Fresh Formulas

fresh-formulas

Some have a hard time appreciating the talent involved in writing genre fiction. By genre fiction, I mean novels that fall into a defined category such as contemporary romance, historical romance, romantic suspense, or cozy mystery. Many of these novels are published by mass market publishers (like Harlequin) and fit in lines they have formed for the sole purpose of selling the genre.

These are distinguished from Trade fiction where there isn’t necessarily a specific line that has been formed to sell a genre, although there are exceptions to that “rule” like the “Love Finds You” series from Summerside Press. In publisher’s lingo “trade” means a 5 1/2″ by 8 1/2″ trim size and is probably between 80,000 and 100,000 words in length. “Genre” or “category” fiction can mean the 4″ by 6″ trim size (also known as mass market) and between 50,000 words and 70,000 words.

Critics think genre writers churn out story after story with little variation…following a proscribed formula. And while opportunities to be published in genre fiction are more plentiful than trade simply because genre lines publish a greater number of titles (see the statistics incorporated into this blog post), editors are nevertheless highly selective. They must be, because readers are right to be demanding, and genre authors must be dedicated to the craft.

Success

To be successful with a line, stay fresh and new while following the genre’s rules. When thinking of genre fiction, I like to visualize a box that needs to be filled with a story. The rules of the box include a strict word count. If you’re writing for a genre line, be sure to stay with the word count.

Guidelines for plot are concrete. For instance, with romance, the story of the hero and heroine must take precedence over anything else. The romance cannot be overshadowed, for example, by a murder mystery, a setting becoming a character in its own right, or a subplot involving secondary characters. Because of these guidelines, readers can rely on certain types of books to provide them with the stories they expect. In an uncertain world — and the world is always an uncertain place except for God’s enduring love — seeking genre books again and again offers readers comfort along with entertainment.

Twists and Turns

Once the writer learns the rules within the box, then what? Know that editors are looking for fresh ideas within the parameters of the genres they edit. To get an idea of what might work, read books from the line you are targeting. See what themes work. Concentrate on those that capture your imagination.

Interested in history? Consider researching real events that can launch a novel. For contemporary or historical, find a unique obstacle that will confront your characters so the reader has no idea how they can overcome it, and wrap a romance or mystery around it. Then plot and write. The author who stays within the rules of the line, yet comes up with a variation or twist on a beloved theme, is likely to find success and avid readers.

Your turn:

Do you read genre fiction? What are some fresh ideas you have enjoyed seeing in recent books?

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Let Creativity Flow (Part Four)

Great discussions on creativity, everyone. Just reading your comments is sparking my creativity! So here are the last of my thoughts on what you can do when that well of ideas seems to have run dry:

Take a Time Out. Remember how that works? Time outs? When you were a kid and got a little out of control, Mom sent you to the Time Out chair to cool off. Well, this is a similar principle. Too often we try too hard, which only makes creativity that much harder to find. So take a time-out. Give yourself time to play, to move, to get out of the house, away from your everyday life. Get out in nature. The woods, the ocean, a local park. Go to the library. Go to a museum and let the beauty of other people’s creativity wash over you. Go to the gun range and, as my hubby calls it, “plink.” Take a break from being an adult. Getting away from “it all,” at least once in a while, is restorative.

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News You Can Use – Jan. 31, 2012

Amazon’s Hit Man – The is a very good article about Larry Kirshbaum the new head of Amazon’s Trade Publishing division. Every serious writer should read this article. Take the time, it is only 3,400 words. Source is Blomberg’s Business Week magazine.

Is There Hope for Barnes & Noble? – an interesting take by Rich Adin.

Why Are We Obsessed with What’s New? – Maria Popova reviews a book that explored this sociological phenomenon. Oh, by the way, the book is new… 🙂

How to Read a Book – Chad Hall explores the various ways to read. I do a lot of #4.

Will Non-Fiction E-books Achieve the Same Success as Fiction? – Laurel Marshfield explores why e-book fiction outsells e-book non-fiction and whether that will ever change.

Do You Sit at the Computer All Day? – Then read this life-saving article from LifeHacker.

This is a very creative short film (15 minutes), watch it with your kids! It is also an incredible interactive iPad app. Check it out.

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Clarification on Sale of Heartsong to Harlequin

New information has surfaced regarding the sale of Heartsong to Harlequin.

In my post on Friday I made the assumption that the sale included all the backlist and the currently contracted titles. This was reflected in point #5 in the post.

That is not the case. Harlequin did not buy the backlist or the currently contracted titles. Those will remain the property of Barbour Publishing. Thus future repackaging opportunities remain for those titles. That also includes the Heartsong e-books that Barbour is releasing under the “Truly Yours” banner (also mentioned in #5 in that previous post).

Harlequin bought the brand name and the club mailing list, not the books themselves.

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Barbour Sells Heartsong to Harlequin

Today Barbour Publishing announced they have sold their Heartsong Presents line of inspirational romances to Harlequin.

For those of us who have been wondering about the eventual buyer, this comes as no surprise. We have known they were being sold since last Fall. In December I spoke with Barbour’s president, Tim Martins, and he confirmed that the sale was in its last stages of negotiation but he could not say who the buyer would be. With their Love Inspired lines of Christian romance, suspense, and historical titles and a strong member subscription base Harlequin is well suited to sustain the Heartsong line for years to come.

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What Does That Mean?

Some time ago, I was writing a story and used a variation of the sentence, “He wished he could be fly on the wall when they had that conversation.” This puzzled my critique partner, who didn’t know it meant. She had never heard the expression “fly on the wall” before and didn’t know it meant the character could be an unobtrusive observer. I decided to change the sentence for fear others wouldn’t understand, either.

I grew up in rural Virginia, and we had some unusual local expressions. Consider:

ugly as homemade soap

screaming bloody murder

grumpy as an old sitting hen

bleeding like a killing hog

slow as molasses on a December morning

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Let Creativity Flow (Part Three)

We all know how elusive creative can be at times. You’ve shared some great ways to get those juices flowing. Here are a few more ideas.

Keep an Evidence Journal. Write down your God Stories. The times you saw God act. The times you felt His touch and presence. Do it with story or just key words. But get it down on paper. When God moves in your day, write it down. When someone speaks truth to your heart, write it down. When you struggle, write it down. Remember the children of Israel were told to write these truths on the doorposts that they might not forget all God had done for them. Then, when you’ve done that for awhile, go back and read what you wrote. It’s so easy to forget God’s faithfulness. What a blessing to have solid, firm evidence of His action, His presence in our lives, in our passion.

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News You Can Use – Jan. 24, 2012

The Secrets Behind the Bestseller List – Ever wonder how those lists are compiled? The Sacramento Bee takes a stab at uncovering the secret.

3 Important Questions about Digital that No One is Asking – Nick Atkinson adds to the ongoing discussion in a sharp manner.

Do Book Bloggers Still Matter? – Beth Kephart asks whether this form of marketing has any influence any more.

10 Bits of Advice to Stop Giving Writers – Nick Mamatas presents a contrarian view of the kinds of things we are teaching at writers conferences and in our blogs. Agree or disagree?

Is Profanity Okay to Use as Part of Your Writing? – Relevant Magazine has this provocative take on profanity in music lyrics. My mom would have washed his mouth out with soap.

The New Logo of a Combined Zondervan and Thomas Nelson – Just Kidding! Robert Treskillard engages in some fun speculation and adds in his own graphic design talents.

Amazon is Gunning to Put Traditional Publishers Out of Business – An anonymous publisher spills his opinions to Sarah Lacy at PandoDaily.

Watch this quick video about the things that have all but disappeared because of technology:

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The Bestseller Code

Take the Bestseller Code test. I dare you.

The web site www.thebestsellercode.com is fascinating. Through some mysterious algorithm it evaluates about 500 words of your novel and grades it on a scale of one to twenty (1 to 20).

Does it work? I gave it a try with a recent proposal from a bestselling client. I took the first page and a half and plugged it into the test. It scored 20.0. A Perfect Score!

Then I took the first page and a half from a recent unsolicited novel and plugged it into the test. It only scored 4.6…out of 20. I had to agree, that sample was awful.

Now is your chance for fun. Go to the site and get your score. Then come back here and tell us in the comments, if you are brave.

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