Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Harlequin's Dos and Don'ts

Harlequin American editors Kathleen Scheibling and Johanna Raisanen presented the Top Ten List: Do's and Don'ts For Crafting Contemporary Series Romance at the RWA National conference in San Francisco.  They claimed these were the top ten reasons they rejected manuscripts for their line and gave suggestions on what to do instead.  So if any of you are targeting Harlequin American here's the scoop.  (These are my notes so not terribly comprehensive but what was said by these editors as close as I could take notes)
1. Don't forget conflict. Unfortunate accidents are not conflict. Do present real obstacles. A suggestion they made is think of the worst possible person for the heroine to fall for and make it happen. Be sure and set up the conflict immediately and let it build. Give the reader a roller coaster ride.
2. Don't bring in too many secondary characters.  Do keep secondary characters at minimum. Romance should be central element. 
3. Don't let an accident or coincidence drive the plot. This makes characters react. Do make the heroine proactive and make her actions drive the plot. 
4. Characters:  Heroine: Don't make your heroine wimpy  like "Perils of Pauline".  Do make her strong--a person the reader wants to identify with.  
Hero: Don't necessarily need type A heroes. They prefer Beta but strong.
Villain:  Don't make stereotype villains. Make them unique and likeable/believable.
5. Don't use contrived action. Do use real action for motivation.  (This wasn't very clear or I missed something so jump in anyone who wants to expand on this) 
6. Don't use cliches such as pulses racing, chill up spine. Do use unique ways to show feelings.
7. Don't use too much exposition.  Too much is boring. Don't have character say something the reader would know. Don't explain backstory. Do show. Do use real action to show information reader needs to know. 
8. Don't set your beginning scene in a restaurant or over coffee. This has become cliche. Do  pay attention to scene structure and selection. Be sure you have all the necessary elements.
9. Don't use "over-the-top" writing. Avoid elaborate, coy, cute, pretentious language. Do "use the KISS" method.  Keep it simple and to the point.
10. Don't send manuscripts to a publisher without first researching the line.  Do your homework and  target the line you are sending to. Send in a clean, well-written manuscript. Do be sure you spell the editors names correctly.  (Pay attention to this as these two ladies have unusual and difficult names to spell.)

Anybody who has more to add, feel free to do so.  Next post I'll share another SF workshop.


  1. I don't have anything to add, but I'd like to say thank you for the information since one of my ms's is targeted at the HAR line.

  2. Nice. Did Love Inspired do any kind of list?

  3. Best wishes Anita Mae as these ladies would be fun to work with. Another suggestion I can make is keep submitting. If they like a new author, they often wait to see if they have more than one book in them.

  4. Morning Jessica, Krista Stroever did do a presentation but my editor appointment was during that time so I didn't go. Any of you Seekers who want to jump in please do so.

    I did order the CD with all the workshops recorded so as soon as I receive it, I'll post that info if other Seekers do not.I always order that because my brain turns to mush after so many workshops. Its a great way to get info btw if you don't go to the conference. ACFW also records their conference. Some of the keynote speakers are fun and inspirational. You can order the whole conference for $99.00 if you order before or during the conference. You can order on their website. You can also get together with friends and pass it around. Then it doesn't cost so much.

  5. Whoops ... I already broke rules 2 and 6 in A Passion Most Pure -- don't bring in too many secondary characters and don't use cliches such as "pulse racing." Yikes ... there's a lot of pulse racing in my book ... and, sigh ... pretty much by almost all of the 15-18 characters. :)

    Seriously, wonderful post, Sandra, and all points (even those I broke!) are dead-on.

  6. You're a great note-taker, Sandra! My brain turns to mush at conferences, too. I'm giving myself permission this year to just buy the CD of whatever workshops sound good at the ACFW conference and just focus on talking to people while I'm there--and making my appointments! If I make it to all the meals, worship times, keynote speaker speeches, the banquet, my two editor app'ts, my paid critique app't, and the workshop I'm hosting, I'll be happy! Who can concentrate on workshops!?!

  7. The secondary characters got me too, Julie.

    Oops. :)

    Of course we're not writing straight romance either. Sub plots are allowed...to some extent.

    I need to remember not to go too far.

  8. I'll add watch your pacing. These are short stories so your pacing should move the story along.

    Read/listen to (Podcasts)everything you can on what a particular line is looking for. They're all very different. I recommend concentrating on a particular line too. A lot of people don't target. They have written books for Super, Nocturne, Intrigue. If you sell to a line, that's the only line you're going to write for while you get established.

    Can you tell I've been targeting H/S for a while now? There are great forums on eharlequin.com. Lots of authors talking about their books, some inside info that's helpful.

  9. Excellent post, Samdra! I think these pointers would carry over to all lines, except for the number of secondary characters and subplots necessary for longer books.


  10. I took an online class once taught by Terry Burns. I'm sure it's in the members only section of the ACFW website somewhere.

    He said 80% of all manuscripts get rejected before the editor reads a single word because of basic errors. Like, 'you subbed a 100,000 word women's fiction and we publish 50,000 word sweet romances'

    Or typos in the query letter.

    Really simple stuff that has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR WRITING.

    So if you can get the bumps smoothed out of your sumission and do it right, you've just jumped past 80% of the other authors. That's something worth striving for. A fairly simple change you can make, just focusing your submission and polishing the query letter, that can make a real difference.

  11. Jessica,

    I do know that the LI eds really want folks to be reading the lines they are targeting...and recent books too, so they know what the books are like. Also, that can clue aspiring writers on Dos and Don'ts.

    Hope this helps.



  12. Morning Julie, Yes, you do have wonderful characters and sub-plots, but don't forget your books are not category romances. You are writing historical women's fiction which needs secondary characters and sub-plots.

    You too Mary. Your books are longer and into the historical women's fiction genre as well. You, like Julie have dynamite secondary characters.

    And writers, I do apologize. I forgot snacks. Good thing Ruthy is on a trip or she would have my hide.

    Hmmm. What do I have to offer? I just stopped by the veggie roadside stand and have a basket full of yummy peaches if you have a sweet tooth. But the best are the vine ripe tomatoes. I'm going to make a plate of my favorite breakfast. Bacon, lettuce tomato sandwiches. You easterners who are into lunch time by now, these are great for lunch too. For Ruthy's sake I'll add a southwestern flavor and slice some avocados as well. All on Ezekial bread toasted.

  13. Melanie, Great way to do a conference. I figure I'm there to meet people. When you price individual workshops you might find the total for $99.00 a better buy. They download onto your computer or i-pod. I listen to them when traveling. Its great.

    Cat, thanks for adding the advice about plotting. You are so right about researching the line you want to write for. There is nothing worse in an editor's eyes to waste time on a manuscript which is so not them. Best wishes on your quest for H/S. I'm going to picture your name on them sooon.

    Thanks Mary, You just reinforced Cat's observation. and Hi Cheryl. Jessica, Cheryl has some great LI's out there. Read as many LI's as you can. Look for authors Cheryl Wyatt, Missy Tippens, Janet Dean, Debby Guisti.

  14. Thanks, Sandra! I missed that workshop but was interested in the topic.

    I appreciate you sharing!

    Jessica, I have some notes on LI. I'll hunt them down and post later today.


  15. Thanks Missy, I'll look forward to those notes as well.

  16. Oops! Almost forgot to post my notes on SH!

    Here's what I have. They may not be totally accurate as I was scribbling. :) But at least you can get an overview.

    --they're more open to missionary stories--overseas and local (such as
    Habitat for Humanity)
    --Foreign settings are okay, especially for the LISuspense, but you
    need to have been there so it's authentic
    --They want more books with kids! Even for suspense (just don't hurt or
    kill them!) :)
    --make sure to read the SH lines. Know what's acceptable and what's not.
    --for LI historicals, they do one western and one non-western each
    month. They'd like to see new settings and new time periods.
    --No separated or married hero and heroine, it diliutes the conflict
    because we already know they'll get back together.
    --No twenty years or younger. Characters should be a bit older than that.
    --No difference in religion conflict
    --Hollywood and musicians don't do well (unless like Janet Tronstad did
    when character was returning home)
    --No first person, they're not looking to expand on that
    --no cozy mysteries right now
    --the women's fiction line is only for well-established authors (you
    need a readership first)

    That's all I have. But don't quote me on any of it. Like I said, I was jotting notes and in some cases was clarifying things for myself. (I may have stressed things that the editors didn't stress as strongly.)


  17. Missy, I'm so glad you didn't forget. You took great notes. Thanks. You can see from your notes versus mine in another line, how there are subtle and not so subtle differences in the lines. Editors are looking for their own individual interests as well as the specific standards that their lines are known for.

    These two different lists prove how important it is to research and read the genre and/or category line that you're targeting. I heard one time that if you want to write in a genre, you need to read at least ninety books in that genre.

    Hope this helps. Thanks again to all of you. Happy writing and have a terrific week. Sandra