Thursday, July 22, 2010

Selling Category

I'm polishing a novel that I think would make a great Harlequin Superromance.

But what happens if I’m rejected? It feels like writing a category-length romance novel is like putting all your eggs in one basket - there's really only one line it's suitable for, and if the acquiring editors there don't want it, they don't want it. Assuming they reject it because they don't think it's right for their line, and not because the writing sucks, is there anywhere else to submit to?

As an unpublished author, is it possible to sell these manuscripts to other publishers as novellas? Would an agent be less likely to take you on if you're submitting a novella to them, instead of a single-title romance?

I think the thing to understand here, and the thing that many authors forget, is that writing for category is not just about length. Yes, typically category-length means a shorter book since many category romances are shorter than other books. That being said, what makes a category romance is a lot more than just length. There’s a particular style to the story, to the voice, and to the plot, a style that might not work as a single title or novella.

There is often this misconception among category writers that to break out into single title you need to write a longer book. Well, yes, the book will be longer, but that doesn’t mean it’s simply the same book with more words. A single title book tends to be more complex and multilayered than category. I think category romance is a great place to be for those writers who find they really shine there, and for some I think it’s a stepping-stone to single-title romance, but I think that those who only see it as a stepping-stone are doing a disservice to themselves and others. Category can be an amazing career in itself. There are a number of very successful authors who enjoy writing category, do it well, and are making a pretty decent living writing those books.

Writing for category is great, but yes, it is a smaller market. In other words, there is only one publisher you can shoot for. What happens if you’re rejected? You learn why and take what you’ve learned to your next book and you keep going until it’s accepted. It’s the same thing you do if your single title is rejected.



Kate Douglas said...

My original intent was to write category, since the only romances I'd read in the early days were all Harlequins or Silhouette (which were, at the time, separate companies) After eventually selling to epubs and then to Kensington, I talked with Jessica about moving out of erotic romance, and that's where she hit me with the information that the only way I was going to do it was to write a "big book."

Okay...admitting stupidity here. I had no frickin' idea what she meant. Big book? More pages? No--it means more story, more depth, more everything, but until I actually wrote one, I didn't have a clue. And the only reason I'm posting this is that we so often throw out terms in this business that don't always make sense. Jessica--maybe it's time for a "dictionary" update!

(And I know Jessica didn't use the 'big book' term in her post--the used the definition I could have used a couple of years ago!)

Anonymous said...

Publish it to Kindle.

Anonymous said...

Jessica, I appreciate your tackling this subject, as it's one I've been pondering. I've been reading Blazes and Super Romance, etc, and also reading single title contemporaries like Julie James' delightful Practice Makes Perfect and Luisa Edwards' restaurant kitchen series, and I can't for the life of me see the difference in scope or depth of actual story. Edwards' books may include more of a context, giving more detail to the kitchen staff and environment, but honestly? Depth? Compared to Sarah Mayberry's books? I don't see it. What am I missing?

Anonymous said...

You know, the world of e-publishing, especially with romance, is on fire right now. I know one e-publisher who can't get enough authors. Romance readers who read digital books buy at least five romances each week. And they love category romance.

There are other options for authors now more than ever before...and agents, too :)

S Spann said...

The important take-home point here, as I see it at least, is that it doesn't matter what kind of fiction (or non-fiction) you're writing, they key is "write the best [genre/type/item] you possibly can, polish it 'til it gleams, and then learn how to write an even better one, knowing that you may get an acceptance and you may end up having to ... write another book ... and either set that one on a shelf or wait to publish it later." Category romance may have a smaller market than "big book" romance, but in a sense it's the same: either a publisher who's appropriate for the work wants it or they don't, but the critical point is "learn and progress."

There's not a writer on the planet who can't improve, except for the ones who are too busy decomposing. (Not all of whom are as dead as one might believe.)

Levonne said...

The business of writing and selling seems so complicated and overwhelming at times. Each decision point is like being at an intersection with fifteen possible turns.

Sheila Cull said...

I wish the category author a lot of rejections and as Jessica said, learning. Rejections get you closer to your goal and for me, closer to your genre. I spent seven hours a day for years (and yes, I have a real job)writing/getting rejected made up romance books. Then a big time movie producer asked me to write a script for an idea I had, he liked it, asked me to transfer it to screenplay format - a year of my life! Rejected. Then I listened to everybody that said, "Sheila your life was crazy. Write a memoir." I did and it clicked. To my surprise it's turing out funny, which I didn't expect. Point being, keep writing.

Tara Maya said...

I agree with Anon 11:43. Epublishers are often looking for the same length as category. Eggs, please meet your other baskets.

MeghanStrain said...

What about Carina Press? Could be a potentially fun adventure!

JulieLeto said...

As a category author, I'm not sure I entirely agree with the implication that category books are less complex. I've read quite a few that were extremely complex. To me, what they are is "concentrated."

And category length isn't novella length, either. Most categories are typically 50-65K.

Category, to me, is a lot like poetry. You have be concise. You have to learn how to strip your story down to the bare essentials, but still provide your reader with a full and complete reading experience.

Many very popular authors started in category: Nora Roberts, Tess Geritsen, Janet Evanovich (wrote for Loveswept, Bantam's category line), Jennifer Crusie, Debbie Macomber, etc. The list goes on and on. So it is possible to start in category and then move on to single title. A lot of authors continue to do both.

My advice to this author is that if they have a burning passion to write for Superromance, then they should concentrate on that goal and do what it takes to get there. If your first manuscript is rejected, maybe your second one won't be--and after you sell, you might be able to go back and revise that first manuscript with an editor's tutelage in order to make it work. Or you may find that you've grown beyond that story.