I blame my addiction to romance on Mills & Boon. I first discovered category romance when I lived in England, but when I moved back home, Harlequin and Silhouette books quickly outnumbered the M&B titles on my shelves. The authors who write category romance are masters of an extremely successful genre.
Today and on Wednesday, several authors respond to our questions about writing category. Post your own questions in the comment field – please indicate if you are addressing all the authors or an individual. Thank you!
Monday’s guest authors: BETH ANDREWS (BA), JULES BENNETT (JB), HELEN BRENNA (HB), CHRISTINE MERRILL (CM) and KAY STOCKHAM (KS).
Wednesday’s guest authors: LEIGH DUNCAN (LD), HOLLY JACOBS (HJ), DEBRA WEBB (DW) and ANNIE WEST (AW)
RU: How long have you been writing category? What lines do you write for, and how many books have you written?
JB: I’ve been writing category for a little over a year. My first book, Seducing the Enemy’s Daughter, debuted with Silhouette Desire (now Harlequin Desire) in March 2010. I only write for Desire. I’ve written 12 books, but only 4 of those are with Desire and one is due out in April 2012.
HB: I’ve been writing for about fifteen years, but have only been published since February 2007. I’ve written two NASCAR romances for Harlequin, although my focus since first selling has been the Superromance line. So far, I’ve written fourteen books and have published thirteen. The first book I wrote will never-ever-see the light of day!
KS: I’ve been writing category romance for six years and have contracted fifteen books. Fourteen of those novels have been with Harlequin Superromance, and the last a novella with Berkley Publishing.
CM: My first sale was in 2005, and that book came out in late summer of 2006. All of my books have come out as Mills & Boon Historicals and or Harlequin Historicals.
They are basically the same line, but the release schedules are different. I am usually out in England first. I’ve also done some Harlequin Undone! e-short stories, and a couple of eharlequin.com free online serials.
So far, for Harlequin (counting furiously on fingers) I’ve written 12 novels, 1 novella, 4 short stories and a little bit of a round robin short story. Not all of these are out yet. Right now, I’m working on a book for 2012 or 2013.
I’ve written some of my own stuff as well, and I’ll tell you about that in a bit.
RU: Did you begin by writing with a specific category line in mind, or did you write your story and then see where it fit?
BA: I did write with a specific category line in mind. However, that line wasn’t the one I sold to *g* Although I did realize shortly before selling my first book that my stories would be a better fit with Superromance than the line I originally targeted.
JB: I wrote for a smaller press and an agent I was targeting told me my voice was perfect for Desire. I read a few and really enjoyed them. I worked up a proposal (Seducing the Enemy’s Daughter) and we sold it. 🙂
HB: I started writing single title (ST) novels, so, no, I didn’t have a specific line in mind. After two agents, being nominated for the Golden Heart three times and getting close to selling with a couple of ST publishers, I ended up fitting best in Superromance, the category line which is most like ST fiction.
It was a twisty, turny, sometimes bumpy road, but I think that describes the road to publication no matter how you go about it. There are simply no guarantees. Do what feels right for you.
And just to clarify … I don’t think category fiction is an easier sell than ST. I think there are simply more opportunities for new authors in category fiction because there are more books published every month. Also, publishers don’t have to worry about promoting authors as much in category as they do in ST, so they’re more apt to give new authors a chance.
KS: I was actually targeting the wrong line until a CP recommended I try Superromance. I began studying Supers and submitted, and the rest is history.
CM: I wrote the story that sold without ever intending it for Harlequin Historical. To me, it was just a single title historical. When I thought of Harlequin, I thought contemp, and was submitting (and being rejected) to Duets.
I‘d heard that the historical line had moved over to M&B, and assumed that they wouldn’t want me, since I was not English.
Turns out, I was wrong.
RU: Were any of you published via the slush pile or a contest win? If not, how did you make your first category sale?
BA: I sold through the Golden Heart contest. I was a finalist and was bought by one of the editors judging the contest.
HB: I was published, kind of, through winning Georgia Romance Writer’s Maggie contest for unpublished authors.
After not being able to sell any of my three mss to ST houses, I decided to enter my book Treasure in the series category of the Maggie. The judging editor, who placed my book to win, loved the book but wasn’t able to buy it for the line she had in mind. She called my current Superromance editor and put in a good word for me, and the rest is history.
KS: I made my first category sale with a lot of hard work, rejections, and revisions. I received two letters from the editor before selling. The first said she liked my work but listed the problem areas. I revised, resubbed, and received another, longer, letter with more changes. After making those changes, I received “the call.”
CM: The Inconvenient Duchess started out as Secrets of All Hearts, which won the Golden Heart for Short Historical manuscripts in 2005. It was bought by my first editor, Maddie Rowe, who was judging. I was Maddie’s first book.
RU: What writing craft skills have you learned by writing category?
BA: I’ve (hopefully) learned how to pack a lot of emotion into a very tight package. I’ve also learned the importance of character motivation and how to build a strong romantic conflict.
HB: I think the first thing I learned was tight writing. Every word, every line, every scene needs to really count. The first two books I sold to Superromance, Treasure and Dad For Life, were initially over 100,000 words and at the time the editors wanted under 80,000, so I had a lot of cutting to do. It was an incredible learning experience for me. I realized that nothing I wrote was sacred.
KS: Oh, good question! I’ve learned how to revise. Every story can be better and revisions can be a very good thing.
CM: Discipline. Having strict deadlines helps me to make this a nine to five job. And when you do something regularly, you kind of build up muscle memory on things like plot and conflict. It gets easier to see when you are going down a blind alley for the story. Coming into book 14, I have a much better sense of how I want the whole project to look than I did at book 1.
RU: How long does it take you to complete a book? Does the line you write for expect a certain number of books per year?
BA: It takes me approximately three months to complete a book. Superromance doesn’t expect a certain number of books per year but they’ve been very open to the possibility of my increasing my books from two to three a year.
JB: It takes me 6-8 weeks to complete a book. I always allow myself 8 weeks, but more often than not, I turn it in after 6 weeks.
HB: I’ve gotten much faster at writing since I signed that first contract. Normally, I prefer having four months per book, but I’ve found I can manage four books a year every other year or so. I learned on my last contract that I can write an entire book in eight weeks, but I ended up completely drained. Recharging took much longer than normal.
In case you were wondering … yes, I do this full time and I have one child in college, the other will be a senior in high school this coming year. I have absolutely no clue how writers are successful in category romance while they keep their day jobs, but they sure are smart!
Superromance and many of the other lines want a minimum of two books per year.
KS: I believe all Harlequin lines would like to see two or more books a year if possible. As to how long it takes me to complete one… It depends on the story.
CM: I want six months, but I usually get four. I can do a book in three if I have to, but would really rather not.
Harlequin M & B wants two or three books out of me a year, and usually gets two novels and a short story or novella. This gives me a little time to work on my own projects and take care of my family. But writing is definitely a full time job for me.
RU: Do you also write single title romance and/or other genres? How is the process different?
BA: I write young adult (as of yet still unpublished in this genre) and the writing process for me remains the same—plot, write, layer, rewrite, revise—but I do tend to focus more on the romantic conflict for my Superromance books and plot for my YA stories.
CM: I wrote a single title contemporary non-romance, comedy thriller called Need to Know and self published it because it was cross genre and hard to market. I also self published a contemporary romantic comedy novella called The Tourist of Zenda. I am planning a sequel to NTK, since I love the characters.
When you are mostly known for historicals, it is hard to sell contemporaries. But I don’t find them hard to write. I live in the here and now, and I write what I see. It was a little harder to make the initial switch to writing historical, but I’ve gotten used to that.
And I don’t really distinguish between category and single title when I write. For me, it is totally about word count. Harlequin Historical authors like to think of themselves as being the line closest to single title. The finished product has to be between 70,000 and 75,000. If I were going to single title, I’d be aiming for 85,000 to 100,000. I’d probably use those words to add a sub plot. Greater length would lead to greater depth.
But other than that, there has never been a subject or theme that they’ve discouraged me from using. I feel really free to do what I want in the space allowed. And I try to make my books as complex as possible.
RU: If you write for multiple lines, or if you write different genres/sub-genres, how do you balance that and shift back and forth from more than one writing model?
BA: I work on one project at a time although I will start brainstorming/plotting a new story idea while finishing up another project.
HB: I didn’t find writing for the NASCAR line much different than writing for Superromance. NASCAR, though, was PG, so there was no explicit sex. Oddly enough I think one of the sexiest books I’ve ever written was From the Outside. Lots of sexual tension. The bedroom door simply closed.
CM: I try not to do two projects at the same time, although I’ve broken this rule before. When I’m with a story, I like to be with it 100%. When it’s done I don’t look back. Of course, this makes it hard to shift into reverse and do revisions. I suppose, the good news there is that I am looking at the project with really fresh eyes, since I can’t remember having written it.
But getting into the next genre isn’t a big deal for me.
RU: How much marketing does your publisher do on your behalf? How much are you expected to do yourself?
HB: My publisher doesn’t do much of any marketing on my behalf. I’m expected to promote through blogs, securing online reviews, and keeping an updated website and Facebook page. They’d love it if I Twittered, but I’m not a Twitterer. My editor has recently suggested I start doing workshops at conferences, so that might be the next step.
I’ve also taken out ads in RT Bookreviews, the RWR and Romance Sells. That gets expensive, especially for a category author, but I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple rounds of back to back releases making the ads worth it.
KS: One of the great things about Harlequin is their distribution base. Also, Harlequin markets their various lines with ads, promotion on eharlequin.com, Facebook, Twitter, and the various other social media out there. I’ve never had an editor tell me I had to do a certain amount of promotion but I’ve found it makes me feel better and more proactive in my career by trying to get the word out when my books are on the shelves. It’s simply good business sense when you have a product you want to sell.
CM: Most of the marketing that H M&B does is in house. I’ve been in their e-newsletter, gotten ads in the back of other people’s books, done the Harlequin signing at RWA nationals, and right now I am “The Book of the Month” for July on the Mills & Boon website. They always send review copies to RT. And my current book is available on netgalley.com. They make sure that I am “ known” to their target audience: the people who buy Harlequins.
But it’s up to me to find an audience outside of that core group. Ads, blogging, travel, book signings, and anything that involves spending money comes from the author.
RU: What is your opinion of self-publishing? Have you considered self-publishing your category backlist?
HB: If I had a backlist, trust me, I’d be all over self-publishing it. But my first contract was signed in 2006, so there isn’t much of a chance I’ll ever get my rights back.
If I had time and the inclination, I think I’d get a novella or two out there for fun.
KS: I think self-publishing has a lot to offer but my one concern is the lack of good editing. I think anyone interested in self-publishing should consider hiring a freelance editor as an investment. All writers want their books to stand out in the crowd of books being posted to the internet, and good writing and editing will make the difference in whether or not a reader becomes a repeat buyer.
CM: I am strongly in favor of self publishing, and have an original novel and novella available as e-books on Kindle, Smashwords, and PubIt!.
I doubt I’ll ever get hold of my backlist, since H M&B is still reissuing it. But if I had a backlist, I’d get it out there. It’s a whole new world and a lot of work as far as self-marketing, editing, and design goes. But it is definitely worth doing.
RU: Tell us a little about your next release and what you’re working on now.
BA: My next release is Feels Like Home, book three of my Diamond Dust trilogy for Harlequin Superromance. Feels Like Home will be out August 2011. I’m currently working on a paranormal romance young adult proposal and starting a new trilogy for Superromance.
JB: My next release will be out in April 2012 from Harlequin Desire. This will start what I hope to be a series set around Hollywood and the glitz and glam of the film industry. I’m working on the second book now and loving all the research I’m doing for the sake of “work”.
HB: The Pursuit of Jesse, Her Sure Thing, and Redemption at Mirabelle will be released in July, August and September, the fifth, sixth and seventh books in my Mirabelle Island Superromance series. My fictitious island is a larger and more rustic version of Michigan’s Mackinac Island of Grand Hotel fame with cobblestone streets, Victorian B & B, and horse drawn carriages. It’s proven to be a wonderful backdrop for my stories.
And while I’m waiting to hear back on a proposal for two more Mirabelle Superromances for 2012, I’m working on a short story for an anthology to be released November 11, 2011, entitled SEAL of My Dreams. Twenty authors. Twenty amazing short stories. And all sales proceeds will be donated to the Veterans Medical Research Foundation. You can check out our cover and see who’s involved at: http://www.sealofmydreams.com/
If you’ll be at RWA’s national conference in NYC, stop and see me during the book signing on Tuesday, June 28th., and I’ll be handing out TRADING CARDS for the project!
You can check my website at www.helenbrenna.com for more details about this and future releases!
KS: My next release is titled The Sheriff’s Daughter (September 2011) and is the first of my NEW North Star, MT, series. The Sheriff’s Daughter is followed by In The Rancher’s Footsteps (October, 2011), Christmas in Montana (November, 2011), and A Hero in the Making (January, 2012). All the books stand alone, however, readers will discover characters from my older books (Montana Secrets and Montana Skies) making a reappearance. At the moment my days are filled with writing, revisions, line edits, copy edits etc preparing for the upcoming releases.
CM: I have two simultaneous releases this July. In the US, you’ll see Dangerous Lord, Innocent Governess, which is a sequel to Miss Winthorpe’s Elopement. It’s a gothic. The heroine is Daphne, who disguises herself as a governess to find out who murdered her cousin Claire. Claire’s husband, Tim Colton is the prime suspect. If any of you read Miss Winthorpe, you can see why he might have wanted to kill his wife.
In the UK I have Lady Drusilla’s Road to Ruin which is a runaway heiress book. Dru is chasing her sister to Gretna, trying to stop her from marrying a dancing master. On the way, she hires John Hendricks from another of my UK books Lady Folbroke’s Delicious Deception. I loved writing this book. But then, I have kind of a crush on John.
And the book I‘m working on is several down the road from all of those. It will be a marriage of convenience/caper book with an actor disguised as nobility who marries an heiress for her money only to find that she’s broke.
Are you a category romance reader? What are the lines you read most often? (Example: SuperRomance, Blaze, etc.)
On Wednesday, June 29 (the first day of RWA’s National conference), come back for more of our Category Romance: Ask the Authors event. On Day 2, the participating authors will be Debra Webb, Leigh Duncan, Annie West and Holly Jacobs. Note: Annie is joining us from Australia. Because of the time difference, check back on Thursday for her comments. Thanks!
BETH ANDREWS: Romance Writers of America RITA® Award Winner Beth Andrews lives in Northwestern Pennsylvania with her husband and two teenage daughters. During the course of writing her Diamond Dust trilogy, she purchased copious amounts of wine, purely for research purposes.
When not drinking…er…researching she can be found in the passenger seat of her SUV gripping the dashboard, slamming her foot on a nonexistent brake and praying fervently. Or, in other words, teaching her older daughter to drive. She still counts the days until her son returns from college—mainly because he already knows how to drive. Learn more about Beth and her books by visiting her website, www.BethAndrews.net
JULES BENNETT: Wife to her high school sweetheart, mother to two little girls, former salon owner—oh, and author—Jules Bennett isn’t afraid to tackle the blessings of life head-on. Once she sets a goal in her sights, get out of her way or come along for the ride…just ask her husband.
Jules lives in the Midwest where she loves spending time with her family and making memories. Jules’s love extends beyond her family and books. She’s an avid shoe, hat and purse connoisseur. She feels that her font of knowledge when it comes to accessories is essential when setting a scene.
Jules participates in the Silhouette Desire Author Blog and holds launch contests through her Web site when she has a new release. Please visit her Web site, where you can sign up for her newsletter to keep up to date on everything in Jules’s life.
HELEN BRENNA has published thirteen romances with Harlequin’s Superromance and NASCAR lines. Since her first novel was published in 2007, she’s won numerous awards, including two RT Bookreviews Reviewer’s Choice awards, the Book Buyers Best, the National Readers’ Choice award and Romance Writers of America’s most prestigious award, the RITA. She lives in Minnesota with her family. Contact her via her website at www.helenbrenna.com or chat with her and several other authors at the Riding with the Top Down blog.
KAY STOCKHAM has always wanted to be a writer, ever since the age of seven or eight when she copied the pictures out of a Charlie Brown book and rewrote the story because she didn’t like the plot. Through the years her stories have changed but one characteristic stayed true–they were all romances. Each and every one of her manuscripts included a love story.
Published in 2005 with Harlequin Superromance, Kay’s first release was a Waldenbooks Bestseller. Kay has also been a HOLT Medallion, Book Buyers Best and RITA Award finalist who has contracted fourteen books with Harlequin Superromance and a novella with Berkley Publishing.
Born and raised in Kentucky, she now calls southern Ohio home. She shares her life with her husband and two children, as well as two stinky dogs with way more attitude than she has patience.
CHRISTINE MERRILL: Golden heart winner, Christine Merrill has written twelve historical novels and an assortment of stories and novellas for Harlequin Mills and Boon, and has self published two contemporaries. She is also the only author of Regency set historicals ever to fail a college English class covering Jane Austen. If pressed, she will insist that the F had more to do with her feelings on Tristram Shandy than Northanger Abbey. After she graduated with a degree in English and theater education, and could go back to reading for fun, she discovered Pride and Prejudice and learned the error of her ways.
She lives in rural Wisconsin about ten minutes outside of pizza delivery range with her high school sweetheart. They have two sons, a labradoodle, a pond full of goldfish and two cats with active social lives. She talks frequently about getting “just a few sheep or maybe a llama.” Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when she stops.
When not writing, Chris can be found at the movies, halfway back and towards the center, with a large buttered popcorn (but only if the film has a happy ending).Visit her on the Web at www.christine-merrill.com.
- Category Romance: Ask the Authors, Day 2
- Category Romance Authors – Benefits to Being Agented
- Category Romance: Tips for Writing a Great First Chapter with Tessa Shapcott
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for June 27-July 1: Two Panels of Category Authors Plus Dianne Castell
- In His Shoes: Race and Gender in Romance by Wayne Jordan