I haven’t finished anything in the last few weeks that I’ve felt the need to talk about. I’m still reading The Children’s Book, on which I will have much to say when I do finish it, and I’m a couple hundred pages into A Suitable Boy. But what I have mostly been focusing on for the last few weeks is romance novels. Specifically, Mills and Boon romance novels.
There are two reasons why I have spent the last few weeks buried in a pile of Mills and Boon. One is that I am an unabashed romance reader. They are my go-to books when I need to read but can’t focus on something heavy or dense. They’re a palate-cleanser when I’ve finished something and am not yet ready to start something else. They are fast, easy, predictable enough to be comforting, and unique enough (mostly) to be interesting.
The other reason is the contest. Mills and Boon/Harlequin is running a “first chapter” contest right now, and the grand prize includes publication. So, obviously, I’m entering. And, of course, one of the best ways to aim your writing at a specific publisher is to read as much as possible by that publisher. This is especially important for a publisher like Harlequin. There are several different lines, and they each have their own idiosyncracies. It’s incredibly important to get to know the lines so that you know where your book will fit.
I am fairly picky about the romance novels I read. Let me stress that the ones I don’t like are not “bad” per se. I don’t disapprove of them; they’re just not to my taste. I don’t personally like paranormal, although other-world fantasy can be okay. I don’t like secret babies or revenge marriages. I really don’t like secret babies born out of one-night stands. I’m also not a huge fine of “the first time they had sex she got pregnant” but that’s a more minor annoyance. Historicals are okay, but the sheer number of REgency books with no overlap is starting to stretch the bounds of my credibility. The ton was not THAT big. Also, there are other time periods that deserve exploration.
I do like romantic suspense and most contemporary romance, as long as it doesn’t have one of my pet peeve storylines. (Although, like I said, I’m not opposed to these storylines. I’m not going to give up on a book just because it has a secret baby. I’m just less likely to pick it up in the first place.)
The thing about these books is that, just like any other book, there has to be a suspension of disbelief. There have to be characters that behave in a realistic or understandable way. If they don’t have that, then I’m not going to keep reading, and I’m going to write my own.
Also, the book needs to know what it’s writing about. This is most often seen in historical novels, but it applies to modern-set ones as well. If it’s set in the present-day, don’t have your main character live in a boarding house, studying bookkeeping part-time at a votech in order to become a CPA. Even throwing in a mention of a cell phone and crystal meth won’t make it believable as 2007. That’s a book that I gave up on. Also, three chapters in and the hero has only been mentioned, not met? This book got published on name recognition, not quality.
It turns out that my limit for essentially uninterrupted MIlls and Boon is about 30. At least, that’s about how many I have read over the last three weeks. But now that my chapter entry is done, I’m going to give myself an M&B break, at least until I hear the results. (It’s such a longshot, though – they’re shortlisting 10 out of 824. I don’t hold out much hope.)
Feel free to read my chapter, though – the contest website is www.romanceisnotdead.com and from there you can search for my name or “Making Friends” which is the least pathetic title I came up with. Reactions are always welcome – both positive and negative (but be nice about the genre, or I will hurt you).