Whose Line is it Anyway?
I think it’s vital to know about the line you are targeting, it’s specific demands – and why you want to write for that line. Otherwise you can find yourself lost and wandering in a publishing desert with a book that no one seems to want.
Say you write the book and send it to line A Editor, A thinks it has too many sensual scenes for her line - she sends it back to you
If you're really lucky - and believe me, it's rare- she'll:
(1) Tell you why she sent it back.
More likely it will be
(2) Just sent with a form letter – ‘these are the usual reasons why we return mss.’
If it's (1) You could get to work on it, cut all the sensual scenes, and then find that she still rejects it. And you might have cut the heart out of your book because the book of your heart might be a Presents/Modern or a Blaze
If it's (2) Then you could send it to another line - having no idea really why it came back - and so not knowing which one to try for the best - and you could be trying and trying again for years - because we all know how long it can take an editor to get to read a book!
Okay, so targeting will save you time at the submitting stage. It will also save you time and energy at the writing stage.
Say you happily write your novel putting in plenty of mystery, intrigue, lots of secondary characters, some highly passionate scenes. Then you think about where to submit it - and you'll find that you'll come up against a 'pruning' problem. Send it to one line and they could say :
'Good book but you need to cut out the intrigue'
So when you're looking at a line, not just from the point of view of reading and enjoying it, but with the idea of writing for it you need to consider so many things. You're looking at:
EMPHASIS - how much is given to which aspects of the story. So with the question of whether a book is a Blaze or an Intrigue, it's whether the emphasis is on the sexual relationship (Blaze) or solving the mystery (Intrigue)
INTENSITY - an example would be Presents/Modern versus Romance /Cherish – and now with the RIVA/Presents divide too. In a Romance it's perfectly possible to have your H&h actually like each other all the way through - in a Presents that would be rare. A Romance has a hugely emotional intensity, in a Presents this is often mixed in with other emotions like anger and revenge and sexual desire. RIVA can have all of those too but these books tend to be a lighter, sassier read, with a conflict that is less dark, less balanced on a knife-edge. And the hero, while alpha, is less of a dominating force.
CHARACTERS - in a Presents too many other characters would diffuse the intensity. In a Superromance more characters would be an asset.
SEX - yes, this has to be considered, but not that in one line it's not allowed and in another it is - you can have a book where there is just one major passionate scene but it is a Presents/Modern because of the - that word again - intensity - of the rest of the relationship. Or one where they make love openly and clearly on the page but because the atmosphere is very different it is a gentler Romance.
CONFLICT - this is a major point in deciding which line you're aiming for. Obviously, from what I've been saying, a line like Presents/Modern has greater scope for a stronger conflict (But make sure you don't confuse 'conflict' with simply 'argument') And in an Intrigue then the conflict needs to be based around the mystery element.
SUBPLOTS - does the line have room and word count enough for them or not - once again it's the emphasis that makes the difference.
And once you've considered these for the lines, you need to consider them for your own work - and of course your own reading. Which do you prefer? Why? Michelle Styles always remembers that she knew she had to choose the line of her heart because I said that Harlequin are not looking for one book authors – they are looking for career authors. You need to consider if you can imagine yourself writing 10, 20, 30 + books for this line and not get bored.
And that’s one of the reasons why this topic is on my mind today. At one of those workshops, talking about the books I loved to read, the heroes that attracted me, I said that I was always drawn to the ambiguous hero, the dark character who could, with a little movement either way, could be the hero – or he could turn out to be the villain. I always preferred the wild, sprawling, dark, intense dramas of the Bronte Sisters rather than the more controlled, elegant, mannered stories of Jane Austen.