The writer-in-residence, Deborah Cooke, a best selling fantasy romance author, invited two panels for the event on the “Business behind Romance Writing”. These two guests sat before a microphone on either side of a long table at the front of the auditorium (I felt like I was at a press conference! It was so exciting!). The lady on the left was Brenda Chin, the senior editor of Harlequin (Blaze). The lady on the right was agent Amy Moore-Benson who sold manuscripts to major publishing companies and had formerly worked for Mira Books for twelve years.
One of the questions Deborah opened the conference up with was whether there were any “trends” in romance novels these days. Brenda replied that the role of the hero since 9/11 had change significantly. The trend was now ordinary men who were heroes, like firefighters and cops. A hero any woman might find in their ordinary lives and have their own (as Brenda put it) “Sexily-ever-after”.
What is it that agents look for in novels? Amy’s answer was that she was looking for “freshness” in the voice of a novel. The confidence in the writing and characterization needs to shine in order for her to take a work on. Another thing I learned from her has helped me a lot in dealing with formal rejection letters: She mentioned that she sometimes receives 20 submissions in 2 minutes! She only asks to see 10% of the query letters she receives. She only takes on 24 clients, never more.
(Intermission: At the moment there is a shortage of books being published for the ‘Love Inspired’ imprint of Harlequin. So for anyone writing in this genre you would do well to submit your work there! It’s not impossible to get contracted without an agent. Brenda mentioned having taken on several first time writers.)
When I mustered enough courage to speak (after which I kept raising my hand hahaha) I brought up my issue with being unable to start another project after spilling and twisting every drop of me into ‘The Runaway Courtesan’ (the historical romance I’m querying for) and thus cannot seem to start a new project. The answer I received somewhat saddened me. Writing is a business, especially romance writing, for in order to establish yourself you need to publish at least one book per year (unless the book is really, really, superbly good, then people will wait a bit longer). The editor mentioned that when there was a hole in the schedule at Harlequin, there was a writer (whose name I didn’t catch) who agreed to write a book to fill in that space. So in the matter of three weeks she completed a novel and it ended up becoming one of her best sellers. To become an established writer, I learned, requires a lot of discipline. Deborah added that we should (I’m paraphrasing here): just WRITE…even though it’s total crap…and leaves us having to revise the story for the next two years. Everyone broke out laughing here.
What turns off publishers? Brenda replied that it was: Not knowing your target audience and a first chapter that does not sing. Amy’s response was: Writing that doesn’t seem natural, which is an issue among many romance writers as they sometimes try so hard to write a romance that their writing ends up with a stilted falseness.
There was the grumbling me from days ago complaining about agents and editors. My impression of them hadn’t been too pretty. But the conference ended on an eye-opening (or rather, a heart-opening) note. Deborah said: “We forget that agents and editors work long drawn hours from morning till night to get a book out without ever seeing the reward. We need to remember that they love books as much as we writers do.”
Agents and editors, I salute you.
I’m going to close this post with a question I’ve been wondering all day. Deborah Foong, a romance writer I sat and talked with for a while, mentioned how romance books were not respected among the critics. Let’s say you (writers or publishers or agents of romance) were being interviewed, how would you defend romance novels?
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