Covers, Covered

- by Charlotte Hubbard

an amish christmas quilt The cover of a book is supposed to lure potential readers to take your book from the store shelf—or click it, online—and read more about what’s inside. The typical path is: you like the cover, you read the back cover copy, you open the book to read inside a bit, and—hopefully—you proceed to the checkout. Cover art does these things mostly by revealing the genre of the story, telling the reader what awaits her inside, and conveying the setting and the general mood of the story.

For instance, you can see at a glance that this is an Amish story because the young woman on the front is wearing a kapp, and there’s a horse-drawn vehicle on it, and a picturesque snow-covered countryside sets the scene. Even if you didn’t see the title, AN AMISH CHRISTMAS QUILT, you’d know it was a Christmas book because of that red and green quilt on the young lady’s lap. Most of the readers and reviewers in the Amish-interest Facebook groups I belong to have raved about this cover and can’t wait to read this anthology, so this cover is doing its job. It helps that Christmas anthologies sell very well, and that Amish Christmas anthologies are a huge draw for readers who enjoy those simple, homespun, faith-based stories. In all humility, while I think my fans (not to mention fans of Kelly and Jennifer) will flock to this anthology, this book would sell pretty well no matter whose name was on the front.

Yet when I saw this cover the first time, I snorted iced tea through my nose! Why was that?

Well, think about it! Ask yourself why this attractive young woman is seated on an unhitched wagon in the middle of a snowy field—yet she’s smiling as though there’s nowhere on earth she’d rather be. Where’s the horse? Why’s she off the road?

I have no idea.

The scene has nothing to do with my story, “A Willow Ridge Christmas Pageant,” and reading the other two blurbs doesn’t suggest a connection, either. Had I gotten a preview peek at this cover—and usually I do—I would’ve pointed out the perceived discrepancies immediately.

Do I like this cover? You bet I do—the colors and the mood it conveys are perfect for this genre and holiday. I’m also pleased that in the inspirational market, we get to call it a Christmas anthology rather than a holiday book. And I will say that the cover art for my Seasons of the Heart series for Kensington have been awesome—and that the cover of my upcoming HARVEST OF BLESSINGS is the loveliest, most spot-on cover I’ve ever had on a book.

But sometimes you just have to say huh? and chuckle at New York’s renditions of country life. If the young lady on the cover is sitting in the snow, with no apparent place to go and no horse to take her there—and she’s smiling—then I will smile, too. Maybe she knows a lot more than I do!

Who Lives Here, Really?

- by Charlotte Hubbard

collageLast year I sold a new Amish series to Harlequin’s Love Inspired line. I quickly concocted a new setting, new characters, and the ideas for several potential stories, and then when the editor bought my series I wrote a complete first chapter of the first book. Because I’ve had two other Amish series in publication for a while, I then went back to those worlds to complete some books. Now I have this new collage hanging above my computer so I can write the rest of this Harlequin book, entitled DEBORAH’S CONFESSION.

 

But who are these people?? (You can probably name several of them, but because I haven’t watched TV for more than 20 years, only Johnny Depp and Sean Connery conjure up any meaning for me. The others are merely compelling, provocative faces rather than real people who’ve led various lives on the screen.)

 

When I concocted this collage to give me a visual reminder of traits and emotions I’ll be dealing with in this series, I knew I’d be coming back to this point of writing about them after living in those other two series worlds . . . and even though I’ve reread the first chapter I wrote, and have now written a couple more chapters, these folks still feel like relative strangers to me. It’s not a comfy, cozy feeling. It’s more like Who are you people? And why did I think you had stories to tell?

 

I know my heroine Deborah—middle row, far right—the best, and I know Noah, next to her, second-best. I totally understand why she’s hiding the ordeal she’s just endured at the hands of the bishop’s bully of a son, just as I understand why Noah hesitates to forgive Deborah for breaking their engagement a few months ago. And I know that all the other characters are siding with Deborah rather than Noah.

 

And I truly love the new setting—an abandoned church camp, which Noah’s mom and her two sisters have bought by selling their farms in Coldstream, Missouri so they could start a new Amish colony at Promise Lodge. Can you picture the timbered lodge building and the long wooden tables in the dining hall? Can you feel the breeze in the shade of tall old trees as you squint at the sun diamonds sparkling on Rainbow Lake? Can you smell the chicken Rosetta fried for dinner?

 

Me, too.

 

So how do I make these characters feel like longtime friends who find themselves conflicted about the hometown they’ve left? How will Deborah confess what she walked into, unawares? And what happens if she tells the truth and Noah won’t believe her?

 

Only one way to find out: stop writing this blog post (and turn off the email and Facebook) and start writing on this book again! It’s a discovery process that only happens when the author is fully engaged in coaxing her characters to reveal themselves and their deepest needs.

See you next month.

Welcome EMILY RODMELL, Harlequin’s Love Inspired Editor

- by Lina Gardiner

Emily, welcome to NINC BLOG.  It’s lovely to meet you.  Thank you for agreeing to chat with us.

 

First question and one you probably hear often.  J  Did you always want to be an editor?

I wanted to tell Margaret Mitchell to rewrite the ending to Gone with the Wind when I was in the 8th grade, so I guess I’ve wanted to be an editor at least since then. I actually got a journalism degree in college and started my work career as a newspaper editor before ending up in books a few years later.

 

What drew you to the Love Inspired line?

I actually read the Love Inspired line before I came to work for Harlequin. But when I interviewed for the job, there were several openings with no description of the editorial, so I had no idea what line I was interviewing for. So when the HR guy asked me what I liked to read, I told him that I enjoyed the LI line and I was thrilled that one of the openings was for it. I love that Harlequin has a little something for everyone whether you’re a woman of faith who wants a sweeter romance or someone who loves a good vampire story. I fall on the sweeter side of the spectrum, so I love working on this line.

 

What advice do you have for published authors deciding to write for the Christian market?

There are definitely opportunities there, but I think it’s important to feel passionate about the genre. If you don’t, you might feel boxed in by guidelines. Love Inspired doesn’t want books to be preachy, but we do want the true meaning of faith to shine through.

 

Are there any commonly submitted plot premises that don’t work for Harlequin Love Inspired?

Love Inspired books are romance books, so we need the characters to fall in love during the course of the book. We often get already married characters working on a relationship that’s already in progress, and that doesn’t work for us. We do accept reunion romances as long as the characters have been completely broken up for a long time before the book starts.

 

 Are there tried and true Love Inspired premises you’d still like to see:

Things like reunion romances and secret babies are always big draws for any line.  For LI and LIH, our readers love a good Western cowboy hero. And for LIS, a good law enforcement hero is a big draw.

 

What would be your ‘dream story’ that you’d love to see cross your desk?

My authors are so fabulous that every time I mention I have a dream story, they make sure it’s on my desk. I asked for pirates and managed to get a book for both the historical and suspense line. I’d love to see more spies (think Covert Affairs).

 

Who is your favorite actor/actress (Or Rhett and Scarlett in Gone With The Wind) J and what characteristics does he/she have that would work well in Love Inspired stories? 

 I do have great affection for Rhett and Scarlett, though they are missing one vital piece in their relationship that a Love Inspired book needs—a happy ending. I work on a lot of suspense books, so it should come as no surprise that I love procedural TV shows like Bones, Castle, The Closer, Major Crimes, White Collar, Covert Affairs etc. I think the sort of religious debate that Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz’s characters on Bones have is interesting and indicative of some of what we do in LIS, except both characters would need to be in the Christian faith by the end of the story. And I love interesting yet flawed characters such as Kyra Sedgwick’s Brenda Leigh Johnson and Matt Bomer’s Neal Caffrey.

 

What do you think of continuities?  Do they do well in the current marketplace?

 Our readers love continuity series. They often are top sellers in a line. We had great success in LIS with our Texas K-9 Unity series, so much so that we’re doing another K-9 Unit series in 2015. This one will be set in Washington, D.C. While challenging to pull off for authors, I think they’re also a lot of fun.

 

Have you ever personally ‘discovered’ an author in the slush pile who went on to great success?

I’ve acquired more than 30 authors for the three Love Inspired lines. The second author I ever bought back when I was an editorial assistant was Lynette Eason who’s gone on to have a very successful career in the CBA and still writes for Love Inspired Suspense as well.

 

Is there anything you’re over-inventoried in? And conversely, anything you’re desperate for more of?

With the expansion of LIS, we are eager to find new romantic suspense manuscripts and authors. That is where the best opportunity for publication lies. But we also acquire for the other two lines. For Love Inspired Historical, we’d love to see more Western settings and possibly some Amish.

Would you like to talk about the changes happening at Harlequin Love Inspired in May with regard to more books being published each month?

We are very excited that starting in May, the Love Inspired Suspense line expanded from 4 books a month to 6. This has given us the opening to bring 13 new authors to the line so far since the announcement. It’s always great to have fresh voices, and they’re writing new and exciting topic such as pirates, snipers, spies and more. It’s a great opportunity for writers looking for a publishing home. If you have something that fits our guidelines, feel free to send it my way.

 

Is there any advice you would like to share with published authors?

I’m a big fan of social media, Twitter especially (find me at @EmilyRodmell) but I think that a lot of published authors miss the point of it. Tweeting “buy my book” multiple times an hour isn’t effective and is more likely to turn off readers than make them want to buy your book. For every 1 sale you get, you probably have a dozen other users muting or unfollowing you. Social media is about building relationships and a following, but in order to do that, you have to offer something, not just ask for sales. If you use social media effectively to build relationships, you could build a tribe of followers that would buy your book because they feel invested in you.

Emily Rodmell picture

Emily Rodmell is the editor for Harlequin’s Love Inspired, Love Inspired Suspense and Love Inspired Historical lines and has acquired more than 30 authors for the lines. She has a journalism degree from the University of South Florida and hails from sunny Florida but calls NYC home. If you write inspirational romantic suspense, historical or contemporary romance, she’d love to see your manuscripts.

 

 

Lina Gardiner

Novelists Inc. Blog host

With a Little Help From My Friends

- by Charlotte Hubbard

Breath Of SpringA funny thing happened on the way to writing this fourth book of my Seasons of the Heart series: we had already titled it BREATH OF SPRING, but in my original proposal, I didn’t have a heroine picked out. My editor mentioned that Annie Mae Knepp would make a wonderful heroine, and her story quickly took shape in my mind. At seventeen, Annie Mae has committed the ultimate “sin” by refusing to go with her father, Hiram Knepp, to the new colony he has started. Hiram got excommunicated from Willow Ridge in the previous book, so now everyone—especially Annie Mae—is looking over her shoulder to see what nastiness he’s going to cook up next.

 

Annie Mae is especially concerned about who’s caring for her four preschool-age sibs while her father gets his new community up and running, and when she sees a strange young woman chasing after the kids with a paddle, Annie Mae snatches them back to Willow Ridge. Suddenly, she needs a place to live, a job to support them, and she sees a lonely future ahead when no sane man would want to court her, considering the “package” she comes with.

 

I matched her up with the boy next door, home remodeler Adam Wagler, who’s minding his own business. But that doesn’t make for much drama! And he’s so short, Annie Mae literally looks right over top of him. So while everyone agrees that Adam’s a great guy he’s not shaping up to be hero material—

 

Until a few writer friends from NINC tossed out ideas that would make Adam more of a rebel, maybe with a secret/tragedy in his past that shaped his life in ways nobody knew about. Five of us who’d gone to a mini-retreat in Chicago were prodding each other, priming each other—and right here I’ll insert a shout-out to Jen Stevenson, Patricia Rosemoor, Karen Tintori-Katz and Kris Smith, who shot me toward a way better book than I’d envisioned when I’d arrived with them at the DeWitt Hotel.

 

The others began tossing out wild ideas, and suddenly a motorcycle roared into our brainstorming session—and because Adam has already joined the Old Order Amish church, a motor vehicle is strictly forbidden. It’s in the barn, hidden under a blue tarp, and because it’s a vintage Indian Chief, the stakes—and its story value—go way up! Of course Adam rides that cycle to rescue Annie Mae from a dicey situation when her father has her abducted, and of course Adam gets caught by the cops and Bishop Tom Hostetler. But Annie Mae wins a man for whom family is top priority, and who makes her feel worthy of love. Now that’s a hero we can all appreciate!

 

My point? Sometimes stories really do benefit from outside “expertise” . . . and sometimes we get by best with a little help from our friends!