Superromance: Write Real

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in November, 2008. 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.

Harlequin Superromance — romance has never felt more real!

The tagline says it in a nutshell. Write real for Superromance. If you’re targeting the line, think contemporary, believable romance with a modern tone, incorporating today’s women’s concerns.

Because Super’s core value is home and family it’s easy for aspiring writers to think the line is limited (dare I say tame 🙂 ) in its scope. Wrong!

Here are some examples of recent plotlines.

A Kiwi developer inherits custody of three kids with his ex wife, the woman he divorced because he blamed himself for the cot death of their son. (Second- Chance Family, Karina Bliss).

An Atlanta businessman uses an abandoned baby to beef up the public’s perception of him as a great guy. (Abby Gaines, The Diaper Diaries).

A heroine opens the door to an adult son she gave up for adoption at sixteen…the product of rape. The hero is one of the suspects. (Tara Taylor Quinn – Sara’s Son).

A hero who fathered not one but two babies to different girls as a teenager, then married out of duty and lost the woman he loved. (Joan Kilby – How to Trap a Parent.)

Wow, right?

Superromance accepts a huge diversity of plots – from romantic suspense to family sagas, and Westerns. Sensuality levels range from sweet to multiple love scenes depending on the author’s preference. What all Supers have in common is that family relationships are complicating the hero and heroine’s life and their romantic happy-ever-after.

Note: Family could comprise some or all of the following: parents, cousins, friends, siblings and kids (not necessarily the hero/heroine’s own).

Super expects subplots and minor characters and you can even write scenes in a secondary character’s point of view. But remember all your secondary characters are in the book to add depth to the reader’s understanding of the hero and heroine. That means your subplots/minor characters have to complicate the romance in some way. A great example cited by senior editor Wanda Ottewell is that if the heroine’s goal is to get her long-lost brother home, the brother has to be someone the hero doesn’t want to see.

Author Abby Gaines who specializes in secondary romances, says “whether the secondary is a contrast (the main hero can’t find it in himself to trust the heroine, but the secondary hero takes everything on trust); OR a parallel (the main hero and heroine are reuniting, and so are the heroine’s parents); OR a spur to action for the main hero and heroine – the writer needs to make sure that tie exists.

“You’ll usually have more than one option for a subplot in your story,” continues Abby. “Make sure to choose the one that raises the stakes the most in the main romance. When I submitted my forthcoming Superromance, The Groom Came Back (Jan 09), to my editor, she pointed out that I’d overlooked the opportunity to write a subplot about the hero’s parents, which would have directly im- pacted him more than the subplot I’d chosen about his aunt. She was right, which meant I had to rip out seventy pages of my story and rewrite them with different characters. Ouch! If I’d thought harder about it before I started, I could have avoided that pain.”

Super editors buy on voice, which explains the huge diversity of tone and writing styles in the line. So you get lyrical writers, staccato writers, comic writers and writers who make you reach for the hanky.

Aussie-based author Joan Kilby says she loves writing for Superromance precisely because of this freedom. “In my own books I’ve run the gamut from tear-jerking drama to light comedy with never any suggestion from my editor that I should stick to a certain type of story.”

Super editor Victoria Curran wants manuscripts with a genuinely individual quality. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I see unpublished stories with saleable ‘hooks’ and a plot that appears to be exactly what we’d publish for Superromance (babies, pregnancy, cowboy, dysfunctional family),” she says. “Yet the story is middle of the road and doesn’t make it to contract. What lifts a manuscript above the pack, given similar story substance? The editors have to believe the characters have a life outside the pages they’re on.

“The form of a romance has to be boy meets girl, something keeps them apart, eventually they get together and live happily ever after—predictable. Because of that, we’re looking for stories that surprise us with unexpected and unpredictable internalization, dialogue and plotting. Ultimately, we want Superromance readers to wonder how on earth this hero and this heroine are ever going to get together in the end. In my mind, that’s what ‘manuscripts with a genuinely individual quality’ means.”

Victoria says the editors: “Welcome stories about characters from other countries (such as Australia and New Zealand), as long as they are identifiable and dealing with recognizable situations for our contemporary — predominantly American — readership. “Relevance” is a word we use a lot in the Harlequin editorial department. We try to publish stories that are relevant to our readership. In the case of Superromance, that means a contemporary story grounded in realism. Not many billionaires and princes in our line!”

But that doesn’t preclude writing heroes or heroines that are movie or rock stars as long as you make sure their career/wealth is only a backdrop to family conflict. For example, I’m currently writing a burnt-out rock star hero but I’ve made damn sure he’s got a Mom with a health problem, a brother whose embezzling him and is idolized by my disapproving heroine’s secret son! His core problem won’t be groupies; it will be finally growing up and accepting familial responsibility.

“My advice to aspiring Super writers,” says Joan Kilby, “would be to concentrate on your characters, bringing an appealing and realistic hero and heroine together in a family-oriented story with as deeply personal a conflict as you can devise.”

Super Tips:

  • Keep it real – in emotions, language and motivation. Avoid clichés or generic, worn-out romance words and phrases. Avoid coincidences and accidents. Believability is vital if you want to sell to Super. Says editor Victoria Curran: “We want to see a similarity in character’s lives with people we know.” To illustrate: Four Super authors, including myself, are writing a miniseries for Harlequin’s 60th anniversary next year. It’s a three generation family saga with a diamond necklace in dispute. In the excellent Diamonds Downunder series by Desire authors the necklace reflected the current wealth of its characters. But in Super, the diamonds represent former glory. See the difference in emphasis?
  • Ask yourself: What inherited patterns/beliefs are your hero and heroine taking into this romance? How is their life and romance complicated by family in the book? The more links you can make between subplots/minor characters and the romantic conflict between the hero and heroine, the stronger (and more plausible) your book’s likely to be.
  • Reading new releases will give you a feel for the line’s core values and how different writers play with them.
  • Google Superromance podcast to access an eharlequin.com interview with Superromance editors Wanda Ottewell and Victoria Curran.
  • Book length: 60,000 to 65,000 words computer count. (Note: Karina has advised that SuperRomance is looking to increase the word count to 85,000 effective on books published from January 2013)
  • Superromance is “definitely looking for new writers.” To submit, send 3 chapters and a 2/3 pagesynopsis to: Victoria Curran, Editor Harlequin Superromance, Harlequin Books, 225 Duncan Mill Road, 6th Floor, Don Mills, Ontario, M3B 3K9, CANADA

Karina Bliss is penning her sixth Super. Her latest release, Second-Chance Family is out November in theUS; December in Australia. Romantic Times chose it as one of October’s Top Picks, giving the book 4.5 stars and calling it “a tremendously well-told story. Bliss’ depiction of her characters’ emotions is perfect.” http://www.karinabliss.com

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5 Comments

  1. Just an update. Aussie author Sarah Mayberry is one of more recent Super’s downunder stars. And I’m now writing my eleventh book for Super. Happy to answer any queries I can by would be Super authors.
    Either here or email me privately – karina@karinabliss.com

    Reply
  2. Another update: Victoria Curran has been promoted to a new role. Submit to Megan Long, Editor.

    Reply
  3. Thanks Karina – I love Sarah’s Supers 🙂

    Also, Emmie Dark is one of the newest Aussie Super writers and her first book (Cassie’s Grand Plan) will be out in the first half of 2012!!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the reminder, I’m looking forward to reading her debut. Aussies and Kiwis seem to have a good voice for the line.

      Reply
  4. Wonderful to read this post and thanks so much for the updates on Supers.
    Suzi

    Reply

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