Posted On June 27, 2011 by Print This Post

Category Romance: Ask the Authors, Day 1

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!


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?

BA: I sold my first category book in August 2007 which came out in June 2008. I’ve written seven books for Harlequin Superromance and have recently sold three more.

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 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?

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?

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, 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 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:

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 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,

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 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

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78 Responses to “Category Romance: Ask the Authors, Day 1”

  1. Wow! What a lineup. Thank you all for being here. I have always been impressed with category writers because you need to write tight all the time and that’s a major challenge.

    I’m curious if you all plot your books ahead of time to keep you on track or if you are “pantsers”?

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | June 27, 2011, 6:36 am
    • Hi, Adrienne! I do plot my books ahead of time. I like to know which direction I’m going in *g* That said, I tend to think of my plot/outline as a map opposed to a GPS device.

      With a GPS, you’re told exactly which road to take and there’s very little wiggle room. With a map, you see the big picture (the end *g*) and know which way to go but it’s okay if you take a different route to get there instead of the one you’ve mapped out 🙂 Which is often what happens in my stories once I’ve gotten to know the characters better.

      Posted by Beth Andrews | June 27, 2011, 8:31 am
  2. Hi! So glad the authors have stopped by and shared their journey w/us.
    I’m a long time fan of the traditional Harlequin Romance and Harlequin Presents line and I’m starting to get more into Superromance.
    My question is specifically for the Superromance authors. Since Supers are a bit more oriented towards single title “style” do you occasionally write “too edgy” and have to scale back?
    The reason I ask is b/c I’ve got a story idea in my head right now that I feel straddles the line between single title and Superromance. I’m reading the line to get a feel, but I’m still curious what you have to say. Thanks! 🙂

    Posted by Jill Q. | June 27, 2011, 6:49 am
    • Hey, Jill! I actually wrote an opening for my WIP that is a bit too edgy and will be scaled back so there are limits. I’m of the mind that we should write what the story calls for and then worry about toning it down during revisions.

      But I do think Supers can have edgy stories and somewhat darker themes. I agree with Helen about continuing to read the line so you can get a feel for the variety of stories.

      Posted by Beth Andrews | June 27, 2011, 8:34 am
  3. Hi Adrienne!

    I’m a strange combination of pantser and plotter. Every book has been a bit different for me, but my suspense stories have probably been plotted out a bit more than my straight romances. I do have to write a synopsis as a part of the proposal process, so I have to have some kind of an idea where the story might be going, but my finished books always vary, some more than others, from the original synopsis.

    Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 7:03 am
  4. Hi Jill!

    The first books I sold to Super had already been written for the ST market, so I had to scale them back. One much more than the others.

    Since then, I’ve pretty much written what I’ve wanted to write, while knowing I’m writing for Superromace. If that make sense.

    Super is close to ST, but it’s not no holes barred. You have the right idea by reading the line. I’d suggest reading several different authors. There’s a LOT of variety in our line.

    Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 7:11 am
  5. Hi, Adrienne,

    I plot more than I used to, since they want some kind of a synop from me now. I still keep it to the bare minimum, if I can. The plot goes where it goes. I just follow along, and cut later. But I write a lot, and like to do 1000 words every day. I get a couple of books a year, even if I don’t know waht I’m doing half the time.

    Posted by Christine Merrill | June 27, 2011, 7:21 am
  6. Morning everyone!

    So happy to have you all here today – what a great crew! And congrats to all the new books appearing – I’m looking forward to adding to my TBR pile….=)

    My question is for all of you – time management. How do you manage your time with life in general, kids, family, work, etc.?

    Thanks for posting with us today!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | June 27, 2011, 7:34 am
    • Good morning, Carrie! I write full time so I don’t have to juggle another job and my writing (not sure I could do it!) but I do try and balance everything else. I believe that time management is really self-management which I’m starting to take more and more seriously.

      I delegate a lot of household tasks to my kids (3 teens) have a prioritized list of only 3 – 4 items I want to do in a day and ‘chunk’ other tasks (such as writing blog posts, updating my website, paying bills *g*) to do either in the evening or weekend.

      And I’ve recently gotten into the habit of writing first before even getting online which has made a huge difference to my productivity 🙂

      Posted by Beth Andrews | June 27, 2011, 8:40 am
    • Hi Carrie.

      I write full time, as well, and my kids are 17 and 22, so getting my writing done is much, much easier than it used to be. And having a contract deadline make prioritizing a bit easier, too!

      Before I was published, though, it seemed everything else got done first and writing came last. It’s almost impossible to get a book finished like that. So I would get up very early in the morning and write before the day started for everyone else.

      That worked for me, but everyone has to find the balance that works for them and their families.

      Sorry, that’s probably not a lot of help!

      Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 11:11 am
  7. Hey ladies,

    Thank you so much for joining us! What do you love best about writing category? What do you find the most challenging?


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | June 27, 2011, 7:37 am
    • Hi Tracey!

      What I love best is that while Harlequin generally wants 2 books per year per line from their authors, they will pretty much take as many books per year as you can write. As long as they can fit them into their various lines. If you’re prolific, you could write for 3 wildly different lines and get 6 books out per year!

      The most challenging aspect of writing category for me is writing fast. I used to take a year to write a book!

      Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 11:17 am
    • Hi, Tracey *g*

      I’ve always wanted to write category books so to be able to is like a dream come true for me. I love Harlequin’s distribution and that I can build a readership by writing for a line. I also love how much I’ve learned about writing a tight, emotionally packed story.

      For me, the most challenging part of writing category is writing more *g* I want to increase the number of books I have out a year and it’s taken me a while to learn how to write faster 🙂

      Posted by Beth Andrews | June 27, 2011, 11:17 am
  8. Hi ladies! I want to thank you all for so generously responding to our questions – I know some of you are on deadlines and others are getting ready for RWA National. It’s a crazy week!

    I forgot to ask if any of you sold based on an in-person pitch. I’m sure that’s on the minds of a lot of unpublished authors who are going to National! Any tips for them?

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | June 27, 2011, 8:16 am
    • Hi Becke and thanks for having us!

      I never sold on pitches, but I did get many requests that way.

      My tip would be to take a deep breath and relax. Easier said than done, I know, but if you’ve done your homework and know what books this editor or agent is looking for, chances are you’ll get a request for at least a partial.

      Write is all down on a notecard if you’re worried you won’t remember, but then made sure to have some eye contact and conversation.

      Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 11:20 am
    • Thanks so much for having us, Becke!

      I didn’t sell a book from an in-person pitch but that is how I got my agent. I pitched her one of my YA ideas and she loved it and my enthusiasm and offered representation shortly after I returned home from the conference. I was always a nervous wreck during pitches but that time I was relaxed and able to just be myself so that’s my advice: Try to relax. Let your enthusiasm for your work shine through 🙂

      Posted by Beth Andrews | June 27, 2011, 11:21 am
  9. Oh, and…
    Good morning, and thanks for having us! (needed caffeine).

    Carrie: My time management is all about setting a regular schedule. If there is an approaching deadline, I divide word count by work days and make sure I do at least enough work to get to my goal. That way, I can schedule days off, and work around emergencies.

    Both kids are over 18 now, but they were little when I started, and were taught to ‘respect the deadline’. No false emergencies. Now, my parents are elderly, and will need me. That is actually turning out to be harder than having the kids.

    Tracey: I love the nuts and bolts of storytelling. Working in a short form like category gets you really close to that underlying structure. And what do I like least? The perception that if you writer for Harlequin, you have to be second string, or maybe just stupid to put up with the low royalties and boilerplate contract. And that’s always the worst when it comes from other writers.

    And Becke: I sold based on a contest, but I got my agent from a conference pitch. My advice? RELAX. Editors and agents really do want you to succeed. They want to find that special story as much as you want to tell it. And they ache for you when they see how worked up you are.

    Posted by Christine Merrill | June 27, 2011, 8:44 am
  10. Good morning,

    I’ve noticed most of you publish a few books a year. Do you present outlines all at once? Are they continuing stories? Does your editor suggest plots? I’m impressed by the volume of writing.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | June 27, 2011, 9:03 am
    • Hi, Mary Jo! My editor wants a synopsis of each story so, for my three book proposal, I submitted a 20 pg synopsis and the first three chpts of book one and ten page synopses of books two and three.

      Posted by Beth Andrews | June 27, 2011, 11:23 am
    • Hi Mary Jo!

      You’re first sale or two to Harlequin will more than likely be one book contracts unless you’ve written a series. So after selling that first finished book, you’d present a proposal to your editor. In my case, that was a synopsis and the first 3 chapters.

      After a couple one book contracts, I came up with my Mirabelle Island series idea and submitted a 3 book proposals, which included 3 synopses and 3 first chapters. My Mirabelle Island series are stand alone books that are all set on the same island and they like series ideas. I think they sell well.

      No, I don’t think you can sell continuing stories in any Harlequin line. Category books need to be stand alone stories. I hope I understood your question there.

      My editor doesn’t suggest plots, but she has helped with with locations and suggested changes in a couple of synopses that have helped the story.

      Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 11:26 am
      • Hi, Mary Jo.

        When my editor has an idea, it’s genreally “Can you do a Christmas book?”

        I take it from there.

        I was actually part of a continuity series where the editor let us write the bible, and create characters and an overaching plot. The books stand alone, but they are better if you read all 8.

        A lot of times, editorial will hand the authors this type of idea. But they let us free to roam.

        And as far as outlines go, I do one at a time, no matter how many books are on the contract. Every new project is a surprise to me.

        Posted by Christine Merrill | June 27, 2011, 2:59 pm
  11. Hi everyone! Thanks for taking time out for RU this week. I’m aspiring to be published with Harlequin, so I was very excited for this post. The interview was so thorough, I had a hard time coming up with any new questions!

    So, I’m going to play off one point mentioned by Beth Andrews – motivation and conflict. I’ve been whacked for not having the right combination of both of these and I’m convinced it’s the most critical component required to sell a manuscript. What would you say is the key to getting this right for category romance? I’m targeting Desire and Riva at the moment, but pending the editor’s comments on my submissions, that could change. 🙂

    Posted by Kat Cantrell | June 27, 2011, 9:53 am
    • Hi Kat.

      Motivation and conflict is a big topic and could probably use and entire day of discussion, but I’ll try to respond.

      Your characters’ motivations will likely be what causes the conflict and category romances revolve around the conflict. So, yes, you need to nail this aspect of a story.

      A couple key things …

      The conflict should not be easily resolved with one serious conversation – can’t be a simple misunderstanding.

      It needs to be something serious enough to carry your story through the length of the ms.

      There’s internal conflict and external conflict. Again, a big topic. The internal conflict is the most important – it’s what drives the conflict in the romance. Ask yourself why is my hero/heroine not already married?

      Hope that helps.

      Have you read Debra Dixon’s book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict. If not, check it out.

      Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 11:33 am
      • I don’t go anywhere with out that book – I’m not joking, either!

        Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | June 27, 2011, 1:35 pm
      • My trick with motivation is to ask myself what I would do, if I were in my heroine’s situation.

        Or better yet, if she were my friend, what would I think of the way she was behaving. Do I want to tell her to grow up? Get a life? Run as fast as she can away from the hero because he’s a loser?

        Even in the most outlandish romanceland situations, you have to keep it real. Understand that, if your character goes out on a limb, the audience might reject her for being an idiot.

        If her actions are outlandish (falling in love with a kidnapper/tricking the boss into a marriage of convenience/etc) you have to go out of your way to create a character that has a really good reason to behave this way.

        Posted by Christine Merrill | June 27, 2011, 3:06 pm
      • Thanks Helen and Christine! All of your advice is great. One thing I struggle with is the misunderstanding as a conflict. I actually don’t like that in stories either, however, I see it a lot, especially in category romance. So I must not get what is meant by a “misunderstanding”. Can you give me an example of what you think absolutely doesn’t work?

        Posted by Kat Cantrell | June 28, 2011, 7:27 am
    • Kat – Best of luck with your submissions!

      Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | June 27, 2011, 3:44 pm
  12. One thing I forgot to mention – I invited these particular authors to take part in the Q&A because I’m familiar with their books and I highly recommend them!

    I’ve met some of these authors in person and hope to meet the rest of you one day, too!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | June 27, 2011, 10:23 am
  13. Chris – You brought up a point I never thought to mention. Do you all have agents? What are your thoughts on that subject?

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | June 27, 2011, 10:29 am
    • I had an agent in the beginning because I had originally intended on selling ST. I did 10 books with that agent and am now selling category w/o an agent. Harlequin has boilerplate contracts, so you don’t need to have an agent to sell. Or, for that matter, to get read.

      Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 11:36 am
      • This is really interesting, Helen. I guess I assumed you all sold through agents even though Harlequin doesn’t require it.

        Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | June 27, 2011, 2:45 pm
        • I’m just the opposite of Helen. I sold the first 10 or so myself, and just got an agent last year. It’s helped to increase the advance. But there isn’t a lot to be done with the HM&B contract, in way of negotiation.

          But Diana Fox, my agent, has been great for career planning, thinking ahead toward single title, and keeping an eye on the changing market.

          Posted by Christine Merrill | June 27, 2011, 3:09 pm
  14. I’m heading out to the airport and won’t be in New York until this evening but I’ll try to check in at least once more today. Thanks again to Becke for having us and thank you all for the great questions 🙂

    Posted by Beth Andrews | June 27, 2011, 11:24 am
  15. Hey, gang! I’m late popping in, but I’ve been reading the responses:)

    I’m certainly a plotter. I so wish I was a panster and could just sit and turn out an amazing story, but I do so with spreadsheets and much re-working before Chapter One is even written (I’m afraid I suck all the fun out of it with all my organization:).

    So great to be here! Thanks, Becke for the invite!

    Posted by Jules Bennett | June 27, 2011, 12:57 pm
  16. A note to those of you who are following this feature: a lot of our featured authors are en route to New York for RWA National or are already there. Half the RU team is also in NYC for National.

    Be sure to check in tomorrow and Thursday, since there are likely to be some late responses.

    To all of you in NYC (or en route): have a blast and take lots of pictures!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | June 27, 2011, 1:39 pm
  17. Becke, thanks for a great mini-workshop. Writing category is my dream. I want to write stories that feature a multicultural cast, particularly African-American, and deal with issues of faith. Sounds like a cross between Kimani and Love Inspired, right? It is, but there are some differences and I’m still reconciling myself to those. Kimanis tend to be sexier than I want to write, but they also have a more urban flavor than Love Inspired. Love Inspireds, on the other hand, are tops for the faith thread. Not sure how I’ll reconcile this just yet.

    What steps did you take to nail story structure for the line you write? Did you analyze books in that line or use another method?

    Posted by PatriciaW | June 27, 2011, 2:16 pm
    • That’s a tough one, Patricia, since the lines are pretty clearly defined. Ann Christopher is one of my favorite Kimani authors and, yep, her books are pretty hot.

      I wonder if others here have similar problems matching the degree of heat to a particular line.

      Patricia Sargeant (aka Regina Hart) seems pretty successful writing multicultural books as single title. Have you considered that option?

      Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | June 27, 2011, 2:38 pm
      • Funny you say that, Becke. Patricia is a good friend of mine and a bit of a mentor. I love Ann Christopher’s books as well, but I can’t write that level of heat. I have read some Kimanis that aren’t so sexy and which include a bit of a faith thread, particularly those by Jacquelin Thomas. I don’t see too many AA books under Love Inspired, so that feels like an open niche. (Felicia Mason did a couple of series around 2006, 2007, and Angela Benson did a couple of singles around that same time, I think.) I just have to come up with something that works for that line, which means I may have to go more small town, although that’s not my comfort level in writing.

        Posted by PatriciaW | June 27, 2011, 2:58 pm
    • Patricia, from what you’ve posted, it sounds like you know the lines and you know exactly how what you want to write fits or doesn’t fit. Good luck!

      I was writing ST before i sold, so, no I didn’t analyze books in the Superromance line before I sold. But I think I had an uphill battle with regard to sales as a result. Not sure my sales are as good as others in the line because I don’t always write what’s expected.

      As for story structure … you need to nail that irregardless of the line/market you’re targeting. A good book is a good book!

      I have a “For Writers” tab on my website and wrote a piece on “Secrets to Selling Category Romance.” Probably shoulda mentioned that before now, huh? LOL
      Everyone might find some useful bits of info there.

      Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 4:39 pm
    • Coming in on the fly, since I dropped the ball on monday and went to NYC without saying goodbye.

      I stumbled on to the structure for M&B Historicals, pretty much by accident. I think it was a matter of me fitting them, rather than learning to fit.

      Now, I know what my books should look like, and keep doing it the same way.

      Posted by Christine Merrill | June 29, 2011, 11:11 am
  18. Hello ladies!

    Thanks so much for being with us today.

    Since you all write category and the word/page count is shorter than single title, can you give us any tips on how you incorporate the introduction of your characters, the setting, the meet and the first kiss in a shorter time span without the story coming across in a contrived manner?

    Terrific post, Becke. Thanks again, ladies!


    Posted by jennifer tanner | June 27, 2011, 2:29 pm
    • Hi Jen. I think the advice of starting your story “where the trouble starts” is absolute perfect for category. Start off fast and keep that pace going.

      Intro of characters … tight writing – every word should count. No back story dumps. This slows the pacing. I’m as guilty of it as the next person, but … do what I say not what I do! lol

      Setting … in the beginning you should give the bare minimum to give a reader a sense of place. Unless, that is, the place plays a part in the story, as in my Mirabelle Island series – in the first book, FIRST COMES TWINS the island was what split the hero and heroine, so place was key in the beginning of that story.

      The meeting should take place fairly quickly. I think that depends on the line you’re targeting, but I’d say it should be in the 1st chapter regardless of line.

      First kiss … is going to be dependent on the line. Some are sexier than others, so I think you can get away with a first kiss sooner. In other lines, the story needs to progress more naturally and if a kiss happens too soon, it’ll feel forced.

      Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 4:48 pm
    • Focus on significant details with setting. Find one thng that will set the mood, and let everything else be assumed by the reader.

      And begin with action, or even in the midst of a conversation, if possible. Don’t start with that big block of exposition that sets the scene. You’ll just have to cut it later.

      Be familiar with the tropes of the lines. You don’t have to explain a marriage of convenience, or a secret baby. You give it a new twist. But the readers of certain things are eager to follow you, and will cut you some slack. They are ready to suspend disbelief.

      Posted by Christine Merrill | June 29, 2011, 11:16 am
  19. Hi, ladies –

    Thanks so much for joining us today! It’s such an inspiration to read about your journeys and successes. What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring category writer?

    Thanks again,

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | June 27, 2011, 3:37 pm
  20. Hi Kelsey!

    Keep writing.

    Never give up. Never surrender.

    The road is bumpy even after you’re published, so this is an attitude that will serve you well in the long run!

    Posted by Helen Brenna | June 27, 2011, 4:50 pm
  21. Thanks to all of you for visiting here today! Another group of authors join the discussion on Wednesday.

    Hope all of you at National are having a great time – Tracey, Kelsey, Adrienne and Robin are there, waving the (virtual) RU banner!

    Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | June 27, 2011, 9:32 pm
  22. Authors and commenters – please do continue to post on this thread if you are so inclined. It’s been a crazy week for the authors (and will continue throughout RWA National, I’m sure)- we’d love your input, late or not!

    Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | June 29, 2011, 1:18 pm
  23. Chris – Thanks for coming back to continue the conversation here!

    Posted by BeckeMartinDavis | June 29, 2011, 1:21 pm
  24. Huge congratulations to HELEN BRENNA!! She was just awarded the highest honor for Romance Writers – the RITA – for her book THE MOON THAT NIGHT.

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 2, 2011, 10:29 pm
  25. Hello, ladies! I totally and completely dropped the ball. After getting to NYC I decided to keep my money and not pay $25/day for internet service so I’m only just making it to RU. I’m so sorry. Please accept my apologies. If anyone has any lingering questions I’ll pop back in later today.

    I read through the questions and saw that Helen and Beth did a fantastic job of responding to questions about edginess etc. And congrats to HELEN, who won a RITA while in NYC! She rocks. 🙂


    Posted by Kay Stockham | July 3, 2011, 10:31 am
  26. Hi Kay – I don’t blame you for not shelling out $25 a day. That’s highway robbery! Man, I thought it was outrageous when a Chicago hotel charged me $14 a day when I was here for a horticultural conference once.

    If you don’t mind, Kay, I do have a question for you. How many books did you write/submit before you sold to Harlequin? Do you have any tips for people who are considering submitting to a category line?

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 3, 2011, 10:38 am
  27. Becke, I had completed seven manuscripts before selling to Super, but nearly all of them were targeting other lines. The lines were changing a lot at the time so it was hard to pin-point where my stories fit. At least to me.

    I also saw a question about programs used to write. I use Scrivener and LOVE IT. Scriv helps keep me organized and I can see at a glance where I am in the story.

    My apologies again for not being here earlier.


    Posted by Kay Stockham | July 4, 2011, 8:51 am
  28. Kay – Were you able to sell those other stories eventually? I hope so!

    Hmm. There’s so much talk about Scrivener, it would be interesting to do a feature about that here. I don’t use it myself, but I’m seriously thinking about it. I hear great things from friends who use it!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 4, 2011, 10:36 am
  29. Becke, I have used bits and pieces of all of the stories in other books I’ve since sold to Super. Nothing has gone to waste but has been tweaked and revised. 🙂

    Scrivener is great! I don’t even use it to its full potential but I love it. Best $40 I ever spent!


    Posted by Kay Stockham | July 4, 2011, 4:44 pm
    • I haven’t gotten my copy yet, Becke, but from what I saw, I think you’d just put it in the mode where you can write freely, and use the more detailed parts for revision. After your first draft, say, you could then go back and create the index card things for your plot based on your draft. Then it would be easy to see where you might want to move things around, add or delete sections.

      I’m no expert, so it would be good to hear from a pantser who uses it.

      Posted by PatriciaW | July 4, 2011, 6:02 pm
  30. Kay – I’m a pantser (or as someone said, an “organic writer”). I was just checking out Scrivener and it looks very daunting! I can see where it would be a plotter’s dream, but I’d love to hear how pantsers like it.

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 4, 2011, 5:53 pm
  31. Right now I keep separate files with old versions, research notes, etc. It might be useful to have that in one place, but it would be an awful lot of information.

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 4, 2011, 6:09 pm
    • I think Scrivener is designed for just that, the entire boatload of information that a writer compiles when writing a novel.

      I’m planning to purchase my copy Friday. My only concern is that I’m not always writing on the laptop will it will be installed, but as long as I can upload docs into an existing project, which I believe I can, I’ll be alright.

      Posted by PatriciaW | July 4, 2011, 6:23 pm
  32. Let me know how you like it!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | July 4, 2011, 6:25 pm


  1. […] The first post — which I must say is both informative and inspiring — can be found here, and the next post will be published […]

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