Stacking the Deck

Been thinking about how to increase my chances for getting the WIP published with a traditional paycheck that goes with a book contract. If it doesn’t happen, I’m still going to put the work out there, but first, I’m going to try the New York route. Again.

What’s different this time is that I am going to do everything I can, take every possible step, to ensure success. I’m not relying on an agent to get me there, although an agent would be nice. I’ve been trying and missing for a while now, so I know there are some ingredients I’ve omitted in the past. Not knowing my targeted publisher well enough is one of the errors I’m not going to repeat.

I like writing. I am not the business type. So it doesn’t come naturally to me to investigate publishing so thoroughly. When I got an agent, I figured I didn’t have to do that anymore. I was wrong, and now I’m once again without an agent. So, I found a couple of gurus who gave me the clues I needed to put together the best package possible for this submission.

Right now, I’m reading all the books in the series of my target line. What does that mean in plain English? Research. Before seeking publication, seek knowledge of the industry and in particular as much intel on the publisher whose contract is desired.

Example, I want to publish a romance novel with Harlequin/Silhouette. I write short novels, and they always have love stories, but as I have found, this is not enough. The love story can’t be a subplot. It has to be the main and pretty much the only plot. That was big lesson number one for me as I went into this challenge. I think I nailed that part–well, give or take 8,000 words.

Next, I had to figure out where my work fit within Harlequin’s megastructure. They have a lot of different imprints and lines. One of their imprints is Mira. And then there are all the romance categories from Blaze (hot and sexy) to Desire (sexy with rich guys) to American Romance, which is the series I’m targeting.

Why American Romance? Because the tip sheets told me that it was okay for the hero not to be an international playboy and okay for the setting to be small town USA. For rich guys and exotic locales, you go to Presents. I found all this on Harlequin’s website. They’ve got tons of free info for writers including podcasts where the editors of specific lines chat about what they’re looking for (and what they dislike) in a submission.

So all that took some time, but it still wasn’t enough, because the other advice I got was to read all the books in the line for at least two months in a row. See who is new, and what they might be looking for today with new writers. Mostly, these editors want the familiar with a clever twist. That’s true for just about any editor buying commerical fiction.

American Romance publishes four books a month. Many of those are in established series, like “Babies and Bachelors USA” so they have even more parameters. The authors who have published for years with the line have their own continuing series, like say, all the seven brothers in family, each gets his own story and own book. Hudson’s writing about a family called the Outlaws. That’s their last name. She’s written about a whole bunch of them in several other books. So, within all that, there’s a little room for a stand-alone by a newbie. If it meets all the other requirements of the line. Studying these books, I can see why they are super-picky. And why they didn’t pick me. Yet. 

As my final piece of research before I revise the WIP one final time, while I’m reading Bryon, Keats and Shelley for the courses I’m teaching, I’m also reading The Twin by Jan Hudson. I’ve already read two of the others out this month. One was by a new-t0-Harlequin writer. She’s already published as a mystery author. So really, nobody new new. At least not in A.R. Not this month.

When I saw that my really romancy story was 8000 words short, I decided to read Hudson’s book with an eye toward deep structure. How many pages long are the scenes? What is the ratio of hero/heroine pov? How much time out of each other’s thoughts is okay? How much exposition? How much backstory? Where’s the first love scene? What am I missing? Am I not focused enough of describing the way they feel as they fall in love? Am I skipping something elemental? Or am I just not going deep enough?

I kind of asked these questions informally with the other novels for January, but this time I’m studying the text like it’s for a master class. Heck, I may be able to actually teach a class in category fiction after I finish this research, which is, by the way, pretty fun. I can’t wait to see what comes out next month.

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