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Publishing is in the hands of MARKETING.
Many ‘how to’ books talk about targeting a particular publisher or a specific line within that publisher’s output – Harlequin is particularly relevant here. But I’ve often been asked, ‘Won’t this destroy my originality?’ ‘Wouldn’t it be better just to write the book of my heart and then find a publisher for it?’
Well, yes. This is one approach. But the world of publishing – and particularly that of publishing romance – is so competitive and crowded these days, that a little forward planning can hopefully speed up the process and increase your chances of success.
It's precisely because the differences between some lines can seem so slight that you need to consider exactly which line you're writing for when you are working - or the book of your heart (which might very well be a perfectly fine book) can end up being severely messed about - and not to its good.
Look at it this way. If you simply set out to write the book of your heart, without even at least having thought about which line you're aiming for you can waste an awful amount of time. Say you write the book and send it to line A. Editor A thinks it has too many sensual scenes for her line - she sends it back to you.
If you're really lucky - and believe me, it's rare- she'll:
(1) Tell you why she sent it back.
More likely it will be
(2) Just sent with a form letter - these are the usual reasons why we return mss.
If it's (1) You could get to work on it, cut all the sensual scenes, and then find that she still rejects it. And you might have cut the heart out of your book because the book of your heart might be a Presents/Modern or a Blaze
If it's (2) Then you could send it to another line - having no idea really why it came back - and so not knowing which one to try for the best - and you could be trying and trying again for years - because we all know how long it can take an editor to get to read a book!
Okay, so targeting will save you time at the submitting stage. It will also save you time and energy at the writing stage.
Say you happily write your novel putting in plenty of mystery, intrigue, lots of secondary characters, some highly passionate scenes. Then you think about where to submit it - and you'll find that you'll come up against a 'pruning' problem. Send it to one line and they could say :
"Good book - but you need to cut the secondary characters.'
'Good book but you need to cut out the intrigue'
'Good book but you need to cut the sex'
And that's only if they bother to say anything!
So now you are faced with the fact that you have to cut X thousand of your precious words - which is hard enough. It's like a cutting off part of your baby! But equally you have to think of something else to put in its place. Which can be even harder.
And all the while, time is passing. You're editing the book again - and if you're not careful you can edit the life out of it. The more times you rework a novel, the less of the spontaneous, passionate, from the heart stuff you leave in. And what started off as something with a heart and soul and guts can end up as a pale shadow of itself. And I should know I've been there. I once rewrote a book five times - each time according to what an editor wanted - and killed it stone dead.
But all this can be avoided if you do a little thinking beforehand.
I'm not saying that you should work on your novel with the demands of the line and nothing else in mind.
Nor am I saying that you should focus so intently and twist it and torture it into a shape it wasn't meant to have in the first place - but I am saying that you should know whether you're aiming at a line that has secondary characters and subplots, or focuses fiercely on the main romance.
Or one that has mystery and intrigue - or not.
Or one that has strongly passionate scenes and fairly explicit ones or prefers to have a more gentle, restrained approach. Because if you don't you could waste a lot of precious writing time writing scenes/characters that could just end up filed in the recycle bin.
This is part one! The other questions - like when is a book a DARE and when is it a Romantic Suspense - is a different matter . So you need to consider the individual 'characteristics' of the different lines.
EMPHASIS - how much is given to which aspects of the story. So with the question of whether a book is a Blaze or an Intrigue, it's whether the emphasis is on the sexual relationship (Blaze) or solving the mystery (Intrigue)
INTENSITY - an example would be Presents/Modern versus Romance (M&B True Love) . In a Romance it's perfectly possible to have your H&h actually like each other all the way through - in a Presents that would be rare. Though Michelle Reid writes wonderful books where the H&h are so obviously in love all the way through - and even admit it - but they still tear each other to pieces because of other circumstances.
CHARACTERS - in a Presents too many other characters would diffuse the intensity. In a Superromance more characters would be an asset.
SEX - yes, this has to be considered, but as I said it's not that in one line it's not allowed and in another it is - you can have a book where there is just one major passionate scene but it is a Presents/Modern because of the - that word again - intensity - of the rest of the relationship. Or one where they make love openly and clearly on the page but because the atmosphere is very different it is a gentler Romance. I always have to go along with my characters on this. In Bedded by the Greek Billionaire, my characters don't make love until very close to the end of the book, and with A Proposal To Secure HIs Vengeance there is a lot of conflict that they need to get out of the way before they do fall into bed with each other.
CONFLICT - this is a major point in deciding which line you're aiming for. Obviously, from what I've been saying, a line like Presents/Modern has greater scope for a stronger conflict (But make sure you don't confuse 'conflict' with simply 'argument') And in Romantic Suspense then the conflict needs to be based around the mystery element.
SUBPLOTS - does the line have room and word count enough for them or not - once again it's the emphasis that makes the difference.
And once you've considered these for the lines, you need to consider them for your own work - and of course your own reading.
Which do you prefer?
I started writing before there was a split between Romance and Presents/Modern here in the UK - but if there had been that split, I know which line I would have wanted to read most - which one I would have enjoyed most. And so if I'd known there had to be a choice - and there has to be a choice because you have to send your ms to a particular editor on a particular line - I know I'd have chosen Presents/Modern and I'd have slanted my ms that way. I've written both in my time and I know that the differences between them can be subtle and perhaps difficult to see - but they are there. Ask anyone who loves a particular line and they'll tell you.
That way you can still write the book of your heart, but if you put something in - or leave something out - you'll have a better idea of which line editor is likely to be most interested in it.
Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance: An Emerald Guide