Monday, July 30, 2012

Know Your Market

Last week at RWA I had the pleasure of talking to lots of people about the kind of romance they write. One was indie author Debra Holland whose Montana Sky series has sold more than 100,000 copies, with her Wild Montana Sky hitting the USA Today list, a fantastic achievement for a self-published author.  I asked her how she sold so many copies of her indie books, and she told me she identified a market that wasn’t being served—sweet westerns—and wrote for that market.

Debra’s a good example of thinking very specifically about what kind of book you want to write. And it always surprises me when an author doesn’t pause to take this step before plunging into the writing process. In my own field of romantic suspense, I’ve heard people wondering about whether the book they are writing is category or single title.  That question makes me shake my head.  If you’ve studied the field, you’ll know where your book fits in.

I write both single-title romantic suspense and also category, specifically for Harlequin Intrigue.  Let’s compare and contrast them.

With my Intrigues, the book will be about 67,000 words long.  There will be no gore and minimal violence on camera.  Most of the scenes will be from the point of view of the hero or heroine—although I might use an important secondary character—perhaps the villain.  Or a kidnapped child.

If possible, the threat will be personal to both the hero and heroine.  There must be a mystery element, but the focus will be on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine as they avoid the danger closing in on them.

Both the hero and heroine must be likable or have very good reasons why their actions are questionable. The hero and heroine will meet as close to the beginning of the book as possible, ideally in the first chapter.

The first scene will probably be with either the hero or heroine or both. They should be together as much as possible throughout the book. At the same time, their relationship will be in doubt until the end, and they will only work out their differences after the story’s action climax.
There will be little or no cursing in the dialogue, and any that’s spoken will be “mild.”  One technique I use is to say, “He cursed under his breath,” without telling you exactly what he said.  Love scenes also have limits on the words the author can use. They can range from minimal to sensual, but there will be no anatomy lessons.

The single-title romantic suspense novel is longer—probably 80 to 100,000 words, and the writer has a lot more freedom in her plot and character development.  The relationship between the hero and heroine will still be an important part of the story, but the book will be more complex with more points of view and a more complicated structure.

You can wait longer to have the hero and heroine get together in a single- title romantic suspense.  And the story might start from the point of view of a secondary character, as I did in Dark Moon, which begins with a woman being kidnapped. The hero and heroine work for a security agency hired to rescue her from a slave ship where she’s being held.

In single-title romantic suspense, there will almost always be scenes from the point of view of the villain. He must be a well-rounded character, not just “evil,” and his motivation must make sense. In my own single titles, I will try to give the reader something to admire about him. Other secondary characters may also have viewpoints.

Single-title romantic suspense tends to have more realism than category, with more research on, for example, details of police procedures or maybe hostage negotiations.  I’m writing a romantic suspense for Sourcebooks now where the heroine gets kidnapped near the end of the book, and the hero decides the only way he can get into the bad guy’s militia camp is in a glider plane. I actually rode in a glider plane similar to the one in the story. Then I did more research on the Web for details of how to pilot the plane.

In single title, the characters have the freedom to curse if they are angry or under pressure. In the love scenes, you can use words like “penis” and “clit” that would never get past the editor in category romantic suspense.

There are significant differences between a single-title and a category romantic suspense novel, yet they will both still blend romance, mystery and suspense to create a story where a man and a woman are falling in love against a background of high-stakes danger, and the relationship is not resolved until the end of the book.

I’ve focused on romantic suspense here because I know it best. But before you start any type of novel, think about exactly what kind of book you are writing.  Long or short?  Sweet or sexy?  If you’re aiming for a particular publisher or line, read their books to see what the editors are looking for.  Or consider indie publishing, where you can do it the way you want—as long as you write a book that readers will love.

What kinds of books do you want to write?  Or which do you love to read? One commenter will receive an autographed copy of one of my Harlequin Intrigues. But please, if you want to be eligible for a book, include an e-mail address or your Twitter handle so I can contact you easily. If you’d prefer not to make your e-mail address public, send it to with Subject: “Know Your Market” Blog.

Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick

Sunday, July 22, 2012

It’s Not Shake and Bake

Writing romance or any genre fiction isn’t like putting chicken parts into a paper bag and shaking to coat them with a seasoning packet you grabbed off the grocery shelf. You’ve got to carefully consider the type of mixture you’re using–including which spices and flavor ingredients will work best for you.

Although a lot of people who view the genre from the outside think “romances are all the same,” we know better. There are many different sub-genres, each with a devoted following. The one you choose to write in should reflect your own reading tastes.

Do you gravitate toward short contemporary romances, where the man-woman story is central? Do you like longer reads with a lot of subplots and secondary characters woven into the hero and heroine’s story?

 Do you want a sexy romance? A frankly erotic romance? Or a sweet romance with only a kiss at the end of the book? There are books for every taste.

Writing a romance is usually a balance of following your heart and figuring out how your novel will fit into the market. In today’s publishing world, there’s also the option of writing to please yourself and going indie.

 But there’s one unbreakable rule. In a romance, whatever other elements are included, the relationship is always the main focus of the story and is integrated into the incidents of the plot. Suppose the story starts with an emotionally devastated heroine who finds she’s pregnant by her boyfriend who was recently killed in Afghanistan? She may have financial problems. She may be at odds with her parents or her boss, but the plot must quickly introduce a new man into her life or focus on a man she already knows in a non-romantic context. They are drawn to each other, but it must seem impossible for them to work out their relationship; and the internal conflicts between them will be the focus of the story.

Whatever your target, read tons of books in the subgenre you like best. If you want to write for Harlequin Desire, READ scores of them, and think about what makes them work. What kinds of heroes are featured in Desires? What kinds of heroines? What are typical plots? Typical conflicts? Analyze the books, then come up with your unique take on the line.

To illustrate that romances are not “all the same,” here’s a very detailed analysis of how straight romance and romantic suspense differ.

      THE PLOT:
The plot focuses on two people meeting, falling in love, working out their internal and external conflicts, and making a commitment to each other by the end of the book.

The plot focuses on two people meeting, falling in love, and working out their conflicts against a backdrop of danger and suspense. External forces threaten to destroy these people; but by the end of the book, they triumph over the danger and make a commitment to each other.

Sexual tension and internal conflicts drive the romance. These two people are falling in love and desperate to explore the physical aspects of their relationship, yet fundamental differences keep them from making a commitment to each other. Even after they finally make love, the conflicts between them must keep their future together in doubt until the end of the story.

In addition to the sexual tension and internal conflicts, “danger tension” drives the story. These people are pursued relentlessly by sinister forces determined to destroy them. The tension of fighting to stay alive increases the level of their sexual awareness.

The writer must make the reader feel the emotions of the h/h as they fall in love by using her skill at evocative language and describing the physical manifestations of love and sexual desire. (His touch set her on fire. Joy awakened inside her like a flower bud unfurling.)

The writer must make the reader feel the fear and terror of the h/h with evocative language and description that shows us their physical reactions to fear and danger. (In the darkness, she felt as if a thousand insect feet were crawling over her. Icy terror gripped her.)

The writer must bring the conflict between the h/h to a warm and satisfying resolution so that the reader knows these two people will walk off happily into the sunset together.

Before the h/h can walk off into the sunset, they must confront and defeat the malevolent forces bent on wiping them from the face of the earth. Clearly, romances are not “all the same.” More on the subtle and not so subtle differences next time.

 What kind of romance do you like best and what do you write? One commenter will receive an autographed copy of GUARDING GRACE. But please, if you want to be eligible for a book, include an e-mail address or your Twitter handle so I can contact you easily. If you’d prefer not to make your e-mail address public, send it to with Subject: “It’s Not Shake and Bake” Blog.

Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More on That Crucial First Chapter

“My first chapter’s not that great, but wait until you get to chapter three.”

I’m not making that up. It’s from a real query letter my former agent received.

The clueless author looking for representation wasn’t going to grab an agent with that letter, and she wasn’t going to hook any readers with her story.  Your first chapter is one of the most crucial in your book.  Along with the ending, which better leave the reader longing for more of your work.

I’ve been discussing first chapters for several posts now.  Let me wrap up with a few more points.

Don’t promise the reader something you’re not going to deliver.  You can’t write a fantastic first scene that will have nothing to do with the rest of the story. (Like in those old James Bond movies where the opening was an action set piece with no connection to the rest of the movie.) The beginning must tie into what follows and start the character development and plot that continue throughout the story.

As I write my first few chapters, I’m getting to know my characters. I may think I understand their motivation, their traits and their conflicts, but I never truly get into their heads until I’ve written forty or fifty pages from their point of view. I may have ideas about what they’re like, but I can’t fully know them until they start reacting to the situations my plot creates.

And here’s a piece of good news about your first chapter and every chapter.  What you write isn’t set in stone just because the words are on the screen or even printed out.  You can always write in haste and edit later.  My goal is often to “get it down” so I have something to work with.  I can make improvements and new ideas when I’ve got a little distance from my first draft.  I usually go back and rewrite my first chapter after I’ve written more of the book. Usually my second thoughts on both my character and plot are a significant part of the finished product.

We’re always told that tension and conflict keep the reader turning the pages, but don’t start with too high a level of tension. The example I like to use is from a suspense novel I picked up years ago. In the first chapter, a diplomat is kidnapped and tortured by terrorists. They castrated him, and as he bled to death, I decided that I didn’t want to read a book that began with quite that much threat. I was pretty sure the hero was going to fall into these guys’ hands, and I didn’t want to be around to worry about his emerging with his manhood intact.

Back to what you should accomplish with your own writing. While it’s important to polish your first few sentences to a burnished glow, its final impact should have equal weight.

Try to end the first chapter (and every following chapter) with a cliff-hanger, a tantalizing last line or couple of lines that will make the reader burn to discover what happens next.

In the Intrigue I’m writing now, Carrie’s Protector, the hero and heroine are hiding out from terrorists who plan to kill them. The first chapter ends with:

Down the hall, Wyatt could hear doors opening and slamming shut again.  When the door to the office where they were hiding opened, every muscle in his body tensed. He saw a shadow flicker on the wall--the shadow of a man holding a gun. The guy stood still for a moment, then started across the tile floor toward their hiding place.  

And here’s the ending of Sarah Zettel’s first chapter in Sword of the Deceiver:

And it was done.  Natharie lifted her head and met her parents' eyes. Father looked sad, but Mother's eyes were wild.  She looked as if she would jump to her feet and shout denial just as the priest had, but she did not move.  She could not move. Natharie had cast the dice, and only the Awakened One now could see how they would land. 

I think both of those make you want to find out what happens next.

Thanks for stopping by. What are your thoughts on first chapters? Do you have any good examples of ending with a cliff-hanger?  What didn’t I cover in the discussion of first chapters that you’d like to hear about?

One commenter will win an autographed copy of one of my recent Harlequin Intrigues.

Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick

Sunday, July 8, 2012

More on How to Hook the Reader from the Start

It would be possible to write a whole book on how to start a book. (See previous post for more.)

Most romances begin with a scene from the point of view of either the hero or heroine. If the first scene starts with one of them, you need to give the reader reasons to like this character. It should be someone she wants to identify with and root for. If the main character is not likable, he or she had better be someone so intriguing that the reader has to keep turning the pages to find out more. If the heroine is doing something mean and petty at the beginning of the story, probably the reader’s going to be turned off. Or if the hero is acting like a jerk, there had better be a good reason why.

Of course, there is a type of romance where one of the main characters is unlikable but will change significantly throughout the course of the story. I think this kind of character development is difficult to pull off unless you are very skilled and experienced.

A wonderful example is The Hellion, by LaVyrle Spencer. At the beginning of the story, the hero, Tommy Lee, is a mess. He’s drinking beer, tossing away the cans, and raising hell. Yet he’s going to be redeemed by the love of a good woman, if he allows himself the to reach out for that love. Another great example is Lord Dane in Lord of Scoundrels.

If you’re going this route, at the very least, you need to give hints that this character will change and/or give compelling reasons for the way he/she is acting.

In a romance, you want the hero and heroine to meet as soon as possible. It's not a must that they interact in the first chapter, but in a romance you can't delay the meeting too long because the reader wants to follow the development of their relationship and see them on the page together as much as possible. In a short romance the focus will be almost entirely on them and the development of their relationship. In a longer romance you have room to develop secondary characters and plot lines.

Another way to “get them together” at the beginning of the story is to alternate scenes from each point of view. These two people are not together, but you know they will be.

I use this method in Dragon Moon. The heroine’s story begins while she is still living in an alternate universe and being prepared to come here. I have scenes from her point of view, then switch to the hero in our world. I bring them together when she comes through a portal between the worlds just as a thunderstorm strikes, and she’s pinned down by a falling tree. The hero and heroine meet as he finds and rescues her.

In a romance, the h/h are drawn to each other. But you must set up conflicts at the beginning that will keep them from working out their differences until the end of the story.

In Tempted by his Target, by Jill Sorenson, the heroine’s on the run in Mexico from mobsters who want to murder her because the mob boss thinks she murdered his son. The hero’s a federal agent with the job of bringing her back to face murder charges. He finds her and pretends to be her friend and protector while trying to turn her over to the authorities. Naturally he falls in love with her. But what’s going to happen when she finds out he’s been playing her?

In my Decorah Security novella, Chained, Isabella hides out at her father’s old ranch. And the hero’s there. Or is he?  She thinks he died five years ago. Is his ghost haunting the ranch?  Or is something else going on?  Isabella and Matt were in love with each other, but neither of them could act on the attraction. Now she’s alone with his ghost, and all the sexual longing comes bubbling to the surface. But how can she have a relationship with him?  And is there a way to “bring him back to life”?

At the beginning of your story you must give the reader some idea what these people look like. In fact, many romance writers spend a lot of time on physical description. I think it’s more important to have an interior picture of the main characters. What motivates them?  What are their values?  How do they react under stress?  Don’t tell us. Illustrate these traits through their actions and reactions.

If your first chapter has the h/h interacting with secondary characters, don’t let the secondaries take over. The primary focus should be on the main characters. Also, in a romance, you probably want the first person the heroine interacts with to be the hero.

My own beginnings tend to be action scenes where something dangerous is happening usually to the hero or heroine. If I don’t think I can have a dynamic opening using the hero and or heroine, I might turn to a secondary character.

In my Decorah Security novel, Dark Moon, I start with a scene where a woman is being kidnapped. You don’t know much about her. But you know she’s in trouble. She’s not the heroine. She’s the victim that the hero and heroine are sent to rescue. But I started with her so the reader would understand the urgency and danger of the situation.

You could also give the villain the first scene. One of the most impressive examples of this is in The Key to Rebecca, by Ken Follett. It has that famous first line, “The last camel died at noon.”  In the scene, a Nazi spy is sneaking into World War II Cairo across the desert, and he almost loses his life in the attempt. Almost, but not quite. He survives to give the hero and heroine big problems.

And, by the way, The Key to Rebecca is very much romantic suspense. When I was just getting into the field, I came across that book and read it. I loved it, and my reaction was, “that’s what I want to write.”

Let’s end with a warning. Don’t promise the reader something you’re not going to deliver. You can’t write a fantastic first scene that will have nothing to do with the rest of the book. (Like in those old James Bond movies where the opening was a set piece with no connection to the rest of the movie.)  The initial action must tie into the narrative and start the character development that continues throughout the story along with your plot.

There’s so much to say on beginnings that I’ll continue the subject next time. And I’ll give a book, Solid as Steele, to one commenter. Some of you gave us examples of great beginning last time. We’d love to hear some more. Or tell us about a book where the hero or heroine starts off as unlikable but changes significantly as the story progresses.

Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hook ‘Em with the First Chapter

We live in the age of sound bites, short attention spans and remote controls where you can change the channel with the push of a button.  The same is true for novels.  Your first few paragraphs are crucial for pulling the reader into the story.  If you don’t hook her right away, she’s likely to put your book down and pick up another one.  

Which means you have to make that first sentence, that first paragraph, and that first chapter count.  Polish them until they sparkle. Immediately involve the reader.  Intrigue her.  Make her wonder what will happen next.

In my experience there are two kinds of romance writers who hit the reader with too much background right at the beginning: new writers who are unsure where to start their story and big names who are so confident of their audience that they may spend a lot of time “clearing their throats” before they get to the good part.

Let’s look at some examples of great beginnings. The first line of Julie Garwood’s Honor’s Splendour is

 “They meant to kill him.”

Don’t you wonder why?  And how is he going to survive to be the hero of the story?

One of my own favorite opening lines is from my novella “Huntress Moon” in  Elemental Magic:

 “Which do you choose?  Disgrace or slavery?”  

The sentence plunges the reader directly into the action of the story.  You don’t know who the heroine is or what brought her to this moment in time.  All you know is that she’s confronting a terrible decision.

Or consider Taken to the Edge, by Karen Lennox, which begins:

If one Wild Turkey on ice didn’t make the pain go away, maybe  two would.  That’s was Ford Hyatt’s thinking when he’d ordered a second drink even though he needed to drive home.

What’s going on with this guy?  And why?

Remember in Amadeus when Salieri accuses Mozart of using “too many notes.” It was meant as a joke in the movie.  It’s not so funny in a novel.  I’ve made up a name for “too many words.”  I call it "wundeling."  And I also use the term to describe scenes when the hero or heroine is endlessly thinking the same thing over and over.

Getting a book off to a good start isn’t easy. I usually find that in the beginning of a book, I’ve slowed down the scene with too much information.  I’m constantly asking myself–does the reader need to know this now?  Is this vital here?  Can I wait and tell the reader this detail later?

In reality, the plot of your story probably begins long before the actual first chapter. But you want to start the book at the latest possible moment, at a point when everything changes for the main characters.

Later through dialogue, narrative, and perhaps flashbacks, you will let the reader know what happened before the book started. One of my favorite metaphors is--start with a dead horse in the living room; plunge the reader into the middle of a situation.  Don’t confront the reader with an information dump.   Give her just enough details so she can follow along.  There’s ample opportunity to fill in the background later.

In my own books, I’m most likely to open with the hero or the heroine, as in Chained, my Decorah Security novella.  In the first scene, the heroine arrives home from work to find two thugs hiding in the house.  They are there  to murder her, and her immediate problem is to escape.

Here’s how Chained begins.

Chapter One

Isabella Flores pulled open the kitchen door and stopped in her tracks.  The house felt wrong.  Come to that, it smelled wrong.  The familiar scents of the empanadas she’d cooked the night before and the cleaning solution she used on the floor still hung in the air.  But they were over laid by the smell of sweat and stealth.

Moments ago she’d been prepared to fall into bed and sleep for the next eight hours, after an exhausting shift on the surgical floor at Phoenix General Hospital.

Instead, she backed out the door and started running, not toward the car she’d just left in the driveway but into the alley.
A blast of noise followed her, and she felt a bullet whiz past her head.

“Christo. Don’t let her get away,” a harsh voice shouted.

Two hombres.  Waiting in the dark for her.

She’d hoped she was safe living in this quite, middle-class neighborhood, but she’d always been prepared for the worst.  She kept two bags packed, one in the trunk of her car and the other in an SUV, hidden down the block.  
She leaped the waist-high chain link fence of a neighbor’s yard on the other side of the alley, rolled into a flower bed, and lay with her heart pounding, praying that the men hadn’t seen her vanish into the shadows.

As two sets of heavy footsteps pounded toward her then sprinted past, she let out the breath she’d been holding.  But she couldn’t stay here.  When they didn’t find her, they’d double back.  Which meant she had only minutes to make her escape.

I think you know a fair amount about this woman without my “telling you” facts.  Obviously, a lot has happened before the story begins.  Some of the background is woven into the scene.  You know she’s a nurse.  You know she’s been living her life expecting trouble.  You know she’s planned her escape and is prepared to leave at a moment’s notice.  And you’ll find out more later.

I’m going to talk more about beginnings next time. I’d love it if you give me some beginnings you admire in your comments.  And one commenter can win a copy of my Intrigue Sudden Attraction. (That begins with a bang, of course.)

 Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick