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On Romance - Guest Eloisa James

November 27, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (1)

I met Mary Bly - who writes as Eloisa James - at the launch party for her first book, POTENT PLEASURES. RWA National was held in Chicago that year, it was hotter than Hades, and the talk of the conference was the three historical romances scheduled for release in hard cover. Mary's was one of them. Since then, Mary has established herself not only as a bestselling romance author, but a tireless advocate for the romance genre. She generously shares this piece with us today, which originally ran in the New York Times in February 2005.

By Mary Bly/Eloisa James

“DAMN you precious virgins!” snarled the bodice-ripping rake over the sound of tearing silk. It was fifth-grade choir practice in the spring of 1972, and I was learning about sex from a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s “Flame and the Flower” that a classmate had purloined from his mom. Now that was a bodice-ripper: passionate, crazed and outrageously overwrought.

I fell in love with romances on the spot. But my father was a poet, and he would have preferred that I had fallen in love with Whitman. So he laid down the law: for every romance, I read a classic. Kathleen Woodiwiss wrote quite a few novels; I finished all of Mark Twain’s works by the time I was 13.

That divide, between literary novels and their illicit fellows, has structured my life. These days, I’m a professor of English literature ¬ and an author of historical romances. I teach Shakespeare and Renaissance culture; I place my novels 200 years later, during the period when Jane Austen was writing her comedies of manners.

My two worlds come together rarely, because they are sharply demarcated by prejudice on both sides. Academics tend to deride romance; romance readers often ignore literary fiction altogether. 

Intellectuals never seem to believe that a strong story and an interest in relationships could explain the popularity of romance. I’ve been repeatedly asked by academics whether romances are anything more than female porn, a question that to me seems linked to a fear of female sexuality, as is the dismissal of romances as “bodice-rippers.’’ In fact, I’m not sure that the term, with its implication of enjoyment taken in forced intercourse, ever was an accurate description of romances; even the silk-ripping rake of “The Flame and Flower” passed out before he damaged anything more than clothing.

There’s desire and sex in every genre. Elinor Lipman’s “Pursuit of Alice Thrift’’ is indubitably a work of literary fiction. It’s brilliantly written, wickedly funny and imbued with cruel send-ups of pretentious surgeons. It also includes a description of terrific sex between a first-year surgical intern and a fudge salesman.  Apparently that scene wasn't enough to trigger disdain; Publishers Weekly called the novel a "triumph."

So why is romance the only genre ghettoized for including sex?  Feminists in the early 1980’s such as Janice Radway maintained that romances channel women’s desire into patriarchal marriage, but these days these scholars are  issuing apologias, having discovered that many romances depict working, independent heroines. As Ms. Radway has since declared, romances actually validate female desire. Clearly, the genre’s struggle for respect is part of a larger cultural battle to define and control female sexuality.

The contempt for romance reflects a deeply unproductive divide in American culture that keeps some people from reading novels that they would enjoy and that frightens others from fiction that has the imprimatur of “literature.’’ Romance appeals to all demographics, not just to heterosexuals. The Oscar Wilde Bookshop in New York City tells me that gay romance, a genre quite apart from erotica, sells well to both male and female readers. We are all interested in talking and reading about that difficult process of living with another person.

Yet it takes guts for an intellectual to pick up a romance novel at Borders. At the same time, it takes courage for a woman or man (yes, I have male readers), who primarily reads romance to pick up books labeled “literature.” “I never read classics,” readers tell me. “I find them boring.” Yet when I put a 1594 Richard Barnfield sonnet in a book, they write me and ask where they can find more of his poems. They send me e-mail messages saying that they quite like Catullus, and too bad they didn’t read anything like him at school.

Romances feel to me like a conversation between the woman who wrote the book and myself as a reader. Women talk about desire, but they also talk about the difficulties of building a new partnership with an old friend, or negotiating the shoals of a fragile marriage. Ms. Lipman’s novel about an intern and a fudge salesman is part of that conversation; but so is, for example, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Ain't She Sweet?, the tale of a prodigal returning home to face her well-deserved bad reputation. Romances are sometimes stories of courtship, but also stories of marriage and consequences. Many of my own books, in fact, have been about failing marriages: they are my footnotes to that particular conversation.

So let’s quit this out-of-date mockery of the genre. Focusing solely on the sensual content of romances and deriding them as bodice-rippers leads to the assumption that America is full of women gobbling up romance novels because they’re sexually frustrated and want to be overpowered by a strong man. These days, however, a romance heroine is likely to toss her own bra, and if buttons are skittering on the floor, they’re quite possibly shirt studs.

We all long for stories with narrative drive, stories that talk about relationships, and stories that aren’t riddled with violence or death. Romances reflect no more than what most of us hope for in daily life ¬ and that includes being lucky enough to experience shared desire. I’ve a good notion that many Americans, no matter their reading preference, are hoping for a Valentine’s Day that involves a bit of flying lingerie.

Author Self Promotion - Guest Kayla Perrin

November 20, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (1)

Authors often are shy about promoting themselves and their work, although publishers increasingly prefer that authors do so. The romance genre is quite well populated with authors who are enthusiastic self-promoters, but even in our niche, Kayla Perrin stands out as a very energetic self-promoter. I invited her to guest blog today on the topic of self-promo - we're all going to learn something!

Kayla Perrin headshot Kayla Perrin is a multi-published and USA Today and Essence ® bestselling author with over thirty books in print after ten short years, for major publishing houses including St. Martin’s Press, HarperCollins Publishers, Kensington Books, Harlequin, Ballantine and Simon & Schuster.  Kayla is published in a variety of genres, including romance, mystery/suspense and mainstream fiction.  Her works have been translated into Italian, German, Spanish and Portuguese. 

You’re Published: Now What?
Tips on How to Promote Yourself…and Your Work!

By Kayla Perrin

You’ve beaten the odds. You’ve signed a contract with a publisher who is going to publish your first book!  Or maybe you already have a few books in print.  Or perhaps you’re an aspiring writer, hoping to one day have a published novel in the stores. No matter where you are in your writing career, you can benefit from learning the ins and outs of promoting your books.

Some people erroneously believe that once your book is published, that’s it. You’ve done all you have to do. Wrong. Right from the moment I was first published, I knew that writing the book was only a part of my job. As a writer who wanted longevity in this business, I knew I was going to have to market myself.

But shouldn’t the publisher do that? some of you are probably wondering right about now. Well, sure. In a perfect world, they’d have gazillions of dollars to promote every book they publish, and authors could spend their time lounging by the pool in Hawaii with a daiquiri rather than worry that they should be out promoting their new book. I’m not saying to forgo the daiquiri, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that once your book is out there you can rest on your laurels.  Books—especially in this day and age—do not sell themselves.  Yes, publishers do do some promotion, but they tend to market a specific line, not a specific author. I’m not saying they never market an author in a big way, but you can’t count on that.  If you want your name out there, you’re going to have to do the hard work yourself. If you opened a Boston Pizza franchise, for example, you wouldn’t think that all you needed to do was open your doors in order to sell at the level you want to.  You’d know that you had to get the word out about your new establishment as a way to enhance your sales. As an author, you have to get the word out there about your new book.

I always hear from people, “I see you everywhere.  You're all over the Internet.”  Sometimes I'm surprised.  I guess I figure all other authors are “out there” just as much as I am, but not all are.  So what do I do?  How do I market myself so that I stand out?

The first thing I did, shortly after my first sale but before my book was on the shelves, was send out a letter introducing myself to booksellers.  I’d completely forgotten that I’d done that, but a couple of days ago I found the letter in my files.  Right from the beginning, I was thinking about how to get my name out there.  I also made bookmarks—designed them on my own computer and printed them on card stock—which I sent to the booksellers as well.  I also made sure to have plenty of my homemade bookmarks on hand to give them to practically every person I met.  This was an inexpensive way to have something that announced me and my book to the world.

This was back before everyone had a website, and I suppose I ought to tell you that first things first, you need to secure your domain name.  Having a website is the single best thing you can do to give yourself a presence on the web.  Some unpublished people use a website as a platform to promote their manuscripts, so don’t think that having one before you’re published is a wasted effort.  These savvy aspiring authors post short synopses about their work and have contact information where they can be reached by potential agents and publishers.  I’m pretty sure I’ve heard a story of at least one aspiring writer’s work getting in front of the right person this way, and that led to a sale.  But even if it doesn’t, you want to think positively. You will be a published author one day.  And as an author, having a website is an essential tool.  It’s a place where you can post covers of your current and upcoming books, excerpts of your work, a bio, contact information, etc.  Someone may discover your site by chance and be intrigued to buy your book(s).  Or, readers may be interested in seeking you out to learn more about you and your other books after discovering one of your novels.  Having a website is promo stop #1 for you and your work.  Feel free to let your personality shine in your bio and other areas you include on your website. And make sure the tone of your website represents the tone of your work. If you are writing romantic comedies, your website should reflect “fun” and “romantic.” If you’re writing dark, edgy suspense, I’d expect your website to reflect that tone.  There are inexpensive ways to get a website up and running. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. And if you’re so inclined, you can create one yourself using various programs which are readily available.

All right.  You’ve established a website. What else can you do to promote yourself?  One of the things I did was let people know, on various RWA writing loops, that I’d just sold a book and that I was willing to answer questions.  I sold myself.  And I learned that people were keen on having me tell about the experience of my first sale—not just because it was a way to fill space in their chapter newsletters, but because we all love hearing stories about how people have made it to the other side. Soon, I found I had people asking if they could interview me. And here comes my next tip: always say yes.

Even if you think you’re too busy to fit these kinds of interviews into your schedule, always say yes. Saying yes is another way to get your name out there. The more interviews you do—even for the smallest of chapters or writing groups—the more your name is out there. You’ll never know who might read about you in a small chapter newsletter, or on an obscure blog. Trust me, it can lead to bigger things. It has for me.

I just mentioned blog, so let me dwell on that for a minute. It isn’t a must that you blog, but again, it’s another way to get your name out there. If you’re like me, your time is limited. You can’t be out there blogging and promoting yourself all over the place and still have time to write. And yes, the writing has to come first.  But here’s a clever way to blog that can be practically painless—join a group of bloggers so that you don’t have to come up with a unique blog of your own every day.  If you’re part of a blog, this will require far less of your time—and still help to get your name out there. In fact, joining a blog that’s already publicized is probably a smarter way to go. I joined the missmakeamovie blog, which has a number of contributors, and I blog once a month. That’s manageable in terms of a time commitment, and the blog gets a lot more traffic because it already exists and has contributors from all over the world…far more traffic than I could get for a blog that I tried to maintain.  Trust me, I’ve already started and abandoned a couple of blogs because of the fact that I simply can’t come up with something new every day that is worth anyone’s while to keep returning. So, if you can, join a blog that already exists—or get together with a group of friends/fellow writers and create a blog. For example, a couple of years ago, a group of women who were all going to have their debut releases in 2008 got together and created a blog to promote the fact that they were all debut authors. They even did t-shirts and other promo to help spread the word at conferences and on various online loops about who they were—the common denominator, they were all about to be first-time authors. They had an interesting hook, got together, and started a blog and other promo to get their names out there before their books even hit the shelves.

What else can you do to get your name out there?  I tried to do as many booksignings as possible. It’s good to get to know your local booksellers.  But sticking to ways to promote yourself online, I’d advise you to definitely get a Facebook page. And a Twitter page. Yes, Twitter.  If you’re like me, you’re probably resisting Twitter, but now that you want to promote yourself, it’s time to “tweet” away.  I swore I would never twitter, but I finally got on the bandwagon earlier this year.  And get this—an author recently announced on one of my writers’ loops that she got a movie option because she was on Twitter!  I asked what she tweeted about, and she said sometimes she tweeted about her work, but oftentimes she announced random stuff. And this led to a movie deal!  That’s the best story I’ve heard so far, and it shows the power of possibilities available to you via social networks.

As for me, I tweet when I have a new release, and definitely if I have a booksigning/event to promote, but like the writer who got the movie deal, much of the things I tweet about have nothing to do with writing whatsoever.  I share interesting articles, what I did for the day. Whatever. The one thing I know for sure is that I’m getting my name out there. Someone from a book club found me on Twitter and asked me to phone in for their book club meeting where they were discussing my book. Of course I said yes.  And recently a reader told me that she really enjoyed the way I interacted with my readers on my Facebook page. So being out there is also about giving your readers a way to connect with you, which can also be an important component in whether or not they buy your next work, or even any of your books. I’ve also had people discover me on Facebook and tell me that they now plan to buy my books because they’ve gotten to learn about me via Facebook.

Lastly, here’s another thing to do that really isn’t all that hard. Join writers’ loops. If you’re a member of Romance Writers of America, join their loop. I’m on the RWA Published Author’s Network loop, as well as a loop called Fiction That Sells, the Novelist Inc loops, and also some publisher loops (such as St. Martin’s Press and Avon Books). Don’t just join these loops and lurk—post comments from time to time.  Engage in dialogue with other writers. Again, the writing has to come first—I’m not telling you to forget the writing and spend all day “gabbing” in cyberspace. But being on various writers’ loops is another way to get your name out there. People will see your name when you sign your posts—and definitely add a signature line that includes your website and perhaps the name of your latest book. Every time you post something, people will see your name and the url for your website. So, just by interacting in the writing community in this way, you’re helping to promote yourself.

I’m sure there are other things you can do to help promote yourself online—maybe even something obvious that I’m forgetting—but I think I’ve pretty much covered the bases.  Remember that people are interested in getting to know you better, so don’t be shy.  You have a product to sell—and the best way to do that is to sell yourself.  Writing is a business, just like anything else.  So get out there and promote yourself!  After all, no one else is going to be as passionate about your product nor as invested in your success as you are.

Good luck!

On Diversification - Guests Eve Silver and Michelle Rowen

November 13, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (4)

As we've discussed this week, many romance authors write in more than one subgenre. You've heard a lot about my reasons for doing so, and today, we'll hear two more perspectives. Both Eve and Michelle are members of Toronto Romance Writers who write in multiple subgenres under multiple names.


Michelle Rowen pens fun, fantastical romance novels from her "condo-o'-love" in Southern Ontario, watched over by a pair of friendly cats named for two of her favorite characters from supernatural TV shows. She has been on the Waldenbooks bestsellers list as well as winning a HOLT Medallion for her first book, Bitten & Smitten. She doesn't think it's the least bit strange for her fictional characters to keep her up at night with various complaints, plot demands, and/or general chitchat.

Eve_Silver_1 National bestselling, award-winning author Eve Silver writes dark contemporary paranormals and historical suspense. As Eve Kenin she writes speculative romance. Her work has garnered starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Awards, and was listed by Library Journal among its Best Books 2007.

Eve holds two post-secondary degrees; she is an instructor of human anatomy and microbiology. She lives with her husband and two sons, along with an energetic Airedale terrier and an enormous rabbit.

Visit Eve at her website

We'll stick with our established conventions here - Michelle Rowen will be MR, Eve Silver will be ES, and I'll be DC.

DC - What subgenres do you write? Why did you choose those subgenres?

MR - I write (or have written) light paranormal romance, young adult fantasy, futuristic romantic suspense, and urban fantasy. I consider them all under the fantasy umbrella and I love fantasy books. My ideas are 99% fantasy, so I go with what I love to write!

ES - I’m not 100% convinced that I chose my subgenres; sometimes, I think they chose me. The first book I ever wrote was a children's story about an unwanted teddy bear that found a new and loving home. I was nine, and that book garnered me my very first rejection letter from a publisher. As an adult, the first manuscript I completed was a humorous contemporary story. But I'm not particularly funny, and neither was that book. It's buried in the back yard where it belongs. My next attempt was a light, fun historical, but every word I wrote wove a tale that grew darker by the page.

I kept trying to choose comedy, but it didn’t choose me.

Eventually, I decided to trust my voice and I let the book write itself exactly the way it wanted. An atmospheric story—replete with dead bodies and frightening happenings—emerged. I never set out to write a dark, twisty historical romantic suspense with gothic tones, but that’s what ended up on the page.

Similarly, I didn’t make a conscious choice to write futuristic/speculative romance. The idea for a wild ride through a post-apocalyptic world, a trans-Siberian trucker tale with both romance and ice pirates, came to me and I ran with it, never really thinking about subgenre or the story’s place on the shelves. I just needed to write it, so I did.

And finally, some of my genre picks were influenced by editors and agents. I was offered an opportunity to write a historical paranormal vampire tale, and I dove into the challenge. A suggestion was made that my dark writing voice would suit contemporary paranormals, so I tried my hand at those, as well.

DC - Do you use separate names? If so, why? If not, why not?

MR - I do use separate names. Michelle Rowen is for my light paranormals and my YA; Michelle Maddox was for the futuristic I wrote; and I’ve recently chosen Rachel Connor as the pen name I’ll be using for my urban fantasy thrillers. I do it to differentiate between the “feel” of my books. A reader who likes funny vampires might not be so happy with death and torture and salty language in an edgier book. It also helps when dealing with separate publishers so there is no real issue “competing against” oneself on the bookshelves.

ES - I started out writing historicals under the name Eve Silver. When I branched into contemporary paranormals I opted to use the same name because there were certain similarities such as the suspense flavor and the dark tone and I hoped that readers might enjoy both genres despite the differences in time period. Then came DRIVEN, a post-apocalyptic trans-Siberian trucker tale, and I was advised by my agent and editor to take a second name. I agonized over that, but in the end, I decided to follow their advice and write my futuristic/speculative fiction books as "Eve Kenin".

Given that I was writing three subgenres for three publishers, issues of scheduling same-name books could be problematic. Moreover, speculative romance as a genre is not as established as historicals and paranormals. I didn't want to alienate existing readers by throwing a book about truckers and deadly ice pirates at them, so I separated the names to be as honest as possible about what the reader was getting.

DC - Do you work with different publishers - each subgenre with a specific house, for example - or do you keep everything under one publishing roof?

MR - Having one publisher for everything you write would be a perfect scenario. Unfortunately, this is not very practical. Depending on how prolific one is, the publisher can only have so many slots available to you. Also your editor might not personally like a particular sub-genre and you would be forced to look elsewhere for publication. I have personally worked with five different publishers thus far and have had wonderful experiences with them all. Currently my light paranormal and urban fantasy is with Penguin, my YA is with Walker Books for Young Readers and I also write short, sexy paranormals for Harlequin Blaze.

ES - At this point, I’ve worked with four publishers for my single title works, and a fifth on a short story compilation. To a degree, the subgenres are divided by house, but I’ve written a vampire novella for my historical publisher which does cross that boundary.

DC - What do you like about writing in several different subgenres?

MR - I like that it keeps things fresh for me. If I just wrote funny books, then I think I would get bored or burn out quickly. It’s like cleansing your palette by doing something completely different. Then when it’s time to, say, be funny again, you feel refreshed and enthusiastic toward that sub-genre.

ES - Writing in numerous sub-genres allows me to flex my creative muscle, to challenge myself in new and thrilling ways, and to keep things fresh.

DC - What are the challenges of writing in several different subgenres?

MR - Well, the more subgenres you choose to write in, the more prolific you must be in order to keep up with publication schedules. I’m currently writing four books a year. This pace is still quite doable for me, but I don’t have a lot of time for, well, anything else. Luckily, I’m incredibly passionate about my work so at the moment I don’t mind putting the extra time and effort in to build my name as an author.

ES - The challenges relate to scheduling of due dates, scheduling of release dates, overlap of promotional requirements and risks of burnout. Also, it’s a challenge at times to remember the different nuances of dialogue and mannerisms for the different time periods I write.

DC - Do you see any common threads in your work, independent of what subgenre you write?

MR - I find that my voice is pretty much the same in all of my subgenres, whether it’s YA or futuristic romantic suspense. My themes are also very similar -- a normal woman or girl is thrust into an unusual situation or world and must find the strength within herself to escape or deal with the consequences.

ES - Everything I write has a dark tone. There’s suspense and action and, of course, romance. I’m a sucker for the happily-ever-after. But my stories are gritty and, at times, violent.

DC - Tell us a bit about your upcoming releases.

Tdf_smallMR - I’ve just released the fifth and final book in my Immortality Bites vampire series, TALL, DARK & FANGSOME this September.

The first book in my new YA series DEMON PRINCESS: REIGN OR SHINE came out in October from Walker Books for Young Readers.


This November my Harlequin Blaze, HOT SPELL, is on the shelves.

Next year I’m launching the first book, THE DEMON IN ME, in my new light paranormal series with Berkley Sensation.

At the moment I'm working on an urban fantasy duology that'll be coming out in 2011 under the Rachel Connor pen name.

Seduced By A Stranger ES - My current release, SEDUCED BY A STRANGER (Zebra~September/09), is a dark, twisted historical suspense with gothic tones. Within the walls of isolated Cairncroft Abbey lurks a murderer, and Catherine Weston must decide if enigmatic Gabriel St. Aubyn is the tender, charismatic man she loves, or a sinister stranger waiting to make her his next victim...

And I’m working on a dark, edgy, gritty urban fantasy/paranormal romance trilogy, the OTHERKIN series, coming from HQN in 2010.

DC - Thanks Eve and Michelle! Questions, anyone?

Writing Inspirational Romance - Guests Linda Ford and Lyn Cote

November 6, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (11)

One subgenre of romance that has grown at a phenomenal rate in recent years is inspirational romance. I've invited authors Linda Ford and Lyn Cote to drop by today and tell us a bit more about this niche. (As an aside, I met both of these authors online through RWA's online chapter, which provides a great way to connect with writers from all over the world. Lyn and I subsequently met in person at an RWA National conference.)

LindaFord Linda Ford writes from her home on a farm/ranch near Olds, Alberta. She shares her home with 4 adult men which probably explains why she seeks escape in her writing. One of the men is her husband, two are grown sons and the fourth is her client, a wheelchair-bound man who requires nursing care. When not writing or cooking and caring for the men in her life, you can find her in her large vegetable garden, reading, watching TV or cooking. (Whoops did I mention cooking already?)

Linda Ford's website is HERE and she blogs HERE.

LynCoteLyn Cote is an award-winning author of both contemporary and historical inspirational romance. She speaks at state, regional and national writer’s conferences and is an active member of RWA and the American Christian Fiction Authors. Most recently, Chloe, the first novel in Lyn’s “Women of Ivy Manor” series published by FaithWords was a 2006 Rita Award finalist for Best Inspirational as well as a finalist for the Holt Medallion and the National Readers Choice Contest. She is also one the top-selling authors in Harlequin’s Love Inspired category line.  Lyn and her husband live in Wisconsin.

Lyn maintains two websites: Strong Women Brave Stories, and her Lyn Cote site HERE.

In the Q&A below, my questions are marked DC, Linda Ford's answers are marked LF, and Lyn Cote's answers are marked LC.

DC - Welcome to both of you! Let's start by defining our terms. What is inspirational romance?

LF - Inspirational romance is still pure romance (if you take out the romance you don’t have a story) but with the added element of a faith journey.

LC - Inspirational romance is a romance between a man and a woman with a spiritual theme. All novels have themes but in Christian inspirational romance, the theme is one about faith and how it impacts the lives of our characters.

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

LF - One of the things that attracts readers is that they can count on stories without material many consider offensive, gratuitous or stuff they are simply tired of it (i.e. Swearing, premarital sex) and yet these stories still have sexual tension and strong conflict.

LC - An inspirational romance has a three thread plot: the external conflict, romantic and the spiritual. The inner conflict in an inspirational one, usually is an issue such as the burden of unforgiveness, the inability to give love or receive love unconditionally, the shedding of inappropriate guilt. An inspirational romance's bedrock is that God wants us all to live and love in the abundant life, free of negative beliefs and emotional baggage. The hero and heroine work out redemption as they open themselves to the healing power of human and divine love.

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

LF - First and foremost, a satisfying romance. After that, strong characters and a compelling story. In other words, the same basic elements that all good romances have. Popular themes (in my experience) are small town settings, cowboys and ranchers, men and women struggling to find balance in their life situation.

LC - Prairie romances are a perennial favorite. Amish novels are popular in both religious and secular readerships. Historicals never lost their place in the hearts of inspirational readers. And romantic suspense is very popular. (DC - Lyn also maintains a market page on her website about Christian book publishers and agents - look HERE.)

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

LF - I can’t begin to keep up with reading all the inspirational books out there. However, I think Linda Goodnight consistently produces a good solid satisfying story. Lyn, I’m sure you have more to contribute.

LC - Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is a modern classic which should be in every library. It is an amazing historical set in Gold Rush California and is a parallel story to the Prophet Hosea who was married to Gomer, a prostitute. In Redeeming Love, we follow God's pursuit of Angel, the prostitute who is loved by Michael.

Angela Hunt always comes up with wildly imaginative plots, such as The Note which became a Hallmark TV movie and even spawned a sequel.

Donita K Paul has written a Dragon Keeper Chronicles fantasy series. Kristin Billerbeck was one of the first chicklit authors.

For every genre of fiction in the secular romance market, there is an inspirational counterpoint.

DC - What are the challenges in writing inspirational romance?

LF - There are several I contend with. One is staying within the boundaries of the genre. It makes me realize how affected I am by the culture around me that I often stray too far in describing even a kiss. I’m told to keep it emotional not physical which one of the strengths of the genre—deeply emotional writing.

Secondly, the faith element creates another thread that must be worked in with its own growth arc so instead of having two threads--the romance and the external plot-- inspirational writers also add the third element. It means a little more plotting and intertwining.

The third is that to make the faith element integral to the story. I grow as my characters grow and I hope and pray the readers do too. No preaching. The faith element must be so deeply entrenched that whatever the characters do is characteristic for them. So adding a prayer or sending them to church on Sunday won’t alone create the element. It can be a challenge to get it all in balance.

LC - I think the same challenges that writers face in other romance subgenres, being orphaned by an editor, etc.

DC - What do you love about writing inspirational romance?

LF - I love that I can write romances that I could fit in to, that my characters reflect the faith and morals that I cling to.

LC - I love the response from the readers. We are often told that at the NYC Harlequin-Silouette office, letters from readers of all the Love Inspired lines outnumber all the responses to other lines. I also love when readers write to me and tell me that my stories inspired them to rise above what has been holding them back.

DC - Before we take questions, please tell us a bit about your upcoming releases.

LF - Coming up I have three releases from 51bJ1asqqWL__SL500_AA240_Love Inspired Historical set in early Dakota Territory. Dakota Child is out in Sept. 09. The Cowboy’s Baby is out in April 2010. I don’t have release dates for the other one. The stories in this series began as an idea of how couples can be brought together by a child needing a home or parent(s).


Following that, with the same publisher, I expect to have another Depression Era series.

I also have a novella included in a omnibus, A Prairie Romance
. It's an honor to be included in this collector's item.

DC - Lyn Cote sent me the press release for her current book, which follows:

Inheritance HER INHERITANCE FOREVER is book two of the Texas: Star of Destiny series.

In 1836 Texas, Alandra Sandoval is the Tejano lady of Rancho Sandoval. She is determined to show the world of men that she, a woman, can run the ranch successfully without a male by her side. Yet she still longs for future love and a family.

Scully Falconer, a loner, is the top hand on a nearby ranch. He has given his loyalty to the Quinn family and doesn’t ask more than honest pay for an honest day’s work.

Alandra, the lady of Mexican descent, and Scully, the American cowboy, think they have very different paths set before them. But greedy relatives burst onto the scene, threatening to change their way of life. And when General Santa Anna crosses the Rio Grande and marches north to keep his rendezvous with destiny at the Alamo, Alandra and Scully’s lives will never be the same.

The Library Journal says Lyn Cote “demonstrates her skill at creating strong female protagonists in compelling stories that will captivate historical romance readers.” HER INHERITANCE FOREVER attests to Cote’s ability to create page-turning, riveting romances with wonderful historical details that also allow readers to watch the forming of the Texas state.

DC -
Thanks so much to both of you for stopping by to tell us more about this market and your experiences. Now let's take questions from our blog audience. Who's first?

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?

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?

A Great Romance Novel - Guest Nancy Warren

October 16, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (9)

Nancy Warren is one of those charming and energetic people who is impossible to dislike. She's both prolific and bestselling, so is perfect candidate to tell us the elements of a great romance novel. Please welcome guest blogger, Nancy Warren.


Nancy Warren is the USA Today bestselling author of more than 40 novels and novellas for Harlequin and Kensington publishers. Her next novel will be out in November from Harlequin and is called POWER PLAY. 51gHNvF7a8L._SS500_

What Makes a Great Romance Novel?

As a romance author, I've been asked many, many times some version of the formula question. The variations are something like: So, does Harlequin send you the formula when you become a writer? Or: I guess it's pretty easy to bang out a romance novel when you write with a formula. As insulting as it
is to a novelist to have a reader or aspiring writer assume there is some magical blueprint that makes writing a romance similar to constructing a model car from a kit, the truth is that of course there's a formula.

Here it is.

1. A man and woman meet (or boy and girl, vampire and high school student, some version of hero and heroine).

2. Sparks fly (some emotion is elicited, there is initial attraction, or they hate each other on sight, but they are never neutral).

3. Conflict keeps them apart (whatever prevents them from falling in love and getting married is conflict. This can be war, they are from different times, they are competitors of some sort, they are on the run from danger, a romantic rival exists, etc).

4. By trusting each other and growing as individuals they earn each other's love and end up happily ever after.

Think of your favourite romance novel and you'll see this formula at work. Pride and Prejudice is my favourite novel, so let's try that one. Elizabeth and Darcy meet, he's too proud to dance with her and slights her in her hearing, naturally, after this she detests him and is all too willing to believe any slander she hears about him. Meanwhile, he falls deeply in love with her and is rebuffed. Now he must swallow his pride to earn her love, while she must see beyond her blind prejudice to the man he truly is. The result? Happily ever after and a perennial best seller.

But what sets a truly great romance novel from a forgettable one? That's the heart of this topic and a subject many aspiring authors would love to understand. There are novels that take the world by storm, others that are forgotten as soon as they are read. Yet, both follow the above formula. The late screenwriting teacher, Blake Snyder, talked a lot about primal emotion in his books and lectures. Love is of course primal. We need love. We crave it. We will die for love, kill for it, pluck our eyebrows and wax our legs in hope of it.

As many times as I've read Pride and Prejudice I can never put it down. Apart from the brilliant writing, I am caught up in the suspense. Will they end up together? The story world Jane Austen creates would be a sorrier, darker place if they didn't.

What makes a great romance novel? I, the reader, have to care, deeply and passionately what happens to these lovers. That's what keeps me turning the pages and coming back to a well-loved book again and again. Character is important. I want to identify with the heroine and fall in love with the hero. An interesting plot definitely helps, but in the end, what I think makes a truly great romance is that the author has made me believe that these two are meant to be together and their love will make them stronger and the world a better place.

That's what keeps me reading, and writing, romance.

Romance as a Mirror of Popular Culture - Guest Dr. Nancy Down

October 8, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (9)

Today we have a very special guest - Dr. Nancy Down. She is Head Librarian at the Ray and Pat Browne Library for Popular Culture Studies, at Bowling Green State University. Because Nancy will be travelling tomorrow, this week's guest post is appearing on Thursday - I wanted her to be able to stop by and answer your questions!

N Down (2)

Nancy Down is Head Librarian of the Browne Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green State University (OH).  She has an M.L.S. from Indiana University and a Ph. D. in English Literature from Drew University. She has been a librarian for twenty years and is an avid reader of romances and mysteries.


    At the beginning of each semester, the Browne Popular Culture Library offers tours for classes of it’s collections back in the stacks. We usually pull the requested materials for the patron’s use in our reading room. Students are often surprised that, as an academic library, we archive romance books. As we stand in front of the shelves holding series romances such as Silhouette Intimate Moments or Harlequin Intrigue or Candlelight Ecstasy, reactions vary from “Wow!” to “I think my mother reads them.”  I always try to explain why we collect the materials we do and what their role is in relationship to the study of popular culture. Romances tell us a lot about our culture, especially series romances. First, by comparing the art work on the covers, we can see how our society’s attitudes towards sex have changed from the 1950s and 1960s till today. Both men and women can expose more flesh and be seen in more compromising relationships on today’s covers. A graphic design instructor once remarked how the covers would be a good example for students of how to create a generically defined situation over and over again, but bring something new to your cover.

    The stories within romances also tell us about our culture and how our views towards women and relationships have also changed. In the earlier romances, women were nurses, governesses, or paid companions to elderly clients. Many were orphans who needed guardians to look out for their welfare. In today’s romances women follow almost any career you can name—scientists, business owners, ministers, law enforcement, etc. I am surprised when people criticize the earlier romances for depicting women as weak. Even back in the pulp magazine era, romance pulps such as Western Romances and Rodeo Romances would portray strong women managing their own ranches or dealing with gunslighters. The early Harlequins of the 1960s and 1970s are interesting for their choice of locations. Many novels are set in exotic places like Australia, New Zealand, Spain or Greece. Yet, these English heroines travel to these locations, hardly knowing anyone there, and undertake various adventures.
    Romances are also important in popular culture studies because they function as “myths” or fantasies, as the stories we tell about our culture. Romances basically tell a story about two people who meet and struggle (often they don’t even initially like each other), but they come to see each other as whole people and overcome their difficulties to be together. We value the happily ever after story-- though the road to get there is beset with both physical and psychological barriers to overcome. 

    To me, romances are also exciting because they are also changing and crossing boundary lines. We have romantic suspenses, paranormal romances, and historical romances. Whatever elements enter into the romance, the narrative structure must still follow the basic plot of a love story. Romances tell us much about how genres are structured and operate over time. 

    As material culture, the series romances point to romance as an industry. Different series are designed with a similar look, including the colors on the spines, to promote loyalty to a particular series and publisher. For instance, the Harlequin Intrigues all sit together on the shelves with their blue spines and arranged by the publisher’s numbers.

DC - Thank you, Nancy! I'm en route to a conference today - but will try to log on, if possible. I'm counting all you blog readers out there to ask Nancy some good questions, but I'll start things off with one. Nancy, can you tell us a bit more about the collections at BGU and how they're used?

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

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