Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Are you engaged?

"I'm looking for a good story, well told."

Perhaps not what you want to hear from your true love, but that is what builds a lifelong romance with a reader and the stories you create.

And for Harlequin and Silhouette series romance, forming that long-term relationship, delivering on that promise, building trust, understanding, respect and growing with that relationship—well, that's what it's all about.

Continually refreshing and revitalizing the series franchise is a demanding and challenging task—but that hasn't changed in the many decades Harlequin, Silhouette and Mills & Boon have been delighting readers around the world.

What does Series Relevance Mean to You?

I thought I'd go to the source and report back! For Randall Toye, Director Global Series (pictured here), it's all about engaging the reader. Connecting with her—whether it is with her fantasies or her realities, it's all about touching her, telling stories that make her laugh, make her cry, sweep her away. Stories that have her closing her book feeling good, refreshed, revitalized, reaffirmed.

The key focus is a good story, well told. The basic building blocks? Character, Structure, Pacing, Payoff. Easy to list. Not so easy to deliver. As one author beautifully articulated: "Just because they're easy to read doesn't mean they're easy to write!" Quite the opposite. The series romance, like a sonnet, is a beautiful, disciplined, elegant, and demanding creative form.

In addition to ensuring we consistently deliver a good story well told, the editorial team has also been working on addressing issues of both language and character responses. Many genres have stock phrases and characters—Romance does, as do Westerns, Mystery, etc.

Those familiar elements can be part of what defines a genre and what we love about it—but they are also what can make a genre feel tired, unoriginal, or if not refreshed, can feel dated. For romance, those can be the moments and language that feels "cheesy" which can be distancing, and a reader turn-off. But be warned. There is such a thing as "Good cheese." We know it when we see it....

And to make things more complex, these lessons vary from series to series. Brand promise and reader expectations vary, so what relevance means is interpreted differently within each series.

Engaging the reader must start with the first sentence and continue with a compelling first chapter. Not to say the rest of the story isn't vital, but if the reader doesn't get past the first sentence/first chapter, it's moot, isn't it?

Randall, Dianne and I were all at a Novelists Inc. conference with Harlan Coben as the keynote speaker. He talked about the importance of the first sentence for him and gave a great example, which I will paraphrase, "When the second bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter." I still remember that sentence and think about how many questions that sentence generated. Questions we are compelled to read on to find out about. Good lesson!

The challenge is to continue to appeal to current readers while reaching out to new readers and re-connecting with lapsed readers with something genuinely different, that will appeal. As authors and editors continue to work to refresh and invigorate series, we will also be launching a number of new lines and are actively looking for new authors, new voices and submissions.

You can always check out eHarlequin's Writing Guidelines at the bottom of their home page for information on what's new, who is looking, what they're looking for. Here are just a few new lines launching in the coming months....

Kimani Romance
Launch June, 2006: At Kimani Press, you will find the new home to three of the industry's leading imprints targeting the African-American reader including: Arabesque, Sepia and New Spirit. Starting in July 2006, Kimani Press launches Kimani Romance, the industry's only African-American series romance program.

Silhouette Nocturne
Launch October, 2006: Nocturne is looking for stories that deliver a dark, very sexy read that will entertain readers and take them from everyday life to an atmospheric, complex, paranormal world filled with characters struggling with life and death issues. These stories will be fast-paced, action-packed and mission-oriented, with a strong level of sensuality.

Harlequin Everlasting
Launch February 2007: The love of a lifetime across a lifetime! Looking for emotionally intense stories emphasizing richly drawn, believable characters whose complex interplay over time create a compelling tapestry. The focus is on the sweep of people, personalty, setting and story, not just the romantic relationship and its initial resolution.

Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical.
Launch October, 2007: This new brand in the Steeple Hill imprint is a series of historical romances featuring Christian characters facing the many challenges of life and love in a variety of historical time periods.

In addition to all of the above, there are about four more new Kimani programs, Mills & Boon X-Tra Sensual, new Silhouette Desire guidelines and of course the just launched Spice guidelines listed on eHarlequin's writing guidles (click link above or go to www.eHarlequin.com.

We are very engaged....

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Show and Tell

If Descartes were alive today, do you think he’d say “I Google, therefore I am?” Hmmm. No, not quite passive enough. More like, “I can be Googled, therefore I must exist.”

While I am irritated with aspects of Google (am on AAP board--Association of American Publishers--copyright issues, lawsuits, etc.) that doesn't take away from the delightful sense of arrival in seeing my blog appear on a Google search.

I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge those pioneers of the Early Days of my blogging infancy. I think my first appearance was in Harlequin Blaze author Jill Shalvis’s Blog (scroll down to photo about 1/2 way. July 28, 2005. Cute, eh? When you reach the bears you have gone too far. Are you listening Timothy Treadwell?) James Pearson of Audible.com, Silhouette Intimate Moments author Suzanne McMinn and I sat together for a very enjoyable eHarlequin lunch at the Reno RWA. Naturally those eHarlequin authors were totally web savvy and taught me a thing or two!

Then of course there was the always ahead-of the-curve Literary Agent Irene Goodman’s invitation to guest blog on her site to introduce the New Business team.

Now there is an ever expanding circle of bloggers and websites that are connecting us so amazinginly by our mutual interests and shared passions. My first link—and let me tell you, I was as excited as though it was my first date—was Mills & Boon Historical author Michelle Styles.

Let me just correct that analogy. I don't think I ever was really asked out on a date, now that I think about it, so this really was VERY exciting! There was that warm fuzzy moment, like being picked to be on the team.

Other front runners in the blogsphere were Harlequin Blaze author Jill Monroe, Silhouette Intimate Moment author Loreth Anne White, Silhouette Desire author Nalini Singh and HQN author Beth Ciotta. It's a pleasure to be part of the team. Many authors have experienced this for years with listserves, chat rooms and email loops, but it is very cool to be part of this virtual circle, expanding and connecting us.

I was thinking of people going off to "find themselves" and realizing what an impossible task that is. We only have to look at the connections we make to realize we are a thousand selves, aren't we?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Going Global—Harlequin's own World Cup!

It's just like the World Cup. Only it happens every year. And it's always in Canada, somewhere sort of near Toronto. And we don't actually play soccer. But we do come from all over the world!

And I do mean all over—representatives from Australia , Brazil, Eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia), France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Japan, Nordic (Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark), Spain (Portugal and Latin America), Switzerland and the United Kingdom. And the US and Canada too, of course.

Unlike many multi-nationals, team Harlequin not only meets, we like each other, work together, help each other, share ideas and learn from each other.

There are diverse challenges and opportunities in each country—from getting Manga on cell phones in Japan, to managing one of the largest translation networks in a country, to the at times enormous challenge of simply getting the books physically out there and available to readers in a country with little available infrastructure.

Here is Team Harlequin—Go Global! As you can see, not only has there been a request for volunteers for goalie, but many are demonstrating their excellent goal keeping skills.

Not only do I think this team is incredibly creative, smart, entrepreneurial and savvy, they are very snappy dressers and have amazing shoes. Hands down, this group is the most fun and without a doubt, the best dancers.

Their goal keeping skills...? In a word? Enthusiastic!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

eBestsellers and Rogue Angels

Well, Malle and her team are the eBook mavens, so it's OK to brag, but I have to say it was pretty cool to see my recent recommended reading (Blood Ties: The Turning) turn up at #2 on eReader's bestseller list, Thriller in the top 15 (hey, it's a hardcover) and those irrepressible Harlequin Presents (hot hot hot) continuing to give Dan Brown a run for his money. And Carly Phillips is always a pleasure to see heating us up just that little bit extra!

Also just finished reading the first in the Rogue Angel series, Destiny, and really enjoyed it! Its a bit of Lara Croft as Indiana Jones channeling The Da Vinci Code while wrapped with a touch of Witchblade.

I liked Annja Creed. And an ancient order tied to the Vatican...a fortune buried in the caves of France, a sword, a martyr, a monster, a mystery, a myth, masses of monks. Really, who could ask for anything more? Check out the reviews and you'll see I am not alone in my positive opinion of Rogue Angel!

I am a big fan of Gold Eagle (very fierce eagle logo, Stephen Colbert would be pleased)—one of Harlequin's least known imprints as it is men's adventure. No sex or romance, just death and destruction.

Some Gold Eagle titles are available on audio. Otherwise, they're in bookstores in men's adventure section, internet bookstores or do a search on Mack Bolan. He is out there. Find him before he finds you.

Mack Bolan—The Executioner, if you have to ask—and his team are capable of taking out just about anything. Really. Not only does Gold Eagle publish Mack and his Stony Man team, but two other series, Outlanders and Deathlands, post-apocalyptic continuities.

Deathlands is my favorite—truly a nuclear family! My dream is to someday licence a Kristy Wroth action figure (she has prehensile hair, quite a challenge, but surely Todd MacFarlane could figure it out, don't you think?).

I digress. Obviously the Rogue Angel series is more girl friendly, but don't let that put you off. It's really fun.