Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Interview with Harlequin Editor Johanna Raisanen

I’d like to welcome our guest editor, Johanna Raisanen. It’s a pleasure having you come visit us at Much Cheaper Than Therapy, where chocolate is plentiful and advice is free. So grab some chocolate and a lounge chair. Your therapy session has begun.

What exciting new projects are happening over at Harlequin?

Here are some of the exciting things to look for from Harlequin.
Silhouette Nocturne books is looking to acquire paranormal editorial with strong sexual, fantasy and danger elements for its new eBook program, Nocturne Bites.
Many of the elements that make a Silhouette Nocturne book successful remain true for the Nocturne Bites series. Stories should deliver a dark, highly sensual read that will entertain readers and take them from everyday life into an atmospheric, complex world filled with characters struggling with life and death issues. Only shorter!

Harlequin has also begun a nonfiction program. We are looking for books that will entertain, support, inspire and provide insight to women 35+ years old as their lives and roles evolve and change. We are focused on the following categories: relationships, health, diet, fitness, self-help, inspirational (Christian living) and narrative nonfiction (life memoir/personal memoir, lifestyle memoir, travel memoir and celebrity biographies/autobiographies).

Another new and exciting tidbit is Harlequin will be expanding into the Young Adult market starting with some paranormal stories under our MIRA imprint. We are excited to introduce a new fiction imprint targeted to a younger audience of African-American readers called Kimani TRU. Keep checking our web site for more YA information.

Finally, Harlequin will be celebrating its Diamond Anniversary next year—60 years of romance! Look for a year of celebration in all of our series. We’re still planning all of the special stories, so keep checking our Web site, eHarlequin.com, for news.

Can you give us a little history about Harlequin?

Here’s the history of Harlequin, as our PR department told me:

Canadian publishing executive Richard Bonnycastle founded Harlequin in 1949. In the early years, the small firm published a wide variety of American and British paperbacks—from mysteries and Westerns to classics and cookbooks. It wasn’t until 1957 that Harlequin began buying rights from Mills & Boon, British publishers of romance fiction since 1909. Mary Bonnycastle, wife of the founder, noticed the enormous popularity of these "nice little books with happy endings," and suggested the company concentrate on them. By 1964, Harlequin was publishing romance exclusively.

In 1971, Harlequin purchased Mills & Boon—and the romantic talents of more than one hundred British authors. Between 1972 and 1984, overseas acquisitions, joint venture partnerships and licensee arrangements brought the total number of Harlequin markets to 100, and sales soared from 3 million in 1970 to the present worldwide total of 131 million.

Harlequin also launched its highly successful North American direct mail operation. Following this, direct mail services were successfully started in the UK, Australia, Holland, France and Scandinavia and more are being developed.

By the end of the decade, Harlequin had established itself as the world’s leading series romance publisher and by 1981 was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canadian communications giant Torstar Corporation, publisher of Canada’s largest metropolitan daily newspaper, The Toronto Star.

At the same time, Harlequin’s editorial lineup began growing from the 8 titles a month available in 1970 to the more than 120 titles it now publishes per month—each with its own personality and readership, and most available in 26 languages.

In 1984, Harlequin joined forces with one of its most spirited competitors by purchasing Simon & Schuster’s Silhouette imprint. Today, Silhouette novels appear beside Harlequin titles on shelves around the world, making Harlequin the world’s most prolific publisher of paperback novels.

The year 1994 was one of tremendous growth for Harlequin. The company entered the single title publishing environment with MIRA Books, it’s mainstream women’s fiction imprint, and has achieved startling success including #1 bestsellers on the New York Times, USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.. Single title imprints launched since 2000 include HQN (romance), Spice (erotica), Red Dress Ink (chick lit), Steeple Hill (inspirational), Steeple Hill Café (hip inspirational) and Luna Books (fantasy).

Harlequin moved online into the brave new world of e-commerce and e-publishing in 1996 with the creation of a web site which it renovated and re-launched as eHarlequin.com in 2000. Digitally, Harlequin’s ebooks are consistent bestsellers on ebook lists such as eReader.com. Harlequin also offers audiobooks, digitally downloadable short stories (Spice Briefs and the Harlequin Mini), mobile phone content and podcasts.

In 1997, Harlequin topped the inspirational romance market with Steeple Hill, while under two specially created imprints, Worldwide Mysteries and Gold Eagle Books, Harlequin had long been active in the mystery and male action adventure markets.

Harlequin Enterprises launched Kimani Press, its African-American imprint in 2006. Kimani press includes single title and series books. The publisher has also announced plans to publish non-fiction books.

When you add it all up, Harlequin has shipped approximately 5.5 billion books since 1949 and looks forward to the writing of many more chapters in a remarkable publishing story.
Wow! What a story, eh? (yep) KW

What are your top five pet peeves a new writer makes?

The answer to this and the next question is the same in terms of the actual writing. For new writers, I’d say a pet peeve is submitting an incomplete synopsis. Don’t give editors cliff hangers, saying we’ll find out how the story ends if we ask for the full manuscript. Chances are we won’t bother. And the other pet peeve is receiving a submission that clearly doesn’t fit the line I acquire for. Do your homework. Research the series/imprints/lines you want to write for. Read the books being published.

As for pet peeves in writing, as I mentioned, they’re the same for published and unpublished writers:

1. Misunderstanding as conflict. If what’s keeping your hero and heroine apart can be cleared up with a frank discussion, that’s not true conflict. Conflict and dramatic tension are what drives a story. In a romance, the happy ending is a given, so writers need to throw real obstacles in the path of the couple. Make the reader wonder—for a moment at least—how they’re going to achieve their happy ending.

2. Overexplanation. If your characters are having a conversation where one person is saying something the other would reasonably know—you’re overexplaining. If a character is having an internal monologue about why he/she is doing something—you’re overexplaining. Exposition and overexplanation are a disservice to your reader. You’re assuming she can’t keep up with what’s happening and you need to hit her over the head, pointing out what’s going on. It also slows the pacing, making the story boring.

3. Stereotypical, one-dimensional characters not properly motivated. Readers want to identify with the characters they read about. If a character is too good or too sweet or too evil they aren’t real, and you risk losing a reader’s interest because they don’t believe in your characters. A character’s actions must also be logical—they must be something that person would do (this helps to make the characters more real). Their motivations must be believable. I find a common pitfall is making villains so over-the-top evil that they are laughable. Isn’t the villain who is friendly and charming, yet a cold-blooded killer more scary?

4. Over the top writing. As Strunk and White say in their classic book on writing, The Elements of Style: “Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able.” I couldn’t have said it better. There is a tendency to use overblown language in highly emotional scenes. But that type of language actually takes away from the emotion. Keep it simple!

5. Accidents and coincidences to move the plot. I’ll quote Robert McKee’s book, Story: “Story creates meaning. Coincidence, then, would seem our enemy, for it is the random, absurd collisions of things in the universe and is, by definition, meaningless. And yet coincidence is a part of life… The solution, therefore, is not to avoid coincidence, but to dramatize how it may enter life meaninglessly, but in time gain meaning, how the antilogic of randomness becomes the logic of life-as-lived.” If you pile up coincidences in your story, they become meaningless and absurd. Accidents can happen, too, but often they are a contrived method to make characters act a certain way. An accident takes rational decision-making out of your characters’ hands, forcing them to react to the situation.

What are your top five pet peeves a published author makes?

See the above answer.

What old trend or new trend do you see in publishing for Harlequin?

Trends are tricky to predict, because the market is cyclical. What was popular diminishes, but never goes away entirely. Then often comes back into favor. Right now, erotica and paranormal are riding the popular wave. Tomorrow, who knows? Maybe someone out there will come up with the new hot trend?

What catches your eye in a new writer’s work?

Strong characters with believable motivations, fast-paced and engaging writing, a well-thought-out plot and conflict. And of course, great writing.

For the submission process, what do you want from an author ? What is your response time?

We accept partial proposals (synopsis and three chapters) at Harlequin American Romance. But I recommend checking eHarlequin.com for full submission guidelines as some lines may vary. Generally we try to respond to submissions within three months.

What new author have you recently signed?

Last year I signed two new American Romance authors—Lisa Ruff, whose first book is called Man of the Year and is on shelves in June 2008 and Trish Milburn, whose book, A Firefighter in the Family, is out in September 2008. Be sure to check them out!

Any other chocolate nuggets you can give authors looking to break into your house?

I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to do your research. Find the line or imprint you like and get a sense of the type of stories that are being published. Read the line. You need to decide where your voice and your story fits.

Best of luck to all, and happy writing!

Thanks Johanna.

Check out Harlequin’s website at www.eHarlequin.com


kc heath said...

Will the new line of "Sensual" books include erotica? If so, what are the guidelines?

Trish Milburn said...

Hi, Johanna! Thanks for the mention.

And I like the name of this blog. :)

Minna said...

Hello from Finland!
That was very interesting interview!

PamelaTracy said...

Hi Johanna,
Lots of great information. It's always good to revisit pet peeves and do a self evaluation. I enjoyed meeting you at the Desert Dreams conference. Have agreat day!

Monica M said...

Very nice in-depth interview. I enjoyed reading it all. And how fun to see my friend Trish M get mentioned as a newly signed author! I can't wait to see "Firefighter" show up on the bookshelves!

Trish Milburn said...

Hey, Minna. We keep bumping into each other. :)

Waving at Monica! :)

Janice Lynn said...

Can't wait for Trish's book!!

Hi Minna!! & Monica!!

Natalie Hatch said...

Thanks for the insight, now I have more to read....

Tina LaVon said...

Thanks for stopping by, Johanna. I always love to hear what's new at Harlequin.

Anonymous said...

Good interview, Tina. Johanna gave out a lot of information. Especially loved the pet peeves. :D