Thursday, May 15, 2014

Knowing What Editors Want Can Be Its Own Mystery ... by Sharol Louise

Greetings! I am a fellow reader, who also happens to be a writer, who was also fortunate to become a published author. But I had to believe in myself, and I will share a couple of anecdotes. Hurdles, actually.

The first: “Humor does not belong in a Romance novel.” Yep, that’s what one editor told me, believe it or not! If Jane Austen were alive today, she would ... well, I guess she wouldn’t turn over in her grave if she was alive.

I subscribe to the “five minutes of laughter per day” theory. Laughter is good for you, and it fits right in with my other senior citizen vitamins.

The second editor quote I ignored: “Romance novels must have physical sex.” What? Jane Austen, my idol, where are you? Did you hear that? Dang, I should have written a sci-fi instead. Two different editors offered to buy my first book if I would go back and include two to three sex scenes.

If you are an author who includes explicit sex, that is wonderful—for you and for your target audience. It’s just not what I am passionate about writing. If you are a reader like my sister who skims over the sexual, I want to write for you. I prefer writing sensual, with tension and attraction in the look, the near touch. Which suits my 18th century characters perfectly. My grandfather is from England, and I love the Georgian period, where women were becoming more independent yet still had to obey the social rules (except when they could find humorous ways to circumvent them).

In hindsight though ... perhaps I should not have asked that one editor, “So how many ounces of bodily fluid would you like per chapter?” I don’t think she will ever buy any of my books.

I have two goals when I write:

1. Allow my characters to be as human as possible. Mankind has not changed in the last three hundred years. People were still witty, cynical, caring, greedy, jealous, and passionate

2. Respect the intelligence of my readers. I know I need to write between 65,000 and 100,000 words, depending on the publisher. That does not give me the excuse to repeat, repeat, repeat. My readers are sharp. They can remember facts and emotions without having them hammered in their face like a bad car sales commercial. Repetition, in my opinion, is an inexcusable filler.

When I write, I think of three-act plays. Act one is for you to get to know the characters and their quirks, their dreams and goals. Act two brings the conflicts to a head, and characters will become stronger and change their fate, or will become weaker and succumb. Act three is the denouement where the good guys win, though I strive hard to add surprises and twists I hope will delight my reader.

I divide my daily writing time across three chores: actual butt-in-seat writing, historical research, and studying books on the craft of writing. I remember a strange man craning to look over my shoulder on the bus one morning. In size forty-eight font, the bold heading chapter said, “How to Orchestrate The Surprise Climax.”

The bottom line here is that you must believe in yourself to be a writer. If your story is good, you will find a reader. I often missed my bus stop when engrossed in a good novel, and my sole wish is that my books may do the same for you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sharol Louise and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest, where her psyche was born. However, her body was born in downtown Los Angeles, so it took about twenty-five years for the two to catch up.

As a youngster, she thought people were referring to the dictionary when they said “the good book,” as she grew up in the library reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mary Stewart, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

She’s had three Historical Romances published (Secret Sister, Secret Bride, Rosehill Manor). Raven Heights Manor, her first Mystery—a Gothic Romance—comes out this December from Cengage Publishing. Her books are available in two formats: eBooks (Kindle, Kobo, and Nook), or hardcover (Amazon.com and your local library).

34 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Sharol.

Sharol - Thanks for sharing what you've learned. I couldn't agree more about the vital importance of believing in what you're doing. Oh, and I agree completely: a good romance benefits a lot from the sensual, and from that tension. The sexual without that doesn't add anything.

sharol louise said...

Morning, Margot! Thanks for the observations. Believe it or not this is my first blogging experience ever, thanks to Pat. And you are my first bloganswer!

Julie Luek said...

I like your theories about readers of romance. I also skim over the explicit sex stuff in books-- I'm almost 50. Been there, got it. What I'm looking for is the feeling it all evokes. Sounds like you have that down-pat.

Susan Oleksiw said...

For a first post this certainly is a good one. I am often amazed at the things editors (and agents) say to writers. I too am sick of turning a page in a mystery and coming to a stop for an explicit sex scene. It doesn't belong in a mystery or a romance, in my view. Good luck with your new book.

sharol louise said...

Hi, Julie!
"Down-Pat" made me chuckle, since this is Pat's blog. Yep, that feeling is everything, whether we are 15 or 50. Thank you for the reply.

sharol louise said...

Morning, Susan ~ Thanks for the kind words. ... OKay, now I am not so nervous. Nobody has Blogslapped me (is that a word?). Actually, I think explicit sex can exist in any genre of book. It's just not my style. I love that authors can have diversity, don't you? :-)
Sometimes, though, I kinda wish new books had labels, like movies, so I would know beforehand ... just a radical, rambling thought.

Stephanie Faris said...

I was drawn to romance because of a few fun, lighthearted category romances (Harlequin) I read in the early 90s. Soon after I started, Harlequin launched "Love & Laughter" and I was hooked. Then chick lit came along in the early 00s and, after that, any romance novel with humor in it was labeled chick lit. Romantic comedy was murdered by chick lit, I think! I don't even read it anymore because I liked the Meg Ryan-style romantic comedies that were being published in the 90s. Now it's all action and vampires and sappiness. I'm noticing, however, that romantic comedy in general seems to be dead. I can't think of the last cheesy romantic comedy movie that I saw... It's all Judd Apatow-style guy humor like The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Sharol, no one would ever know you were a first time blogger -- you gave us an excellent post and you hit the ground running this morning to respond to comments. Well done.

I'm even a lot older than Julie, so putting explicit sex in my books feels like it would be more embarrassing than anything else. I am testing the waters with good old-fashioned sexual tension in my work in progress though. We'll see how it goes.

sharol louise said...

Hi, Stephanie!
Wow, "Meg Ryan-style romantic comedies" says it all; I could identify with what you wrote. I think it helps that some of my male heroes (in my head, at least) are a cross between Cary Grant and Hugh Grant: Masculine but vulnerable.
:-)

sharol louise said...

Thanks, Pat, for the BlogHug (I'm making this stuff up as I go along, you see). And sooo nice of you to host me! p.s. I like your book covers with their beautiful desert and prairie scenes. I am in Arizona this week, hence the Cactus Wren avatar.

Alice Duncan said...

Hey, Sharol! I'm so glad you blogged. I love your books, so keep 'em coming. And who was the idiot editor who told you humor doesn't belong in romance?

sharol louise said...

Alice!!! My FAVORITE editor. I can tell you with certainty that the editor was NOT you, and not Cengage, thankfully. They let me be me.
:-)

sharol louise said...

(They let I be me? They let me be I? They let I be I? Where is Alice the Editor when you need her?)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You should've asked that question!
No way I'd write about explicit sex either. I barely managed a kiss in one of my books.

Alice Duncan said...

:-)

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

wonderful for a first time blogger LOL!

I love the statement about the amount of bodily fluids the editor wanted to see! Of course you're probably right about her not buying anything from you LOL but what a comeback!

Good luck and God's blessings with your new book!
PamT

Dean K Miller said...

Sharol: I agree...I like the sexual tension of the almost, the near miss, the "wow" if that really happens. But that's just me. I've reviewed a couple of books with some explicit material. One worked, the other would have been better with more steam and less junk.

Right on with finding your readers, respecting their intelligence and giving the goods, even if implied.

sherijkennedyriverside said...

I think your loyal readers attest to your wisdom in being true to the writing within you instead of following formulas.
As I've been learning more in the craft, I realize that there is plenty of advice out there and much of it is contradictory.
If you love reading it, there's a good chance plenty of other readers will love it too.
Thanks for the tips and an entertaining read.

sharol louise said...

Hi, Alex! But, hey, maybe just one kiss is a pretty steamy idea, if it's one of THOSE kisses. I might just steal this idea :-)

sharol louise said...

Thanks for leaving a comment, Pam. And isn't it a rare occurrence when we can actually think up a comeback before we are one mile away? That reminds me ... I once read if someone disses you, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, you are one mile away and you have a new pair of shoes!

sharol louise said...

Hey, Dean! Thanks for visiting. I admire that you write/prefer one way, and can review with open-mindedness. One of my first ‘big’ reviews—Publishers Weekly—said “While readers will warm to , the lack of passion will most likely send them elsewhere in search of spicier fare.” Ouch! That one hurt. But five minutes after I threw myself sobbing onto the floor, I got over it :-)

sharol louise said...

Hi, Sheri, thanks for posting! I also love learning about the craft of writing (Section 808.3 is my hangout in the library). You’re so right about the contradictory advice. On my wall is a favorite quote from Somerset Maugham: “There are three rules for writing a novel.
Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Sharol,

I enjoyed reading your blog and getting to know more about you and your writing. I like humor in romance and mystery. I think it just makes the novel more interesting.
As to sex scenes in romance, it all depends on the type of novel you're writing. My YA romance THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, just published by Astraea Press, is a "clean read." However, my adult novels vary in sensuality depending on the characters and plot. I'm open-minded on that subject.

sharol louise said...

Thanks for the comments, Jacqueline. Good points. And I especially love that new title! It’s a clever grabber.

Emily R. King said...

I like your goals, Patricia! Especially your first one. I'm always working on letting my characters be human, too.

sharol louise said...

Thanks for the post, Emily! Your comment on letting your characters be human reminded me of a comment I once heard: that the ’historical’ characters were acting just like normal people in different clothes and settings. I thought about that a long time; I was never sure if it was a complaint or a compliment! LOL.
sharol

Melanie Sherman said...

Thanks for hosting this, Pat.
I'm a fan of Sharol's. I love her humor (which absolutely belongs in a romance) and I love the tension, sexual or otherwise, without having to stop everything to wade through an explicit sex scene. I've read all three books and each one is even better than the last. But, what I want to do right now is imagine what the man thought about Sharol when he saw she was reading about how to have a great climax. Ah, to be a fly on the wall...
Nice post.

Catherine Dilts said...

Sharol, I like your idea of ratings on novels. Sometimes a careful reading of the back cover blurb will alert me to the steaminess content, but not always. Good luck!

sharol louise said...

Thank you, Melanie. What a wonderful post to see first thing in the morning! Makes my day.

sharol louise said...

Hi, Catherine! Yes, good point about the blurbs. Thanks for posting.

Eileen Goudge said...

It used to be the norm for editors to more or less require explicit sex scenes. I've published women's fiction until now-coming out with my first mystery in August!-where it's especially prevalent. But I've noticed it's not as much of a trend as it used to be, and more and more of my colleagues are lightening up on the explicit and going with more of the sensual. The important thing, as always, is creating characters the reader is passionate about.

sharol louise said...

Eileen said, "The important thing ... is characters the reader is passionate about." Spot on! It's the readers' passions we care about. Then, as writers, we can explore all ranges of character passions. Thanks, Eileen!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Good for you ignoring the advice of those editors. What would Jane think?

sharol louise said...

Ha! Liked your comment, Susan. Enjoy your Pennwriters Conference this weekend.