Thursday, May 22, 2008

Category vs Single Title continued

There is apparently a misconception out there about the quality of category writing and the quality fo category writers. When you discuss the idea of what type of story they write, many are very quick to note that "they write single title stories," or "they write full novel length stories." In other words, their writing is more sophisticated.

I have to say, this is far from the truth.

Now, don't go and think that I am now saying category writing is somehow more superior because I am not going there. What I am saying is that you really can not compare the two in terms of one style being easier or harder to write.

We have to remember that category is simply another "style" of writing under this huge genre of fiction, and more specifically, romance (or at least what I am talking about right now). In fact, in every genre of writing you will have different styles and approaches writers take.

So, where does this myth come from? Most likely from that same phrase that circulates around writing circles that "beginning writers train in category romances until they are ready to advance to single title." They say "because the stories are smaller, you don't have to panic." I have even heard writers say, "I want to see if I can write a 50K word before I move to something double the size."

Now stop right there. I have to say that writing smaller stories, and maintaining the same intensity is really difficult. I am reminded of the guidelines for the new Harlequin Tender line:

A big story in a 50,000-word format
The trouble is, that's not easy in a shorter-length story. It takes a talented author to be able to focus a story that tightly, making the most of every single word. These books are not short on plot, just highly focused on the relationship.

Sure, there are less words, and depending on the pace you write, it will be a shorter period of time writing (and certainly less characters on the page), but the task still requires an amazing amount of skill and talent.

So please, do not look to these writers as being anything less. There are a ton of successful writers living and doing really well in category. I would also go on to say that I would challenge some of the "single title" people to really go head to head against some of these category writers in terms of story quality. I know there are competitions out there but I am saying to do this with unmarked manuscripts. No covers, no titles, no names. Just story vs. story.

Let's see what happens then.

Hmmmm? Is that a potential contest????


  1. I wanted to start out with a giant THANK YOU for all this information!

    It seems that no matter how much I read, talk to others in the writing business, and even take classes, I still know so little.

    I was under the impression that you had to know the type of romance your work fell into, pretty easy(i.e. historical, paranormal, etc). I honestly thought that was what was meant by "category"...sure, mine is falls into one! I guess in my ignorance, I was unaware there were specific types (category vs. single title).

    If unsure which category your MS falls under, is that going to affect your chances of acquiring an agent?

    :) Terri

  2. Terri,
    Now please note this is just a matter of opinion, but I personally believe a writer should have a good sense of where they fit into the writing industry. This includes not simply whether or not they are writing category or single title, but also which house their writing truly belongs.

    With that said, if someone pitches to me or sends me a query that that is clearly off the mark, this gives me a clue of how much research they have done into the industry before sending things off.

    I should stress that when I see people pitching me stories they believe are single title and I see the category voice, I am not that harsh and picky. In most cases, they were doing that because of the word count of the story.

    I do get picky when someone pitches me a story for subgenre and it is far from that. For example:
    - Fantasy romances that are pitched as paranormals.
    - Historicals which are really time travels (or visa versa).
    - Women's fiction which is really a story without a romance.
    - A romance which is really a pieces of fiction set in a romantic setting.

    Keep researching and asking questions Terri. The more you know, the stronger a writer you will be!

  3. Thanks! I think I do more research, at least lately, on the literary world (publishing/agent/editor/query, etc), than I did on the actual historical research.

    At my age, I am smart enough to admit that I don't know everything. Thanks again, I am forever learning.

    :) Terri

  4. I was listening to a eharlequin podcast by the silhouette rs editors and what really came across for me was their strong focus on "a VERY basic plot" that drives, but doesn't get in the way of the romance, and really--I'd never thought of it that way before.

    ...would you say that besides the tighter focus, the plot should be streamlined down to bare essentials? I guess what I'm trying to say is--if a ST is a telephone wire, with all those multicolored strands, and layering proportionate to the wire--does that mean a category would be a single copper strand with a LOT of that rubberized insulation?

  5. oops, forgot to say thank you. I'm really enjoying this discussion, and your thoughts on the subject. :)

  6. Jodi,

    I would fully agree that plot lines are streamlined as well. This is really that issue of reducing the number of subplots in the story. Focus on the central theme and characters in the book, concentrate all of your efforts on moving them toward that HEA.

    This is really what makes writing these stories tough. When we start to focus the story that much, writers often panic that they won't have enough (so they start adding).

    In fact, I have heard several writers, after being told the story is too short for a line simply say that they will add additional subplots to a story. What really happens?? The writer adds more of the same stuff that the characters have gone through in the first 20K of the book. Just giving characters more of the same hoops to jump through makes the story just plain boring.