Erotic Romance

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in April, 2009. 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.

What is Erotic Romance? 

Raelene Gorlinksy, Managing Editor of Ellora’s Cave, points out that many submitting writers aren’t clear on what actually constitutes an Erotic Romance.

They often tend to one extreme or the other. They may go so overboard with the sex that what they are sending us is basically raunchy porn. Or they go the other way and seem to think that any story that even mentions sex would be considered erotic. We get submissions – which the submitter labels hot and erotic — where the extent of the sexual tension is that the hero and heroine are embarrassed when they notice the bulge in his trousers. (It’s always called the bulge.) And the only sex is in the final chapter, where the h/h finally fall into bed together and have a little non-explicit vanilla sex. 

The romance market has heated up in the last couple of years, with authors including blisteringly hot sex scenes, regardless of subgenre. Publishers are also more than willing to slap the erotic label on their books. In fact, it’s almost standard – but this makes the market more than a little confusing for the aspiring writer.

Erotic Romance and Erotica used to be the preserve of online publishers. But when sexually explicit novels and epublishing went through the roof together, the powerful print houses noted the strength of the demand. Now Berkley, Avon, Kensington and the others have erotic imprints, generally available in both print and in ebook format.

So how can Erotic Romance and Erotica be defined? The terms are often used interchangeably. And how do they differ from a book that’s hot or steamy or sensual?

In any romance, the author takes the reader along on every emotional step of the relationship journey. The HEA is obligatory. In a hot romance, we have all this, but the sexual action is pretty explicit as well. However, there will generally be only two or three sex scenes in the book and the writer will work up to it. In general, the vocabulary is relatively discreet and the sex isn’t kinky. In fact, the sex could be toned down without damaging the storyline.

In an Erotic Romance, a romantic relationship develops between characters and is expressed through sexual interaction. It might be kinky in any number of ways, but there’s an HEA (happily ever after). Angela Knight defined it this way:

Erotic romances are romances in which the focus of the story is on the growth of a loving relationship between at least two characters which ends in a permanent commitment between them. Sexual encounters play such an important role in the development of the romance that if the love scenes were removed, key plot events would be missing and the story would collapse. [my bold] 

The HEA is not an intrinsic part of Erotica, though it may be included. Erotica is more about the sexual journey of the characters and romance may, or may not develop.

As for Romantica, this is a term trademarked by Ellora’s Cave – note, by the way, Romance first, Erotica second.

Explicit Versus Crude

If you’re worried about language, then remember that explicit does not equal crude – and crude most definitely does not equal erotic. The writing of Emma Holly is a case in point. It’s lyrical, sensual and complex. Incredibly graphic, but not overburdened with those words.

If something squicks you out, do not write it! Your discomfort will show. Nothing turns a reader off faster. You need to be relaxed to write good sex. Drink a glass of wine, have fun and see if you can make yourself breathless!

The Good News

Being epublished –

  • If you’re prepared to work hard enough (say, four books a year, plus promotion) you can make a decent living.
  • You might get picked up by a big New York publisher. They’re still out there looking for erotic stories.
  • There’s a home somewhere for any length work, from short story to novella to novel.
  • Less stressful than print publication and you get to learn how to work with an editor.
  • No advances, but 35% to 40% of royalties and cheques usually come monthly.
  • You don’t need an agent.

Being print published –

  • Usually means an agent, either before the contract or after.
  • Opens up your work to a huge new world of readers that online publishing cannot reach.
  • Should make you more money. You’ll get an advance and hopefully, royalties.
  • Puts you with the ‘big girls’ and sets you on a career trajectory.

The Bad News

  • There’s an awful lot of truly abysmal stuff out there – shallow characters, banal plots, pedestriansex, clichés galore, poorly edited junk.
  • Readers are jaded. I’m thinking there’s a imit to the boundaries and we’re approaching it pretty fast. I’ve certainly reached mine.
  • Editors are jaded. Suz Gower, my Ellora’s Cave editor, refers to her ‘tingle meter’ with a sorrowful shake of the head. You’ll need to be pretty good to set it off!
  • You’ll make very little money in publishing unless you’re with one of the bigger houses like Ellora’s Cave.

Where is the market for Erotic Romance and Erotica now?

The newest subgenre in the field is homoerotic romance – that’s right, explicit male/ male romance written by straight women for other straight women. At the moment, it’s exclusively online, but it remains to be seen how long the print houses will wait and what action they will take. Fascinating! Torquere Press is a leader in Gay and Lesbian erotic fiction, although all erotic online publishers offer it to some degree.
The market is saturated, but there seems no end to readers’ desire for explicit romance, in both ebook and print. Paranormals give scope for all kind of sexual adventures, with dark, brooding vampires and shapeshifters remaining popular, or there’s BDSM for the ultimate in bossy heroes. But you could write in any subgenre and succeed, provided your story is good enough.Readers are still hungry for well-written Erotic Romance and Erotica. Which is the whole point, really. No amount of sex is a literary ‘get out of jail’ card for lazy writing.
Denise Rossetti started out writing erotic fantasies and paranormals for Ellora’s Cave. She has also written novellas for Avon Red and Berkley. The first of her erotic fantasy series (the Four-Sided Pentacle) for Berkley, The Flame and the Shadow, was released last year. The second, Thief of Light, will be available in November 2009.
Update: Book three in this series, The Lone Warrior was released May 2011 and has garnered a number of awards. Book four, The Dark Rose, will be released on 11 September this year.
In the Phoenix Rising series, the award winning Guilty as Sin was released in 2011.

Visit Denise at for excerpts, a newsletter and a blog.


ADVERBS: Friend or Foe?

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in April, 2009. 

by Michelle Douglas

Oh dear, these comments aren’t painting a particularly pleasant picture of adverbs, are they? I’m seeing news headlines – Adverb Bites The Hand That Feeds It! Unruly Adverb Sends Blockbusting Novel Plummeting To Its Death! Adverb Bores Crowd Silly!

So what exactly is an adverb? And why are so many successful, published writers telling us to treat them as the hairy, scary vampire monsters of the writing world?

Adverbs add meaning to verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Simply put, an adverb tells us how, when or where something happened. Some examples:

 How did the lovers kiss?

  • The lovers kissed passionately.

When will the lovers marry?

  • The lovers will get married tomorrow.

Where did the lovers meet?

  • The lovers met in the garden.

In this light adverbs don’t seem all that sinister. In fact, it looks as if they’re downright essential. So why are we told to drive stakes through their hearts, cut off their heads and stuff them with garlic? For a start, wouldn’t it be foolhardy to avoid time and place adverbs? We need to let our readers know when and where events in our stories happen if we want those stories to make any sense at all. But all these doyens of the writing world can’t be wrong… so what’s the secret?

Stephen King isn’t talking about time and place adverbs when he says: The road to hell is paved with adverbs. He’s talking about adverbs that describe how the action was done – adverbs primarily ending in -ly (passionately, quickly, heavily). These are the ones that can suck the life out of our prose and set us on that path to hell. This is why Dwight Swain (author of Techniques of the Selling Author) suggests substituting action for the adverb. Hence, “The lovers kissed passionately” becomes, “His lips slammed to hers. Desire burst to life and she arched against him, her fingers curling into his hair to draw him closer, a silent order for him not to stop.”

Which one, as a reader, do you experience? Which one creates a picture in your mind?

As writers, it is our job to create an experience for our readers. We’ve all heard the maxim ‘Show don’t tell.’ Generally speaking, adverbs ending in -ly tell, they don’t show, and they’re the sign of a lazy writer. Does this mean, then, that we should go through our prose with wooden stakes to drive through the heart of each and every adverb that ends in -ly?

Absolutely and utterly not!

Henry James says: I adore adverbs; they are the only qualifications I really much respect.

John Gardner gives a wonderful example when he says: Wilson rocks slowly and conscientiously—a startling word that makes the scene spring to life. He also adds: adverbs are either the dullest tools or the sharpest in the novelist’s toolbox. 

One of the main gripes about adverbs is that they are redundant – too often they merely repeat the meaning of the verb. Eg:

  • She ran quickly through the woods
  • He shouted loudly at the dogs
  • She tiptoed quietly to the door.

In all of these instances removing the adverb does not change the meaning of the sentence. In fact, removing the adverb makes each sentence stronger.
So, when is an adverb good? John Gardner gave us the answer above – when it startles. An adverb startles when it modifies the verb in an unexpected way.

She smiled happily. She smiled sadly.

Which do you think is stronger? In the first example ‘happily’ is redundant. The sentence reads better without it. Smiled and sadly, however, is an unlikely pairing. The adverb ‘sadly’ immediately changes our perception of that smile. The song title ‘Killing Me Softly,’ is another example of a good adverb.

A word of warning, though, these wonderful and startling adverbs carry more weight when they are used with a light hand. Stephen King’s problem with adverbs is their tendency to sprout up like dandelions. I forone do not want a story riddled with noxious weeds. Adverbs, like any of the tools at a writer’s disposal, are only useful if we give them the right job to do. So, the next time you pick up you work-in-progress check it over and rate your adverbs – are they really doing the job you want?

Michelle’s third romance The Aristocrat And The Single Mum is an April release and has received 41⁄2 stars from Romantic Times. For more info on Michelle and her books please visit her website at:

The Unending Quest for Perfection

or How to Fine Tune Your Manuscript by Getting Rid of Overused Words

By CC Coburn

Polished that manuscript until it shines? Ready to print that puppy and send it to your editor/agent or contest judge? Hold it right there!

You could be damaging your chances by overusing certain words and in some cases using words that simply aren’t necessary.

Harlequin Executive Editor Paula Eykelhof says, “Most authors have their own overused words and phrases, and they can vary from book to book.” She also says that no matter how perfect or effective a word, overuse undermines the effect you’re hoping for.

“About” seems to be my most overused word; in fact, I found over 130 “abouts” in my manuscript for Colorado Christmas (Harlequin American Romance , November, 09). By using the EDIT/Find function in Word, I managed to delete “about” 98% of them! 🙂

You, too, can fine-tune your manuscript by utilizing your EDIT/Find function and either deleting the overused word entirely or replacing it with something more suitable. How do you determine what your overused words are? By reading the manuscript critically, looking for your “default” words and expressions, by paying attention to the ones your editor points out, by checking lists like the one I’m going to share with you.

Here’s a list I keep by my computer for just this purpose. Unfortunately, I don’t know who the original author is but I thank the clever person who compiled it in the first place. With help from members of RWA’s email list, I’ve added some more overused words to The List.

  • about
  • actually
  • almost
  • almost like
  • already
  • appears
  • approximately
  • basically
  • close to
  • even
  • eventually
  • exactly
  • finally
  • had
  • had been
  • here
  • just
  • just then
  • kind of
  • nearly
  • now
  • practically
  • obviously
  • really
  • seems
  • simply
  • somehow
  • somewhat
  • somewhat like
  • sort of
  • suddenly
  • that
  • then
  • there
  • truly
  • utterly
  • was

Examine sentences in which these words occur, and you’ll discover how often they serve no real purpose. Other words— verbs—to watch out for include: grin, leap, shrug, nod, smile, sigh. (Also watch for overuse of constructions like gave a sigh, groan, smile, etc.)

According to Paula, you should be judicious in your use of dialogue tags. “If the only tag you use is “said,” the effect can be flattening. On the other hand, some writers go out of their way to avoid using said altogether and use other words instead—words like groan, sigh, suggest, announce, argue, to name only a few. In many cases you can delete some of the tags, as long as it’s clear who’s saying what. And keep in mind that the dialogue itself should be well enough written so you won’t have to resort to these too often.”

So, have you checked your manuscript using The List and found words you use again and again? Have you been able to delete them, or found more appropriate substitutes?

Putting in all the STOPS

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in January, 2009. Due to the passage of time, some information in the article may no longer be relevant.

Writers use writing to reveal the stories in their minds. Each writer, myself included, has their own style of writing, the words we choose and the order in which we put them together in phrases, sentences or paragraphs, making the stories distinctively our own.

But is a unique, individual style always effective? No. Sometimes readers find what they read confusing and ambiguous, and often what we writers intend is misunderstood.

To avoid this, as well as utilising their own styles, writers need to use ‘good writing’. ‘Good writing’ is clear, using the right words arranged in grammatically correct sentences. It is concise, using a mix of both short and longer sentences to add variety and improve the flow. It follows written style conventions such as spelling and punctuation.

One aspect of punctuation I’d like to discuss here is the full stop (British English) or period (American Eng- lish). A full stop, a small dot, is the simplest of punctuation marks. It can be used in a variety of ways: 

To represent the end of a sentence that is not a question or exclamation, whether the sentence is a single word or a line of text. Examples:

  • “Wonderful.”
  • Harlequin Enterprises is the largest publisher of romance novels.

Where a sentence is a question or an exclamation, a full stop is not required. Examples:

  • Is Harlequin Enterprises the largest publisher of romance novels?
  • Nora Roberts is speaking at our conference! 

To Indicate Abbreviations

Conventions for abbreviations differ occasionally between American and British English.

For titles, full stops are included in American English whereas in British English full stops are omitted. Example:

  • Mr. for Mister / Dr. for Doctor (American English) 
  • Mr for Mister / Dr for Doctor (British English)

Abbreviations made up of lower case letters only or with an initial capital tend to have full stops:

  • a.m. / p.m. / e.g. / i.e. / etc. / Thurs. / Feb.

For abbreviations made up of more than one capital letter or of capital letters only, full stops are included in Amer can English and omitted in British English.

  • U.S.A. / U.K. ( American English) USA / UK (British English)

Where a sentence ends with an abbreviation, a full stop is not added immediately following the full stop that ends the abbreviation. For example:

  • Sue’s meeting with John was set for 8 a.m.

When using multiple abbreviations in the same sentence, be consistent with the use of full stops.

  • Nickelback will tour USA and UK in 2009. – correct
  • Nickelback will tour U.S.A. and U.K. in 2009 – correct
  • Nickelback will tour USA and U.K. in 2009 – incorrect

Use with Quotation Marks

If the full stop is part of a quotation, place it inside the quotation marks. Example:

  • Nora Roberts said, “You can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank page.”

If the full stop is part of the sentence, place it outside the quotation marks. Example:

  • The words Nora Roberts said were, “You can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank page”.

Spacing following a full stop

It is not necessary to increase the amount of spacing after a full stop or other punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. A normal single word space between the full stop and the following capital letter of the word beginning the next sentence will indicate the next sentence.

Ellipses (three dots)
The ellipsis mark is made up of three equally spaced full stops. It is used to indicate that part of a sentence or text has been left out.

  • Transfixed by his gaze, she wished…Oh, she wished…

Just as it is useful to know when to use full stops, it is also useful to know when not to use them. These instances include:


A contraction is the shortened form of a word that consists of the first and last letter.

  • Pty / Dept


Acronyms are shortened forms always pronounced as words.


The full stop is just one component of punctuation but knowing how to use it correctly gives clarity to our writing. As I’ve stated above, if you have clarity you have good writing.

Enisa Hasic, founding member of RWA, 2008 Valerie Parv Award 2nd Place winner and ‘grammar and punctuation critic’ of her writers group, writes romantic suspense. 

Fun with Agents

Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in January, 2009. 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.

By Allison Rushby

A few months back, a throwaway comment from a writer who’d recently signed with an agent shocked

me to my very core. ‘I’m so glad I’ll never have to think about the business-side of things again!’ she told me. I wasn’t sure whether to congratulate her or shake her. Or both.

Having written 12 manuscripts now and published 8 books, I thought it might be interesting to take a quick stroll through my publishing history and look at what went on behind the scenes agent-wise during this ten- year period. Perhaps this will demonstrate why, in my opinion, you’d be crazy to stop thinking about the business-side of things at any stage of your publishing career.

Book 1 – we’ll call my first published book Book 1. I’d written another ms before this, but it was terrible. It did, however, make me some good contacts, including an Australian agent. When I sold Book 1 to a large Australian publisher, I brought this agent on board. So, books sold by me: 2. Books sold by agent: 0.

Book 2 – to be fair, Book 2 was almost as terrible as my first unpublished attempt. It was late 2001 and chick-lit was dying. Fast. My agent wasn’t exactly pushing for another book and my publisher wasn’t either. I freaked out for a while, but finally abandoned Book 2 and started writing another ms. 2003 rolled around and chick-lit picked up in a big way in the US. This started to filter through slightly to Australia and, one day, I noticed some gorgeous, huge, red chick-litty dump bins in all the bookshops in the city. I emailed my agent and she told me to, ‘Be careful, they’re probably a vanity publisher’. A quick google showed me that this ‘vanity publisher’ sells around 200 million novels a year. Within a few months, I was in London being offered a two-book contract. Thus, books sold by me: 4. Books sold by agent: 0.

Books 3 and 4 – it would be almost eighteen months before Book 3 was released. I spent a good deal of this time searching for the right agent in the US. I finally secured an agent who can generally be found hovering in the top five dealmakers on Publishers Marketplace.

Books 5 and 6 – after Books 3 and 4 were published, my publisher was keen on another two-book contract. My new US agent negotiated this, but these were very boilerplate contracts. There was no shopping around, no handpicking editors. So, it might sound harsh, but… Books sold by me: 6. Books sold by agent: 0.

Books 7, 8 and 9 – my next books were a Young Adult (YA) trilogy. My US agent passed me on to the YA specialist in the office. He tried very hard to sell this trilogy in the US and came close a number of times. Finally, I asked if I could try my hand in Australia. I sold them to a major Australian publisher. Books sold by me: 9. Books sold by agent: 0.

Books 10 and 11 – chick-lit had died its cyclical death in the US, so I sold my next adult novel and next YA novel to my Australian publisher. I used my US YA agent to negotiate on behalf of me for both of these books. He got me a little more money and managed to wrangle some of my rights back. So, books sold by me: 9. Books where agent didn’t shop around but got me a little more money and managed to wrangle some of my rights back: 2.

I guess at this point you’re wondering why the heck I have an agent at all, right? Well, that’s a fair question, but the truth is I wouldn’t be without one anymore. And I’ll tell you the five reasons why:

  • they’re a great go-between. There have been several points in my career where I have been very grateful not to have to pick up the phone and throw a tanty about something. For example, 50 books recently landed on my doorstep in Portuguese and, despite not knowing a word of Portuguese, I slowly but surely worked out it was someone else’s book with my name on the front. And then? Well, all I had to do was email my agent and leave it with her. Sometimes it really helps to have someone else call up and have that tanty while you maintain your good relationship with your editor;
  • agents have great contacts. Being on the ground, and being a small market, I can almost keep up with the Australian market. The US and UK markets, however? Not a chance. Especially when it comes to mainstream women’s fiction and YA fiction. I need someone there, on the ground, who knows what’s going on on a day-to-day basis;
  • they’re a fantastic first read. Your family and friends will mostly just read your ms and gush. Hopefully your agent will gush, too. But then he/she will be useful and will give you ten to twenty things to run away and change that will make your ms a better read and an easier sale;
  • they’re helpful when it comes to career planning. You might have two or three ideas that you’re thinking of writing next. Your agent will be able to steer you in the right direction when it comes to working out what you’ll be writing over the next few years; and
  • editors listen to agents. Editors listen to agents they trust and they respond faster to them, too. If you have a good, well-respected agent, you’ll get faster responses.The bottom line for me is, I like my current agents. They’re both lovely, professional people who respond to my emails in 24 hours. They meet with editors every day. They go to conferences. And book fairs. They know stuff. And I trust them. Sort of. But the truth is, at the end of the day, I like me and trust me more. This is my dream job and I would never hand over control of my dreams to someone else entirely. But I’ll take all the help I can get! And with the right help on board, I have to say that this publishing caper is definitely less difficult and confusing than it would be otherwise.

Allison Rushby/Alli Kincaid’s next release is a YA called ‘Shooting Stars’, to be released in the US, February this year.  Her 4th YA novel, Blondetourage, was re- leased  with Random House Australia as was her second Alli Kincaid novel, Wrong Way, Go Back. You can subscribe to her newsletter and see her sad ‘look, I’ve got cute kids!’ photos at

The Short Story Market

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

Go into any large newsagency – heck, go into the super- market even – and flip through the women’s magazines like Woman’s Day. You’ll often find romantic short stories within.

UK magazines like Women’s Weekly report that fiction is a major draw for its readers. According to their writers’ guidelines, Our readers talk about “relaxing” with our short stories. 

Why write short stories?

Short fiction can earn a writer between $90 to $1,000 per story. Shorts also work as a cross-promotion if you’re a novelist. If the reader enjoyed the story the reader may seek the novels out and vice versa. Also, if you’re an aspiring novelist, published stories look good in your query letter.

Sandy Curtis has published stories in Woman’s Day, Take 5, Fresh and Australian Women’s Weekly. She “wrote short stories before I started writing novels. Writing short stories is also a refreshing change from writing novels – you get to the end so much quicker :)”

With over 50 short stories published, novelist Janet Woods finds that writing them is “completely different to writing novels. The effort it takes is intense, but less sustained, so I get the feeling I’ve achieved something in a much shorter time span.”

In 2008 Anna Campbell published stories in Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s Day. “Actually I find short stories really difficult and I think I’d rather write a whole book! I like immersing myself in a whole world which is hard to do in the shorter format.”

Anna Jacobs has published stories in Woman’s Day and elsewhere since 1994. “I get ‘little’ ideas that wouldn’t make a whole novel, but are nice incidents, so I tell them in short story form.”

Types of Stories

Women’s magazines publish short stories in several genres, including romance, women’s fiction, and confessions or trues. Trues’ writers do not get a byline.

Sandii Manning, published in Woman’s Day and True Story notes, “Another market that is easier to break into is the True market. True confessions, True Story and True Romance. These stories are told in first person as if you’re sitting down with a friend, telling all.”

Word Count

Stories published in the weekly magazines usually have a tight word count of between 800 to 2000 words.

Janet Woods says, “Story space has shrunk. When I started out it was easier to place longer stories of about 3,000 words.”

Fiction Specials

Longer stories of up to 6,000 words can be found in the specials. Depending on the magazine, 10 to 25 stories are published at one time. Specials include:

  • That’s Life! Fast Fiction, published quarterly
  • Women’s Weekly (UK) fiction special, published bi-monthly.
  • My Weekly has just started to publish fiction specials of around 15 stories.


Sandy Curtis has published two-part serials in Woman’s Day. “As a child I loved reading the long serials in the women’s magazines and lamented their demise.” Some markets for the serial remain, and these include Woman’s Day, My Weekly, People’s Friend and Women’s Weekly (UK).

Serials are divided into parts. For example, Women’s Weekly (UK) accepts submissions of two-part to five-part serials.

Anna Jacobs is attracted to writing serials because, “Some of my ideas make for longer ‘short’ story ideas and I find putting them into a serialised form very interesting. It’s challenging to find a way to end each episode on a cliffhanger and keep up readers’ interest.” Around February 2009 she will have a historical serial tale published in My Weekly to coincide with release of her novel Freedom’s Land, which has “the same era and background”.

First Serial Rights

First serial rights (FSR) are where a magazine buys the right to be the first to publish the work. After publication the writer is free to sell the work elsewhere.

Janet Woods says, “Ten years ago I’d pursue multi-markets, and sell overseas rights to the same story I’d had published in Australia.”

Sandy Curtis addresses FSR in her cover letters. “I keep it professional, and make sure I give the genre and word length. Don’t forget to state which rights you are offering, e.g. first Australian rights. Some magazines want New Zealand rights as well.”

Researching the Markets

Look at the entire magazine to see how the stories fit in. Examine the advertisements too, as these will suggest the magazine audience. In People’s Friend advertisements for stairlifts suggest an older reader demographic. But read the fiction too. A recent issue had characters at grammar school through to retirees.

Sandii Manning says, “My advice no matter who you’re submitting to is send away for the guidelines. A lot of the info on the Internet is outdated and incorrect. Also read, read and read the magazine you’re targeting. I know that can be hard if you’re submitting from another country but it really does help.”

Janet Woods says, “Before approaching any magazine or writing the story, you should take time to analyse the target market for content and style, and try and pinpoint the age range of the readership. If you can tailor your story to the publication, it will have a much better chance of acceptance.”

Competitive Markets

Publishing stories in women’s magazines is, as Anna Jacobs notes, “fiercely competitive”.

The Australian Women’s Weekly and Woman’s World (US) are tough markets to enter. Woman’s World pays $1,000 for an 800-word romance. From Woman’s World, Sandii Manning received “some encouraging feedback from the Editor saying that although my story was lovely it wasn’t suitable for their market and requested that I submit any others I had.”

Easy? Maybe not. Achievable? Yes.

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 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.”


Please Note: This article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in November, 2008. (Im certain it’s still relevant) 🙂 SH

By Diane Curran

Recently, I wondered if I’d accidentally turned up to an AA meeting. We had several new people show up at our monthly writers’ group meeting and we were going around the circle introducing ourselves.

I seized the moment to have a bit of fun with my introduction…

‘My name is Diane and I’m a writerholic. Luckily, this group does not expect me to give up my addiction and there is no 12-step program to cure me.’

I’ve been thinking about the whole writing addiction a bit more and have some thoughts about why writing is better than booze (or nicotine or dope for that matter).

Writing is cheap.

At the bare minimum, all you need is a pen and paper. Although a computer can be pretty good, but after the initial outlay of costs, the process costs nothing but time and imagination. The same cannot be said for alcohol or cigarettes. (Or photography, painting, sailing, flying or any other number of expensive hobbies.)

Writing is cathartic.

You can write out your problems, remove the screaming banshees from your head and sort them out on paper. Sometimes it can even provide a solution, not a hangover.

Writing can be escapist.

If reality is getting you down, you can slip into another world of your own creation. Hang out with characters who may be more fun than the real world, even control what happens. And if you don’t like the direction the characters take the story, you can rewrite. Better than escaping through alcohol or drugs. Writing can be its own altered state of consciousness.

Writing exercises the grey matter.

That’s right! You’re not killing brain cells, you’re feeding them, stimulating them, exercising them, making them jump with joy. If you stimulate them enough, they will even work when you’re asleep, discussing the ideas between them in a miniature unconscious brainstorming which can unleash a torrent of words when you next boot up the computer or pick up a pen.

Writing can produce a natural high.

When you’re truly in the zone, and the story is zipping along almost by itself, it can feel fantastic. When you hear an audience laughing at your dialogue in a play that you have penned, it is euphoric. When you capture the perfect phrase or turn of words, you are exhilarated. When you see your story in print for the first time, or your book on the shelf, you are delirious. When you read back your writing months later, you can wonder how you wrote it and where the inspiration came from. And there is no after-effect, no hangover — unless you’ve sacrificed sleep and stayed up all night to write.

Writing is expressive.

You can say things that you might not say in real life. Role play through characters who are stronger than yourself, or more assertive. You can play with all the ‘what-if’s?’ and create many ‘sliding door’ moments. And you won’t be phoned the day after a drunken binge to have your indiscretions relayed back to you.

There are a few drawbacks. BICHOK’ing (Bum in chair, hands on keyboard) for days on end can cause the backside to widen, the hands to cramp and the eyes to lose focus. You must remember to leave the computer every hour, to stretch the legs, to flex the hands, and to gaze off into the distance and re-focus to save your eyesight. Still, it’s a small price to pay because your imagination is grateful for the playtime.

So if I had a choice of a night on the booze or the dope, or a night on the computer exercising my imagination, I know which one I would choose!

© 2007 Diane Curran

Diane is a writer of chick lit and young adult fiction, living on the Mid North Coast of NSW. She is thoroughly addicted to writing and has no intention of giving up anytime soon and fills some of her addiction at

Organising your manuscript using Document Map

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. 

I think of my writing in two distinct categories – before Document Map and After Document Map. Before, I hated plotting because I couldn’t keep track of it all in my head – I shifted scenes, got confused about where scenes occurred in the book, didn’t escalate the romance soon enough or way too soon, and had things occurring in the story that hadn’t been foreshadowed. My head spins at the thought of organising my first published novel into a story that eventually flowed seamlessly.

So what is Document Map?

It’s an option in Microsoft Word that, when turned on, provides a separate screen on the left with a list of your headings. (right)

How does this help your writing?

First, there’s no more having separate documents for each chapter. You can jump straight to your chapter or scene with one click on the left hand screen. But wait, there’s more. Instead of having “chapter one” as your heading, you can use DM as a mini-summary of your scenes. For example, the scene headings of my working draft for my second book, Boardrooms & A Billionair Heir (Silhouette Desire), went like this:

  • boardroom confrontation
  • first meeting
  • Holly’s POV / car discussion
  • at the Blackstone’s store
  • return to Sydney on plane
  • at lunch
  • Jake introspection
  • elevator scene / first kiss

And so on. This is a great way to see if you’re escalating the romance at the proper pace, if you have too much/too little of one character’s introspection and if you have enough scenes where your  hero/heroine are together. It’s also a neat way to see if you’re escalating the plot smoothly and foreshadowing important details. And as you click on those scene headings, you can quickly check if you have enough pages per chapter (my editor asks for no more than 20 pages per chapter, so with DM I can see at a glance if my scene break should actually be a chapter break instead.)

So, how do I get started?

First, you have to ensure your headings are classed as a “Heading 1” style so they will appear in this list. To do this, you simply

 highlight the heading in your ms (for e.g. ‘first meeting’), click on the drop-down arrow in your Style box and select “heading 1” (see left).

As you can see, Word has standard styles associated with these

headings, but they are fully customisable so if you don’t like the default settings (I never do!) you can change them. To do this, click the down arrow and scroll down to select “More…” at the bottom of the listing. A new box pops up (“Styles and Formatting” – see right).), roll your mouse over the style you want to change (in our case, Heading 1) then click on the down arrow key, select Modify then alter the settings: I make them standard with my ms – 12pt Courier New, double spaced, indent first line .5cm.

Now we’re ready to turn on Document Map

Which is as simple as View > Document Map (right). The Document Map command is also a toggle button (click once to turn on, click again to turn off), so by adding a button to my menu bar Document Map is only a click away from on to off (this is easy to add – right mouse click on your menu bar, then Customize > Commands, then choose “view” from the left hand side, click and hold on Document Map, then drag it onto your tool bar (left).

Document Map is free and built into MS Word, so it’s a brilliant little option that will save you heaps in stress and pin board space. And while there isn’t a feature to print out these headings, a hardcopy is just a matter of doing a screen dump: simply click your Prt Scr button on the top right hand side of your keyboard. This takes a screen snapshot and copies it to your clipboard, which you can then paste into a document and print it out from there.

When Paula isn’t using Document Map to plot her stories, she’s either designing websites, blogging at or writing. Get more details (and heaps of articles!) on her website at

Sagas – UK Style

This  article first appeared in RWA’s official monthly newsletter, Hearts Talk, in October, 2009. 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.


In the UK, sagas are a clearly defined and very popular historical genre with its own shelving in bookshops. They’re not usually generational stories but are more like the old Norse sagas. Protagonists, especially the heroines, battle against overwhelming odds—and win, thus providing an uplifting tale of personal triumph.

I would call sagas romantic fiction, not pure romances. Basic elements include:

  • working class woman (or women)battling the odds
  • very carefully researched historical background, especially of working class life
  • regional focus
  • central romance (often sub-plots also include romances)
  • a complex story with severl sub-plots, often leading to several books in a series
  • happy ending


Saga author Jean Fullerton says: ‘The historical detail in a good saga is almost a character in its own right. Fans of the genre tell me time and time again how much they love reading about everyday things that they either remember as a child or that their mothers told them about. If I want to give my readers the maximum enjoyment out of my books, which I do, then I have to work hard to ensure that all my period detail is spot on.’

I agree with Jean. I have a wall of research books, folders full of notes and other research storage and retrieval systems. It’s not enough to nip on the Internet to check a fact. You have to be sure of the historical background and tone behind that fact. Authors are not giving history lessons, but slip in the history smoothly as part of the story background. It’s how daily life was lived that’s important: cooking, clothes, pastimes, work.

Benita Brown says, ‘sagas are linked to the past by the memories of generations of the readers’ own families. Of course there is romance in them but also so much more: birth, love, ambition, success, tragedy, death, the whole of life!’

That’s why they’re so enjoyable to write!


The heroine usually starts off poor and vulnerable, though rags to riches stories are popular. Catherine Cookson’s early books were ground-breaking, because until then the middle and upper classes had dominated fiction for a long time.

Janet Woods says, ‘I often write my main female characters from a young age. For instance, in my current release Hearts Of Gold the heroine is fourteen when she’s left destitute on an Australian goldfield. It’s a hook that draws instant reader sympathy, and one that wouldn’t fit easily into a pure romance.’


There is more latitude with heroes than heroines, but many of them are working class too, very rarely upper class. Even if they’re alpha males, it’s not they who dominate the story, it’s the heroine. But they can form wonderful partnerships with the heroines to beat the odds stacked against them. I love the freedom to create any sort of hero to suit a particular story.


Most sagas are complex, with several sub-plots. They’re usually told “herringbone fashion” with plot threads, characters and POVs alternating. (NB this does not mean ‘head hopping’!) As a reader, I sometimes wonder how it’ll all come together, but it always does in the end. As a writer, I find it stimulating to keep so many plot threads alive and weave them together into an inevitable and compelling conclusion.

Jean Fullerton says, ‘They are multi-layered stories that affirm women of all ages as wives, mothers, daughters and sisters, and are absolutely packed with adventure, intrigue and painstakingly researched period detail.’


There is always a romance at the heart of a saga. Indeed, my first visualizations of the plot are of the heroine’s story and then the hero’s, and how they get together. They might not be together at the start, but they move steadily towards deep involvement.

Sagas are not usually graphic sexually and I think most of my readers would recoil from that, but I’ve seen many wonderful love scenes that make you sigh with the pleasure and rightness of the pair-bonding.

In addition, sagas offer great emotional depth, what my editor calls ‘heart’. If I don’t bring tears to my own eyes several times when I’m writing a story (both happy and sad tears) then I don’t consider it good enough.


Most sagas these days are set in the twentieth century, with fewer in the nineteenth century. The genre has been dominated by World War II stories for a decade or so, with a fair sprinkling of WWI stories (which I prefer writing). But authors seem to be moving on now to the postwar period. I’ve written sagas set from 1760 (Like NoOther) to 1926 (Freedom’s Land) so far.


Sagas tend to have strong regional UK settings. Indeed, authors usually specialize in a certain area. I started by writing books set in Lancashire because I grew up there. When I want to include dialect, I only have to remember how my grandma spoke. However, once I was established, I started setting sagas in Australia, where I now live, and these have sold well, too.


Sagas set in the northern industrial areas of England (e.g. Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland) were originally the most popular of all and have become known as ‘clog and shawl sagas’ or ‘trouble at the mill’ tales. However, the genre has broadened its base considerably since then.


Most sagas are at least 100,000 words long, but I think they’re shorter on average than they used to be. My contracts now ask for stories ‘of at least 100,000 words’, where they used to ask for ‘120,000 words’.


The genre has been selling really well in the UK for decades. I notice that Harlequin UK has put out one or two sagas recently and Penguin Australia has just released one. The genre is not hitting the heights of popularity at the moment, but the main authors are still selling solidly. (My editor approves of this market summary, by the way.)


I see two main disadvantages to writing sagas. Firstly, it’s not as easy to sell foreign language rights – presumably because sagas have such a regional ‘Englishy’ flavour. It is, however, easy to sell large print and audio rights. Secondly, it’s not easy to sell to the US because editors at the publishing houses there seem to think sagas won’t sell. This attitude is surprising because LaVyrle Spencer’s ‘Morning Glory’ is an archetypal saga in format, as well as being a brilliant story. It just isn’t labelled a ‘saga’.


Whether you want to write sagas or not, I think there’s a lot to be learned from reading and studying them. There is a skill to writing complex plots, creating realistic historical backgrounds and plumbing great emotional depth.

Anna Jacobs grew up in the UK, in industrial Lancashire, and emigrated to Western Australia in 1973. Her 46th novel, Freedom’s Land was published in July of 2009. You can visit her at:

Since writing this article, Anna has been cracking right along writing several novels since ‘Freedom’s Land’. ‘The Trader’s Wife’ was published this year.


  • Subscribe by email

  • Subscribe by Feeder

  • Recent News

  • Blog Posts by Category

  • Archives

  • Our Team

    Blogmistress: Imelda Evans

    Blog Editor: Juanita Kees

    A Day in the Writing Life of... Keziah Hill

    Author Spotlights: Sarah Belle

    Cruisin' the Blogs: Juanita Kees

    New Releases: Laura Boon

    Blog Bites: Thea George

    Hearts Talk Wrap: Ainslie Paton

    Cover Contest: Eleni Konstantine

  • Your say:

    Consultoria Seo on February New Releases
    Marsha Atkins on 2017 Ruby finalists
    Alex on 2017 Ruby finalists
    Alex on 2017 Ruby finalists
    Melbourne Silver Cab… on RWA 2015 Conference – Transpor…
  • RWAus Tweets

  • Pages