript) to a publisher, part of the submission package is a synopsis. This is similar to an executive summary, and may be the only part of your proposal that many people in the publishing house read. It has to provide a certain suite of information in a concise manner.

First, the inevitable analogy:
Houses & Blueprints

Then an abbreviated version of a workshop I've taught a whole bunch of times:
Conquering the Synopsis

Week Four - Submitting Your Work

October 26, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (4)

Publishing is a reasonably formal business - there are protocols for how book manuscripts should be formatted and how they should be submitted. Some houses provide this information on their websites. Some houses don’t, because they don’t accept submissions from unagented unpublished authors.

Generally speaking, an author previously unpublished in the romance genre will sell a first romance novel on a complete manuscript. That means you will need to write the entire book before you can sell it. There are people who sell on a partial - they tend to be agented and often have a very polished hook to their story. You could be one of them, but sooner or later, you’ll need to write the whole book so there’s nothing lost by planning to do so. Subsequent deals may be done on complete or partial books, with a gradual movement toward contracting on synopsis.

Let’s backtrack and define our terms.

The complete manuscript is precisely that. It’s the whole book, already written, along with a synopsis. It typically is printed out from a computer but is made to look as if it were typed - only one side of each page will be used; there will be at least a 1” border all around; the work will be double spaced and the font will be Courier. (12 point on 24.) There will be a header with the author surname, title of the book and page number - in case some unlucky soul drops the unbound manuscript and has to put it back in order. There will be an average of ten words per line and 25 lines per page, and people in publishing will calculate the finished length of the typeset book on the number of “typed” or manuscript pages. It will also exist in a digital file, most frequently one saved in Microsoft Word. Even if the book is purchased on the hard copy, the digital file will be required contractually from the author, to save keystrokes in typesetting.

(There is an escalating trend toward digital media in publishing, but generally speaking, publishers will only accept digital files of completed manuscripts from contracted authors. Agents can submit digitally to most of the big New York houses, but few accept digital submissions from unpublished authors. Small press and electronic presses, of course, may have different expectations.)

In contrast to a “complete”, a “partial” is a taste. Not everyone accepts partials, so you need to read the guidelines before you submit. A partial is generally the first three chapters of the book and the synopsis, altogether about 50 pages as described above. It is submitted, when it is submitted in hard copy, with a cover letter and an SASE. (And yes, it must be the first three chapters, not the three you like best.)

The synopsis is an entirely different kind of document than the book itself - it’s a kind of executive summary of what the book is about and how it is structured, one that gives the editor or agent valuable information about how to market the book and whether the book fits into their list. There is no dialogue in a synopsis and no surprise plot twists. Its tone is matter of fact and linear. It’s not the same as back cover copy, either.

The idea is that the editor or agent reads the beginning of the book and if he or she likes the work, reads the synopsis. If the synopsis is similarly interesting, the editor or agent may request the complete ms.

In raw terms, the sample chapters show that the author of the work in question is a writer, while the synopsis shows that the author is a storyteller. The chapters showcase voice, characterization, vocabulary etc., while the synopsis shows that the author understands conflict and its plausible resolution.

Synopses are not easy to write, but they are inescapable - the working writer will write many synopses, so you might as well begin polishing your skills. (There is a blog post lined up for Wednesday specifically about synopses, or you can search the library or web for more info.) A synopsis doesn’t have to be that long to do its job - once upon a time, editors looked for synopses that were about 10 pages double-spaced but it’s more typical to hear guidelines indicating a preference for five or six pages. That means you need to be succinct!

A thumbnail or a pitch is even shorter than a synopsis - they fit two or three to a page, double spaced, and are really just bare sketches of ideas. It’s unlikely that you will be asked for such a thing until you have established a relationship with an editor and a publishing house.

A cover letter rides with the partial or full manuscript, introducing the editor or agent briefly to both the story and your credentials as an author, as well as providing contact information.

A query letter, in contrast, travels alone. There are agencies and publishing houses that prefer to receive a query letter as a first contact from an author. If the query letter - which briefly pitches the project - catches their interest, they will ask to see the work. Some houses and agencies accept electronic queries now. There are many different strategies for writing short and effective query letters that lead to requested submissions. I’ll leave you to hunt down those suggestions yourself.

Finding a fit for your first book is a bit like starting a big jigsaw puzzle. It’ll probably take some time. Just as you pick a piece out of the puzzle box and decide whether it is sky or grass or border in order to find its place in the greater scheme of things, you’ll need to identify the telling elements of your book. Is it a romance novel? What subgenre of romance? What publishers publish that subgenre of romance? What authors do those publishers publish? What is consistent about those authors’ work and your work? What is distinctive about your work? What agents represent those authors? The more of these questions you can answer, the more data you will have to place that manuscript. Once you have a list of possibilities, you can follow the submission guidelines for each and begin your quest. You’ll probably have some waiting to do, but you can work on your next book during those intervals.

What’s up for this week?

Wednesday, there is a linked post for you on synopses, as well as a linked post to an analogy that may make the difference between book and synopsis more clear to you.

I've also put together some general comments about the mss submitted through the library for my review and critique - those will appear on Wednesday, as well. Whether you submitted a partial or not, you may find them interesting.

Wednesday night is also the Book Buzz online chat with me.

On Friday, we have a guest blogger - local author Juliana Stone has sold her first book (and another linked book) to Avon. She’s going to share her “first sale” story with you.

Writing Category Romance - Guests Ingrid Weaver and Brenda Harlen

October 23, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (9)

Today we have two guests - Ingrid Weaver and Brenda Harlen - to talk about writing category romance. I've never written category romance so thought this was the perfect opportunity to bring in some experts! Category romance comprises a large percentage of the romance book market, and it is where many authors begin their careers. That said, I think it is also the most difficult niche in which to sustain a career - but we'll let our guests talk about that.

As usual, we'll indicate who said what with initials: Ingrid will be IW, Brenda will be BH and I'll be DC in the discussion below.


Ingrid Weaver is a USA Today bestselling author of more than 25 books and has been published by Silhouette, Harlequin and Berkley/Jove. She is the recipient of a Romance Writers of America RITA Award for Romantic Suspense and the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award. Currently, she lives on a farm near Frankford, Ontario, where she grows organic veggies and Darwinian flowers when she isn't working on her next book. Her website is HERE

BrendaPromoPhoto Brenda Harlen gave up a career as a family lawyer to be a stay-at-home mom and pursue her dream of writing romance novels. She soon learned that there isn’t much staying at home for a mother of two busy children, but she has no regrets about the choices she made. Sometimes she even finds time to write.

The award-winning author lives in Southern Ontario with her husband and two sons, whom she credits as the inspiration for all of her happily-ever-afters.

DC - What is category or series romance?

IW -  When people refer to a "Harlequin Romance," they're probably talking about series or category. These are the little paperbacks with the clinch covers you'll see racked in grocery stores, drugstores, Walmarts and bookstore chains. The number of titles published per month is staggering, from four to six in each of more than a dozen separate lines. The downside for authors: these books are on sale in stores only for the month of their publication - once the month is up, the books are stripped, tossed and the next batch takes their place. The upside: these books have a guaranteed distribution. They're not sold to stores on an individual title basis. If an outlet sells a category, they must take all the titles in that category.

BH - Category or series romance books are usually numbered sequentially and released under a common imprint—ie. Silhouette Special Edition, Silhouette Romantic Suspense; Harlequin Intrigue; Harlequin Historicals, etc. A certain number of titles are released under each imprint every month, at which time the previous month’s titles are removed from the shelves (similar to the distribution of magazines).

DC - What makes category romance distinctive as a sub genre of the romance market?

IW - Category romances are by definition specialized. Each line/imprint/series targets certain reader tastes or interests. For example, Harlequin Presents has "traditional", sweet love stories, Harlequin Blaze books are full of hot sex, Silhouette (a subsidiary of Harlequin) Special Editions are highly emotional, and Silhouette Romantic Suspense books contain, well, suspense. Consistently. Month after month, title after title. The theory is that if a reader likes one type of story, she'll be able to find a particular line that provides it.

BH - I believe what makes category romance distinctive is a combination of its format and its readership. Each particular line has specific guidelines with respect to word-length, providing a consistent read for its dedicated readers. Category romance novels are undeniably ‘fast reads’ and that carries tremendous appeal for readers who are already trying to cram too much into the twenty-four hours of a day and just want a quick escape.

DC - Are there key story elements expected by readers, or particularly popular with readers?

IW - Editors often encourage us to include certain popular "hooks" in category stories, such as cowboys, secret babies, runnaway brides, marriages of convenience and heroines in jeopardy. This is reflected in the titles you'll see on these books, which often contain the hook. The objective is to engage the reader and get her emotionally involved in the story as quickly as possible, necessary because of the short length of these books.

BH - There aren’t any story elements specific to category romance in general but there are definitely expectations with respect to specific lines or imprints. For example, a reader of Silhouette Romantic Suspense is looking for a combination of romance and suspense, a reader of a Harlequin Blaze novel wants the love scenes to be hot and explicit, and a reader of any of the Steeple Hill lines expects the Christian faith to play a role in the story.

And yes, there are definitely story elements that are popular with readers, as a quick survey of the titles on the category romance shelves at any time will reveal. Some of the most popular ‘hooks’ are secret babies, marriages of convenience, and reunion stories. And for some readers, the type of hero holds special appeal, as evidenced by the popularity of cowboy, royalty and military stories.

DC - What category authors do you think are must-reads? What writers are doing innovative and exciting work? What writers are consistently producing "keepers"?

BH - Those are all tough questions. I have my personal favourite category romance authors, of course, and this certainly isn’t a comprehensive list, but I can’t resist mentioning a few of my local favourites. Ingrid Weaver, of course, who writes the most fabulously tortured heroes (all of her books are on my keeper shelves); Molly O’Keefe, who seems to have found her niche at Superromance, writing stories with a lot of depth and heart; Kate Bridges (I’m not usually a big historical reader, but I loved her Mountie series—great covers and great stories). Some other favourites are Catherine Mann, Joanne Rock, Jenna Mills, Kylie Brant, Karen Templeton, RaeAnne Thayne, Crystal Green, Karen Rose Smith—okay, I could go on and on, but I’ll stop myself now. 

As for innovative and exciting work, there is a lot of that in category romance. Authors are consistently pushing the boundaries in new directions, which provides more variety and, I believe, greater satisfaction for readers.

DC - What are the challenges in writing category romance?

IW - It's tough to keep fresh ideas flowing within the category framework. I regard the elements that readers and editors expect as the compulsory elements of a figure skating program: the tricks have to be done, but the challenge is how to arrange them to make the biggest impact.

BH - The biggest challenge is probably that imposed by the word limits. Sometimes a character or storyline wants a lot more time or attention than can be given to it in the 55,000-60,000 words, which is the general guideline for category romance novels. (Of course, some specific lines allow for longer or require shorter stories.)

Another challenge is understanding reader expectations for specific lines and ensuring that you, as the author, fulfill those expectations.

DC - What do you love about writing category romance?

IW - Oddly enough, my answer to this one is essentially the same as my answer to the previous question. I enjoy challenging myself to find fresh ideas and plots that will entertain me, and hopefully my readers.

BH - I fell in love with category romance as a reader, before I was even a teenager. I would spend summers at my parents’ cottage and read two or three books a day and I became addicted to happy endings.

I love to write these stories as much as I love to read them and, as a writer, the expansiveness of the category romance market gives me hope that I will eventually have a chance to tell all of the stories that are swirling around in my mind—all of them destined for happy endings, of course. If only I had more hours in the day to write . . .

How is writing category romance different from writing single title romance? How is it similar?

IW - The main difference between writing category and writing single title romance is one of scope. For example, because most category books are between 50,000 and 75,000 words (as opposed to over 100,000 for single title) there is less room to flesh out secondary characters or to include more viewpoints than those of only the hero and heroine. Similarly, plots must be kept honed down to basics in a category book while they can be more complex in a single title. Crafting a memorable, emotionally involving romance within the word count and plot element restrictions of category still requires the same basic writing skills as for a single title, but the longer books give an author more elbow room - and much more creative freedom - to exercise those skills.

DC - Tell us a bit about your upcoming releases.

Dtag IW -  HER BABY'S BODYGUARD will be released next April and THE ACCIDENTAL COMMANDO will be released in June, both from Silhouette Romantic Suspense. They're part of my new miniseries, Eagle Squadron: Countdown, which features heroes from a team of Delta Force commandos that were introduced in my previous series, Eagle Squadron. Next up will be two romantic suspense single titles from Berkley, DELANEY'S SHADOW and PERCHANCE TO DREAM.

BH - This year, I was invited to participate in “The Foleys & The McCords” continuity series published by Silhouette Special Edition. My book, THE TEXAS TYCOON’S CHRISTMAS BABY, is the sixth in the series and will be available in December 2009.

In 2010, I’m launching a new mini-series of my own with Special Edition—Brides & Babies, which is actually a spin-off of an earlier stand-alone title (THE MARRIAGE SOLUTION, February 2007). The first book in the brides & Babies series, THE ENGAGEMENT PROJECT, will be on sale in January; the second, THE PREGNANCY PLAN, should hit the shelves in April, and the third, THE BABY SURPRISE, in July.

DC - Thanks to both of you for being my guests today. Now, let's take some questions. Who will be first?

Readings for Writers - III

October 21, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (0)

Some posts about book structure this week:

• Stage Management

• Stage Management II

• Stage Management III

• What is Episodic?

• Fixing the Plot of the Episodic Book

• Fixing the Character Arc of the Episodic Book

• Prologues & Epilogues

• Flashbacks

Toronto Public Library's Romance Writer-In-Residence Deborah Cooke discusses writing and getting published in the romance genre.

Comments on this blog are now closed. Visit Deborah's website and her regular blog for more information about Deborah and her books. About