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Frequently Asked Questions

Question for JaneWhen you're considering new story ideas, how do you know when you've thought of a winner -- one worth spending months and months writing the book?

Jane's Answer I know an idea for a new book will work for me when I get the conflict hammered out -- internal and external. The story comes alive when I pit strong characters (with strong motivations) against each other and keep the pressure on. Although I love starting a new book, the hardest part of the book has become getting the first couple of chapters right, because that's when I need to layer in all the goals, motivations, needs, dreams, etc. to sustain the rest of the book. Once I hit chapter 4 I know I can make a book work and it never gets 'easier' but I feel more peace.

Unlike a lot of writers, I don't get 'thousands' of ideas. I'll get a couple of ideas, and usually if I play with the concept long enough, I end up with a real story. The key for me is spending sufficient time collecting information, research, and just 'mulling it over' time. I've started books and realized I wasn't ready to write them, but inevitably in six months to a year, I've figured out the missing ingredient, come back, and written a story I love.

Lastly, writing for a certain market creates parameters for story ideas. Writing for Harlequin Presents I must always create a dynamic, very Alpha hero. He needs to be so strong, so sexual, so commanding that the heroine's world is rocked. If a book falters for me I will often go back and re-examine the characters, trying to find out which pieces of their personalities I've missed, which bits of back story I've ignored, which traits need to be better emphasized. Writing romances are like building elaborate jigsaw puzzles. If you continue to add in little pieces, and don't give up on the big picture, it will eventually all come together.

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Question for JaneThe main character of She's Gone Country is named "Shey." How do you pronounce it?She's Gone Country

Jane's AnswerShey is pronounced SHAY, as in HOORAY, or SASHAY. It's a lovely Southern name.

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Question for JaneI've heard some authors say that entering writing contests is a waste of time. Other authors swear by them. What do you think?

Jane's AnswerI do believe contests can be very valuable for the unpublished writer, and I've used contests to climb out of the slush pile and attract some attention.

A finalist in numerous regional RWA contests, I won the big one for the unpublished author, RWA's Golden Heart Contest in 1998 for my long contemporary series romance, All-Around Cowboy. Although All-Around Cowboy never did sell, I took everything I learned from the submission and revision process to write a new book, The Italian Groomthis time geared for Harlequin Presents.

The hard work paid off. The manuscript I wrote for Harlequin Presents, a short contemporary set in California's Napa Valley, finaled in the 2000 Golden Heart contest, and was published by Harlequin in March 2001 as The Italian Groom.

ThereIn Dante's Debt are far fewer contests for published authors (which makes sense), but the MacDaddy of them all, the RITAs continues to loom large every year. Lazaro's RevengeI have twice finalled for this prestigious award. It's really more of a recognition competition than a contest, but boy-oh-boy does it feel wonderfully validating to be named a finalist. Both In Dante's Debt and Lazaro's Revenge, RITA short contemporary Finalistthe first two books in my Galvan Brides Quintet, were Short Contemporary finalists for 2002 and 2003 respectively.

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Question for JaneI've read novels forever and my favorite line is Harlequin Presents. Last year I decided I wanted to try to write a novel, too, and am now half way through my second (My first was just rejected by an editor at Harlequin Mills & Boon). The rejection really discouraged me, but I'm determined to try again. How hard is it to break into Harlequin Presents? Any thoughts or advice?

Jane's AnswerIt took me forever to get my first sale --but that's not the case for everyone. It's true that Harlequin Presents isn't the easiest place to get a first sale -- but for some people (like me) it was worth waiting for. I love the line and it allows me to express my heroes and my view of the world in a way that other Harlequin lines might not. If you're already reading Harlequin Presents -- then you know what the line looks for: powerful, sexual alpha male heroes, an independent heroine, a glamorous setting, an element of fantasy thrown in. So keep reading‚ -- especially when new authors come out and see what seems to be working for the editors today. Also, have a vision of the kinds of stories you want to tell and really work at writing those stories. I didn't want to be like anyone else at Presents. I wanted to be “me” and yet I wanted to deliver a powerful, emotional story that had the Presents intensity. Lastly, this is a very tough business. You can't let rejection -- or revision letters -- throw you. If you want to make it in the publishing industry you're going to need a tough skin and lots of confidence. So try to find one or two very good writing friends or critique partners to learn and grow with and stick to it. If you keep working, and stay focused, you can succeed!

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Question for JaneHow can I keep growing as a writer when I live so far away from any RWA chapter or critique group? What advice or suggestions can you give me to improve?

Jane's Answer One of the best things you can do is keep learning the craft of writing. Study all the books you can get your hands on. I'll give you a short list of some of my favorite books, and the last book on the list, Goal, Motivation & Conflict is one of my all time favorites. It really helped me punch up my tension, motivation and plot pacing.

Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes
Tami Cowden, Carol LeFever, Sue Viders
ISBN 1-58065-024-4

The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
Christopher Vogler
ISBN 0-941188-70-1

Creating Unforgettable Characters
Linda Seger
ISBN 0-8050-1171-4

Goal, Motivation & Conflict
Debra Dixon
ISBN 0-9654371-0-8

Also, check out some of the websites that have writing features, or try to attend one good writing conference/workshop every year. I've been writing for a long time now and I'm still trying to learn constantly. I find it helps keep my writing fresh, and I end up having more fun with it, too. By the way, have you been visiting www.eharlequin.com? There are some terrific writing resources there, especially under the thread "Writing Romance".

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Question for Jane How exactly should I send my synopsis out when submitting it? I have HM&B's guidelines -- but what specifically are they looking for? And realistically speaking, how long will it take them to reply to me, and when could I send my next synopsis off?

Jane's AnswerI would send your synopsis normally -- in an envelope with a cover letter. And this question comes up a lot on the eharlequin.com boards, under Writing Romance. Check out the Q&A with HM&B Editors discussion thread or other synopsis related topics. In general, the editors at HM&B, don't really want a long synopsis. They all say they want a couple pages at the most, and they're looking for the spark between the hero and heroine. They're interested in the conflict and the resolution of the conflict in a synopsis. They want to get a feel of what will make this book emotional and sensual, or magical, or whatever it is you're trying to achieve. I always devote a paragraph to the hero, a paragraph to the heroine, a paragraph to back story and then dive in with what's keeping these two apart and what's drawing them together. I try to keep it warm and exciting and passionate -- kind of a teaser for my books!

When I use to send my partials I mailed normally. It could take HM&B anywhere from 2 weeks to reply to 3 months. After 3 months you could always query via email or a letter and see where things stand. I know the editorial offices don't like to get too many story ideas in at one time. Better to give them a chance to read your current partial/synopsis/ms and get a response on that before sending something else in. That way each story gets a fair reading and isn't rushed over.

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Question for Jane As a mom with young kids how do you juggle your writing and career goals with your family responsibilities? And how did you handle it before you started selling to Harlequin Presents?

Jane's Answer I'm going to be honest here. I write as much as I can, whenever I can, and as long as my energy, family and emotional self can handle it.

I have a tendency to write hot and cold, and when I hit a cold writing spell I try to push through it as best as I can, and when I continue to be unproductive writing new scenes, I turn to business oriented writing, such as learning about the craft, work on building a bookseller mailing list, sending out promo postcards, etc.

Even before I published, when I only wrote 'part-time', it was still full-time in my head and heart. I wanted a 'career' in the publishing business. I wanted to be able to sustain a career and started training myself to think of myself as a real writer with real hours, deadlines, and work with real value.

Specifically with regard to writing and kids, I write whenever my kids are gone, (ie. school, sports, etc), or happily occupied -- even if it means playing next to me with markers and paper. My minimum goal a day is four hours work. If I don't do it in the morning or afternoon, I return to my desk at night. I also have a rough goal of 7 pages a day. Sometimes I get a week or two behind my 'schedule' (I map out how long a book should take, write it in my writing calendar and try to stick with it) but eventually I catch up when I hit a hot streak, or just because I'm desperate to get back on schedule.

I think the key to balancing family life with writing is to do what feels right for you. Good luck!

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Question for Jane Do you get a lot of fan letters?

Jane's Answer I love receiving mail from readers. Sometimes readers ask questions, sometimes they lament over scenes I left out, sometimes they applaud characters. I love all the letters I receive. Here is one that particularly humbled me:

"Your writing continues to amaze me. I find it explosive, challenging, and unique. With some writers you always know what you will find inside the covers of their book, and that comfortable predictability is what draws you back. With others, you know you will be surprised in new ways each time. The first type of writers are fun to read; the second (like you) are the interesting, affecting ones." ~ Danielle Castle

An author can't ask for much more than that.

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