(Trying to) Write for Harlequin
So, a few days ago while finishing up my latest WIP I fell into the internet as so many of us do from time to time and landed on Harlequin’s Soyouthinkyoucanwrite.com. After poking around for a bit I decided to do some real research about what it’s like to write for the publisher whose name is synonymous with Romance.
I like most people who live in the United States have memories of seeing my family members reading Harlequin’s books. Their prominent place in my childhood next to the massive rack I remember at the library always scared me away from submitting to them. Whenever I got the idea to try I always felt like surely I wasn’t a good enough writer for them to want my stuff.
But not this time!
Nope, this time I’m going to give it a shot and I’m going to post about what I do! Hopefully in 3 months I’m gushing about the call and if not… well I’m sure I can shop the novel around elsewhere.
On to the Process!
Step 1). Deciding what line you want to write for.
Being unagented means what I can submit to Harlequin is restricted. I can’t just go off and write any book and expect Harlequin to publish it. No these stories have to be tailored specifically to each line. So I headed on over to the submittable page and checked out the different lines. After going through them all I realized that my style could lend itself well to their DARE, DESIRE and PRESENTS lines.
If you don’t know Harlequin you’re probably going: Okay, Ms. Quinn what does that mean?
DARE is their new risqué line (which replaces their old Blaze), think Erotic Romance (which I’m no stranger to).
DESIRE is very drama llama-y, with a focus on strong heroines who know what they want taming alpha males. The line requires an American setting and glamorous lifestyles. They compare it to soap operas and Dallas.
PRESENTS looks to be very similar to DESIRE but with a focus on the international and exotic instead. So it’s the same alpha hero and strong heroine but with foreign and exotic locations.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with their lines, pick up a book before you decide! I grabbed a few and devoured them. Not only did this help me decide which line to write for but it also gave me a better idea of where they expected the writing to be. Reading the books actually got me more excited about writing for Harlequin—it helped allay my fears that my prose wasn’t up to snuff. Which is why I’m typing this now and not tomorrow like I thought I would!
Step 2). Picking your tropes.
From my research I’ve discovered that Harlequin (like the average romance reader) loves a good trope stuffed novel. In case you have problems thinking up romance tropes, here are a bunch:
- Accidental pregnancy – our heroine’s pregnancy may be the result of a one-night stand, a longer-term fling, or a long-term relationship.
- Alpha hero – our hero defines “Type A” – he’s driven, assertive, and in control of the world around him, except where his lover is concerned.
- Amnesia – a blow on the head, a drug interaction, or for some other reason – our lover doesn’t know how s/he got where s/he is, but now s/he needs to fit into a new family, workplace, etc.
- Arranged marriage – family expectations, cultural traditions, or religious beliefs bring our lovers together or try to keep them apart.
- Athlete – sure, there are the big four – baseball, basketball, football, and hockey – but there are plenty of other sports around for one or both of our lovers to play.
- Best friend’s sibling – usually, the heroine is the younger sister of the hero’s best friend (but other combinations are possible!) The sibling has always been taboo, but true passion upsets the status quo.
- Billionaire – usually an alpha hero, this character can buy anything s/he wants, except for true love.
- Blackmail – one lover knows a secret about the other, and s/he seeks a big payday.
- Class warfare – one lover comes from money and social status, the other lacks both, but sparks fly once they meet.
- Consanguinity – the lovers are cousins, step-siblings, or other relatives close enough to know each other but distant enough to flame a romance.
- Cougar – a classic May/December relationship, but the older lover is a woman.
- Cowboy – sometimes an alpha hero, a cowboy can be historical or contemporary, in his element (e.g., on a ranch) or out of his comfort zone (e.g., in New York City).
- Cyrano – a lover woos another for a friend, only gradually realizing that s/he is falling in love her/himself.
- Disguise – one or both lovers pretends to be something s/he isn’t – an expert in the workplace, a member of a family, etc. – but s/he falls in love while in disguise and is forced to continue the ruse.
- Enemies to lovers – our lovers are enemies (business rivals, part of a family feud, law enforcement and criminal, etc.) until they realize the depth of their romance.
- Fairytale – a traditional fairytale is retold in an alternate cultural or historical setting.
- Fake engagement – in order to solve an exterior plot problem, our lovers pretend to be engaged, often with a set of elaborate rules and limitations for their relationship.
- Fish out of water – one of our lovers doesn’t fit in a social or professional environment, but that doesn’t keep him/her from proving him/herself and winning the heart of the one s/he loves.
- Fling – our lovers intend their relationship to last for a short time (from one night to a specific longer period, such as a vacation or a work project), but their relationship grows beyond those limitations.
- Friends to lovers – our lovers have been friends for some time, but only now are discovering that they want something more from their relationship.
- Forbidden love – some outside force (cultural, familial, social, etc.) is determined to keep our lovers apart but they’re willing to fight for the relationship they desire.
- Gay for you – our hero or heroine has been strictly heterosexual, but finds him/herself falling for a person of the same gender.
- Guardian/ward – a guardian and his/her ward realize they have romantic feelings for each other (difficult to make work in contemporary romance, given the usual age difference).
- Jilted bride – our heroine is left at the altar, but she discovers true love with the hero.
- Kidnapped – a criminal kidnaps a victim and both parties realize they have romantic feelings for each other.
- Law enforcement – at least one of our lovers works in law enforcement (bounty hunter, FBI, police, etc.)
- Love triangle – one lover must choose between two potential matches.
- Maid – one lover (usually female) is a housekeeper (maid, janitor, etc) for the other.
- Mail-order bride – one lover (usually male) requests a spouse through print or electronic services.
- Marriage of convenience – our lovers are determined to marry but they feel no love for each other; rather, there is some business or social reason that compels their relationship.
- Matchmaker – a matchmaker unites two lovers. This story can either be about how the two lovers make their relationship work, or it can be about how the matchmaker falls in love with one of the matched lovers.
- May/December – our lovers have a substantial age gap. When a woman is the older lover, this is often called a “cougar” relationship.
- Military – at least one of our lovers works in the military (Army (including Special Forces), Navy (including Seals), Air Force, Marines, etc.)
- Mistaken identity – one of our lovers is assumed to be someone s/he is not, and s/he perpetuates the misunderstanding for reasons best known to him/herself.
- Office romance – our lovers work together, either as co-workers or as employer/employee.
- On the road – our lovers are on a road trip (or boat trip or plane trip or whatever), out of their element, encountering new experiences as their relationship grows.
- On the rocks – our lovers are united as the action of the story begins, but their relationship is going through hard times.
- Opposites attract – our lovers seem to be opposites in everything they think matters (vegetarian/carnivore, Democrat/Republican, city/country, etc.), but they discover that love unites them in ways beyond those differences.
- Orphan – one of our lovers is an orphan, either literally (both of his/her parents died when s/he was young) or figuratively (s/he was in the foster care system or otherwise deprived of ordinary familial love.)
- Parent/childcare worker – one of our lovers is a parent; the other is hired to care for his/her child(ren) as a nanny, tutor, or governess.
- Performer – one of our lovers is an actor or a musician, with the temptation of other people in his/her field, often with the challenges of frequent travel.
- Playboy – one of our lovers has a reputation for playing the field, seeking out sexual relationships without any emotional attachment – until s/he meets his/her one true love.
- Politics – one of our lovers is a politician, works on a political campaign, or works in a government office, frequently under the scrutiny of media and with need for an impeccable reputation.
- Protector – one of our lovers is determined to protect the other’s safety, usually as a bodyguard or law enforcement agent, but a protector might be hired to protect reputation instead of physical health.
- Redemption – one of our lovers has committed wrongs in the past (either against the other lover, or against someone or something else) for which s/he must atone.
- Return to hometown – one of our lovers returns to his/her hometown, either willingly or unwillingly, for a short time or with the intention to stay permanently.
- Reunion – our lovers knew each other in the past and generally had some romantic relationship back then (at least a one-night stand, possibly a long-term relationship.)
- Revenge – one of our lovers is determined to get revenge for a real or imagined wrong in the past. That wrong might have been committed by the other lover or by his/her relative or close friend.
- Royalty – one of our lovers is descended from royalty (or nobility); this trope includes sheikhs, princes, etc.
- Runaway bride/groom – one of our lovers gets cold feet on the eve of his/her wedding, but discovers in the course of being chased that s/he can truly love another.
- Scars – one of our lovers lives with physical or psychological scars from the past and overcomes the pain of those scars with the help of the other lover.
- Secret baby – our heroine is or was pregnant with the hero’s baby, but he does not know the child is his.
- Secret/lost heir – one of our lovers is the secret heir or lost heir to a great fortune (which s/he may or may not know s/he will inherit.)
- Sex worker with a heart of gold – one of our lovers works regularly exchanging money for sex, but once s/he meets the other lover, s/he’s ready to give up that profession.
- Sibling’s ex-spouse – one of our lovers falls in love with his/her sibling’s ex-spouse.
- Stranded – our lovers are stranded together, with the forced environment kindling their relationship. They might be stranded on a desert island, in an airport after a flight cancellation, in a motel on a road trip, etc.
- Sudden baby – one of our lovers discovers or inherits a child s/he never planned on nurturing.
- Time travel – one of our lovers travels backward or forward through time to reach the other.
- Tortured hero(ine) – one of our lovers has a dramatic, often secret past that causes him/her to live in emotional agony, cut off from the common joy of a loving relationship.
- Ugly duckling – one of our lovers is not conventionally beautiful, but in the course of falling in love either becomes conventionally beautiful or discovers that conventions are immaterial.
- Unrequited love – one of our lovers has long wished for a romantic relationship with the other.
- Virgin – one of our lovers has never consummated a sexual relationship.
- Widow(er) – one of our lovers has lost his/her spouse. The widow(er) might have been happily married, or s/he might have been unfulfilled in his/her marriage.
- (Wo)man in peril – one of our lovers is in physical peril from some outside person or organization; the other lover rescues him/her
So many to choose from!
I managed to whittle it down to 9 for my attempt (maybe more will sneak their way in there as I write). Alpha Hero, Forbidden Love, Love Triangle, Performer, Scars, Billionaire, Arranged Marriage, Secret Heiress, and Tortured Hero.
You might be thinking: Whoa, now Ms. Quinn, that’s a lot of tropes.
But I don’t think it is really, it’s all about how you weave them. If you go through and look at most books and movies (even outside of the romance genre) you’ll find oodles of tropey goodness in most of the books that have you yearning for more.
Step 3). Language and heat level.
This is important, arguably one of the most important steps. You have to know your audience, and that means looking at things like what type of language is allowed in the certain lines. Euphemistic language is probably the best way to go unless you’re writing for DARE. What does that mean really? Avoid the 3 Cs and the P and D (cock, clit, cunt, pussy and dick).
For the others, it looks as though you’ll be fine as long as you class up your smut and avoid visceral language. That means “He took his time as he lost himself in her quivering heat.” Vs. well the obvious explicit version of that.
Step 4). Writing
Uhh, I’ll check back with you on that. I’m still in the process of putting together an outline but I’m fairly pleased with the premise and excited to start writing!
For the longest Giovanni D’antonio kept the name of heir to the family fortune a secret. But when it’s revealed to be Madison, the middle daughter from Dante D’antonio’s not so secret second family, heads turn and traps are set to keep this sudden heiress in check and to make sure the D’antonio fortune stays “where it should.”
The devious rivals of the D’antonios hatch a plot to bring the two halves of the company divided back together by marrying Madison to their billionaire son Sebastian Burke. However, Madison has different ideas when it comes to marriage as she falls in love with Laurent Devereux, the famous bad boy ballet dancer with the checkered past… in spite of everyone saying how wrong he is for her. Will Madison be able to keep the D’antonio money where it belongs? Will she and Laurent find happiness? Or will she be forced to marry the scheming Sebastian?