Tag Archives: Romance

Meet NAL’s Editorial Director Claire Zion

Posted by May 29th, 2013


“Nothing about publishing is magic; it’s all hard work.”

We are thrilled to welcome acclaimed editor Claire Zion to the blog today. She is a vice-president and the editorial director for New American Library. She has previously worked at Pocket Books, Warner Books and iPublsh.com. She has edited bestselling authors such as Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jayne Anne Krentz, Linda Howard, Philippa Gregory, Susan Wiggs, Jo Beverley, and Karen Rose.


Nevena: Thank you for joining us, Claire. You’ve been in publishing for many years, so I’d love to get your perspective on today’s publishing landscape. How has the industry changed during your tenure? 

Claire: The biggest and most exciting change I’ve seen in publishing is happening right now. EBooks and the rise in self-publishing that has gone along with them have really revitalized the industry. I think more people are reading now than ever, and there is more room for new talent and new ideas then there has ever been before. For publishers it is an exciting time because we are expanding all our programs and reaching more and more readers. For writers it’s an exciting time because there are so many more readers out there for them to connect with. Continue reading

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Meet Agent Deidre Knight

Posted by April 3rd, 2013

5 Questions with Kerry Schafer’s Agent

deidre_knight_photo_sm4“Out of excitement, writers pull the trigger too soon, and send a work out before it’s as sharp as it possibly can be.”

Deidre Knight is an accomplished literary agent and the founder of The Knight Agency. The agency boasts more than 2,000 titles sold to major and independent publishers, many of which have become bestsellers and received numerous awards. Deidre’s main focus as an agent is on romance and women’s fiction. 

Deidre represents Book Country member Kerry Schafer, whose sequel to BetweenWakeworld, comes out next year on February 14th. Last week, I chatted with Deidre to delve into her publishing expertise and get caught up on the most recent news about Kerry.

Nevena: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us, Deidre. Tell us, why did you become an agent? And how has agenting changed during your tenure?

Deidre: Books were always a huge part of my life growing up, as is typically the case for almost anyone in the publishing and writing professions. I began writing at age ten, when an essay of mine was published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. After studying Art History and English in college, I wound up working in the film and television business, but those crazy hours began to take their toll. So I eventually put my love of both sales/marketing and books to use by opening The Knight Agency.

I often tell people that agents are that quirky blend of both introvert and extrovert.  We have to love digging in to read and edit, but it’s also imperative that we connect with people on many levels—both with editors when selling a project or author, and in that intimate one-on-one client/agent relationship. That’s one reason why sometimes I have a very hard time finding time to actually *read*: I can get caught up in the more extroverted part of my job, like social media, or time on the phone with editors, or working closely with clients.

Needless to say our profession has changed a lot in the past seventeen years. In many ways, it was a more static profession when I first started, with a pretty set “track” to run on as an agent, at least in terms of working to be successful as possible. Now, I think the best agents must be as agile as possible, constantly making adjustments as the industry and the world around us change rapidly. To me, that just makes it a very exciting and dynamic time to do my job.  In the past, if I couldn’t sell a project to a major NYC publisher, or even to a more midsize or niche publisher, that project was something of a heartbreak for me. I’d been the work’s champion, but nobody would experience the magic that I had on the page. Now, of course, if I can’t sell a book to a major publisher, then there are all sorts of possibilities from small digital press to self-publishing to serializing the work…it’s all about being as creative as possible in strategizing what’s best for the author.

Nevena: So what kind of books are you looking for at the moment? What’s the one you wish would magically land on your doorstep?

Deidre: I am eagerly hunting for new clients right now, actually, largely in the romance and erotica area. Probably my first “shopping” choice would be a high concept single title romance—contemporary with a strong community. I won’t say “backdrop” of community because I personally want that world to be another character on the page, driving the action and the people we meet. I also love big historical romance with a big concept that links the series (family members, spinster friends, you name it!), especially series set in Victorian and Regency eras. I have a great love of women’s fiction with romantic elements, something with a ton of heart, emotion, and humor.

Nevena: I hope the Book Country members are taking notes! Deidre, you represent Kerry Schafer, whose book Between was discovered on the site. Kerry made her debut at #22 in the Bookscan Fantasy bestseller list, which is amazing! What drew you to the project? What’s next for Kerry?

Deidre: Kerry has a rare gift, especially when it comes to me as a reader. I started reading in the middle of a work morning, expecting to put the work down and move on down my “to do” list that day. Instead, I didn’t stop reading until I was about a third of the way into the book. She’s got a terrific gift for weaving a total world, one that sweeps you away in its freshness and magic. She was a truly wonderful find for me as a reader, not just as an agent. At the moment, she’s working on the next book in that series, Wakeworld. I can’t wait to see how things progress for these characters!

Nevena: Me too! Kerry crafted such a captivating world. You mentioned before that you found another writer on Book Country. How do you use the site to find new talent?

Deidre: I did sign on another author who I found on Book Country! I am shopping her work now, and will hopefully have good news to report soon. I use the site by reading what’s on there and if something really draws me in, then I ask to see more if it’s available. I’ve always marveled at the high-quality level of talent I find on the Book Country site and am itching to pay another visit soon.

Nevena: Thank you, Deidre. In your experience, what’s one common mistake that newbie writers make in submissions that our members should be mindful of? What parting words of advice do you have for our members?

Deidre: The biggest problem I see in submissions from newer authors is lack of editing and revision. Out of excitement, they pull the trigger too soon, and send a work out before it’s as sharp as it possibly can be. And as a writer myself, I certainly get that. The process of literary creation is so solitary, and in our ultra-connected world of social media and digitized everything, the act of isolated creation is more alien than ever. That said, to truly create the very best book possible really does require a certain amount of time, alone with the hands to the keyboard.

Now, the great thing about Book Country is that it conquers some of that isolation by allowing for feedback and interaction as part of the creative process. But writers should be sure that they are truly receptive to feedback and editing, not simply eager to hear how marvelous they are. Being an author is all about process, and always looking for ways to improve and grow; the day that ends, a writer’s work begins to grow stale.

Nevena: Thank you so much for your words of wisdom! I’m so glad you could join us.

Keep up with Deidre Knight on Twitter at @DeidreKnight. Learn more about her and The Knight Agency at the agency’s website. We recommend the agency’s newsletter to all budding writers! Deidre is also a New York Times bestselling author of paranormal romance novels. Visit her author website.

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Love Is in Our Writing

Posted by February 14th, 2013

Brandi shares her Valentine’s Day challenge.


Happy Valentine’s Day. The day when couples stock up on flowers and candy and wine and candles and teddy bears and hearts and cards and lingerie and things that are pink and red.

And romance. Lots and lots of romance.

My wedding anniversary is at the end of February, so my husband and I have never felt the need to celebrate Valentine’s Day. We joke that every day is Valentine’s Day, just another opportunity to dedicate ourselves to each other. Even when I was dating, it wasn’t that big of a deal for me; I always thought I was more Noir than Regency Romance.

Then I read a Regency Romance, the excellent Ravishing in Red by Madeline Hunter. Holy moly. Sexiest proposal ever. (Hint: it involves the placement of an emerald necklace under the protagonist’s skirts.) A sweet, romantic and sexy scene of the couple looking at the stars. The moment when he saw her in that breathtaking dress.

And it inspired me.

How could I bring this level of intensity and passion found in the best romances to my own work? How could I strengthen my characters’ intentions and connections to one another?

I have a scene that I’ve written that I know is missing something. I’m going to borrow from Ravishing in Red and see what happens if I add a moment when the characters really look at one another. What will seeing each other cross the room do to them? What will they say when they peer into one another’s eyes? I don’t know, but I’m going to give it a shot.

I’d like to challenge you, too. Find one thing from romances that can help in your own work. Write a scene with it, and let us know what you discover.

©iStockphoto.com/Joe Biafore

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What Makes a Great Romance Hero?

Posted by February 4th, 2013

Craft a male character that makes readers swoon.


It’s unthinkable to write a successful romance novel or romantic story arc of any kind without a stormy, steamy romance hero. The plot may be fascinating and the writing style accomplished, but if the male lead doesn’t give me heart palpitations the book is a flop.

Last week, I urged our Facebook followers to pick the best romance hero in fiction. There were representatives from different genres—urban fantasy (Jericho Barrons), contemporary romance (Gideon Cross and Christian Grey), paranormal romance (Zsadist and Edward Cullen), and even classic literature (Mr. Darcy). The majority of you voted for (who else?) Mr. Darcy. Austen’s legendary hero just turned 200 yearsPride and Prejudice was published on January 28, 1813—so I was surprised when he so unabashedly overtook modern-day heartthrobs like Christian Gray and Edward Cullen.

Why is Mr. Darcy, who we never even see plant a kiss on Elizabeth’s lips, so universally loved? What makes a successful romance hero?

While there are nuances, there are three main characteristics great romance protagonists share with Darcy :

(Warning: Spoilers to Pride and Prejudice ahead.)

The Flaw

A truly great romance hero is not out to please anybody. He tends to be brusque and unpleasant—deeply flawed. Look at Edward Cullen from Twilight or Christian Grey from 50 Shades of Grey. Like Book Country member Danielle Bowers hilariously noted, “Christian Grey has more issues than National Geographic Magazine.”

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Light a Fire Under Your Characters

Posted by August 11th, 2012

Book Country Twitter Chat (August 11, 2011)

Find out what bestselling author Karen Hawkins and “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books” blogger Sarah Wendell have to say about chemistry between characters.


 One of the main things that draws a reader into a romance novel–or any novel really!–is the chemistry between the characters. Whether it’s a hero and a heroine, a protagonist and an antagonist, or a main character and a secondary character, the sparks should fly off the page. But it’s not as simple as it sounds to achieve! So how do you create that tension, that fire? And what even constitutes chemistry really?

Book Country turned to the pros for some wise and entertaining answers: Karen Hawkins(@theKarenHawkins) and Sarah Wendell (@smartbitches).

Karen is the New York Times bestselling author of historical and contemporary romance novels. Her characters, no matter what the time period, always sizzle and burn white hot!

Sarah is a reviewer, blogger, and author who runs the popular romance blogSmart Bitches, Trashy Books. Her taste is impeccable and she can smell the fire between characters from miles away. These ladies know their stuff!

Just check out these highlights:

@SmartBitches: Examples of no chemistry: People who end up together simply because they are the hero and heroine. YAWNNNN.

@TheKarenHawkins: You should thread the evidence of this chemistry through the book, and not dump in one place.

@Chumplet: Instant attraction doesn’t fly these days. Readers want to see deeper nuances than merely the physical.

@mamajalapa: tension will always exist in some form even after h/h are together. It’s human nature. How they deal w/it makse chemistry.

@SmartBitches: My fave: “I don’t want to like you, I don’t want to like you, I can’t stop thinking about your hair DAMMIT!” That’s chemistry.

@TheKarenHawkins: Villains w/depth – a real person – means they can be redeemed and that true chemistry is about POSSIBILITIES.

@anneholly2010: The ones that can’t live without each other are unrealistic and creepy. Co-dependence is not sweet.

@younglibrarian: clue #1 your story has gone off rails: your mc’s have more chemistry w/secondary characters than bet each other

If you missed the chat or want to remind yourself, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all who made this chat such a great success!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!


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Out in the Open with Suzanne Brockmann

Posted by November 30th, 2011

Talking genre and GLBT with the bestselling author and gay-rights advocate

Suzanne Brockmann headshot - small

“I’m bored and tired of books and TV shows and movies that define America as white, upper-middle-class, and straight.”

We’ve received a surprising number of emails over the past several months about categorizing GLBT genre fiction on the Genre Map. The questions came at us from all angles: “Where do I put my male-male Romantic SF [or insert genre here]?” “Where is the GLBT genre?” “Why are there not separate subgenres for GLBT stories?”

Then I started hearing more discussion among writers and readers about the varied responses to GLBT literature and how it’s perceived by the industry, particularly when it comes to genre fiction and young adult fiction. I couldn’t believe the amount of controversy being stirred up by something that, to me, shouldn’t be segregated out in the first place.

So, when I heard New York Times bestselling author Suzanne Brockmanngive her keynote speech and Q&A at the New Jersey Romance Writers’ “Put Your Heart in a Book” conference last month, I knew she’d have something special to add to the conversation. She was kind enough to let me pick her brain on her the matter, delving into her own experiences and beliefs about GLBT fiction. She also gives us a little heads up regarding her own upcoming projects:

DP: Ok, before we dive into the real topic of this interview, I’ve got to ask for your fans’ sakes: There’s a rumor going around that your beloved “Troubleshooter, Inc.” series is coming to an end. Sad but true? 

SB: I have a “never say never” policy, and while I definitely can imagine writing more books set in the Troubleshooters universe, I know—from past experience—that after taking a “break” from the series, I might not go back.  So I don’t want to make any promises to readers.  With that said, yes, I can imagine writing Jay Lopez’s book. But I’ve been writing books in the TS series since 1999, and not only did I really want to do something completely different creatively, I felt (and my publisher agreed) that I’ve hit a plateau with my military romantic suspense readership.  As a writer, you’re always looking to grow your audience—and the idea to do something new was well-received by my editor.

So I’ve brought back all the elements I that I love about writing the TS series (close-knit, highly skilled and trained characters who work together as a team; on-going story arcs that stretch out across several books; the dramatic/comedic elements that make character growth rich and multi-layered) but I’ve set this new series, called Fighting Destiny, in a darkly futuristic, urban fantasy world.  It other words, it’s a paranormal, but it involves telepathy and telekinesis instead of vampires, monsters and demons.  Born to Darkness is the first book in the FD series, and it comes out in hardcover from Ballantine Books on March 20, 2012.  And oh yeah, it also features a hero who is a former Navy SEAL.  (What can I say?  I love writing about SEALs—they make great heroes!)

DP: You first gained recognition for writing romantic subplots of openly gay characters with your 2004 release of Hot Target. How did your agent/editor/publisher first react to the character of Jules Cassidy? Was there any apprehension about publishing his story in such a popular, mainstream series? 

SB: I received no resistance whatsoever—not from my editor or from anyone else at my publisher, which is Ballantine Books.  But remember, my editor first met Jules close to the same time my readers met him: He came in as FBI agent Alyssa Locke’s partner in the second book in the TS series, The Defiant Hero.  By the time I gave him that romantic subplot in book #8, Hot Target, readers had gotten to know Jules quite well—and had a chance to be impressed, over and over again, by his skill as an FBI agent, by his excellent sense of humor, his loyalty and friendship to Alyssa.  The guy is a hero, and I was not at all subtle about showing that in the books!

So I really think that everyone was ready for Jules to get a little something-something. <g>

Well, except for the readers I lost by allowing a gay character to be a realistic, living, breathing, sexual human being instead of an asexual stereotype.  But we’ll talk about that in detail in a bit.


DP: What inspired you to tell Jules’s story in the first place? Was there anything in particular you were hoping to accomplish in doing so?

SB: I make that extremely clear in the dedication for Hot Target.  In a nutshell, I recognized that my son Jason was probably gay back when he was around three years old. It was really important to me that Jason got a chance to grow up without even the slightest sliver of doubt that there was anything wrong with him—because there isn’t anything wrong with him!  It was also vitallyimportant to me that Jason not spend his life hiding his true self from the world.

So I was working it, hard, to make sure that he had great gay role models, that we had out gay friends in our lives, and that—at the same time—he was as protected as he could be from society’s sometimes careless, but sometimes even more overt, homophobia.  And as a result of wanting to help my son, I became educated and informed about the GLBT community—and that confirmed for me the importance of being out.  Gay rights groups around the world agree that things can and will change if more and more gay people move out of the shadows and into the sunlight. I wanted my readers—especially those who lived in extremely socially conservative parts of the country—to have a gay friend, and so Jules Cassidy was born.

But bottom line, I brought Jules into my Troubleshooters world for the very same reasons I create all of my characters: America is a diverse country filled with fascinating and heroic people of all colors, shapes, sizes, orientations, and beliefs.  And frankly, I’m bored and tired of books and TV shows and movies that define America as white, upper-middle-class, and straight.  I created Jules for the very same reason I created characters who are African American or Asian American or Cuban American—I want my fictional world to reflect the diverse group of people who live in my American neighborhood.

Mr. Spock from “Star Trek” said it best:  “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.”

My hope is that by showing America as I see it—as a richly diverse country—I’ll help redefine normal.  Having a gay FBI team leader shouldn’t be a surprise.  It should simply be no big deal.

DP: In your personal experience, what challenges were involved in writing a GLBT storyline/character? How did you overcome them?

SB: I think a writer’s challenge when creating any character lies in being able to make this fictional person believable and compelling, to make him live and breathe. Being gay is just one part of who Jules is—it doesn’t define him.  He’s far more defined by being a kick-ass, exceptional FBI agent—who happens to be gay.  So I didn’t feel that creating Jules was any more or less difficult than creating any other character.

I think the biggest challenge for me came from writing the culmination of Jules’s romantic story arc with movie actor Robin Chadwick. The love scenes. The first time Jules and Robin get intimate is in the back of a limo inForce of Nature, and I spent a great deal of thought and effort in deciding exactly how explicit to make that scene.

By all rights, I should have been able to make that scene as detailed as any other love scene I’d ever written. And I wanted to. It felt wrong even to question this. But I knew that my readership leaned conservative.

It was very important to me when I wrote that love scene to make it a love scene.  The emphasis had to be on Jules’s and Robin’s emotions.  And I made the very hard choice to pull the gauze over the camera lens (so to speak) and make the scene vague enough so that I didn’t lose my more conservative readers.

I hated having to do that—and you better believe that my more progressive and liberal readers let me know that they were disappointed.  Some of them believed that I intentionally pulled back from the graphic gay sex because of squeamishness—suggesting I wasn’t as open and accepting as I claimed.  That hurt.

I ended up writing an essay called “So That Happened” that dealt both with the fact that (despite my intention) Force of Nature ended up being the book in which Jules and Robin win their HEA, and the fact that I soft-pedaled their gay love scenes.  As I say in that essay, “But my message—love is love is love—is so important, I just couldn’t bear the thought of frightening away a more timid readership by putting in too much man-on-man action. And I believe that the truth is—at least my truth—that making love is about emotions. I felt the most important part of the Robin/Jules love scene was how Jules felt when Robin confessed that he loved him.”

DP: A lot of people are uncertain about how to categorize GLBT fiction, particularly when it comes to genre fiction. Is it GLBT if it’s a male/male romance between secondary characters? Does the GLBT character need to be the protagonist? Does it even matter? 

SB:  A book is the book that it is, whatever label we give it. And the labels are pretty arbitrary. Still, we live in a society where we use shortcuts and labels to define and organize all kinds of things—books included.  And fiction is divided into genres, and those genres are divided into subgenres, and those subgenres are used by publishers to market the books that they sell.

All of my books with GLBT characters are considered to be mainstream, because I’ve made my name as a mainstream romance writer.  Even All Through the Night.  This is a holiday novella that tells the story of Jules and Robin’s Boston wedding.  So it’s a “mainstream” romance with a hero and a hero.

And because it was marketed as a mainstream novel, it failed (IMO) to reach the GLBT audience, which was a shame.  (I tried to talk my publisher into printing a trade paperback version instead of a mass market paperback reissue that came out about a year after the hardcover.  I thought that would be a good compromise, but they didn’t do it.  <sigh>)

Okay, so the pro side is that there was a mainstream hardcover romance novel about a same-sex wedding—a book with a hero and a hero that hit theNew York Times list.  That’s awesome.  I can’t complain about that on so many different levels.

But on the con side, because of that lack of marketing to a GLBT audience, I’m still practically unknown to that very substantial readership.  Yes, some readers of GLBT fiction have found me, but that’s mostly been through my involvement as a gay-rights activist. Or by chance.

You know, I have a production company called small or LARGE Productions, and last June we filmed a low-budget feature-length romantic comedy with a hero and a hero, and we’re currently in post-production.  The movie, “The Perfect Wedding,” is not about being gay—no one is in the closet, no one has gay-related health issues, no one’s a drag queen (not that there’s anything wrong with that! <g>).  There are three gay characters and they are all out and open, and their friends and families love them, and they love themselves.  No angst about being gay—that’s not what the movie is about.  It’s about two young men, Paul and Gavin, who spark when they meet, and how they deal with it over the course of a holiday weekend.

Paul and Gavin on deck med size

And we recently held a screening with friends of ours who are gay, because we wanted their feedback. And they all felt that it would be a mistake to market this movie solely as a gay romantic comedy.  They felt doing so would pigeonhole it.  And they also all said that they had never seen a movie like this before, where the gay characters were just characters who happened to be gay.

Now, this is our movie, and as producers we get to decide (at least at this stage) how it will be marketed.  We have a lot of options and a lot of choices to make.

I want to be really clear, though, that my choice for how my All Through the Night should have been marketed (in the broad sense) would have been 1) mainstream and GLBT, and 2) mainstream. To have had this book marketed only to the GLBT audience would have been, IMO, a loss and a mistake. Frankly, I think it’s more important for me to include gay characters in my mainstream books than it is to write books that reach only/mostly that GLBT audience.

DP: I know a lot of writers who are interested in creating GLBT characters in their novels, but who are reluctant to do so, not because they have a problem with homosexuality but because they are afraid to offend people. Do you have any advice for those writers?

SB:  Hmmm.  That word “offend” is offensive to me. The idea that my son could offend someone simply by existing is pretty ugly, don’t you think? And that’s what is being implied here. And when something like that is implied, it’s hard for me to not get defensive and protective.

So let’s change the language. What if they’re afraid to “upset” people. I still find offensive the idea that my son could upset someone simply by existing. <g>  (See how it plays out when you make it personal, when you make it be about my wonderful, lovely, terrific son, Jason, instead of some unnamed GLBT character…?)

Frankly, if someone is offended or upset or even distressed by my son’s very existence, I don’t give a flying you-know-what whether or not I offend them in return by the books I write and the characters I create. (How’s that for a passionate statement?!)

So for me, it’s very simple.  I write what I write, and I don’t write expecting every reader in the world to love my books.  In fact, I think the best way to write an incredibly mediocre book is to attempt to please all readers by remaining precisely in the middle of the road.

Bottom line: I would ask those timid and fearful writers precisely why they write.  Do they write because they have something important to say?  If so, they need to speak from their heart and say it, regardless of who they might offend.  I believe when you write from your heart, your passion is in your words and your stories.  And I believe that it’s that passion that makes a book really memorable and special.

DP: What about the fear of portraying GLBT characters too stereotypically? There is so much room for error when writing a character that is already under such cultural scrutiny that there can be a lot of sensitivity from the community. What are some pitfalls to avoid when writing an GLBT character? Are there any “do’s and don’ts”?

SB:  I’ve never been a petite Asian American former LAPD officer, or a six-and-a-half foot tall African American Navy SEAL who attended Harvard, but I’ve gotten really positive feedback about both of those characters.

I do research for every character I’ve written—I think that’s really important.  And I would urge other writers to do the same thing.

One thing that I do is read first-person essays about growing up in America as a black woman, or an Asian woman, or a gay Irish kid from Boston’s North Shore.  There’s a lot of great material out there that you can absorb in order to create a truly authentic character.

Always avoid stereotypes by knowing exactly what the stereotypes are. Do your research. There’s a ton of great material out there, blogs a-plenty, and websites galore, including www.HRC.org and www.pflag.org.

DP: You’ve recently taken your writing of GLBT romance to a new level with your novella When Tony Met Adam, which focuses on a gay couple as the main romance. What made you choose to take that step four years after publishing the GLBT subplot in Hot Target?

I also noticed that When Tony Met Adam was pubbed as an e-only short story. What was the rationale behind releasing it in that format? Did the decision have anything to do with the “controversial” subject matter?

SB: I wrote WTMA during the run of an Off-Broadway play called “Looking for Billy Haines” that I wrote, produced, and directed.  (William Haines was THE biggest male box office draw in Hollywood in 1930, but he was openly gay, and after the codes came down, he refused to give up his longtime relationship with his boyfriend, a former Navy man named Jimmie Shields and go into the closet.  So the powers that be essentially erased him from history.)

But back to WTMA, it was originally intended for inclusion in an anthology of TS short stories, called Headed for Trouble, due out in paperback from Ballantine Books in late August 2012. But it came in a little long [for that].  AndI had the opportunity to use WTMA as a special bonus “extra” for my virtual signing for last March’s hardcover, Breaking the Rules.  I try to include a bonus item that will make the virtual signing extra-special, and for BTR, I included a special limited-edition printed version of When Tony Met Adam.

As for selling WTMA as an e-book short story—that was my idea.  It was a specific attempt to reach that elusive GLBT readership.  I knew, first-hand, through my son, that e-books are huge with the GLBT audience.  I asked my publisher to include information about Jules Cassidy and an excerpt fromHot Target at the end of WTMA.  (Hello!  I am out here…!  Find me!) My publisher liked the idea and suggested we release it in June, which is Gay Pride month.  Which is what we did!

when tony met adamDP: I would imagine writing such open and honest GLBT storylines would get you a mixture of positive and negative attention. What kind of responses have you gotten from your readers and the media? 

SB:  The response has been predominantly, overwhelmingly positive. I have thousands and thousands of emails from readers who felt the need to reach out to contact me because Jules’s love for Robin resonated with them. That doesn’t mean I haven’t lost readers, because I definitely have. But I’ve gained far more than I’ve lost.

The biggest problem is that ugly, angry voices tend to be shrill and loud.  And people who are satisfied are often quiet in their approval.  So it can feel unbalanced at times.

I’ve sometimes come under attack from people who organize fellow haters to hit me with an email campaign.  (Most of the time, those attacks are personal, too, which really tells you something about the people who write those emails.)  Not from readers—the handful of emails I received were from people who admittedly hadn’t read my books.  But they’d “heard” about me, and they were going to tell everyone they knew never to buy my books and yada yada yada.  Not that I cared what those people thought.  I write what I write.  As a reader, it either works for you, or it doesn’t.  If you don’t like it, that doesn’t make it—or me, or the millions of readers who do like the books—bad.

In [one] particular instance, fearing [a] deluge of hate mail, I went onto my Facebook page and I sent out a message to as many of my readers that I could reach.  I told them if they’d ever thought about maybe emailing me to tell me how much they loved Jules and Robin and the diversity in my books, now might be a really good time to write and send that email—to counteract this wave of hatred.

Turns out the wave was a mere swell, not even close to a surf-worthy monster.  I got maybe seven ugly emails in all. But my call for help went a bit viral in the internet romance world, and I got well over a thousand emails from real readers with things like “I love Jules” in the subject header.

DP: Do you think people’s reactions would be different if you were a GLBT writer creating GLBT stories?

SB:  No, I don’t. But it’s kinda funny how often I’m approached by older gay gentlemen at book signings.  They usually say something like, “I stumbled upon this book, and I couldn’t believe it was written by a straight woman!”

And before I can say something pithy, like, “Yeah, and I’m also not a Navy SEAL.  Or an impossibly beautiful African-American former FBI agent, (which is why I think it doesn’t matter who I am)” their eyes fill with tears and they take my hand and they tell me how lovely it was to find an out gay character in a mainstream book, and to read about my own son Jason who came out when he was fifteen.  And they tell me that they were thirty or forty or even fifty before they came out, and they never told their parents, and they’re finally—just finally—starting to accept themselves and be truly happy.

I always take the opportunity to thank them for having the courage to come out at a time when coming out could mean losing their job or their home or even their life.  I thank them because their act of courage paved the way for young gay men like Jason, who never spent a moment of his life hiding his true self.

DP: What’s next on your writing agenda? 

SB: As I mentioned earlier, Born to Darkness, the first book in my new Fighting Destiny series comes out on March 20, 2012. The series follows the adventures of eight recurring characters, seven of whom appear in Born to Darkness.  The main hero is a former Navy SEAL named Shane Laughlin, and the heroine is a mysterious woman who works for a scientific research facility called the Obermeyer Institute.

I’m working on a really fun project to promote this book.  I took my skills as a film and stage producer and I held auditions and cast actors as the six main characters in Born to Darkness.  And I held a photo and video shoot with costumes, and got about 800 fantastic photos—so that readers can see these characters exactly as they appear inside of my head.  (Check my website for the first photographs and the first excerpt from the book!  The rest of the photos will be featured during my “Countdown to Born to Darkness,” on my website and Facebook page starting on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012.)

One thing I wanted to mention here, since we’re talking about GLBT books and characters:  Born to Darkness features a gay romantic subplot with an honest-to-goodness gay love scene.  Right smack in the middle of a mainstream hardcover romantic urban fantasy suspense.  (Or however the publisher is marketing the book! <g>)

So stay tuned to find out if and when heads start to explode. <g>  (I like to hope it won’t be a big deal.  Kind of like when I wrote Gone Too Far, and no one so much as mentioned that the book was an interracial romance.  Which is how it should be, right?)

As for what I’m doing right now:  I’m working on a series of short stories — most for my Troubleshooters anthology (Headed for Trouble).  But one of the stories I’ll be writing is tentatively titled Shane’s Last Stand, and it features the hero from Born to Darkness. The story is about Shane’s last mission as the CO of a SEAL team.  The plan is to release it as an e-book short story in early February, about a month before Born to Darkness comes out.  It’ll give my readers a chance to meet this new character—and to understand that even though the series is set twenty years in the future, there’s still going to be a lot that’s similar to the TS books.

Find Suzanne Brockmann online: 
www.facebook.com/SuzBrockmannFOJ (Suz Brockmann’s Friends of Jules — a special page to talk gay rights and politics)

Photo of Suzanne Brockmann (c) Shirin Tinati
Book covers and film still courtesy of Suzanne Brockmann

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A Conversation with Billy Freda

Posted by November 9th, 2011

Cover model Billy Freda tells us what it’s like on the other side of the book…

Bill Freda headshot_smallest_cropped

“There will always be a character my age. You know, all your heroes aren’t 28 years old and buff.”

New Brunswick, NJ — Sitting across an IHOP breakfast table from a male model makes it a little difficult to focus on your omelet, let me tell you. It’s even more difficult when you have a copy of a romance novel in your bag of which said model’s image graces the cover. But when he’s known in the industry for his comedic tendencies and light-heartedness like Billy Freda is, it’s more than manageable.

With 83 books covers in his portfolio, Billy has been involved in the Romance community for more than eight years. From literal “knight in shining armor” to “midnight cowboy,” he’s run the gamut and lived to tell the tale.

There’s more to being a cover model than just a pretty face, though, and I, for one, was eager to learn more about this facet of the publishing industry that gets so overlooked, despite its über-visual nature. And with a tape recorder on the table, I was about to get some insight:

DP: So, how did you start modeling?

BF: Fell ass-backwards into it? [laughs] I started in college for some extra money. As a matter of fact, my college girlfriend saw a posting in…remember these things called the “Classifieds” in the newspapers? — Yes, I just dated myself about how long I’ve been modeling. — But she saw in the Classifieds, ya know, “Model Wanted yada yada.” I went in, and I got the job. My first big job I was a Claiborne guy for a while, for their men’s division. And then I just started getting into it. I got my shots done, found an agent, and just snowball, snowball…

DP: What made you get into modeling for book covers and the publishing industry?

BF: Really funny that you asked that following when I started….The photographer from my first shoot was literally the first person I ever shot with, and I had moved on from him but maybe two or three years later, out of the middle of nowhere, he saw that the romance world was looking for contestants [for the Romantic Times Mr. Romance competition].  He submitted me with the pictures that he had shot.

DP: [laughs] Without your knowledge?

BF: Yeah, I didn’t know! And the next thing I know, I get a phone call from a Cindy Walker telling me I’d been selected to make it into this competition and I’m like “huh?” And that’s how it all started.

Medallion cover - Bill Freda

DP: That’s too funny….What made you want to model? Or was it just that it fell into your lap?

BF: I mean, it kind of fell into my lap, yeah. Did I think when I started modeling in college for money that that would be a third to fifty percent of my career? No, never. But we’re all starving college students. It was money at the time and now it’s an integral part of my career.

DP: What about after college? Did you continue right into the modeling world?

BF: Kind of. I did modeling while I was a practicing engineer. And you know, it’s a little tougher obviously, having a 9-to-5 and trying to model. But if people want you, they will work around your schedule. You know, your bigger shoots—the higher paying ones, the commercial shoots, stuff like that—no, they won’t work around your schedule. But that’s why God created sick days, so… Yea, I continued to model right through while I worked as an engineer for six years, and then really stepped it up and put myself out there when I went into entertainment full time.

DP: Tell me a little bit about that experience with the Mr. Romance competition. You were not only one of the winners, but you’ve hosted it a number of times too.

BF: Like I said, I had no idea what I was getting into. It was a great experience though. There are a couple guys from my year that I’m still in touch with and friends with. After I won, they found out that I do a lot of TV hosting and emceeing live events, so in ’05, I hosted one of the segments with Cindy Geyer, who is like the Mrs. Fabio. She’s been on hundreds and hundreds of covers, if not more, and she’s a doll, great to work with. And then in ’06 I co-hosted it, and in ’07 and ’08 I wrote it and hosted it.

DP: Can you walk me through a typical cover shoot?

BF: Well, there are two different types of cover shoots. There’s one where they’re shooting for a very specific cover in mind. The author’s requested this [scene, etc.]. A lot of times I ask for a synopsis of what the hero is like so I can portray that. And then there are shoots where publishing companies just want ten clothes changes, different time periods, and are just going to sit them in a database and use them as they are needed.


DP: About how long does a shoot take?

BF: If we’re shooting for a specific cover, we can bang it out in an hour. I’ve done a couple of Harlequin covers where they have it down to such a science: you walk in, you meet the girl who you’re about to quote-unquote sleep with, who you’ve never met in your life, which is always a little awkward… You’re literally on set, under the covers, in fifteen minutes. The shoot’s done in 30 after that.

DP: How long would it take if you were to do ten covers at once?

BF: That’s an all-day affair.

DP: What makes a cover shoot good or bad?

BF: I think what makes a shoot good is just professionalism and…well, professionalism. Just like you want an actor to show up and know his lines, I don’t want to show up to a set and the lighting isn’t set, we don’t know what we’re shooting, “oh crap, we forgot a prop,” et cetera et cetera et cetera. Get in, gone on, get done. Boom.

DP: How do you get jobs? Do you have an agent? Do companies call you specifically? 

BF: A book cover is one of the only print-type work I don’t do through my agents for. Everything is self-promotion. And honestly, at this point, between being a former Mr. Romance winner and hosting the show for three years, everybody knows me so I really don’t need an agent. The covers kind of come to me.

DP: So people will come to you—there’s not an audition process or anything like that?

BF: Yes, there is no audition process. Occasionally you will see a cover model request in the breakdowns, though. The breakdowns are the list of all available work in the acting-modeling world. So, when I see a breakdown, I just basically send a quick cover note saying, “Listen, I’m a veteran at this. I’ve done 80+ covers…” and I’ll probably send them two or three samples, and if I’m the right look, then I’m the right look.

DP: So after you get a gig and shoot a cover, do you see it again? Do you get to approve anything? What’s the process after you’re done the modeling part?

BF: There are a couple houses that I do ask for approval from. They will say, “Is this good or not?” Now, is this a formality? Are they extending a courtesy? If I said, “Actually no, that is terrible” well, you know…

A Scots Honor_small

DP: Do they send you a copy of the book or anything like that once it’s published?

BF: Yeah, I have a copy of a lot of my covers. Some of my favorites, like Kate Hofman’s My Love, Forever and Carol Carson’s Fortune’s Treasure, are cover facing out in my library. Just because it’s like anything else, you know. It’s like if I were a painter and I had one of my own pieces hanging up.

DP: I hear you also have a sword on display in your home–is that from a shoot?

BF: Oh, yeah, I do. The sword that sits on my mantle is actually a sword I brought home from Spain. It’s a real sword made of Marlow Spanish steel, and obviously I took it back prior to 9-11. [laughs] It’s a little tough to get on planes with them now. That was the sword I used the year I competed [in Mr. Romance] actually.

DP: How did you use it to compete? What do you mean by that?

BF: Each year it’s slightly different, but usually you have to portray certain characters throughout the competition. I had a contemporary—my contemporary was from a book written by Beth Ciotta and I was a billionaire—and then for my historical hero I came out full chain mail, the real boots, the gloves and the cuffs, and that was what I wore for the competition…and I carried that sword.

DP: In addition to the Romantic Times convention, you go to a lot of other romance conventions and signings. So, I’m curious, do you get hit on at these events?

BF: [laughs] Yes.

DP: What’s the craziest, weirdest encounter you’ve had? 

BF: Oh, man. You want me to put this on-the-record? Okay, so a lot of the times people will hand you a book or a calendar, ask you to sign, and then ask “Can I get a picture?” Sure! I’ll say. And, as you know, a lot of these conventions and signings are at hotels. So, in the middle of a picture, I actually had a woman slide her room key in my back pocket, and after the picture was snapped, she said the room number and walked away.

DP: Wow. 

BF: Yeah…and now she’s my ex-wife. [laughs] No, no, I’m kidding about that part. But yeah, I get that kind of thing a lot.

DP: So, what’s next for you when it comes to working in publishing?

BF: Well, first of all, book covers is a very small facet of my whole entertainment career. I’ll say maybe print comprises half of what I do, and then this, the book covers, is just a small percentage of that half. I enjoy the industry, though; I like it. It’s a billion-dollar industry, and it’s not going anywhere. I mean, it’s going to move digital, but it’s not going anywhere. I’ll continue to do covers, I’m sure. There will always be a character my age. You know, all your heroes aren’t 28 years old and buff. So, there are always going to be heroes—I’m sure there are heroes in some romance books that are 60—so I’ll probably be doing covers for a very long time.

DP: It’s a tough profession to be in, though, no?

BF: Yea, well, the entertainment industry is the most miserable profession in the world. And I mean that whole-heartedly. But here is how you know you’re doing what you want to do: The alarm goes off in the morning and you turn it off and you say “I am in the worst profession in the world” and you get up and do it anyway. That’s how you know you’re doing what you want to do.

Bio: Billy Freda started his acting/modeling/hosting career while attending Rutgers University College of Engineering. Since then, Billy’s career has consistently been on the rise, and has included countless prints ads, national campaigns, billboards, calendars, fitness magazines, and book covers. Billy’s favorite facet of his career, acting, has been receiving attention lately with his performance in the lead role in the TV pilot, “Bodies of Work.”Soon, you can find more info on his website, http://www.billfreda.com, which is currently down for maintenance.

Photo courtesy of Billy Freda.

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What Romance Editors (and Readers) Want

Posted by November 1st, 2011

Writing a romance novel? The NAL editorial team gives us a tutorial on the romance market: today’s hottest subgenres and what they’re looking forHere’s what the romance editors want:

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When I was in romance editorial, it astounded me how many submissions I received that had nothing to do with what I was actually looking to acquire, or even that fell outside of the genres in which my imprint specialized. Sometimes the manuscripts hooked me despite this fact, and I fell in love with the writing or the story or the potential I saw for the story. But there was nothing I could do; if it didn’t fit for our list or the market, my hands were tied.
As an author, even after doing all your homework–researching the market, reviewing an imprint’s recent publications, checking Publishers Marketplace for an editor’s acquisition history–it can still be difficult to figure out if what you’re submitting will give the editor what he or she wants. Particularly when it comes to such a robust and diverse genre as the romance market.

With this challenge in mind, Book Country asked the romance team at New American Library (NAL) to share a little bit about their experience with submissions and what specifically they hope to find among the pile:

Most editors at NAL find that when we’re looking for new talent, the biggest problem with the submissions we receive is not that they’re badly written (because many of them are very well done) but rather that the books are not the kind of stories that readers are looking for.  The romance reader is very particular in her tastes and preferences, and trends tend to dominate the market.  If you want to attract a big readership among romance fans, it’s crucial you know what kind of story they are looking for in the current market.
To help you figure out how to do that, the editors at NAL want to offer you some friendly advice about writing romance and positioning your book:

First, make sure you’re writing a romance novel and not a women’s fiction novel! Romance novels have as their central focus the relationship between the hero and heroine of the story.  Their developing romantic relationship forms the backbone of the book’s plot. Most often this involves a man and a women meeting and having a powerful attraction; however, there’s an obstacle getting in the way of their relationship. Frequently, each character has an internal conflict that she or he must overcome. The end goal is for this couple to reach their HEA, or happily ever after, together (with realistic complications along the way). In other words, they meet, they have a conflict, and they must react and develop in response to it before the book can reach a satisfying conclusion.  These conventions are common to romance novels across the board and can act as a helpful rule of thumb to guide you according to what readers will expect to see in your romance novel.

You also need to remember that most romance readers buy according to subgenre, based on themes, settings, or time periods.  The most popular subgenres in romance change over time, and the best way to identify what’s most popular in the romance market at a given time is to watch the bestseller lists. Our job as editors is not only to follow the trends but anticipate them, while your job is to write a great book people want to love.

Right now, some of the most popular genres in romance (and the ones our editors are most excited about) are:

Vampire romances
This means a love story where at least one of the main characters is a vampire, with supernatural powers and an immortal lifespan. The setting can vary. J. R Ward‘s “Black Dagger Brotherhood” series was at the forefront of the vampire trend from the start and remains a beloved favorite among paranormal romance readers.

Regency-set historical romances
While settings for historicals can vary, England is the most popular setting. Regencies are romances that are set during the Regency period in England, which strictly speaking was from 1811 to 1820.  Historical romance readers will expect these novels to be historically appropriate, meaning that the characters should act according to what was expected in society at that time. Some of Penguin’s bestselling Regency romance authors include Jo Beverley and Jillian Hunter.

Scottish-set historicals
Ever since the release of Braveheart, we have seen a high demand for romances set in Scotland.  The most popular time period is definitely medieval, but the Jacobean era (1603-1625) works as well for this subgenre. Bertrice Small’s “Border Chronicle” series is a fabulous example of the historic Scotland setting.

Shapeshifter romances
These are paranormal romances in which at least one of the central characters to the romance can shift shape into another form.  Shapeshifting characters might be dragons, werewolves, falcons, coyotes, the list goes on… To name two examples from NAL’s popular shapeshifter romances, we publish Michele Bardsley’s “Broken Heart” novels and Deborah Cooke’s “Dragonfire” novels to great acclaim.

Paranormal romances
Paranormal romances are ones in which the love story features a character with otherworldly abilities (in addition to but not excluding being a vampire or shapeshifter).  There are witch romances, fallen angel romances, mermaid romances, demon romances, among many others.  Sylvia Day’s “Renegade Angels” series and Regan Hasting’s “Awakening” novels will give you a great idea of the fallen angel and witch trends, respectively.

What we call “gentle fiction”
Gentle fiction is a subcategory of contemporary romance, which means a romance set in the present day. These are love stories set in a small town setting with lots of quaint charm and heartwarming emotional elements. The heartwarming sense of town life and the gentle tone of the emotions really set this subgenre apart from other mainstream contemporary romance. They are the most popular kind of contemporary romance at this time, and have no paranormal elements. One visit to JoAnn Ross’s “Shelter Bay” series and you won’t want to leave this wonderful town!

Western romances
Heroes from the Wild West hold much appeal, whether it’s a contemporary cowboy romance or a historical western. There’s just something readers love about a charming cowboy!  One bestselling example from NAL’s list is Catherine Anderson, who writes both contemporary and historical Westerns.

Romantic suspense
Romantic suspense has a fast-paced storyline with lots of action because the romance between hero and heroine takes place in the face of some kind of danger that threatens one or both of their lives. The suspenseful nature of the plot is almost as important as the romance, and there is usually a mystery to solve. These novels are usually contemporary settings and are always real world stories.Shannon K. Butcher’s “Edge” novels and Christina Dodd‘s “Bella Terra Deception” series give a great example of the kind of high-octane action and edge-of-your seat suspense readers look for in this genre.

Urban fantasy
While not technically romance, Urban Fantasy novels often involve a strong love story that appeals to romance fans. Whereas the third person point of view is common in the other romance genres, urban fantasy often takes a first person point of view. And the mystery that’s driving the plot and the action is almost as important to the novel as the romance itself.  The characters in these novels are very tough, and the stories may contain violence.  Lee Roland’s Viper Moon thrills with a captivating voice and a complex urban fantasy series world.

As you can see, there are many subgenres currently driving the market from the editors’ perspective, so make sure your novel fits into one of them. Or if you are trying your hand at something different, remember to keep your story within the conventions of a romance novel in the first place and understand that your story really has to be something special if it colors outside the lines. Editors love to find fresh new authors with budding talent, so give them something they can work with!

Romance is not the only genre where editors have specific interests though…

Our next installment of “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want” will focus on the mystery genre. 

Stay tuned!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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In the Wilds of L.A.: Romantic Times Booklovers Convention 2011

Posted by April 25th, 2011

“If you had an RT nametag around your neck, you were family.”

 Buffy Danielle_thumbWhen I began in book publishing over five years ago, one of the first conventions I heard about was Romantic Times (aka RT). I was working in wholesale sales at St. Martins Press and my predecessor was filling me in on the world of commercial fiction, particularly genre fiction. I didn’t know what the purpose of the Con was at the time, didn’t know who it was for or why it existed—all I knew was that it was supposed to be crazy.
The years passed, I moved to editorial at Pocket Books and I heard even more insane stories of RT Con shenanigans. My favorite stories usually revolved around the costume balls and the slightly uncomfortable and inappropriate Mr. Romance competition.

Yes, that’s right: Mr. Romance. Eight or so men competing for the title and a contract to grace the cover of a Kensington romance novel. Simultaneously hilarious and awesome. Given the number of women present at the conference this year in Los Angeles (probably exactly the gender ratio you are imagining), I can’t say it wasn’t nice to see some cute boys scattered throughout the crowd. But I, myself, didn’t go so far as to attend the actual Mr. Romance pageant. I do, however, have some souvenir signed photographs that were essentially thrust upon me. And I may or may not have come back to New York with a former Mr. Romance’s number in my pocket.

But for all the craziness and fun that ensues at RT Con, there is a side to it I hadn’t been told about in my years before experiencing it for myself. There’s the strictly professional side.

RT is not only fun and games, though it sure is a great way to network! The conference is also chock full of workshops, panels, and presentations by publishers, editors, agents, authors, marketing gurus, bloggers, and more. Whether you’re a reader, a writer, or an industry person, there’s something for everyone from 10 am to 6 pm.

The panelists and presenters all had so much wisdom and experience to share, it was enlightening to get a new perspective on the industry from every person I encountered. And giving a presentation myself on Book Country here was just as enlightening. People constantly surprise me, and my audience did as well. Coming up with ideas or questions that I never would of thought to ask or suggest, discussing topics I may not have considered or may have had too narrow-minded a view on—people are so smart. It really was an eye-opening experience for me.

Perhaps the thing I liked most about RT Con, though, was the feeling of camaraderie throughout the conference hotel. If you had an RT nametag around your neck, you were family. Everyone was friendly, everyone was interested (and interesting!), and everyone was treated the same. It doesn’t matter if you are an aspiring author, a publisher, a blogger, or a bestselling novelist—you fit in. You have the opportunity to interact with anyone and everyone, sometimes under the silliest of circumstances.

My most I-can’t-believe-this-is-how-I’m-networking moment? Having a drink with author Barry Eisler in the lobby bar wearing my junior prom gown, with a pair of faery wings and a gold masquerade mask sitting beside me….I suppose the sneak attack by a romance reader in full-on vampire attire was pretty shocking also (as were the claw marks she left after jumping on my back and terrifying me). Good thing I was dressed as Buffy and ready to shake her off and turn her to dust.

[Photo courtesy of Jeffe Kennedy.]

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Bridging the Gap

Posted by April 24th, 2011

An Interview with Harlequin Books Associate Editor Adam Wilson

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“What makes romance readers valuable to publishing is that they really are extraordinarily invested in reading as a practice.”

While much of the world still views publishing as an industry run by men, it is actually a female-driven business that caters to a female-driven market more often than not. Ask anyone who works in the industry, particular in the creative departments of editorial, art, and interior design, if they work with many men and you’ll likely get a chuckle as a response.

This doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t have a voice in the business. Often their deep voices are heard over the din of higher-pitched discussion; they stand out within the walls of many a publishing house.

One man in particular stands out in Harlequin’s offices in New York City:Adam Wilson.

Wilson is an associate editor at Harlequin Books, one of the most recognizable romance publishers in the business. Over the past six years, he’s moved up the ladder from editorial assistant, working for the MIRA, Harlequin Teen, and LUNA imprints. He dabbled in a variety of romance-based titles before narrowing his focus to young adult, dystopian, thriller/suspense, dark fantasy, and upmarket women’s fiction.

Given his unique perspective on the industry, Book Country reached out to him to share his story and impart a little honest wisdom about the romance world to the community:

DP: Thanks for joining us here at Book Country, Adam. Now tell us, why publishing? What made you want to be a part of the book industry? What was it about editorial that you were particularly interested in?

AW: To be honest, before starting grad school at NYU, I’d never been a career-minded person other than thinking something vague like, “Maybe I’ll become a professor. Yeah.” But when a friend of mine got a job at Penguin and essentially left the grad program for it, I was stuck with a lot of ‘professional students’ and realized how annoying they could quickly become. Thus, I thought I’d give what my friend did a shot. (Note: I love academia, but am in no way obsessive enough to thrive there, that’s all.) I was quite ignorant about what the industry entailed, and to me editorial is where you read books, so that’s where I wanted to be. Now that I’m in it, there are so many other fascinating aspects that are intriguing, but I really like working directly with authors and directly with text, so editing I remain. I do think cover design would be a lot of fun, with my background in art, but it might be even more stressful.

DP: Tell us a bit about your specific role at Harlequin. 

AW: I’m currently an associate editor for the Harlequin imprints of MIRA and Harlequin Teen, helping out on LUNA, as well. At my level, I’ve inherited a number of really great authors from other editors who have either left or had their duties shifted through promotion or restructuring, so my list is pretty eclectic at this point.

Like other editors, I liaise with agents, authors, Marketing, Sales, Art, bloggers, the custodial crew—anyone who can help with our books. I also revise or write copy, give feedback on art, work on the Harlequin Teen Facebook page, put forth ideas for marketing, and do a lot of little projects that just seem to pop up. And a few times a year I go to conferences, where I hear about what people have been writing, and where invariably someone tries to make me sing karaoke or something equally as embarrassing.

DP: What are the trends in romance for HQN right now? What specifically have you been looking for in an acquisition so far in 2011?

AW: I kind of hate discussing “trends” because potential authors pick them up and run with them a little too literally. As you know, forecasting is always difficult when the typical lead-time to market is one year. However, MIRA has been expanding its trade program, especially by bringing in more commercial literary projects, so we definitely see that as a trend. In the YA world, dystopian is still going strong, and we’re pretty excited about what we see as a contemporary romance strain coming in there, too. Personally, I love seeing the trials of ‘normal’ kids, instead of 100% vampire-populated schools.

DP: You already told us about the genres you work in; however, I noticed that there’s no mention of romance in those genres. All of Harlequin’s books have at least somewhat of a strong romance thread throughout, correct? Why did you choose to describe the genres sans “romance”?

AW: Romance is, and always will be, a strong force at Harlequin, forever and ever amen. We’ve had great success in recent months with Susan Wiggs, Robyn Carr, Linda Lael Miller and others on the Times list—all contemporary romance authors.

However, when you work with the diverse editorial that’s often lumped together as romance, you pick up on the many different strains of the genre, and some don’t really feel like romance in the stereotypical sense. None of the three above write what you would call ‘bodice rippers,’ and in my view few of our books actually fall into that category.

I’ve personally come to think of projects less in terms of “romance” than in terms of “women readers.” So, when I mention what I’m looking for, I’m thinking along those lines. Will there be a love story involved? 99% of the time, yes. But for me, romance can be such a loaded term that it really doesn’t say much about the rich texture of the various storytellers we publish.

DP: I have to say, you are a bit of an anomaly in the publishing world as a male editor of novels with such strong romantic elements. What has been your experience working in this female-focused area of expertise? 

AW: Being surrounded by intelligent, dynamic women? Pretty sweet, I’d say.

I’ve had only one or two even slightly negative reactions to my XY chromosomes in my time here, and none of those were from within the company. The only other thing it probably gives me is a recognizable voice pattern on telephone conferences. But even that could just be my Bob Newhart delivery style.

DP: As you know, romance novels over time have had quite the stigma attached to them. They are viewed by many, particularly men, as “trash,” “smut,” and other such derogatory comments written by “bored housewives.” What is your reaction to that kind of prejudice? How would you defend the genre to its haters?

AW: How? With a calm, even tone that points out that we are working with largely female writers addressing a largely female readership, and to think of women’s fiction as “trash” or “smut” is pretty dismissive of half the population. Now, I don’t personally love all the romance tropes (partly because I will never have six-pack abs), but this is a largely optimistic, psychological genre that people really respond to, so I don’t really think it needs much of a ‘defense.’ No more than, say, military fiction, would.

DP: Romance readers—particularly Harlequin readers—are avid about the genre. How would you describe the market to which your books are aimed? What do you think makes them such a valuable part of the publishing community?

AW: You’re really right there, and, I won’t lie, I’m always a little shocked when I see the eBook numbers and romance is consistently up there. For some reason, I always thought it would be largely Tom Clancy fans buying techno-thrillers-things for their techno-reader-things, but nope. (Though that could be because I don’t love techno-thrillers AND I lean toward paper books so I’ve just paired those two together—who knows.)

What makes romance readers valuable to publishing is that they really are extraordinarily invested in reading as a practice, talking about what they’ve read, and being able to simultaneously cherish the traditional aspects of storytelling while being willing to experiment with genre offshoots.

DP: Given your gender and job title, I would guess that you’ve been the target a number of assumptions. Have you encountered this? If so, what have you found to be the most common judgment people make, and how would you argue against it?

AW: Wait—what do you mean?

Just kidding, yeah, I do get this a decent amount. To be completely honest, most men sort of look at me like I think my job’s a joke, or they wonder if I’m gay. It’s really a little absurd. What I usually do is point out that I get to read crazy, fun, diverse stories and work in a creative industry, and they often (I like to think) get jealous from that alone. I also note taking a lot of pride in being able to bring books to market and get a lot of female voices heard. Are these voices for all females? No, but who could claim to be. But they are voices for a lot of females. Plus, our heroines are strong, kick-butt role models, so there, Mr. Assume-y.

DP: Please share with us an unexpected, impacting, or simply unique experience you’ve had in relation to your role at Harlequin. 

AW: Okay, well, this may go against some of what I was previously saying, but I think it’s pretty entertaining. For a time I was in charge of the daily editorial operations for our short story erotica program, Spice Briefs. Now, in my acquisitions, I fully believe my gender doesn’t matter—it’s all about storytelling, voice, character, and that illusive ‘it factor.’ But Spice Briefs are short pieces that are expected to have an immediate sensual payoff in a way that’s kind of…biologically alien to me. So, it felt a little weird at times. I first realized this when I was in meetings to describe what the cover art should look like for a story and found myself saying things like, “Our heroine is going to a ‘happy ending’ spa for relaxation, so this cover should really focus on her pleasure.” It was then that I knew I’d hit a slightly peculiar place. But since I see everything as a challenge to expand my abilities, I like to think I did a pretty good job on my short time with that line.

DP: What surprised you the most when you got into the industry? Did you have expectations that weren’t met or expectations that were exceeded? 

AW: I think the amount of work beyond reading the books, polishing them, caring for them—that’s what really surprised me. A nice secondary surprise came when I really started to appreciate those other duties as well and didn’t mind when they took me away from reading.

DP: What is your favorite thing about working in publishing? Why?

AW: This might make me sound like some weirdo shaman, but I really, really enjoy reading an author’s work and getting into the mindset of the piece at hand, trying to see how to help it better reveal itself to a reader on its own terms. It’s a bit of a chameleonic game, and it’s something that I find fascinating—to not edit my personality into a book, but to try and draw forth what’s already there.

DP: Now, the inevitable questions…What’s your favorite genre to read?

AW: Modernist—does that count? I like the texture of books, the words, more than any one particular genre. Did not read romance before starting at Harlequin, though.

DP: And your favorite author?

AW: Tough one. It changes. Right now I’m on the Daniel Woodrell bandwagon. I feel like I’m gonna take flak for this, but I really love David Foster Wallace and his project; his writing is just intellectual AND emotional, which I think is amazing.

DP: This one might be even tougher—what’s your all-time favorite book?

AW: BLOOD MERIDIAN. That book has everything, and rewards close and repeated reading.

DP: Not so hard after all, I guess! Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Book Country community?

AW: If you could refrain from putting Fabio’s hair on any image of me you might use, that would be great. It’s not that I mind his hair….it’s just that it would remind me of unfortunate grooming decisions I made in college.

[Photo copyright Adam Wilson]

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