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....

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