Friday, December 4, 2009

Understanding Writing for Harlequin

I love working with Harlequin. They have some of the best dang editors that are really dedicated to their authors. For many writers, they seem to think that Harlequin is the easiest place to go out and learn your craft before you move out to the "bigger and better houses." At that point, I have to cringe. Harlequin is far from a simple "training ground" for the inexperienced writers. Writing books for a given line, and being able to produce books that continually provide, as one of the lines states, "a big story in a small package," is not as easy as many authors think.

First of all, Harlequin is not simply about shorter length books. While the stories are indeed shorter, the story still has to be there containing, for the most part, all of the same things the larger books contain. Harlequin focuses on the characters and the relationship. I have to say, that for many of the stories that I read coming across my desk, I wish more authors would take the time to remember that. Somehow, in the larger format, many authors seem to wander off course and forget the central story-line of their stories.

One of the second elements to remember with Harlequin would be the clear divisions in their lines. While some would seem to think the story lines blend with one another, there really is a clear division. Let's look at one in particular:


Length: 50,000–100,000 words
Senior Editor: Natashya Wilson
Editorial Office: New York

First of all, you will notice there is a lot of flexibility with the word count. Still, keeping the story somewhere in the middle is always a safe bet.

Harlequin Teen is…
Fresh, authentic teen fiction featuring extraordinary characters and extraordinary stories set in contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, science-fiction and historical worlds.

Again, you will notice there is a lot of flexibility here. Still this does not mean you can just do anything. Reading further will explain more...

We’re looking for commercial, high-concept stories that capture the teen experience and will speak to readers with power and authenticity.

This is the key with this line. If you don't understand teens, this is not the line to be writing for. Too often, authors seem to think that if you insert "teens" into your story, it becomes a YA. This is far from the truth. This story needs to be high quality commercial that will "capture the teen experience." In other words, it has to be something that teens, who normally don't read, will want to read.

All subgenres are welcome, so long as the book delivers a relevant reading experience that will resonate long after the book’s covers are closed. We expect that many of our stories will include a compelling romantic element.

Please note the line, "we expect that many of our stories will include a compelling romantic element." Remember that Harlequin is a romance line. Books like DIARY OF A WIMPY KID is lacking that romance element. While it is something many kids love reading, it simply isn't what they are looking for.
Harlequin Teen is a single-title program dedicated to building authors and publishing unique, memorable young-adult fiction. Stories with the unforgettable romance, characters and atmosphere of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga, the witty humor of Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries novels, the edgy emotion of Jay Asher’s Th1rteen R3asons Why, the thrilling danger of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, the futuristic world-building of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies, and the power of Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief are examples of the range and depth of projects that we’re seeking.

This section is key. They are openly telling you books that have that same "pull" they are looking for in a book. No, they are not saying to copy these books or to only use the genres, but to really take the time to dissect what the authors were doing to pull the readers in. What makes Mia or Edward so appealing to the readers?

Submission guidelines:
We are currently accepting agented submissions only. Agents, please submit a partial or complete manuscript with full synopsis, either as a hard copy or as an e-mail attachment.

Ahhh, note this. No submitting right now. You won't get far with this one if you don't have an agent.

Now, while this sounds simple, take a look at any of the other sub-lines. You need to really understand the books. Also, you need to realize that your books will only fit these lines. Submitting to an agent telling me your book would be perfect with St. Martin's Press, or at Harlequin clearly tells me you haven't done your research.

As I started this entry, I love working with Harlequin. My authors love their editors and the dedication the company has provided to them while they pursue their careers. For anyone who has been thinking this is simply that "training ground" I dare you, see if you can write one of their stories. You might find it is harder than you think.

Have a great weekend. I'm off to work at a swim meet!



  1. I grew up adoring Harelquin books and their authors still number amongst my favorites.

    Anyone who considers Harlequin a "starter house" is probably a "grass is always greener" person. Instead of envying the grass on the other side of the fence, a prudent gardener would nurture and fertilize her own.

    Great post!