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.


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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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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The Superiority of Christian Romance Novels

A dedicated reader of the blog (Thank you!) posed an excellent question in response to a recent post:

 Recently, I heard a female Christian marriage counselor/speaker say that women should avoid Christian romance books. She stated there was no such thing as Christian romance. Since she was speaking on the topic of pornography, I assumed she was referring to fiction that leads the reader’s mind where it ought not to go. In my opinion, most romantic Christian fiction does not fall into that category.

My question for you: How would you respond if someone told you Christian romance was sinful, or that there was no such thing? Has that happened to you before?

Last week I responded to the idea that there is no such thing as Christian romance. “Christian Romance – Fact or Fiction?

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Christian Romance — Fact or Fiction?

In response to a recent blog post, “A Matter of Taste,”  a reader asked what I would say if someone claimed there is no such thing as Christian romance.

In fact, I have been confronted with this question before. At a Christian writers’ conference a few years ago, a woman told me in a snide manner that romance is a “fantasy” and walked away before I could respond. I felt especially sad that the woman was no doubt a fellow Christian, but it sounded like it had come from a jaded secularist. I believe this woman’s attitude reflects her own experience rather than the state of Christian publishing. True, not all real life endings are happy, and Christian romance novels traditionally end with the premise that the couple will enjoy a bright future. That is the hope and promise these books offer. Indeed, isn’t that the hope and promise of weddings in real life?

The Lord never promised Christians perfect unions. My heart aches for anyone in a miserable marriage. Hurt people hurt people, so no amount of convincing will change some minds about romance. But God is bigger than any situation, and He heals willing hearts.

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A Matter of Taste

I always enjoy reading comments on our blog posts. Recently a reader posted a provocative question:

In this time of great emotional upheaval, instability, and unrest, aren’t we ready for something more solid and inspiring than just different types of romance novels?

Those of you familiar with my career know that I am the author of many romance novels and stories — and Bible trivia books!

And while I represent a variety of authors in fiction and nonfiction, my list is weighted heavily to romantic stories. I do realize that not everyone has the same taste — nor should we.

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