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 email@example.com with Subject: “Know Your Market” Blog.
Copyright © 2012 Ruth Glick