Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Workshops 2 - the other side of the coin

Okay, so I had a bit of a rant about Workshops – and I’m delighted to know that so many of you agreed with me. Apart from anything else, I’ve been very lucky in my writing career and this job has been very good to me. I’ve gone from being a ‘dreamer’ – a girl who wrote stories in secret in the middle of the night or at the back of the maths class, in an exercise book hidden behind the text book – the girl that everyone said would never get a single book published – to a successful author with 48 fiction and 2 non fiction books on my shelves, a regular income from my work and lots of friends that I’ve made through my writing and the world of romance novels and romantic fiction in general. I’ve traveled – New York, Denver, Auckland, Sydney- met hundreds of fans and other writers – because of my work and I’ve enjoyed 20+ years of it. So as well as everything else my workshops are a way of putting something back into the world that has been so good to me.

So that’s why I do workshops - but today I’m looking at the other side of the coin – I believe in doing workshops but I also believe that those who attend workshops could – should – consider a few points before they turn up at any workshop I’m giving. If only to get the very best out of what I’m trying to teach.

So, let’s consider some of them.

If you’re going to attend any workshop I – or any other Harlequin Mills & Boon author is giving – please read some books beforehand. And make them books that were published in the last 12 months or so. From a selection of different authors. Don’t rely on the fact that you once read one book by Violet Winspear or Betty Neels published in the 1960s that you bought secondhand from a shop for five pence – and consider that that is representative of the whole genre from 1908 when the company was founded until the present day. Romances are a growing, changing, developing genre and the books being published now are not the same as they’ve always been – nor are the Tender Romances the same as the Moderns or the Desire the same as the Medicals.

Don’t ask the speaker (ie me!) ‘So have the books changed much in the past ten/fifteen/twenty years. The answer is YES - but if you want to find out how much they’ve changed then read for yourself. You could be pretty surprised. And you’ll learn a lot lot more that way than you would from my – or any other author’s answer of ‘Yes they’ve changed – and they continue to change.’

Don’t rely on sloppy, lazy journalists who will tell you that

  1. Everyone knows what a HMB romance is like –

  2. That HMB Romances are all the same and have been the same since time began and will be the same until the end of time

  3. That all HMB heroines are sweet innocent virgins who swoon upon the hero's manly chest, with her bosoms heaving, if a man so much as comes near them

  4. That all HMB heroes are arrogant, monstrous Heathcliff-type brutes who do nothing other than treat the heroine appallingly until on the very last page he declares that he loves her – at which point she will swoon upon his manly chest – see 3 above

  5. That all M&B romances are sickly sweet, with conflicts based only on silly misunderstandings that bear no relation to reality whatsoever.

  6. That there is no sex whatsoever in any M&B romance and that all books must slide over these passionate moments with the dot, dot, dot, syndrome – eg ‘He picked her up in his arms of steel and carried her towards the bedroom door . . . ‘

  7. If there is (shock, horror!) any sex in an M&B book it is only a recent development and may only take place after marriage, in the missionary position, in a bed . . . I repeat, read some books.

  8. Above all else do not believe the urban myths that the lazy journo’s spread around – like the existence of the famous ‘formula’ – or, even worse, the guidebook that lists the exact places, parts of the body that may be touched and at what stage in the book – and that no other places on the hero or heroine’s anatomy may be even mentioned at any point.

If you’re in any doubt about these – READ the books! That way at least you will know what the speaker is talking about and it will make a lot more sense to you.

Don't ask the workshop leader if she can 'just' read your book and say what she thinks because it's time-consuming to do it properly and said author has deadlines of her own. Above all, don’t do as it is rumoured one over-enthusiastic would-be author did at an American conference and follow the (in this case editor) into the ladies loo and shove your manuscript under the cubicle door, begging her to ‘just’ take a look at it while she’s in there!

Don't whine about how come author XYZ gets to write about a subject but your book on the same subject was rejected – it’s more than likely that it’s not the subject you wrote about but the way you wrote that was the problem. It’s a fact of life that experienced authors can tackle topics that the ‘rules’ say must never be tackled and make them work.
Which reminds me – don’t believe in the ‘Rules’ – as my editor but two ago said ‘The only rule in romance writing is that you write as well as you possibly can in the way that tells the story in the best possible way so as to make the best book you can create.

If you're targeting category romance, it must be because that's what you want to write - if you try to write it from the head, there won't be any heart in your book and the main point about these books is emotion, emotion, emotion. So don’t turn up at the workshop expecting to learn how to make a very fast and very large buck out of a couple of books that you have dashed off in order to finance your way to something better.

Don’t ask the speaker what she earns from her writing so that you will know what you can expect to earn yourself as soon as you have dashed off that book you know will be so very easy to write. It’s impossible to predict just what any book will earn because it depends on the line it’s published it, whether the readers take to it, how many international countries it’s published in, how long you’ve been writing . . . . Whatever the speaker earns it will probably bear no relation (good or bad) to anything you, or any other author, even in the same line, may earn.

Above all else, don’t expect the speaker to give you that much famed ‘magic formula’ for writing a M&B/Harlequin Romance – no – hang on - I’ll give you that now, for free – here you are




Easy isn’t it? Not!
If it was then M&B would be accepting 4000 or more of the over 5000 submissions they receive each year instead of the less than 10 new authors a year that they do publish.

So if you do go to a workshop on writing romance, go prepared. Read the books, accept that there is no easy, magical answer – but if you have talent, love the genre, work hard, keep on submitting in the face of rejection, learn from the comments editors or other qualified readers make on your work, and keep trying – you might just make a go of it. I’m not going to trample on anyone’s dreams – people tried to do that to mine and I wouldn’t let them. But neither am I going to tell you it’s easy. No workshop can give you all the answers but you can learn a lot if you go in the right frame of mind, and you give writing this particular genre – the one that the late, great Charlotte Lamb described as ‘those complicated little books’ - the respect and the hard work they deserve.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

Well said, that woman.

There is also the story of someone who came to a conference, dumped a carrier-bag full of M&Bs which had been carefully highlighted in different colours (i.e. for plot, emotion, characterisation, dialogue) and asked why she couldn't work out the formula...

You have to write from the heart, not the head. Care about your characters. And make the conflict sustainable and WORTH the fight. (But then, why am I telling you this? Preaching to the converted!)

Anne McAllister said...


Michelle Styles said...

To quote Robert McKee:
Anxious inexperienced writers obey rules; rebellious unschooled writers break rules; an artist masters the form. There is no formula, only forms that need to be mastered.

Catagory writing like any genre is all about mastering the form. It is what the individual writer does with that form that counts.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kate
As someone who has spent all weekend cutting and pasting craft gems from eharl - reading your blog today was wonderful. The heart and the 'worth it factor' is what matters!

Your advice about keeping going in the fact of rejection made me smile inside. Every wannabe needs that kind of pep talk! Thanks for just the moment I needed.

Jude D

Anonymous said...

Dear Kate
Wow - that was wonderful. And as a wannabe who often thinks 'will it ever happen' as the time passes - your advice is so great.
Feeling it matters. The heart and the 'making it worth it' factor are what counts. Thanks for the focus and the urge to keep trying.

Jude D

Anonymous said...

I'd think it very rude of anybody to ask somebody how much (s)he earns, regardless of whether they're hoping to move into the same business or not. Maybe I'm old-fashioned but I was always taught that income was a subject you simply didn't discuss with anybody other than those closest to you.

I'm really not sure when it comes to the 'rules' though. On the one hand I hear that there aren't any, and on the other I hear that you can't write this and you can't write that because this won't appeal to the US bible-belt and that won't appeal to... well, whoever. It can all be very confusing at times.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous advice as always.

And for anyone new starting out or people plugging away yet to succeed, you have to read, read, read Kate's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance Fiction. As I may have said before!!

I can't believe someone actually went so far as to slide their ms under the door of the cubicle in the ladies!!!!! What are people like?!

Hope you have fun with Sicilian 2.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Hum, no sex. I guess they haven't read Kate Hardy or Sarah Morgan's Medicals. Or your Presents. :)

One of the reasons I'm trying to write Medicals is the wide range of stories. No formula. And doctors are pretty darn sexy.;)


Kate Walker said...

Kate, Anne, Michelle - I knew you;d all agree. Preaching to the converted. Michelle - i love that McKee quote.

Hi Jude - nice to see you here and I'm glad that my post spoke to you. The journey to publication, whether it's long or short can be a really difficult one - but if we enjoy the journey not just aim for the destination then we can learn a lot too. I'm glad to be able to help.

Sharon - asking about money is not only rude, it's pointless! All I can say with any authority is what I earned for past books - I don't really have any idea what I'm going to get in the next royalty statement.

Rules -you said:
"On the one hand I hear that there aren't any, and on the other I hear that you can't write this and you can't write that because this won't appeal to the US bible-belt and that won't appeal to... well, whoever. "

Well, those aren't really 'rules' - more like advice, suggestions . And I've honestly never worried myself too much about what this part of the readership might like and that one might not. . . It's partly a strong sense of what is currently popular now - and (at the risk of repeating myself) that comes from reading and keeping aware of what is being written now. It's also what my son calls. 'having my finger on the pulse' of contemporary trends and themes. The other thng is that if there is some theme that is not very popular there's not total rule that 'you must not' - just that you would need to work harder to make ti work as it initially could meet with some resistance.

If you let yourself get bogged down in writing what one group might like then you can find yourself writing something that some other section won't like. My advice? You can please all of the people all of the time. If you're trying too hard to do that then you're in danger of trying to write some sort of 'formula' novel. Work from inside your characters and tell their story. Then if an editor thinks there is a problem with you you can revise - but don't edit all the life out of it before you've eben started.

Mags you sweetheart - you'reá one woman advertising campaign for the 12 POint Guide bless you! I'm told the ms under the toilet door is true - at RWA National one year !

Tiana- hi and welcome! Yes, it's amazing how many people think that M&B books are chaste and innocent - they should read more! Good luck with your Meds - and enjoy the wide range of all the stories. At least you know what you're talking about


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