Tag Archives: Harlequin

Writing: Romances, the Pride and the Shame

writing, novels, writers, authors, Harlequin, romance novels, writing and working

Making fun of Harlequin covers is a favorite past time of some, and could be one reason my friend doesn’t want it known she wrote romance novels.

I’ve was talking to a friend of mine who in the distant past wrote and sold several novels to Harlequin. She did this at a time in her life when she was a single mother of two  and was trying to support them while putting herself through school. She is an artist who does beautiful paintings now.

Now the interesting thing is that Harlequin is viewed by some as low brow and by others as prestige. Low brow because we’re just reading those trashy romances and if you write a trashy romance, well, you’re not a real writer. Prestige because Harlequin pays quite well, is a successful publisher and you’ve written for Harlequin. Perspective, you see. I have another friend writing and trying to sell romances right now and she thinks it’s a great thing to do.

Harlequin as a publisher is one of North Americas more stable publishing houses. Writers tend to be paid fairly well because Harlequin has a high sell-through. Although the stories might be a paper chick flick and perhaps formulaic in the guy and gal always get each other in the end, there is a lot of range in their romance novels these days from mildly titillating to downright penetrative, in all senses of the term. Harlequin has been branching out as well into fantasy and other genres, whether werewolves, vampires or some other creature that goes bump in the night and indeed they still must go bump. I did sell one story to a Harlequin fairy tale anthology and of course it was romantic and/or erotic.

The Romance Writers of America is not only a well-attended association of writers and would-be writers but also brings in top agents and writers to local conferences. I know several people who have joined the RWA just for these aspects, even if they do not write romance. Basically romance today is not your mother’s romance.

So, this conversation with my friend was quite interesting. I present it here, edited because she does not want her name revealed. In fact I have never ever been able to find out what name she wrote under and I’m only one of a few people who even know she wrote romances.

No, I don’t care if folks think of me as what I am. ;D ….. I mean that’s how I caught my beloved D by being wild and lascivious, isn’t it?

Well that’s a lie…at least the part about me not being embarrassed about people really knowing who I am. Just so you know…I do not tell anyone the name I wrote under because I did it for the money…and only the money for my girls. When I do speak of my writing it is mostly because I really want the person I’m talking to , to understand that I really do understand the pressures of creating something salable, like a story or a book…for a paycheck.

My writing was an act of desperation. I wrote like an East End drug addicted prostitute whores herself. I

writing, juggling work, writing romance novels, Romance Writers of America, Harlequin romances

My friend juggled a job, going to school, raising two girls and writing romance novels. Creative Commons: Misty de Vries, Mercator

had  two kids to feed and  I needed to earn more money. I had no child support and a barely above min. wage job. I started writing  after work when the girls were in bed, I wrote on the bus going to work, lunch breaks at the store, I wrote on a scribbler, took it home and then wrote it up of the typewriter later that night (yes, she did all this before computers). Being dyslexic, it was like slavery. I had to concentrate so hard even when I was utterly bagged. I had no grace, no time to muck about and, God help me, if I screwed it up because then  my children would go without. So I wrote what I knew would sell and did it as quickly as I could type up the pages. I could not think of another way to earn enough money to look after T and K. I was so tired all the time my writing could not be the least jot original. I was caught between the rock and the hard place with no help. My family would not help me. I had shamed them with my divorces. My mother cut me off, not that she had ever supported me but she made it clear, as she said, I had made my bed …. If I was broke, it was my fault. As a solution I turned to writing because it was  something I could crank out while being at home with my children.

My writing is not something of which, I was ever proud. That is not to say I am not proud of the accomplishment of using my wits to take care of the girls.

I am.

But I was  not  nor ever will be, a  writer. I was, by  some miracle and a short period of time,  an adequate hack, which is something else entirely.

Also It was not a happy time for me. And the whole writing thing is forever tainted in my mind with all of that  desperate hungry  unhappiness.

A few years ago when my health took a little turn I tried writing again; but this time I tried to write stories I might want to read. I tried a lot, then some more… I tried and tried.

I went back to drawing.

So at last, I will get to the  point, I will enthusiastically pass on my recommendations. And for your piece of mind. I will also run them through the spell checker… so they won’t think an idiot wrote them. Don’t you love computers!

Talk about stress! A part of me wishes I had never said anything or agreed to  your request.

So… to the issue at hand. There were 5 in all.

She has her reasons for not feeling she was a writer, and she feels her novels were not very good. I’ve never read them (or any Harlequin) for that matter, so I don’t know the quality. However, I told her that she was an inspiration…because she wrote, and finished several novels and sold them. That in itself is a great accomplishment. I know because I’ve been working on my second novel for ten years! I plan on finishing it by April because it’s getting ridiculous. So while my friend feels she was a hack who wrote to survive, I wish I could write as a full-time job. These days it’s even harder to sell something because there are so many more people writing and computers and the internet made it easier. But I’ll still hold my friend in high regard, even if I never find out what she wrote or what name she wrote under.

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Writing: The Trouble With SFWA

Creative Commons: gnuckx, Flickr

SFWA stands for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They’ve been around for almost 50 years and protect the rights of speculative writers, which  includes legal and emergency medical aid, ironing out contract disputes, putting pressure on publishers (there is a bad boys list) and otherwise helping writers. They also maintain a list of professional markets, and to be a full Active member you must have sold three pieces, of at least $50 each, at the rate of .05/word or more. Or have sold a novel/novelette for at least $2000.

Further professional qualifications include that the publisher/magazine must have been in existence and publishing regularly for at least a year, pay the above professional rates or more, and have a distribution of at least 1000 copies. It used to be that this was 10,000 copies, if memory serves correctly, but I imagine it’s a sign of the times that not even mass market publishing houses print 10,000 copies of most books anymore. When the Canadian dollar was .50 to the US dollar there was never any consideration for the difference in rates, although it’s called SFWA and not SFWUSA. Five cents a word might have counted but when you can put the population of Canada into the state of California, it was pretty hard to hit those early distribution rates of 10,000 copies in Canada.

While SFWA does a lot of good, it’s also the old boys’ club and resistant to some change. The advent of small presses and POD (print on demand) has upset the apple cart in many areas. Costs of printing have gone up, readership of paper books is going down, and the economy is floundering. The dinosaurs need to evolve or they’ll be nothing but sludge. SFWA still cannot accept that flash fiction exists, or tweet markets. Instead of finding some in-between ground, they decided that a sale must be .05/word to be professional but if your story is 900 words or less, it won’t count. They could fix this and say at least four (or some number) sales of flash fiction or a combo of short and flash, etc. would be equivalent.

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Mary Beth Griffo Rigby, Flickr

Some change has happened, but last year, after nearly 20 years as an Associate member (having one professional sale based on the above criteria) I ended my membership and joined HWA (Horror Writers of America) instead. There are several reasons I did this. When I first joined SFWA they invited me, on the basis of selling a poem to Amazing Stories. At $36 that wasn’t bad money for a poem, even now, and I think that was around 1986. When I sent a copy of a contract for a story sale that met the requirements (and that after a year of my letters being completely ignored) I was told that my poem didn’t count and that I now had a 1/3 Associate membership, again. One step forward, one step back.

So not only did SFWA decide that poetry was no longer a valid art form nor worthy of notice, but they’d ungrandfathered me. I wonder if they would have booted me out if I didn’t have that second “pro” sale, except they probably wanted my money. Then I sold an erotic fairy tale to a Harlequin anthology. There was my third sale. (You can vote when you’re a full member.)  But guess what? Harlequin decided to do a vanity press line and SFWA disapproved (and rightly so), but instead of banning or disqualifying that particular imprint, SFWA disqualified Harlequin and all its imprints. Now Harlequin is one of the biggest publishers in the world. They’re rolling in the dough and not hurting, so why they thought they had to lure in hapless newbies with a vanity line, I’m not sure, and they should have their wrists slapped for that. But SFWA’s ban really only affected writers. Harlequin doesn’t care. I’d actually sold the story before the ban but was paid after.

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Will SFWA embrace the digital age? Creative Commons: Tony Hutchings/Getty Images

SFWA has helped me in the past with an iffy contract and they do at least have some standards but they need to evolve a bit more. I also joined HWA this year because I wanted to see what they’re like. While I haven’t even had time to look at the benefits yet I can tell you that I’m full-fledged voting member, and I did this on my credentials as a poet alone. I could have probably done it with fiction credits but the contracts I could find were for the poems. In HWA’s case their pro rate is the same for fiction but for poetry you must have had at least 10 poems published for at least $5/poem or .25/line. In fact, their definitions are more detailed but also more extensive than SFWA’s.

Arguments can be made that if I was a better writer I’d have been a full member long ago, and that of course holds water, but I’ve sold mostly to Canadian markets and even good writers sometimes can’t get their feet in the door of a tight market when a known name will sell more magazines. It will be interesting to see if HWA serves me better of if SFWA did. I could go back to SFWA at any time if I wish.

I’m a very strong advocate for poetry and anyone that’s worked on a poem can tell you it takes as long to write a poem as to write a story in many cases. Some poems take me years to perfect. I truly detest when someone pooh poohs a form of writing because it isn’t as long as a novel or a story. It’s a snobbery that not even the literary world aspires to. They have their own as many literary writers turn up their noses at “genre” writing. Half the time Margaret Atwood swears she does not write science fiction.

But any organization that recognizes poetry will probably get my vote over ones that ban it.

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Writing Update: March/April

I’ve been busy working on a couple of stories…still…always. Rewriting a couple after some constructive rejections. And still researching my biblical Mary Magdalene story. I’m writing as I research but I have about seven books by my bed on the Dead Sea scrolls, Christ and Caeser, the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospel of Mary, etc. You’d think I was entering the church. I find it very fascinating stuff, the history of the Christian church and the bizarre and sometimes malicious and frequently controlling twists it took to control wealth and people. Amazing. Some day I might research and do a story and have to research Buddhism or read the Qur’an or stock up on Hindu gods. It’s all truly fascinating, and should the Mary story work, I have other ideas there.

I also managed to take the long weekend in Easter and progress on my novel. Not a lot but I was getting to a worldbuilding stage where I needed to figure out the size of the continents as well as how long it would take them to travel by horse and foot. I think I will still have to adjust those numbers downward. You can read the reviews by following the links.

Scarabae

In the meantime, the Evolve anthology is getting some very good reviews. Vampchix says, “Colleen Anderson’s AN EMBER AMONGST THE FALLEN is strong and disturbing, but an interesting take on the new vampire.” You can read the reviews by following the links.

http://vampchix.blogspot.com/2010/04/review-evolve-vampire-stories-of-new.html

http://www.parajunkee.com/2010/03/evolve-vampire-stories-of-new-undead.html

http://anovelapproachto.me/book-reviews-2/

http://www.innsmouthfreepress.com/?p=5607

http://whatbookisthat.blogspot.com/2010/03/bwb-review-evolve.html

And last but by no way least, I have sold a story to Harlequin’s erotic wedding anthology. I don’t know the title of the book yet and it will probably be another year till it comes out but the story is titled “Better Wed Than Dead.”

And Cutting Block Press’s Horror Library Vol. 4 has accepted my story “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha.” They loved the story so much (and I love that they loved it) that at first I thought it was a rejection but they said, “It simply…defies definition and certainly skips genres. There was a good deal of debate, not as to if we should take it or not. But, more so, at to what our own personal definition of ‘horror’ is here at +The Horror Library+ and how that definition is totally challenged when facing an incredible story like yours.

Needless to say, we’d like to ACCEPT this story. It’s just…amazing and thought-provoking and quite sinisterly clever. It’s an absolute one-of-a-kind, and we’d love to include it in this year’s collection.”

It should be out sometime this summer and I’m looking forward to seeing who the other 26 authors are. More as I find out.

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Defining Science Fiction

There has long been a battle, an attitude, a snobbery in the writing world where literary or mainstream fiction is real writing, and all that “genre” fiction is done by hacks and of little merit in the tales of the world. Anyone who writes in a genre knows this and has felt it. But what is a genre? It is the categorizing of a novel or story by some of its strongest elements.

No longer in favor but once very popular were westerns. They obviously took place in a time of the Wild West where cowboys and indians ran amok and pioneers struggled to survive while men maddened by gold-rush fever lived little better than animals. Romances are tales about love and obstacles to happiness, and almost always have the predictable ending of the man and woman (or man and man, woman and woman) finding each other. But the tales of how they get there are varied. Harlequin books has one of the most steady sell-throughs of any publisher. Publishing romances is a good business.

Erotica is obviously taking content into a more sensual or erotic tone. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, have elements integral to the story and were those elements removed the story wouldn’t hold up. Horror also fell into disfavor and is better known as dark fantasy these days. Still, there are blends of tales that aren’t all one thing. There are stories that are erotic and science fiction, western romances, literary fantasy, magic realism and politics (actually that one is a typical mix), and then there are literary, erotic, science fiction tales.

I wrote one story, “Hold Back the Night,” which I called my literary, lesbian, erotic vampire story. Vampire was never mentioned in the tale and it dealt with the wife burnings that happen in India. But labeling fiction is what we do; we the readers, we the writers and we the publishers. Publishers choose genres so that they can market to a specific demographic mindset. We’ll sell more of these books if we make it look like a cookbook or a romance and market to those people specifically interested in this. Publishers hate books that don’t fit in the neat categories.

Most of all they want to market books in mainstream, literary fiction because it is the largest readership and therefore the biggest sales. Writers of course would love the same. Readers can be a bit like sheept and think that if they only like a mystery book, they’ll never look in the romance section, but then there are thousands of books to look through so it can be difficult to find them. So, in mainstream, the more sales the more money, and the more awards available than in a specified category. A book that can’t fit into a category, or a story, may not be bought for a long time. I have a story that is not quite fantasy, and not quite mainstream and will circulate for a long time because it falls into the cracks.

But genres cause their own problems and as we see, narrow the readership. Many stories are not all of one shade. So Margaret Atwood, multi-award winner, always says she doesn’t write science fiction, yet some of her books extrapolate into a near future and ask what if. Seems pretty science fiction to me, many other writers, and readers. Yet she denies. Ursula Le Guin, multi-award winner writer of SF disagrees with Atwood’s view.

Le Guin gives an intriguing review of The Year of the Flood, which takes place after the events in Oryx and Crake. Both of these books are nearish future, with a crumbling of society, dystopian novels, because that’s what Atwood does best. But yet, she, like many of the literati, those who hold themselves above mere genre writers, says it’s not science fiction. And I must ask, what’s she afraid of, or is her viewpoint so narrow that in fact she only sees science fiction as squids in space?

Le Guin and Atwood are giants in their own rights, both award-winning authors whose stories span boundaries in some ways. Speculative fiction (an all-encompassing term for horror, fantasy, science fiction and really, literary fiction as well) doesn’t have to be shallow and it often looks at worlds and attitudes and how people change in regards to the pressures of life, species, invasion, change and technology–very valid commentary into our humanity, or inhumanity. So perhaps Atwood needs to accept that she has a narrow viewpoint of SF, get down from the pedestal and just accept that she writes it, sometimes. It’s not like it will hurt her rep, but the adamant head in the sand denial still doesn’t change that she writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it. Maybe she just hates the labels and codifying of writing.

I have not read The Year of the Flood, though I did read Oryx and Crake and where I felt it was a long setup for the story that wasn’t in the book, maybe Year is that story. And maybe not. For a very thought-provoking review by Ursula Le Guin of Atwood’s book, click on the link and be your own judge. And read the book, or read Le Guin’s books and see if the literary writer outweighs the SF writer. In the end, do you think Atwood writes science fiction, no matter what she calls it?

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/aug/29/margaret-atwood-year-of-flood

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Writing: Rights & Contracts

I decided to withdraw my poem from being published in the online magazine Sotto Voce. Often one is paid little to have a poem published. I’ve received everything from $5-$100 for poetry. Of course, I would like to get more rather than less but I’ll sell a poem for $10 if the magazine looks respectable. What I won’t do though, is give my poem away for free.

Likewise, I do read contracts and do take them seriously. Sotto Voce stated they had exclusive rights to put the poem on their website for 120 days. Okay, not a big problem and fairly standard. They also said that at the end of that period all rights revert to the author, but then went on to say they took the nonexclusive right to keep the poem in their archives, as well as using it in a print, audio or other format, should they so choose.

Keeping something in a magazine’s archive is becoming more standard and some magazines will take it down should you resell the piece. Others may not. I could live with that but the nonexclusive rights on print, audio and other were bothersome. Most publishers may ask for the nonexclusive right, which often means first refusal on a print anthology (or whatever they specify) but they will at that time negotiate to pay for that right. Some magazines may say, we take print and anthology rights.

Their use of having an open-ended nonexclusive right in which they informed me that they would not pay additionally bothered me. It also meant that should I try to sell the poem to a print magazine I could jeopardize that sale because it might have been printed already. Given the vagueness of their all-encompassing, nonexclusive rights, I wasn’t sure that I would be notified if they used it elsewise.

Normally, each right is a separate thing: world rights, first North American rights, electronic rights, audio rights, print rights, etc. It’s a hodgepodge and can be very confusing and many publishers will try to lump it all together to get as much as they can for the price of one. I usually ask if I’m not clear, and contracts are often weird legalese. Since I neither needed the modest pay nor the publishing credit (though it’s always nice to have more) and because I was uncomfortable with this contract and didn’t like the exclusive nonexclusive rights they seemed to be taking, I said no after consulting with other writers (just in case I was getting overly picky).

Often contracts can be adjusted. When I receive a written contract I will sometimes write in or cross off something. So far no one has said no to those changes. There is leeway in most cases. Sotto Voce didn’t seem to want to do this and their contract was online with places just to fill out. Not much room for adjusting it. If they had paid more I might have gone with selling the poem to them. But not for peanuts.

Harlequin also had a fairly specific contract that asks for all rights (print, online, audio, ads, etc.) for a period of time. However, they are paying a whole lot more and the contract has a clause that should they go to other formats or languages, reprint, digital, etc. that those fees will be negotiated. I asked the editor about some parts of that contract but decided to go with it, although Harlequin doesn’t specify how long they keep those rights before releasing them. That bothers me and in retrospect I maybe should have put a limit. It might not be too late.

Contracts really do take experts and the wording is often vague or misleading. There are lawyers that specialize in such but we little writers don’t tend to go that route for small sales. There are agents who also specialize in understanding contracts and if you’re selling a book, they can help with the nuances of the rights. As well, many small publishers don’t always realize what they’re asking for and sometimes need educating. In the past I’ve had to mention this to a few new publishers. In the end, it’s up to each person as to what they’re comfortable with selling or giving away. And to me, it’s not about the money so much, but about respecting the writer and the writing.

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Bits & Pieces: Aliens, Writing & PST

It’s nice to know that in all those beliefs we have about aliens from other planets and how they must be highly advanced technologically (otherwise they couldn’t fly all those light years), that they also seem to have some driving mishaps from time to time. I just wonder if it was drunk driving and what an alien might find as hooch, methane perhaps? Imagine, the crop circles are aliens setting down in a farmer’s field and sucking the methane from the cow patties, having a UFO tailgate party and putting something on the barbee. Or maybe they drink corn syrup. Who knows?

Some people might argue that if they have technology to fly light years, that they would not run into a wind turbine. But let’s say that aliens might look at us and say, they have techology to drive so they’d never run into a telephone pole. There is one factor in both of these: human (or alien error). People make mistakes so maybe there was just a bad driver at the ship’s controls. But then maybe this accident in Lincolnshire had to do with low visibility (the video shows an awful lot of haze) or maybe they were sightseeing and got distracted. “Hey, Mabel, lookit that weird critter with black and white spots and the giant udder!” The witness in the first article looks an awaful lot like an alien to me and really, there is nothing more alien than humans. I also like that tentacles are mentioned by one witness in the second article. A UFO with tentacles! A giant squid! Could be ball lightning. Nah, it was the flying spaghetti monster whose spaghetti like tentacles wrapped around the blade and stole it. Yes, that’s it. All hail the spaghetti monster.

http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/ufos/article2108149.ece

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601102&sid=a6W14d7tFWdI&refer=uk

Proof of the flying spaghetti monster:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vL7FcvEydqg

In writing news, I have just sold “A Taste for Treasure” to Alison’s Wonderland, an erotic fairy tale anthology by Harlequin, edited by Alison Tyler. Good money, even if they do ask for all rights until they’re finished with it. I also received my copies of The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica by Running Press, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. I do love getting those checks in British pounds. It’s almost double the money and more for the reprint than I was paid for the original story.

I’ve also sold a poem “Collecting” to Sotto Voce but I asked them a question on the contract and haven’t heard back from them so hopefully they’ll respond. I really really hope to get back to writing my novel next week. I’ve farted around long enough now.

And in BC we are charged a provincial tax besides the federal GST. PST is not charged on food, but I’ve discovered the Pharmasave on Columbia St. in New Westminister has been. When I asked them, I was told that chips and chocolates aren’t food. I said, yes it is, you ingest it and the gov’t website says it’s exempt. “But it’s a confection. It’s not like a granola bar.” Errr, yes, but that is still food. Sure, it may not be nutritional (and many granola bars are suspect because of their high sugar content and the chocolate chips in them too) but it’s still food.

Yeesh. Well, since I had already written to the Pharmasave head office in November and received no reply, and they were still charging PST, I filed a complaint with the Ministry of Business and Revenue, and then I emailed the CEO. That has got results but still, Pharmasave has been raking in money, whether they’re turning it over to the government or not, but taking it illegally. I hate paying taxes and hate it more when it’s taken for items it shouldn’t be.

Should you want to check that your Pharmasave (supposedly they’re independently owned) is charging you correctly, here is the brochure from the provincial government that focuses on drug and grocery stores specifically. http://www.rev.gov.bc.ca/documents_library/bulletins/SST_026.pdf

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