Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Does 'Formula Romance' Exist?

Someone asked on a previous blog post whether we are looking for formulaic, 'same-old-same-old' category romance at Embrace Books, and since my answer is quite complicated, I thought it might be a nice idea to turn it into a separate blog post.

First off, I don't believe in formulas. That is, I don't believe they exist in fiction, though I know many do. Particularly journalists searching for a good headline or those who look down on popular fiction as being formulaic and therefore not worth their time.

There is no magic formula or guideline sheet handed out to romance authors at the start of their bodice-ripping careers - as an apparently intelligent woman insisted recently, talking to me about the evils of romance, though she admitted to never having actually read one herself.

No, what I believe in is 'story'. Romance is one kind of story, and it has a simple plot: girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy again. If that's a formula, it's no more a formula than a crime novel: a crime is committed, an investigation is launched, the criminal is caught. Or any type of popular fiction that follows a common theme or structural framework.

Within the idea of 'romance' there are many different varieties of approach to story-telling. Writers can manipulate the setting, period, characters or writing style to differentiate their stories from their peers in the same tradition. But all romances must follow the same basic plot of girl meets boy. If your story doesn't do this, it may be excellent in all manner of ways - but it will not be a romance.

The real question may be, am I looking for very tightly conceived and executed category romance within a strict set of guidelines prohibiting various types of hero, heroine, setting, plot variations, and sexual antics?

The answer to that is no.

I am looking for freestyle romances within the stated word lengths - not romantic fiction, or fiction with romance in it, please note, but bona fide romances where the love story is the key focus of the plot - and if it contains something unusual, as long as it's still a romance, then I'm very much open to new twists and turns on the road to love.

Perhaps giving me some examples of what constitutes a 'different' approach to category would help me be more specific. I'd be happy to field queries below on the topic of what fits Embrace and what doesn't.

Though, in general, my reputation in editing is as an innovator and a rule-breaker. So try me!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Good News Coming

I'm delighted to say we may have good news coming soon from Embrace Books. Among our first batch of full manuscript submissions, we've found some rather wonderful love stories and are currently working with a few authors on revisions - with a view to acquiring their work for Embrace.

Watch this blog for further updates!

Yet more submissions have been flagged up as promising, and full manuscripts are to be requested. Those authors should hear from us within the next ten days. If you haven't heard yet, never fear. There are quite a few partials still in the inbox. But we're getting through them fast.

No manuscripts that fit the line have been rejected without an editorial appraisal of the work. 

If you'd like to submit your romance manuscript to Embrace - and we'd certainly love to have it! -  a clickable link to our Submission Guidelines is in the sidebar of this blog.

The email address for both submissions, queries and general correspondence is jane AT saltpublishing DOT com

Monday, July 26, 2010

Who is this Jane Holland anyway?

It occurred to me that some people reading the Embrace blog might not know who is actually behind it. So here's a quick summary of who I am.

My name is Jane Holland and I'm the editor of Embrace Books. I've been in publishing since 1995 and in an editorial position with Salt Publishing, who own Embrace, since 2008. My first post with Salt was editor-in-chief of their arts and literary magazine, Horizon Review.

I'm also a professional writer. I have published seven novels, including mainstream commercial fiction, five collections of poetry, and countless articles and reviews for national newspapers, magazines, literary journals and ezines.

I am currently writing a straight Tudor historical, and my literary agent is Luigi Bonomi of LBA. 

My connection with romance dates from an early age. My mother was the late, great Charlotte Lamb, who published over 150 romances, romantic historicals and romantic suspense novels, under that name and various others. I grew up scribbling my toddler pictures on the backs of her Mills & Boon galley proofs, and graduated to reading her books - and those of her peers - by the time I was an adolescent. My elder sister Sarah was also a romance novelist. The social circles we moved in included writers, editors and agents, and I even managed to get myself invited on her huge US tour for Harlequin in the early eighties.

So romance was always there, right from the start, and it was only a matter of time before my life came full circle, back to romance.

You can also read an interview with me at The Literary Project.

I'm open to submissions and queries at Embrace Books. Guidelines are clickable in the sidebar. We also have a free monthly newsletter. Please subscribe!

Paragraphing: the long and the short of it

Many of the submissions I've received so far - and do keep sending them, I love seeing new manuscripts pop up in my inbox - have what I call Paragraph Problems.

Today, in the world of romance, the page-long paragraph is a no-no. Sometimes even the half-page paragraph looks out of place. Once in a while, yes. Perhaps when some building of atmosphere is required, or some terrible internal struggle is taking place. Maybe two or three times in a chapter, a half-page of narrative will be acceptable. But not every few pages, and certainly never in the first few pages, where pace is everything.

Here are some simple suggestions for structuring the paragraph. I hesitate to call them rules, because that implies they should never be broken, and a good writer always breaks rules - and gets away with it, of course, because she's so damn good!

But if you suspect you may not be damn good, then stop when paragraphing and think: what were those suggestions again?

Bear in mind that these rules - sorry, suggestions - are aimed at writers of romance. Fleming broke the rules all the time in his Bond novels, and many other writers do too. But here we're talking about romance, short category romance, and most importantly, romance aimed at the digital market.

People read text on screen in a different way to how they read text on a printed page. And they prefer shorter paragraphs on screen, not least because a long paragraph means they have to scroll back to the top of the page - or even the page before - if they lose the thread of what was going on.  Which is easily done in a long and complex paragraph.

So ...

  1. Keep your paragraphs short. Readers tend to skip long ones. They do. Honest.
  2. Vary the lengths of your paragraphs. This includes all-dialogue paragraphs. A fast-paced exchange of one-liners should not continue too long or you'll give the reader whiplash and she'll forget who's speaking when. Equally, a single line of narrative - 'The car sped away, and Dawn realised she was alone on the dark pier' - will be more effective if it's not surrounded by other single or very short paragraphs. Your book is unlikely to be read aloud to anyone, so remember to think visually and vary lengths when choosing where to break your paragraphs.
  3. If you have paragraphs of the DND (dialogue - narrative - dialogue) variety, aim to keep all three short. Never try DNDND. The reader will become confused, especially if two separate people are speaking in the same paragraph. I've actually seen this attempted. Not good.
  4. Paragraphs are like mini-stories in themselves. They should have a beginning, a middle and an end. In my example above: 'The car sped away (beginning), and Dawn realised she was alone (middle) on the dark pier (end).' So we have action (beginning), identity, thought and circumstance (middle), and suspense or resolution (end). Suspense at the end of a paragraph is good, by the way, because it springboards the reader into the next paragraph. 
  5. You should indent the first word of each paragraph, unless that paragraph starts a new section or chapter. Then it should start flush with the left-hand margin.
  6. When describing action, keep paragraphs short and succinct. Use single clause sentences, and dialogue to break up the text. Ultra-short dialogue like 'Hey!' or 'Here, catch!' works best. (Try not to have characters call each other by name too often, unless it's for a reason - i.e. irony or character revelation.)
  7. By contrast, when writing a romantic or intimate scene, don't have the paragraphs ultra-short if you can avoid it, apart from the odd muttered comment. Short paras interrupt the flow. Equally though, don't use this excuse to slide off into reams and reams of purple prose and flowery euphemisms. Keep descriptions of what's going on fairly lucid and accurate. I'm always miffed when I have to re-read a love scene several times in order to work out if they actually did it! We're not writing for convent girls.
  8. In the last chapter, as in the first chapter, shorter paragraphs help to increase the pace and to speed us towards our natural conclusion. Here, dialogue is paramount, especially to convey vital plot information.
  9. Lastly, as far as dialogue tags are concerned, if it's clear who's speaking, drop the 'she said'. But I'm not looking for a thousand cunning alternatives to 'said' either. If 'said' is all that's required, use it, and try not to throw in a 'groaned', 'lamented', 'whimpered' or 'grated' at every turn, or pepper your 'said' with adverbs like 'chillingly', 'bitingly', 'archly'. With any luck, the dialogue itself will tell us how it was said - if your character work has been done well enough.
There you have it. The Embrace Guide to Paragraphing, or everything you ever needed to know about slicing your book into digestible lumps, and more!

Now go cut some paragraphs.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What's Happening at Embrace?

In our first week, the Embrace Books blog has enjoyed almost a thousand hits. But we have less than twenty followers.

It would be great to bump that number. Please follow us if you don't already do so, and keep track of what's happening at Embrace. If you're one of our first followers, many thanks indeed!

The next few months will see some exciting developments at Embrace. Behind the scenes, we are considering possible backlist content, putting together an Embrace contract, looking at the pros and cons of various download formats, and discussing which features we'd like to see on our forthcoming website.

If you have any suggestions, please comment below. We are keen to involve readers and writers in the evolution of Embrace.

News-wise, we are already close to announcing our first ever acceptance - I'm sure no one wants to miss hearing about that first-hand!

Okay, you're hopping with excitement. So what do you do now?

There are several ways to keep up to date with the latest news from Embrace:
  1. Follow us with a Google account. Click on the top right-hand 'Follow' button
  2. Click on the link for our FREE monthly 'love' letter
  3. Pop Embrace Books into your blogroll
  4. Bookmark Embrace Books
  5. Click your Top Site button, if installed, when reading this blog
  6. Keep clicking back every few days to see what's happening

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Novellas: the Embrace Golden Rules

Novellas are notoriously hard to write. I've received a few in the past week, and they have all been competently written, which is lovely to see.

However, I'm flagging up here that I need to see the full manuscript if you're sending a novella. Along with at least a 2 page synopsis, please. Just because it's short doesn't mean I want to glean the plot by reading through it.

What about length? To my mind, if it's over 15,000 words but under 25,000, then it's a novella. Any less than 15,000 words and we're in short story territory, albeit at its far boundaries. Then there's a no-woman's-land between 25K and about 50K, where short romances need to end up if they are to be called novels.

A romance novella needs to be structured like a mini-romance. It has numbered chapters, it has character arcs, it has a well-defined plot - but everything works in miniature.

Due to its kaleidoscope nature, the romance novella demands a super-swift entrée into the world of hero and heroine. We don't have time for leisurely introductions. Throw the two together on the first page, preferably in a violent or shocking manner, and you will get a big tick from me - and if you can continue pushing them together, especially physically, you may even get a gold star!

So the golden rules of an Embrace novella are:
  1. Link hero and heroine on the first page, if possible
  2. Keep the pace relentless throughout
  3. Follow the structure of a novel, but in miniature
  4. Begin physical intimacy much earlier than in a standard novel
  5. You can never have enough intimacy in a romance: find a way to force them together - and keep them there!
  6. Submit the whole manuscript along with a synopsis. See Guidelines for details.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Receive an Embrace Love Letter

We've just activated a new Embrace Books newsletter link >> eyes right, you'll see a quick link to our 30-second love letter sign-up page.

The Embrace Love Letter will go out to subscribers on a monthly basis at first, letting you know personally how the list is building up, what kind of launch titles to expect, and - for the writers among you - which romance categories we're most eager to acquire.
On the simple sign-up form, which only takes about thirty seconds to complete, you can let us know your basic preferences within romance, so we can make sure you only receive news you're genuinely interested in hearing about. 

  1. You can tell us if you're a writer or a reader of romance - or both, of course!
  2. You can tell us which kinds of romance you love best, whether that's a simple love story or a steamy romance.

The first monthly 'love letter' from Embrace will be going out to subscribers in August. Don't miss out, sign up today!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Submission Guidelines for Embrace

EMBRACE Red Velvet
50-60K length
Sexy, sophisticated romance with feisty heroines and believable Alpha males within contemporary, historical, and paranormal categories.
Millionaires not required (though no one will turn one away). British settings and characters welcome, but not essential.
Sexual content required, but should not be overly explicit.
Same sex novels are welcome.

EMBRACE After Dark
Hotter romance and erotica
Open to more unusual storylines within contemporary, historical, paranormal and same sex storylines.
Must include explicit sex, which in some cases may be central to the plot.

Novellas are welcome in both lines and across all categories, up to 25K

Romances can be heterosexual or same sex

Please Note:
Although we're open to work outside the above guidelines - say, Steampunk or sci-fi, or slightly different word counts - it must be romance.

For the launch titles at least, we are not handling sagas, romantic fiction, or other books with 'romantic elements'. Only pure romance. If you're not sure what that means, it's unlikely your work will be suitable for Embrace.

What to Send:
3 chapters and a synopsis, or the full ms and synopsis if submitting a novella, with some description of your writing career to date, a few lines about the book, including word count and which line you are targeting, and why your submission would suit Embrace.

All submissions should be by Word doc (not docx), with ROMANCE in the email subject line. RTF will be accepted, though Word is preferred. Other formats may be rejected.

Submissions by email only to jane @

There are no automatic acknowledgements at the moment. Manuscripts will be acknowledged individually, in order of receipt. Response times are currently pretty short, so the sooner you send, the quicker you should hear back.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Issues with Side Text

Sadly, several people have commented that the sidebar text in their browsers for this site is either missing completely or contains odd symbols and squiggles - probably apostrophes or speech marks wrongly converted.

I use Firefox for Mac and Safari, and have no viewing problems on either.

Can people please, please let me know if the text in the sidebars is missing or illegible, and which browser they are using? I can try reposting it, or typing it up again without cutting and pasting the text this time.

Meanwhile, I'll post a Page later today containing the submission guidelines, and put up a link to it near the top of the sidebar.

Thanks for helping!

Embrace Books

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Follow us!

Just starting to look at our first submissions this week. Almost the very first that arrived was from a very nice gentleman, whose email began 'Dear Editor, please find attached the first three chapters of my latest novel. It's not a romance, but ...'

What I'm discovering about editing romance is that it's not particularly different from any other kind of editing. Which is a relief, as I've plenty of experience at other kinds of editing. Editing romance, you get the same oddities in your inbox and the same delicious thrill running up your spine when you click on the attached document and look! ... it's something good, or something that promises to be good. It's something you know you want to say 'Yes' to.

Exciting times!

Please follow our blog and let other romance-minded people know who and where we are. This is Embrace and we're going to be gorgeous.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Welcome to Embrace Books

Hello, and welcome to Embrace Books, the blog. This will be your first port-of-call for Embrace Books while we wait for the official site to go up.

Here you will find submission guidelines, a friendly person behind the blog posts, editing advice and other like-minded souls lurking shyly in corners or dancing about in the comments section.

Embrace Books is a new British-based publisher of e-romance.

If romance is what you write, or would dearly love to write, you're in the right place.

If romance is what you read, you are a thousand times welcome, we love you to the ends of the universe and back. Please don't go away - our first ever e-romances will be zinging excitedly in your direction in a few months' time.

Watch this blog!