Break into romance writing at Harlequin

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Writing romance novels for money seems like a dream, doesn’t it? Today’s guest writer, Marin Thomas tells you first-hand how to break in to the lucrative field of women’s fiction and romance writing.

Breaking In

By Marin Thomas, Harlequin American Romance Author

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A few years ago, I spoke to a group of aspiring writers. I’ll always remember the looks of disbelief on their faces when I revealed how long it took me to sell my first manuscript–five years AFTER I made up mind to seriously pursue publication.

There are a few writers who can brag that they sold the very first book they wrote–but not many.  It takes time and practice to hone your writing skills, learn about story arcs and develop a writing “voice.”  If only mastering the craft guaranteed publication!

One of the keys to breaking in with a large publisher such as Harlequin, which markets books through various “lines”, is reading books from the line you wish to write for.  Study those books–plots, settings, characters, pacing, tone etc.  Make sure your book fits the line you intend to query and always follow the publisher’s submission guidelines.  You want to show you’re a savvy writer, not one who can’t follow instructions.

Harlequin is one of the few publishers that still accepts unagented submissions.  If you’re trying to get your book in front of a publisher that only accepts “agented” submissions, you’ll need to query agents first with your book. that  means researching literary agencies whose agents represent the type of book you’ve written.  If you’ve queried agents with no luck, attend a local writers’ conference and pitch your story to an editor or agent there.  There are writing organizations for all genres–search them out.

A professional writer’s organization is a great place to learn about the industry, about publishers, and to hook up with a critique partner if you want feedback on your work.  Many organizations sponsor writing contests in which the final judges are editors or agents, giving you another opportunity to get your work in front of the right people and to receive valuable feedback or a request to submit your entire book for consideration.

Even when you play by the rules — submit a clean, properly formatted book targeted to the right line, editor or agent — sometimes there are factors beyond your control.

  • The editor/agent just broke up with their significant other. When she reads your submission, it gets tossed into the shredder because she hates everything and everyone that day.
  • Keeping up with trends. You’ve written a vampire romance. By the time it works its way to the top of the slush pile, the publisher decides he’s published enough vampires stories and now wants ninjas from outer space.
  • Sometimes it’s not the book you’ve written; it’s the fact that you’re an unknown.  Unless your book is the next “Oprah Pick” a publisher may not be willing to take a chance on you.  Maybe they don’t have the financial means to promote a new author/book.  They’d rather buy a so-so book from an established author with a solid sales numbers that they don’t have to spend advertising dollars on.

What you can control

Perseverance–a crucial trait a serious writer must possess if they expect to break in with a major publisher.  Keep in mind there are hundreds, if not thousands, of good writers submitting manuscripts to publishers/agents all over the world.  Many, if not the majority of writers stop submitting work after a few rejections.  Writing is tough on the ego.  If you want to see your book on the shelf of B&N or Borders, you can’t give up.  It’s as simple and as tough as that — don’t quit.  Keep writing, keep submitting. Keep learning the craft.  One day the stars will align and you’ll get the “call.”

Those years of perseverance pay off when your editor says, “We’d like to buy your book, but the books needs major revisions.”  That’s another blog for another day.

Let’s talk money — or not

There are the few and famous writers who not only support themselves on their writing income but probably several needy family members as well.  I am most definitely not one of those.  Most writers earn an advance. Depending on the publisher, it can be broken down into halves or thirds.  Half on signing and half on delivery of manuscript.  Or a third on signing, a third on delivery of the first three chapters, then a third on delivery of a revised manuscript. This process can take up to a year.

Most publishers send out royalty checks twice a year.  This is the money you get after your book “earns out” your advance.  Publishers don’t readily release all monies earned after the advance is paid back. They hold on to a good portion  until they know how many unsold books are returned.  It’s not unheard of for the author of a single title book to not earn out their advance and, therefore, never receive a royalty check.

So, if it takes forever to get published, and the money is no good — why keep writing?  For me it’s simple–I can’t NOT write.  Writing is a part of who I am.  Knowing I’ve given a reader a few hours of enjoyment, took her mind off her troubles, or inspired her to make a difference in others’ lives is worth more than the numbers on my paycheck.

cowboyandangel_cvrmedRead about Marin’s books at her website. Her latest series for Harlequin American Romance is available through online retailers. The Cowboy and the Angel (Nov 08), A Cowboy’s Promise(April 09) and Samantha’s Cowboy (Aug 09)

Read more:

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