How to write for two genres and/or two publishers and/or two editors and keep your voice, your writing style and your sanity! On how to be true to yourself as a writer and the line/publisher you write for.
Carly’s contribution to RWA 2004 Workshop with Pamela Britton, Leslie Kelly and Harlequin Executive Senior Editor Brenda Chin.
When I came up with the idea for this workshop, I knew that the three of us would bring you different points of view on how to write for two or more publishing houses; publishing lines and genres. I write hardcover contemporaries for Warner, mass market contemporaries for HQN and this fall I have a contemporary anthology for NAL. Pamela writes both historical and contemporaries for HQN as well as contemporary categories for Harlequin American. Leslie writes contemporaries for HQN and series romance for Harlequin Blaze. That’s a broad array of insanity sitting up on this panel and we’re here to discuss how we write for different genres, different editors, and even how to write for the same editor while convincingly making your stories sound different and appropriate for each line.
In essence, we’re here to give you tips on how to balance your writing life. Ummm … that sounded like there’s a key to managing the insanity, didn’t it? Unfortunately there isn’t. Every author needs to find their tried and true method but there are tips to help keep it simple. Or should I say simpler.
Readers First and Foremost
What you may ask do your readers have to do with your writing? The answer to that is EVERYTHING. Readers invest their hard earned money on a book and they do not expect to be disappointed. So before you put your characters on paper, ask yourself, what kind of read does my audience expect from me? This has to do with author branding which is another workshop entirely. But to give you an example, a Carly Phillips reader has come to expect a sexy, fun story. That is always uppermost in my mind when I sit down to write.
Internal Editor First, Publishing Editor Second
If you are like me, your editor sits on your shoulder while you are writing, watching everything you do. In my case it’s rather complicated because my Harlequin editor sits on my shoulder while I’m writing my Warner books, too. But this is a good thing because everything I learned about making a story stronger, I learned from Brenda Chin. Of course I have to say that because she’s sitting here, but I also have to say it because it’s true.
That said, your internal editor is more important than your external editor, at least in your first draft. Your internal editor aka your MUSE is the thing that will define you as a writer. Your muse will take your characters in a new direction and let your spread your wings as a writer. THEN you can take up the argument with your publishing editor about why this new direction works, or maybe your muse was just so brilliant, your editor will see the light immediately from the glorious story you’ve written. Either way, you need to tell your characters story from the heart.
THEN you move on to pleasing your editor. So what do you do if you have two editors with two different visions of YOU? The first thing you need to learn is how to straddle the fence. When I began writing my first Warner single title, The Bachelor, I tried to mentally detach myself from Harlequin Temptation and Blaze and write a longer book. I thought that meant I had to be different. I was wrong. In my effort to “expand”, I ended up having to cut a good amount of pages from the beginning of The Bachelor and looking back, I wish I’d cut more.
In my zeal to write single title for a new publishing house and editor, I left behind my important rule # 1. Be true to your readers which means being true to your voice. In order to write a sexy, fun story, I needed a faster pace from page one.
But what happens if you are true to your voice, a voice that was successful for you in category or for another editor, and you move to a new house and the editor wants to tweak it a bit. A kind way to say, she’s all for changing it. What then?
Some battles are worth fighting for, others aren’t. My Warner editor and I had to come to terms with the hotter elements in my books and some of the way my characters (Hero) expressed things. I, in turn, forced myself to look at her comments objectively and make changes where appropriate. I do believe that an editorial relationship is give an take, so both parties can end up satisfied. My editor allowed me to stet many of the parts she’d originally suggested I delete to keep what I felt was Carly Phillips’ sensuality that readers counted upon.
But I learned that as an editor, she had much to offer me as well. As an example, in The Bachelor, in the original version, Charlotte and Roman did not share a past. My Warner editor suggested “she be the girl he’d left behind but could never forget.” I’m always open to revisions if I can “wrap my mind around them” and in this case, it made perfect sense. I made the changes and lo and behold? In fan letters? Charlotte being “the one he could never forget” resonated with readers. I was glad I’d made the change and I learned so much from my editor’s experience.
But the most interesting turn for me came when I returned to Harlequin to write for HQN and I had to jump back into “Harlequin” mode or what I usually call “Brenda mode.” To write HOT STUFF, my first HQN and a book I knew would be part of the first launch month, I decided I wanted to tackle sports heroes, a secret little fantasy of mine. *g* I think I was testing the waters, seeing if I could write what was always forbidden to me in category. Brenda said yes because she had faith in me. Either that or she had an off day. I just counted myself lucky and dove right in.
How did I get back into Harlequin mode and out of Warner mode? I didn’t. Not completely. My Warner editor had told me my strength was small town and family and I decided to continue to give my readers the family connection they had come to expect: this time three orphaned sisters raised by their sports agent, bachelor uncle. This allowed me to rely on rule number one, pleasing my readers.
It also allowed me to take what I’d learned writing for Warner and to apply it on my Harlequin contemporary. But then, I also knew that writing for HQN freed me up mentally to write a hot story without worrying about how I was phrasing things … and in a sense, return a little to my roots. After all, I started writing for Harlequin Temptation Blaze, and for Brenda. Now I just got to do it all over again but in longer format. I hope HOT STUFF represents the best of Carly Phillips and all she’s learned over the years.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Because I write contemporaries for two publishers, my differences are more subtle than others might experience writing two genres. But still, the question is out there? What is the difference between Carly’s hardcovers and Carly’s paperbacks? The answer? I tend to think of my Harlequin books as hotter and a bit edgier? OK before Brenda falls off her chair laughing because I am NOT an edgy writer? They’re a little sassier and take more risks, I think. My Warner hardcovers. But all in all, I try to give readers the best book I can and a sexy, fun read without losing my sanity in the process.