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 rebecca@rebeccayork.com with Subject: “Know Your Market” Blog.

Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick

31 comments:

  1. Hi Ruth. What a great post. Thank you for sharing. I am always hearing write what you know. I want to scream I don't know anything. But this is the first post that explained what the book should be like for the line you're considering. I gather the Harlequin Desire line is a little different. Hope you have a great week.

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    1. I'm glad this helps. I tend to use RS examples because that's what I write.

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  2. Good tips! I also tweeted this post since I know a lot of other writers would like to find your blog. I guess I write historical fiction because the past fascinates me. Not exactly romantic suspense, although I can see many ways to use your suggestions even in HF.

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    1. Thanks for the tweet! Yes, even thought I use RS, the concepts apply to other kinds of romances.

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  3. It's taken me a while to figure out what I should be writing. You've stated it succinctly. Well done.

    (I'm in Canada, so don't feel you have to send me a book, if that's complicated.)

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    1. I'm glad that you're taking the time to ponder on it instead of rushing off without knowing what you're doing.

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  4. Great tips! I write single title-length Scottish historical and contemporary paranormals and I find that sustaining a book of that length is hard with just the h/h POVs. I like to use the villain's, too, and possibly one other secondary character if their POV reveals more about the h/h or villain.

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    1. Yes, it would be very hard to do a long novel from just the hero and heroine's pov. I am now thinking about Dianna Gabaldon. Am I remembering it wrong, or does she use only the heroine's pov?

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    2. Great information. Love this blog. You're right that Diana uses the heroine's pov most of the time, but she does switch off occasionally to the hero's pov and to the other central characters. When in the heroine's pov she uses first person, but the others are written third person.

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    3. I remember the first person part. I don't actually remember the other pov's. But I read OUTLANDER years ago.

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    4. I haven't read it in years either, and I'm afraid if I read it now, I'd be so intimidated that I'd never write another word! I'll have to save it for when I have a shelf-full of my own books to prop up my confidence. :^)

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  5. This info is just excellent--even if you don't write romances at all! It is absolutely, positively imperative to know what reader and or niche your are writing for no matter what kind of writing you do. I'm betting that you could write the same story for five different audiences/lines/markets and would come out with pretty different books.

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  6. As I said, it amazes me when people don't do their homework before writing. And you could also give the same plot summary to five different writers and they'd write five very different books--depending on how they approached the material.

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  7. When a friend decided she was going to write a category, she bought 20 of the books, read them, studied the technique, and sold. She passed the books on to me and part of my education was finding out what type of book I want to write.

    Great advice Ruth - put me in the drawing - lcahoon7@gmail.com

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    1. Lynn,good for your friend!
      Terri, thanks.

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  8. Thanks for giving distinctions between the genres. Very helpful.

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  9. I am lapping up all of this information. Thanks for such a great blog post.
    @susmithjosephy on Twitter

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  10. Terrific advice, Rebecca. Unless I'm reading something with contributing a critique in mind, I tend to get so engrossed in a book that I can miss the intracacies that put it squarely in one category or another, e.g., single title vs category, et al. You're making solid contributions to writers and readers. Can't thank you enough.

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  11. Susan and Chassie, thanks so much!

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  12. I recently received my first rejection from an editor in the form of a very kindly worded email that basically said that my story didn't fit the line I'd submitted to. She had nice things to say about my story, but it just didn't work for that publisher. Her words forced me to step back and ask the very question you're discussing in this post, so your timing was great! In my mind, I'd written a paranormal romance, but she suggested I'd written more of an urban fantasy with strong romantic elements. I now know that when I continue to query editors, I need to be on the lookout for those whose lines accept books that fit that description. And, as I work on my current WIP, I know that this one will be much more of a traditional paranormal romance.

    --Denise D. Young (@denisedyoung on Twitter)

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    1. That's a great insight on your part! Good luck.

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  13. Hi Ruth,
    I am enjoying this new blog so much. Thanks for sharing your wealth of information and experience. You are answering so many questions I have had over the last two years. When you are as green as I am, there are so many questions floating around in my head, it's not that I don't feel comfortable asking for the answers, I just don't know where to start. You hit on a big question with this post and gave me a lot to think about. Please keep them coming!

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    1. Thanks. The blog is hard work but also fun. I do plan to keep the posts coming.

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  14. This is an area I've struggled with on and off over the last couple of years of romance writing - single title or category romance? Interestingly, I write romantic suspense as well, and I found this blog post to be really helpful in affirming all the things I've learned - somewhat painfully - as I find my way through the industry.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog - your knowledge is invaluable to us newbies. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us!

    - Coleen Scott (@cjmarkusfeld)

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  15. Yes, I've learned a lot over the years--like you, sometimes painfully.

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  16. This is an excellent break down of the some of the different types of markets out there. Oddly, I write romance, but read mainly fantasy. Go figure.

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    1. I read a lot of fantasy and SF when I was younger, and those elements creep into my RS. I read more of the male suspense writers than the female RS writers, partly because I "read" a lot of audio books, and more guys are available.

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  17. It's so helpful, Rebecca, to have all this information in one place and so well organized. You're a great "single source" for material we'd have to scour the Net to pick up in bits and pieces. And it helps those of us who write mainstream fiction as well.

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  18. Thanks so much for these insights. When I joined RWA I started with KOD but soon saw I was more a gothic romance writer. I write contemporary gothics and a lot of what you shared in this post applies to the stories I write. Contemporary gothics and romantic suspense have a lot in common. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Anna T.S.
    www.annamtaylor.webs.com

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Anna. Yes, gothics and romantic suspense do have a lot in common.

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