Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Category to Single Title: It's More Than Word Count
During one of the first few years of opening Greyhaus Literary Agency, myself and one of my interns spent a year dissecting and studying the differences between Category (or sometimes called Series) romance and Single Title. We had heard editors and other agents make comment such as "that really has a category voice" so we went out to really look at what that was. I bring this up because I have seen a recent spike in authors who really do seem to miss the mark when it comes to understanding that it is more than word count.
Too often authors will submit stories to me believing it fits one of the category romance lines I represent, but they do so strictly because of the word count. For example, Harlequin Intrigue looks for stories that are 55,000-60,000 words in length. Compare this to a single title romantic suspense line that will run at least 75,000 words but extend up into the 100K word count. Regardless, these authors because they have a shorter story, believe it is a great fit.
On the other side of that coin, are authors who want to write single title stories or have stories that are in the 90,000 word count range. They simply feel that because the story is longer, it is now single title.
There really is a huge difference between the two styles of writing, and it all comes down to the voice. Now, the word count does play a factory in understanding the voice. Remember that with a smaller word count, authors will leave things out and the focus their attention on different things than the single title authors would focus in on.
The category romance is all about the romance and relationship building. This is a focused study of the growing relationship between these two characters. While there may be subplots in the story, these will be kept to a minimum. In essence, think of this like filming a movie. Category romance has limited cameras so it can only view individual things one at a time. No sweeping landscapes but the intimacy of the moment.
For single title, because there is a larger word count, there is the room and luxury to "use more cameras". Authors can develop those subplots to create some added depth. More characters can be added to round out the scene. And yes, the story can focus on more things.
But here is where the authors miss the point. The difference is also in the voice and the depth of the storytelling. This is not saying that category and series stories "lack depth". Instead, it is the focus and the intensity of the individual moment. In fact, one of the Harlequin editors (can't remember who said it) described these stories as being "really big stories in a small package." This means that the author is focusing on word economy, leaving off the unnecessary verbiage frequently found in single title, and concentrating the attention on the characters and their plot. With single title, the authors will linger more on scenes and moments. What a category author would do in a page or two would be stretched out to 5+ pages or a full chapter.
Authors have to understand that just "adding stuff" to your story is not going to make it a single title. Some authors have literally told me they can "just put in a few more subplots and characters to get the word count up there." The problem with this is that they now have a 90,000 word category romance. It was just longer. The authors did not focus in on how the story sounds.
I should note, that writing one style of writing is not better than writing another. This is often a huge misconception. Somehow, the belief is that writing single title creates a stronger story. Nope! The story is just different.