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Formula or Not?
Thursday, July 06, 2006
I'm confused.

On the one hand I read authors saying there isn't a formula then I go and read Jane Porter's article on the mistakes she made when starting out and it says:

My first four books were all hard sells: in the first one, the hero was a baseball player, in the second, the setting was South Africa, in the third, the book was set in Austria, in the fourth, the hero was a senator. So to recap -- avoid the stuff that makes Harlequin marketing cringe and that list includes -- no athlete heroes, no rock star heroes, no overly artsy heroes; no setting that involves lots of conflict, war, or poverty; no setting (for Presents) that is too cold and alp-y as the hot Mediterranean climes seem most popular; no heroes or heroines that are politicians, no plot lines that involve politics, lobbyists, or controversial issues...

Isn't that formulaic? Ok, not in the sense that the first chapter has to contain this, the second chapter that and so on, but if what Jane Porter's saying is right, then certainly there appear to be far more limitations than many would have us believe.

How on earth are we supposed to know what kind of careers, places and story lines to avoid? Doesn’t this mean we could go on writing book after book without ever selling simply because the hero was a journalist living in Belgium trying to help the heroine out of a legal tangle... or... well, anything really. How can we know that a hot-blooded Mediterranean hero won't be good enough just because he happens to dabble in art? Or whatever?

Will the editors tell us that that the hero's job was all wrong, or that we've set it in an unpopular location? And even if they do, how will we know that we won't make the same mistake over and over?

I'd like to believe that we should just write the stories we want to write but if we want to sell them, that could mean dozens of stories that just aren't right for the market. I know all about reading lots from the line we're targeting, but unless you want to go along the same road as other authors, isn't it only right that we should try to give our heroes different careers, different locations and different motivations from those we've already read (and hence, have already been written)?

I just feel that if I follow in other author's footsteps re careers, etc., I'll just end up with a story full of wooden characters rather than a hero and heroine that have grown in my imagination, and who others would enjoy reading about.

As I said, I'm confused.


Technorati Tags: Writing Problems
Posted by Sharon J on 1:17 PM   

Blogger India said...

I reckon you just have to go with your instinct, sharon. If it, er.. turns you on, so to speak, just go, go, go.

Most of us, broadly speaking, find the same things sexy. I'd go for the bronzed billionaire on the yacht over the pale politician on the ski-slopes every time. But being a bronzed billionaire isn't enough (in fictional terms... obviously any of the aforementioned reading this who want to get in touch are more than welcome...) He has to have something interesting, dangerous, dark, complicated, whatever to make me want to read about him. I guess that's where the originality of the story lies. And maybe the challenge.

Go, girl. Write with your libido not your intellect!! (looks guiltily around-- Or is it just me who does that??!)

2:32 PM   

Blogger Karen Erickson said...

They say there isn't a formula but there ARE things they would prefer you avoid. Saying that the readers don't want to read about things (the ones you mentioned for instance) like that.

Then Karen Kendall, who writes for Blaze, threw me for a loop. I realized just what she was doing. A 3 book series featuring an athlete for a hero in book 1, a governor for a hero in book 2, and a MANICURIST for a hero in book 3. She broke all of those "rules" and she did good.

So it CAN be done - it's that oft-repeated phrase "It's all in the execution."

I swear Karen K. did it on purpose, BTW. ;)

4:25 PM   

Blogger Debi said...

I heart aches for you! I can't imagine what it must be like to have to restrict your creativity in this way!
My gut feeling is to write the story(ies) you need to write. You're spot on in saying that any spontaneity or freshness is lost otherwise.
I guess it comes down to why you write. (Now there's a big 'un.) If it's in order to give yourself the Best Possible Chance Of Being Published by a particular house, then you have no choice but to rein in your creative urges.
If, on the other hand, you are writing for Any Other Reason At All, spread your wings and fly, girl!

5:56 PM   

Blogger Julie S said...

Sharon, go with your instincts on characters. If they're well written and part of a great story, you'll be fine no matter what they do for a living.

Btw, Desire and Blaze have both featured athlete heroes.

2:29 AM   

Anonymous Julie Cohen said...

It's totally in the execution. My first rejection for Delicious (with the celebrity chef) said that celebrity heroes didn't tend to sell...then I sold it, and it's getting 5-star reviews.

On the other hand, I had a marriage-of-convenience for immigration purposes that my editor said wouldn't fly because of tricky political issues...then I heard of three current books doing the same thing.

If you read a lot of books in the line, you'll see the promise to the reader, and you'll tend to follow that. And the so-called no-nos are diffferent for each line. Blaze can have a wider range of hero professions; Medicals can touch serious issues; most other lines than Presents can have cold settings. Your Belgian journalist could have a place in Intimate Moments or Intrigue.

You've said that you don't like eharlequin, but recently two of your blog posts have touched on questions that are debated on that forum all the time (especially the fact that M&B don't like multiple unsolicited submissions). It's really a useful way for authors targeting the publisher to find out these so-called no-nos. I'm sure it's the reason I got published!

6:36 AM   

Anonymous Julie Cohen said...

(Oh and my first [rejected] book featured a tattoo artist hero and a heroine who inadvertently got caught up in cocaine smuggling. Those were some no-nos for Temptation, though those elements might work somewhere else.)

(Maybe not the tattoo artist.)

6:38 AM   

Blogger Melly said...

Sharon, perhaps this is a genre specific restriction. Maybe for romance, editors have less tolerance for such things. You could always try the "mainstream" route which isn't restrictive re such things and expand on characters and setting.
Or maybe I'm way off base here (I write sci-fi).
I'm not in favour of limiting creativity either.

5:27 PM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Imogen. I agree re the bronzed types for 'Presents' but 'Tender' (or 'Romance' as it's now called) is different and from now on I'm going to just write whatever I feel for and see how it goes. Within reason, obviously. Not sure about the libido thing, though. If I wrote with that, there would be few words on the page these days ;-)

Karen. I suppose it's the same with any genre. Fashions swing and while some stories can easily find a home, others can't because they aren't what readers want at the moment. Still, we can but try.

Debi. Why I write? For years it was purely for fun. Then I decided to get serious and try to aim at being published which has left me with a mix of both. That's why I can't write something I don't enjoy and I can assure you that if I don't enjoy writing it, nobody's gonna enjoy reading it.

Julie S. Not sure that we have Desire here in the UK but we do have Blaze. I've never actually read one yet but have one on my TBR shelf. One day I'll get around to it.

Julie. Thanks. A lot of what you wrote made sense. I know I ought to hang out at eHarlequin more but I really don't understand how those boards work and end up spending far too much time there for too little information and that's time I really don't have. It's like looking for a shirt button in a huge pile of mud! Maybe it's just me but I really can't see any logical structure in the community boards.

Melly. I will be going down the mainstream route, too, which is probably a lot less restrictive in terms of who you can and can't write about, but I like the short HMB novels so would hate to give up writing them.

Oh... and I don't actually have a Belgian hero... that was just an example. My latest hero lives in Manchester. How exotic is that?

2:25 AM   

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sharon, you're missing out on loads of great information by not using the Harlequin boards. Go to:

the click on Harlequin Series from the right hand side menu.

When a long list of threads come up scroll right down to the bottom and about 6th from the end is the Romance thread. It's called 'In the mood for romance.' Modern Xtra is below it on the list.

6:34 PM   

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, my name got cut off that last anonymous post about e-Harlequin and the link didn't work. Try this:


6:41 PM   

Anonymous Sharon J said...

Hi Janet. I've been to the Tender thread a couple of times (and the ModX thread) but really just can't follow the discussions. There doesn't appear to be in order in things (no threading) so when somebody asks something, the reply can appear a dozen or so posts down so I always feel I'm spending too much time wading through posts that don't interest me just to find those that do. And I really don't have that kind of time available. Ok, maybe it's a matter of priority - I could spend less time reading blogs and more time on the eHarlequin boards but it can't be all work and no play, can it?

I'll give the place another try, though, and see how it goes.

3:23 PM   

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