November 10, 2011

Favorite Things: Romance Novels (and a Publishing Contract)

Do you think you can write? We're pretty sure you can. In honor of National Novel Writing Month, Harlequin, the famed romance publisher, is hosting their second annual "So You Think You Can Write" online conference this week, offering a week of useful sessions for new and experienced writers of all genres. A budding novelist ourselves, we couldn't help but be intrigued - sessions range from podcasts to Twitter chats to blog posts and are easy to follow along with at your own pace. Did we mention our novel is in the romance genre? Yes, Deacon has been an avid romance reader ever since The Flame and The Flower found its way into our hot little hands.

There are assignments to submit each day and keep yourself on track, and even a prize - submit your own manuscript by December 15 and one lucky winner is guaranteed to get a publishing contract.

Of course, not all of us are quite ready to turn in our first book. So we spoke with Birgit Davis-Todd (at right, below), Senior Executive Editor at Harlequin, to get some tips for writers considering their first novel - and some insight into fiction's most popular genre, romance.

Why did you decide to hold an online conference? 
We anted to go out and find fresh new voices, younger voices. We thought we’d go online to try to find writers who may not have thought about writing for Harlequin or who haven’t heard of us. We publish 16 romance series at Harlequin and are looking for writers for all of our lines [ranging] from passion to historical .... to paranormal.

An online conference is a game-changer for us. [We're excited about] finding new readers; newer, younger authors. Will we one day be all just e-reading? [We want to] stay in touch with our readers. We do a lot of research as a company – what do they want, what do they see.

How tough do you expect the So You Think You Can Write competition to be?
My guess is that we’ll get 1,000 manuscripts at minimum. From that, I’d say that we could easily work with 25 potential writers.

Any ways to get a leg up on the competition?
Attending the conference all week will help! We have a theme each day. There’s a lot of good of advice all week. But also all of this material is archived. In general terms, for someone who is interested in writing for Harlequin, start by reading the series, target the one that you’d like to write – and [learning] what makes a good romance.

What does make a good romance novel?
[Having a ] strong hero and a strong heroine. They can have flaws [and the] the relationship could be rocky at times. We definitely want the happy ending in our books. [It's also important to have a] good solid plot, could have a sub plot and secondary characters.

What has the e-book done for the genre and industry as a whole?
Publishing is an interesting industry these days, we’ve seen the movie and music industry go through changes over the years. We were one of the first publishers to put our front list out in ebook as well. We’re still obviously printing in all formats. We find that our readers like print but they also like ebooks. They are volume readers; [they're] not reading one book a month but 10.

What about people that haven't read romance novels before? How do you get them hooked?
We try to offer something for everyone. We have a whole group of titles under the “Love Inspired" name that are more inspirational in tone, aimed at our inspirational, Christian readers. We have books like Blaze and Desire and Presents that are certainly hotter, spicier, contemporary. Paranomal is still big; our Nocturne line is all about vampires, shape-shirfters and other paranormal characters. [New romance readers might want to] try a line like Super Romance – a longer book. It’s very “middle of the road” – lots of story, lots of characters. A series like Blaze is a lot of fun, it’s sexier, but it’s very contemporary.
Another part of our business is a single title program, but Harlequin Teen is a program that is aimed at teens and women in their 20s, Julie Kagawa is one of our authors that is taking off (she wrote bestseller The Iron King) – we’re branching out in that direction, a series within a bigger program aimed at teens and 20 year olds.

A line like Blaze is aimed at younger readers as well. [We think a lot about questions like] Who is our new reader coming up? Can we shape those stories towards our newer, younger reader?

Do you like romance novels too? We'd totally love to meet some fellow romance novel lovers and discuss our favorites :) 

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