Silhouette Special Edition or ‘Come on in, the water’s fine!’ with Lilian Darcy

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in August, 2010. Due to the passage of time, some information in the article may no longer be relevant. Please ensure you research your chosen genre thoroughly  before submitting.

Unless there’s someone I’m missing (if so, please speak up!) seems like I’m the only Silhouette Special Edition author in the country right now. It’s a great line to write for, and maybe after you’ve read this article, you’ll be inspired to try. As in almost all category romance lines, they are genuinely on the lookout for new authors, and you don’t have to have an agent to get your foot in the door.

It’s also a great line to move into if you’ve been published  elsewhere and are looking for more scope and wider exposure in the market.  Special Edition sells well! The books make regular appearances on the Borders  Group Series Romance Bestsellers list, and many Special authors have successful  careers as single title authors in addition to writing for the line.

The Basics

Six books a month, word count 55,000 – 60,000, home (and  largest) market the USA.

Contemporary category romance, tagged as “Life, Love and  Family.” The books are currently appearing in Australia as “Special Moments”.

Going Deeper

For a start, let’s take a closer look at that whole “life,
love and family” thing. To me, the underlying focus of the line is a woman’s
search for her place. In the modern world, this can be a complex and demanding  quest.

Balancing work and personal life, dealing with family tensions
and responsibilities, finding romance after parenthood, belonging somewhere,  making ends meet, holding to the right values.

Of course the romance must take centre stage, but it’s often
balanced or reflected, complicated or hindered by the other elements in the
heroine’s life that she needs to get right. When the hero and heroine attain
their happy ever after at the book’s end, their romance has not only given them  that unique form of bliss but has made sense of the other elements of their  lives as well. A little boy has a new mother. A rootless man settles into a happy home. A woman finds contentment in a deeper understanding and acceptance  of who she is.

Senior Editor Gail Chasan and Editor Susan Litman speak of
the line being “inclusionary” and “relatable”. Each reader needs to be able to
find a part of herself in a Special Edition heroine, even if the story places
that heroine in extraordinary circumstances. While making the romance work in a
traditional and satisfying sense, it’s possible to tackle challenging issues or
turn time-honoured romance hooks inside out.

 Sensuality

While the line isn’t sold on its high level of sensuality,
as is Harlequin Blaze, for example, there’s scope to write sizzling and lengthy
love scenes if they fit the story and the context of the romance. If you’re not
comfortable writing hot sex, then you can pull back. It really comes down to
your voice and what works for each individual set of characters.

Hooks and Premises

Gail and Susan are both very clear on where traditional hooks
fit into the line. Yes, they sell. Secret babies, Western settings, brides,
pregnancies, reunion romances… go for it! But give them your own stamp, your
own twist. Don’t write a secret baby story with an “Okay, if I have to,”
attitude, or include a traditional hook as a token selling point. Instead, make
it fresh and relevant, fun and different, or even shocking, and always integral
to the plot.

The line is open to challenging story premises as well. Over
the past couple of years there have been amputees and breast cancer survivors
as heroines. Susan Litman says, “We’re looking for authors who can incorporate these
more serious and more meaningful elements in a way that still balances with the
romance.” Gail and Susan also stress that if you’re just starting out, it’s probably
best not to be too out there in your story ideas. Those are best left to more
experienced authors who are ready to stretch their boundaries.

Voice

As in almost all category romance lines, your voice is one of
your biggest assets as an author. Special Edition isn’t about edge-of-your-seat plotting, elaborate worldbuilding, shocking twists in every chapter. It’s about  the way your unique voice makes readers perceive the world they already know.
You can be down-to-earth, lyrical, emotional, sassy…. Just you, whoever you
are. Fitting with the real life elements of the line, humour is welcomed, too.
We’re not talking about slapstick or forced comedy but the kind of humour that
really happens in life – a clever line from the hero at the just right moment,
a quirky situation that has you groaning and grinning at the same time,
laughter through tears.

Who To Read

Christine Rimmer, Karen Templeton and Susan Mallery are all
successful and prolific authors in the line. Try Marie Ferrarella for an author
who has managed to be incredibly prolific (over 120 books) in a whole swathe of
different lines over the years. Brenda Harlen, Rae-Anne Thayne, Ruth Wind and
Kathleen Eagle are great, too. Find your own favourites. As always, read the
back cover blurbs, dip into the first couple of pages, discover the authors you
have an affinity for and learn from them.

Nora Roberts also wrote extensively for Special Edition during
her years as a category author, and you can find these books repackaged and
reprinted, usually as duos.

Mini-series

Because of the line’s focus on family and community, there
has been a strong emphasis on linked books over the years. If you’re interested
in the story possibilities offered by linked books – for example, updating
readers on the lives of a hero and heroine from a previous book by including
them as minor characters in a new romance – then Special Edition could be the
line for you. Rimmer’s Bravo Family Ties and Mallery’s Desert Rogues offer great
examples of successful mini-series. Note, however, that you’re not likely to be
given the chance of a mini-series right off the bat. This is generally a privilege
earned by building your name first.

Resources

Sometimes it’s helpful to consider other popular culture offerings
which reflect the tone, values or focus of a particular category line. In this
context, Gail and Susan have talked about TV’s “Brothers and Sisters” and the early
seasons of “Gray’s Anatomy”, as reflecting Special Edition, as well as movies
such as “Definitely Maybe” and “No Reservations”.

For actual tips on writing for the line, look at the (brief)
guidelines on http://www.eharlequin.com
and listen to the two half-hour editor podcasts featuring Randall Toye, Gail Chasan
and Susan Litman. You’ll locate these by clicking on the relevant links under
the Write heading on the home page.

Direct from Gail

Gail was kind enough to contribute to this article with some
exclusive advice for Australian/Pacific authors wanting to write for the line.

Here’s what she has to say:- “We are open to stories set overseas,
but we usually require the heroine to be North American (and realistically,
usually from the U.S.), though not necessarily the hero, and for the story to
have an American slant and POV. We do think of books set overseas as more of a
novelty, and therefore we do them only occasionally. But—a miniseries that has
an American slant even though it’s set overseas would absolutely work in SEs.”

Here, as an example, Gail mentions my own three-book mini-series,
WANTED: OUTBACK BRIDES from 2006, in which three American heroines (Okay, one  was a European princess, but she had an American mother) marry three hunky  outback men.

She goes on to say, “We also want our books that are set in
foreign settings to be realistically descriptive, yet not sound like a travelogue.”

Over to You

I hope this is enough to get some of you inspired to try Special
Edition/Special Moments, as writers and as readers. Lilian’s next release will  be THE MOMMY MIRACLE, released in August 2011.

Visit her at: http://www.liliandarcy.com/

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