Harlequin Desire – by Bronwyn Jameson

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter,
Hearts Talk, in April, 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. **Silhouette Desire is now Harlequin Desire.

(In this case Bron has kindly updated the article so all information is current as of this date – Thanks Bron. 🙂 )

Published out of Harlequin’s New York offices, Harlequin Desire is one of the bestselling series in America, Australia and internationally.

Debuting in 1982, Desire was initially an American focussed line which produced stars such as Stephanie James (Jayne Ann Krentz), Erin St Claire (Sandra Brown), Elizabeth Lowell and Diana Palmer. In the past decade eleven Australian and New Zealand authors have sold to Desire. Ten were first sales; all have sold books featuring local settings and characters.  Evidence suggests that this line is very open to our voice and our stories.

So, what kind of stories suit Desire?

Bronwyn Jameson asked five of our local authors plus former Senior Editor, Krista Stroever, to share their viewpoint on what makes a saleable Desire.

Debut author Rachel Bailey quotes the guidelines (found on eHarlequin.com): “filled to the brim with strong, intense storylines. When I was writing the books I sold, I kept that at the forefront of my mind. Every scene, I tried to fill with intensity. To me, that means lots of emotion and high stakes. For example, the heroine in THE BLACKMAILED BRIDE’S SECRET CHILD is torn between still loving the hero and not being able to be honest with him (because she’s hiding his secret child.) Both the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ are strong, leading to intensity. And writing for Desire is about intensity, intensity, intensity.”

Maxine Sullivan agrees on intense and dramatic storylines, even when told with a lighter voice.  “In my April Desire, HIS RING, HER BABY, the story revolves around a wealthy cattle station owner and his housekeeper, who ends up his pretend fiancée. Other Desire authors have used the emale superstar singer and the millionaire businessman, the Count and the heiress, the wealthy military man and the fake wife, the CEO and his assistant, the wealthy rancher and his female hired hand. Office romances are popular, as are secret babies, pretend mistresses, revenge plots and  gold-digger themes. ”

Paula Roe has always been conscious of using popular storylines and hooks. Her first Desire sale had amnesia, secret pregnancy and lovers reunited.  Her second was an office romance with family secrets.  The third includes a forced marriage and an accidental pregnancy, while her next features revenge and a baby-related secret.

The Desire editors are looking for authors who take these classic hooks and turn them on their heads or who tell them with a strong engaging voice. Krista Stroever suggests Maya Banks as an author who
adds a modern twist on the traditional and the continuity series, KINGS OF THE BOARDROOM, for dramatic takes on classic storylines.

Paula Roe talks more about storyline twists. “The heroine’s ‘secret baby’ may not be the hero’s but his dead brother’s… or perhaps it’s not the heroine’s.  The ‘office romance’ is not just about the hero seducing his assistant… she could be a corporate spy.  And ‘marriage of convenience’?  Instead of a will stipulation or to save a company, it could be to gain custody of a baby or to provide security from a violent ex.  Or the heroine’s twin could be the one originally married to the hero!”

Whatever the storyline, it must offer drama and conflict right from the opening page.


From the guidelines: They should be fast-paced reads, and present the hero and heroine’s conflict by the end of chapter one.

To Paula Roe, a story is fast-paced if it completely engages the reader, so she is flying through the pages, unable to put the book down.  “It means cutting out unnecessary paragraphs that can lose a reader’s attention – information dumps, paragraphs of introspection and unnecessary description.  It
doesn’t, however, mean you should skimp on plot, GMC or emotion.”

As for the conflict, while it may initially be tied up in the external situation, the emotional depth of
these stories comes from internal conflict which is exacerbated by every external trigger.  The best Desires build layers of conflict which develop and deepen through every scene until the dramatic black moment when all seems lost.

Krista Stroever emphasized that the focus should be quite tight on the developing romance and the turmoil of the conflicts.  Too much going on externally, too many secondary characters, too much
description of exotic settings, can overwhelm the story.  The hero-heroine dynamic is key, so who are these characters?


From the guidelines:  The Desire hero should be powerful, wealthy… While he may be harsh and direct, he is never physically cruel.

Yes, he’s an alpha. As suggested by the titles, this line is rich J with powerful tycoons, arrogant princes, entitled billionaires and titled aristocrats, but it’s important to note that proviso.  Krista Stroever says  that the editors have been seeing some really dark heroes in the slush file.

According to Yvonne Lindsay the Desire alpha is a different beast to other alphas.  “Yes, he can be domineering and his decisions, to the heroine’s mind at least, can be questionable, but there’s a softer edge to him. He’s no less manly, no less appealing, but it’s this edge that makes the heroine see the
vulnerability and caring deep inside of him.

In recent line edits my editor wouldn’t allow my hero to be irritated or outright angry with my heroine. He could direct those emotions on himself, but not at her. In one scene, his kiss was changed to ‘possessive’ rather than ‘punishing.’  As Lana Turner once said, ‘A gentleman is simply a patient wolf’ and Desire heroes are gentlemen.”

Paula Roe adds that because we’re in his POV quite often, we get to see his conflict and vulnerabilities.  “I find that because of this, when the hero needs to take charge, his actions will be more sympathetic and, therefore, justifiable to the reader.”

From the guidelines:  The Desire heroine is complex and flawed. She is strong-willed and smart though capable of making terrible mistakes.

The mistakes, however, need to be motivated sympathetically.  If the heroine is a corporate spy or is  keeping a baby secret from its father or is allowing herself to be blackmailed, then she better have a good reason.  Desire is the heroine’s story (see guidelines); her decisions and actions drive the story.  Her strong will enables her to stand up to an autocratic alpha when necessary; her smarts allow her to match wits with him.  And that dynamic between two strong, engaging but conflicted characters is the heart of Desire.

Bronwyn’s current release is BestsellerCollection, Zane: The Wild One & Quade: The Irresistible One.

You can visit her at: www.bronwynjameson.com and she blogs with 25 other Desire authors at: http://community.eharlequin.com/content/silhouette-desire-author-blog

Leave a comment


  1. Hi Bron,
    You are always such an amazing source of knowledge. Thanks for another great blog 🙂 A great resource for anyone targetting Desire.

  2. Jennifer St George

     /  August 20, 2011

    Hi Bron

    Thanks so much to you and the other authors for sharing insights!! Very helpful. Jen St G


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