- by Maxine Sullivan
This week at Novelists Inc we welcome Stacy Boyd, Senior Editor Silhouette Desire, one of Harlequin’s top-selling lines for category romance.
Stacy, tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be the senior editor of Silhouette Desire.
My work in publishing began almost accidentally. I love to read, and to write, and have worked at several jobs that involved both. First with a regional publisher in Florida, then with a college PR magazine, and then at an online magazine about medicine and culture. All the while, I did freelance writing on the side. When the first dot-com bust came around, I began thinking about what I wanted to do next. I had accumulated an editorial background in various formats and topics, but what I really loved to read was romance. (I always say I started the romance habit at age nine, but it might have been earlier than that. :) ) Harlequin was hiring just as I was looking to combine my editorial experience with my favorite genre, and I’ve been at the company for eight years now. Within Harlequin, I’ve worked with several category romance lines, Luna Books, the feature and custom publishing department and now with Desire.
Can you explain exactly what a category romance is and how it differs from other romance books?
There are a few differences between category romance novels and other romances: a consistent, short word count; a guaranteed happy ending; and a strong focus on the hero and heroine. But the key difference between category and “single title” is that each category novel is part of a distinct line, like Desire, which has its own identity—a promise to the reader about what type of story she will get with every book. This means that the line itself builds a fan base. For example, folks who like strong alpha males, stories that sweep you into a world of wealth and privilege, and passionate and powerful family sagas will like the stories published in Desire. This means that new authors writing category romance can have a built-in audience from their first book.
I love magazines, and I think of category romance like my New Yorker or Atlantic Monthly subscriptions. My magazines come in the mail like little gifts each month. Each one has a voice, a style, a promise. Some stories and hooks catch my eye, and I will read those articles because I like the themes. Some authors are my favorites, and I will read their pieces no matter what they write. Overall, if I read and enjoy at least half of the magazine, I will continue my subscription.
Category romance is similar. The Desire line has an identity, a style, a promise. We hope that some stories and hooks will catch readers’ eyes. We hope that some authors are readers’ favorites and will be read no matter what themes they choose to write about. Overall, we hope readers will enjoy all six books, or at least the majority of the month’s books, so that they will continue their mail or online subscriptions or their monthly trips to the store.
What do you like to see in an initial submission, and what about a manuscript grabs your attention?
In submissions, I love to see a strong, concise paragraph in the query letter that sells me on the story’s theme. This is like the back cover copy of submissions. For manuscripts, I love to see an opening line, paragraph and page that really hooks me. I want high stakes right away, whether they are internal for the characters or external in the plot.
What current trends do you find the most interesting?
Format-wise, I’m very interested in the move to digital publishing. There are so many ways that books can be published and read. It’s fascinating to see how the industry is changing, and so quickly.
For fiction, I love how romance finds its way into other genres—and helps grow those other genres. For example, many years ago, romance authors branched out and created romantic suspense as a mainstream phenomenon. We saw the same thing again with chick lit, combining women’s fiction, the coming of age story, and romance. Now, it seems YA is filled with stories that are not traditional romances but have strong romantic elements. YA is still growing, so it will be interesting to see what—if anything—incorporates romance next.
How do you feel about authors working with other publishers or in other genres?
Cross-over writing appeals to me, as long as we can find a way to market the book to the right audience. Genre readers love to read, and many are willing to follow an author through different styles and stories. Writing for other publishers is an asset as well. Authors who have worked with other houses can offer insights on new ways to do things and any promotion they’ve done to enhance their careers will hopefully follow them across publishers. That said, a category romance writer can best build her audience by being prolific—three to four books a year—within one line.
What advice do you have for seasoned authors in the current publishing climate?
Authors have a real opportunity right now to create strong and direct relationships with their audiences. Blogs and social media are a great way to engage fans, but I’d also recommend creating and building an opt-in newsletter list of folks who truly love your work. These are the people who want to know when your next book arrives on the shelves, and with a timely message they may propel your first week of sales to the bestseller lists.
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
Juggling the Desire schedule is one of the most interesting and challenging parts of my job. I have to consider the publishing strategy for the line and for each author, along with ensuring there is variety to the topics and titles in each month, that all the books scheduled for production will be delivered and edited on time, and that any new requests from sales and marketing are honored. It’s a good thing I like puzzles!
What’s your favorite part of being an editor?
I love talking and thinking about books and stories, with authors, with readers, with other folks in the industry. If you’re interested in connecting via social media, you can find me on Twitter (@Stacy_Boyd or @DesireEditors) and on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/stacydboyd or http://www.facebook.com/harlequindesire). Oh, and I also love how reading and keeping up with TV, movie and Web trends is part of what I do.
What authors do you enjoy reading off the job?
I read a wide variety of things off the job. I love Clay Shirky’s books and blog. I love damomma.com—she makes me laugh and cry. I read magazines, and article links sent by my Twitter feed. I read series that grab me: recent ones are The Hunger Games and The Passage—I will be getting book two in this series as soon as it comes out! Authors I’ve liked recently: J.R. Ward/Jessica Bird, Mandy Hubbard, Jeri Smith-Ready, Curtis Ann Matlock, Sarah Mylnowski and Megan Hart. I’m slow on uploading my list, but you can see some of my recent reads on Goodreads. (You can find me under Stacy Boyd.)
For a fun question: On my desk you will always find…
A paper to-do list. It is my second brain, and I cannot function without it!