Saturday, June 5, 2010

Special Guest Saturday: Myra Johnson

Writing short, writing long: series romance vs. trade fiction
by Myra Johnson

When I first started writing romance and women’s fiction, my dream was (and still is) to write “bigger” books—novels with a large cast of characters and deeper, more involved storylines and subplots. However, especially for the newbie hoping for that first publishing break, I soon learned that shorter series fiction offers many more opportunities.

In the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association), the two main series publishers are Steeple Hill and Heartsong Presents. Here’s a quick breakdown:

• Steeple Hill Love Inspired (55,000–60,000 words), 6 books per month (guidelines at  )

• Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense (55,000–60,000 words), 4 books per month (guidelines at  )

• Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical (70,000–75,000 words), 2 books per month, expanding to 4 in January 2011 (guidelines at  )

• Heartsong Presents (45,000-50,000 words), 2 contemporary and 2 historical per month (guidelines at  )

So let’s do the math. That’s 16 series romances per month (18 beginning next January) in the CBA alone, which right now comes to 192 books a year! If the average writer can produce two series books a year, that means the publishers would need 96 authors to fill all these slots. You might as well be one of them!

Is series romance writing right for you? Let’s consider some of the pros and cons.


• Can be a quicker route to publication

• Shorter books take less time to write

• Series romance “formula” helps simplify plotting

• Excellent training ground for learning the ins and outs of working with an editor

• Built-in readership through subscriptions

• Publishing credits add up faster

• Fans aren’t kept waiting too long to read your next book


• Pressure to write faster while keeping the writing fresh

• Quick turnaround can make it harder to juggle multiple deadlines (completed manuscript, edits, art fact sheets, galley proofs, etc.)

• Series romance “formula” can feel stifling

• Series books go out of print sooner

• Series books are not always carried in bookstores so nonsubscribers may have a harder time finding your book

If you’re a verbose writer by nature, you may be frustrated by the shorter word count, but it can be an enlightening editing exercise to pare your 90,000-word story down to 60-70,000 words. You quickly discover what is extraneous in dialogue, in description, and in overall plotting, and the end result may turn out to be an even stronger, more riveting, faster-paced story.

On the other hand, if your heart is set on writing a “bigger” book, there are plenty of reasons to go for it:

• Expanded character development

• Opportunities for multiple viewpoints

• Room for more subplots to help reflect the overall theme

• More flexibility with style, tone, and plot development

• Higher advances (usually)

• Much longer shelf life in bookstores

• More likely to be stocked by libraries

• Wider availability

• Wider range of publishing house possibilities depending on genre

On the flip side:

• Fewer slots open for longer books

• Longer books take longer to write

• Longer books take longer to work through editorial revisions

• Keeping track of multiple plot threads and character details requires strong organizational skills

• No built-in readership as with series book clubs

• Can be harder to earn out your advance

• In-house publicists usually focus on the big names, so much of the PR effort will fall on your shoulders

Only you can be the best judge of whether you’re cut out for series romance, or if you have what it takes to write longer books. And choosing one route doesn’t preclude trying your hand in the other if or when you feel the time is right. Some authors successfully write in both areas, increasing their readership even more.

Study writers guidelines and read several recent releases from each publisher you’re considering (series, trade, or both). Certain books will resonate with you more than others. Certain storytelling styles will seem more appropriate for the idea you’re working on. Let your instincts guide you and then give it your best!

Bio: Myra Johnson writes what she likes to call “romantic women’s fiction”—emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. Her Heartsong Presents romance Autumn Rains (November 2009) won RWA’s 2005 Golden Heart for Best Inspirational Romance Manuscript. Married since 1972, Myra and her husband are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters who, along with their godly husbands, have huge hearts for ministry. Four rambunctious grandsons and one precious granddaughter take up another big chunk of Myra’s heart. She and her husband now share their home with two lovable dogs and a snobby parakeet. Myra writes full-time and is active in her church as well as local and national writers groups.

Myra’s next book, Where the Dogwood Blooms, is due out in July from Heartsong Presents. The heroine, Jilly Gardner, left Blossom Hills ten years ago with a broken heart, determined never to return. But the ache in her heart has never healed, and when Cam Lane calls to ask for her help, she finds she can’t say no. Cameron doesn’t know what came between Jilly and her foster family, but whatever did, he feels it’s high time she set things straight. Her foster parents never recovered from her abrupt and permanent departure, and now—when her presence might encourage an ill woman’s return to health—she refuses to even see them? But how can Cam address the unforgiveness in his friends’ lives when his own is paralyzed with self-inflicted guilt and shame? With all their striving focused on themselves and the events of their past, will Cam and Jilly ever realize that unconditional, forgiving, forever love comes only from God the Father, whose mercies are new each morning?

For more about Myra and her writing, visit  or her blog,  She can also be found in Seekerville, , on Facebook,!/myralangleyjohnson,  and on Twitter, .


Heather Sunseri said...

Great info, Myra. Thanks for laying all that information out in one post and I love your honest list of pros and cons. I read an author recently who writes both, so I've definitely been curious about the possiblity.

Pepper said...

Oh Myra,
So great to have you as a guest on The Writers Alley. And what great information. I think the hardest thing is for me to pare those words down, but I'm taking your advice and trying my hand at a shorter book. I like the premise a lot and...gulp....even outlined it (aren't you proud of me?) ;-)
Which type do you enjoy writing best? or is there just a different pleasure per type?

Cara Lynn James said...

Good morning, Myra! Thanks for the info. I'd never thought of some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing each type of book. Since you write both you're in a great position to know.

Krista Phillips said...

GREAT post!! I've thought many times about what route I should go. For me, the two books I have are definitely trade length. I could take out some subplots and par down the word count if I really wanted to, but I think the content is more fit for trade length as well. From what I've heard and read on guidelines, the "rules" regarding what you can include in a category romance are much more stringent than other CBA publishers. Example: my first book, characters meet in chapter 2. And they need to! And in my second book, I address some very touchy issues and I know for sure the book as written wouldn't fly with LI or HP.

That said, I wouldn't be opposed to writing a category romance if an idea hit my brain that would be perfect for it, for all the plus reasons you listed above!!

Oh, love Pepper's question too! Is there a type that you prefer?

Myra Johnson said...

Thanks for the warm welcome, ladies! I'm still learning a lot about both markets and feeling my way in this crazy writing business (aren't we all???).

To be perfectly honest, I always told myself I'd NEVER write category! My ideas were too "big." [Insert snide laughter here.] And besides, in a category romance you always know how it's going to end.

But as I've watched CBA series romances evolve over the years, I'm amazed at how deep and engaging so many of them are. Sure, you know the H/H will work out their differences and end up together, but there are so many delightful twists and turns we authors can think up for them! I've actually come to enjoy creating a sweet but involving love story.

Myra Johnson said...

Krista, you're right about series romance guidelines being more stringent. There is a "formula" of sorts (I HATE that word, hence the quotes), and most editors do want the H/H meeting within the first chapter if not the first page or two.

However, I have come across many novels both from Steeple Hill and Heartsong Presents with much thornier conflicts than what we used to see. Read Ruth Logan Herne's Winter's End, for example. Just make sure the edgier aspects are handled tastefully and keep the romance center stage.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that being part of such a huge and experienced publishing house has been amazing, and I have just begun my journey. They are so organized it makes my head wobble. I wouldn't trade this opportunity for anything. Sitting at the feet of an experienced editor who helps you grow as an author is a great starting point.

Myra, great article and such a wealth of info.

Ladies, I love your new home.

Myra Johnson said...

Tina, that's what it's all about--learning at the feet of a great editor who cares as much about the success of your book as you do.

And I'm REALLY looking forward to the release of your debut novel!

Casey said...

Thanks for joining us today Myra, it is an honor to have you here along with so many other Seekers! So glad you like the blog, Tina, Seekerville was definately that model. :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Ack!!! I totally missed you yesterday! Sooo sorry!

What an excellent article! As a newbie, I've been told I need to target a publisher. I've only written one manuscript, and I just did what I see if I could do it. So now that I have it under my belt, I'm sure I need to focus on where I want to go and what I want to write. It is daunting. :)

Pat Jeanne Davis said...

A great interview, Myra. Thanks for defining the differences between category and trade length fiction. I've been considering cutting a larger story down to a category romance. I'm still debating the pros and cons of doing this. I was told that I should cut my teeth first with a shorter story before attempting to write a 90,000 word one. Apparently, I just don't have the writing skills yet to attempt using numerous POV's and sub-plots. Thanks again, Myra, and to others commenting. Pat

Myra Johnson said...

Hi, Casey! You know, Seekerville kind of took on a life of its own, and we've grown beyond our wildest dreams. Surely a God thing! We are so thankful for all our wonderful and dedicated visitors who have made the blog a success.

Sherrinda & Pat, my short romance AUTUMN RAINS actually started out as a longer book. It was only after several "near misses" that I bit the bullet and pared it down to fit Heartsong Presents guidelines. And that's when it sold.

Thanks again SO MUCH for inviting me to your blog, ladies! I wish you much success with all your writing endeavors!