Romantic Suspense, Writing Tips

Insert Brilliant Category Romance Title Here!

Can you tell that titling a book is not my forte? I’m responsible for four titles a month. For the life of me, I don’t know how it happens. My first step is to ask the author and editor for suggestions. We need to convey “romance” and “suspense” in one perfect title. No bland words, no clichés (or at least not too groan-worthy), nothing that’s been used before in the same line. I make lists of “hooks”, words that readers love to see. Then I check the sales history of titles with certain words. The choices are narrowed down to a few and I usually ask the author pick his/her favorite. Sometimes a title will just appear and I am extra happy if the author comes up with it. It saves me work!

For a category romance*, there are a few lessons I’ve learned when it comes to titles.**

  • Try not to be married to your original title. Maybe just co-habitate. Your story is what counts the most. Editors really do understand how meaningful a title can be for a writer.
  • Negative titles tend to tank sales***. The Reluctant Guy might evoke visions of a hero who won’t clean the bathroom or tuck in his shirt. Heck, he may not even rescue you from the elevator shaft or that pesky bank robber. Who needs a reluctant anything? I’d go for Her Hero in the Nick of Time instead. Actually, don’t use that title either but you get the idea.
  • Emotion in a title is good. The Secret Agent Slammed the Door. Night of Passion, Day of Regret. Maybe I wouldn’t use these but they indicate a feeling, a vibe.
  • Generic titles like Second Chances or Murky Waters fall flat. These work better for a single title, where the book is broader in scope and more complex. I would never title a category romance Gone with the Wind. Maybe Gone with the Handsome Sheriff. Your title should convey a specific message and not be too clichéd.
  • If you’re going to use a name in a title, make it interesting. Josh’s Choice doesn’t say a whole lot. We don’t know Josh. We all make choices, so who cares? Josh’s Woman says a little more, is kind of primal and attention getting.  I would probably use Josh’s last name D’Artagnan instead: D’Artagnan’s Woman.
  • Think wild and crazy. I try to brainstorm insane titles. This helps me through what is usually a painful creative process. Who’s that Man in My Shower? or He’s Coming at Me with a Knife! can forge a path toward a salable title. Plus, it just makes me laugh.

Sometimes I share the author’s feelings–that his/her title is better than the one we ultimately went for. We experience fluke successes with odd titles and failures with guaranteed hits. For some authors, the title could be The Pirate Prefers Grape Juice and it would fly off the shelves. My ultimate goal is to help sell the book, remaining as faithful to the story and author’s wishes as possible. Now and then, I will take a risk on a title that might not cause fireworks but fits the story more than any other. It’s a collaborative process–well, except for the writing, of course. Thank goodness for that!

*Category Romance = romances with the specific word length and guidelines, with happy ending guaranteed.

**These findings are not always true, but I’ve found them to be the case more often than not. There are exceptions.

***Did I mention there are exceptions?

Writing Tips

More of My Romance Writing Pet Peeves

I know you’re supposed to include some good with the bad, so here’s something I love: reunion romances. We’ve all had a romance that we’ve fantasized about revisiting. In Romanceland, you can! I also love cranky Alpha heroes, heroines with a touch of crazy, characters facing natural disasters and the one-night stand that winds up being happily ever after.

Because there’s balance in the cosmos, here are more of my pet peeves. I’ll try to be gentle:

*On page 1, someone is driving. I know that’s a repeat. Sometimes driving to a destination in the opening is necessary and it’s not enough for me to reject a story but grrrrr, I see it so often, especially in suspenseful romances.

*After a passionate night, the heroine wakes up to the hero cooking breakfast. He can make an omelet. I can’t even make an omelet. You’d think this might be a unique post-coital scene, but it’s not. The hero often makes soft, fluffy eggs for breakfast, which signifies his soft, fluffy underbelly. Oh, and the other cliché, the character waking up to the smell of bacon or strong coffee. I wish I kept eggs and bacon in my fridge but sadly, I just have condiments.

*When they’re lost in the woods, there’s always an abandoned cabin. And in that cabin, there’s a dusty pantry. Somehow, the heroine finds enough there to prepare a five-course meal. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if all they had was a can of tuna to share?  Maybe not so romantic but potentially funny and real.

*Characters become amateur sleuths. A cop will go to a murder scene and someone close to the victim will insist on helping with the case. They fall in love as they both search for clues. This aggravates me, though I see it all the time and it can be explained away. Plus, if someone close to me were involved in such misfortune, I’d like to think I’d be a giant pain in the posterior and insist on helping. It’s still a pet peeve. I do like, though, when non-law-enforcement characters find themselves in the middle of a suspenseful situation.

*The ex is a passionless dweeb or a gold digger. My problem with this is…well, we’ve all made mistakes, but the ex must have had some good qualities or else why would the hero/heroine get involved?

*Exes/parents/grandparents are killed in car crashes. It’s easy to kill off characters this way, but car crashes are a given now in romances. Maybe these extraneous characters could exist without appearing on the scene. Car crashes create emotional conflict by making a central character an instant orphan. It happens, it’s real and awful but if I had a penny for all the car crashes I’ve seen…They have no impact on me anymore.

And those are my pet peeves for this Monday.

Romantic Life Lessons

Confessions of a Conference Goer

I like going to conferences, but I’m a terrible traveler. I didn’t used to be. In fact, I lived overseas and went across the ocean several times a year. I’d driven across the United States at least three times. Cars and planes were like a second home. I moved around so often that around age 30, I said, “That’s enough.” For the last decade or so, it’s taken a village to get me off my couch and around conference time, I get anxious. The day before I travel, you don’t want to be around me. My husband describes it as taking an animal out of its carrier in the middle of a busy airport, claws imbedded in its original resting place.

For some strange reason, the day OF travel, I’m fine–and excited to go to a new place and be useful. It seems familiar and I’m convinced that spirit of adventure lives somewhere in me. I get to the airport/car rental and can glide with ease onto the plane, into the car. I am eager to see people and do my job. It’s like I’ve been released from computer jail and can interact with real people, all of whom have a story to tell. Staying in a hotel–where I don’t have to clean or cook–fills me with fiendish delight, even if it’s a dive.

This past weekend, I attended a wonderful conference in Connecticut at a gorgeous hotel/spa. I only went two hours out of my comfort zone but experienced the same process of making lists, getting nervous, packing and re-packing with an easy-breezy travel day (except for traffic). In addition to fabulous writers, the conference hosted a fun group of editors and agents, many of whom I’d never met. And who can resist all-day all-you-can-eat buffet? Not me.

For conferences, an editor has to be “on” the entire time. This is tough without a lot of bagels and M&Ms, which fortified me.* Even if I didn’t eat sugar (which I shouldn’t), the adrenaline keeps me going. After being in an office, reading in solitary fashion for months, conferences are motivating for me. I begin with a vow to attend workshops, which I thoroughly enjoy, especially as a listener, but usually, there’s no time for this. I had a few hours of pitches and I really do love them–though I always feel bad when writers are nervous around little old me. I guess it’s part of their process, as travel anxiety is part of mine.

Around lunchtime, I tend to wilt but this is fine because that’s what you get a new influx of carbs and protein and dessert. Usually, I’m so grateful to be out, actively interacting with romance writers, that I’ll wind up spending money on the cause (this is where my husband screams). I bought raffle tickets and then a writer’s book, not so bad on the purse.

The last few hours of a conference are challenging. Many of us had been up since 6am, if not before**. And if you’re an introvert, as I am with rare extroverted tendencies, you recharge by going to the room and being alone. Did I do this? No. I would have missed out on chicken cordon bleu, wild rice and cheesecake–not to mention a fabulous ghost story from a writer. I got my third wind and stayed until the very end. A part of me wanted the conference to continue. Maybe an extra workshop on how everything went? Any last-minute questions? No? Okay. Then I went to my room and collapsed.

I’m looking forward to repeating all of this at RWA, only on a more massive scale with a bigger suitcase full of snacks. Of course, the day before I go to Anaheim, it won’t be a pretty sight.

Hope to see you all in California!

*I always bring extra snacks and magazines!

**Conference planners–I don’t know how they do it. Hats off!

Romantic Life Lessons

What Does a Romance Editor Do All Day?

This might not be an interesting question. In fact, I’m sure it’s not, but I get asked it all the time. So here goes: full disclosure. First of all, being an editor–at least in my world–is so not Sharon Stone’s character in the movie Sliver. I laugh at the gigantic apartment mostly. Am I the only one who saw this movie? Anyway, here’s my average day…

8:30-10am: This is my prime reading time. My office has amazing natural light so I take full advantage while reading. It’s the closest thing I have to a porch. I put my feet up, read and drink coffee that tastes like battery acid, my favorite. All that’s missing is the Country Time lemonade and the benevolent grandparents sitting nearby in rocking chairs.

Often, meetings happen in the 10am area. They last about an hour, maybe longer. Meetings are necessary and mostly an enjoyable break from staring at words–I find. It’s important to interact with real live people and my colleagues are a good bunch. Sometimes, there are snacks at these meetings–well, at least in meetings I facilitate. I just think donuts and M&Ms make the world a happier place. (lots of product placement in this post so far)

Between 11:30-12:30, I hit the gym because, as a morning person, I’m much more productive and alert in the afternoon if I work out. Plus, it neutralizes the chocolate eating and diminishes stress. I love my husband but I get a thrill out of watching Divorce Court while I run.

In the afternoon, I return phone calls, emails and do a lot of detail-oriented tasks–handing in books, updating a database, writing a memo, Tweeting & FBing, looking at numbers and lists and work-related blogs, obsessing about meeting deadlines, asking a question about a manuscript. My job involves a lot of sitting, so I try to move around once every 30 minutes. We sometimes have meetings in the afternoon, too.

Once I’ve finished with these details, I’ll do some more reading before retiring for the day. I go home between 4:30-5pm. A lot of my colleagues read on the commute home, but I play Angry Birds. It cleanses the palate because I tend to read even more when I get home.

Oh, so when do I edit? you ask. Well, either in the morning during my porch time or at night. To edit, I generally need a quiet few hours with no distractions. This is tough in an office environment, so I bring a lot of work home at night and on weekends. Since the sixth grade, I have hauled a heavy bag with me everywhere. My husband recently gave me a bag with wheels, which helps. I don’t like the idea of being stuck without a manuscript. Is it any wonder I read for a living?

You’d think I’d be sick of reading by evening. Sometimes I am and will indulge in some fierce knitting and a Criminal Minds, The Shield, or Gossip Girl marathon. But often, I will just keep going, reading some nonfiction or my trashy tabloids New Yorker. My eye muscles are just that used to inhaling words.

Now that I read this over, I see how pleasant my days usually are. I am lucky, for sure. Coffee, romance novels and chocolate. You really can’t go wrong.