Writing to Meet Publisher’s Guidelines

Many times, when you sit down to write a novel, there are certain guidelines you must stay within if you are targeting a certain publisher. The same goes for certain genres. Mainstream romances always have a happy ending. In thrillers, the good guys always prevail. If you write a book that you can describe as a space adventure/murder mystery/romance, you’re going to have a hard time selling it, mainly because bookstore wouldn’t know how to promote it. Where would they shelve it? Who would the target audience be?

I’ve been talking about the idea of “writing within the box” with several people lately, one of whom is my new critique partner. (Yes! I found one! And she’s terrific!) We both have written manuscript that are intended for Harlequin. Harlequin is the leading romance publisher in the country, with both category and single title romances. Their category romances have some of the most stringent guidelines I have ever come across.

Someone else I know, who shall remain nameless, asked me recently if having to write within such strict guidelines made me feel like what I was writing wasn’t art. I was shocked and a little hurt. (Don’t worry, I’m not mad!) Just because there are certain guidelines you have to stay within doesn’t make it any less hard to write. It’s not like they hand you a plot and a list of characters and say, “Here, you must write this, exactly this way.” You still have to use your creativity to come up with a moving plot, believable characters, and increasing tension.

I know she was wondering why I would write within the box. Sometimes, I don’t want to, which is why I also write single titles and YA. But to me, as a writer AND as a reader, there is something comforting about picking up a book and knowing that love will prevail at the end, even before I start. Knowing the bad guy will get caught, no matter how scary the beginning. Knowing that the regency era heroine will dance at the ball and catch the eye of the man she will soon come to love. If you like to read within the box, then don’t be afraid to write within the box. It’s still a wonderful, creative adventure. Enjoy the ride!


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