September 7, 2009

Depends on how you define "original"

When I saw Hope Clark's post about the Harlequin Presents writing contest, I almost gave it a miss right off, based on Harlequin's reputation. But Hope noted that with no entry fee, and the prize of editorial services for a year, it was right for "closet romantics."

Since a couple of my back-burner items might be called "romantic," if not capital-R "Romance," I gave it a look.

The publisher claims to want "unique perspectives and ... originality," but:

"At the heart of your novel must be ... the hero ... a powerful, ruthless man ..." and a heroine who is "shy and vulnerable ... also plucky and determined to challenge his arrogant pursuit."

So they want originality, as long as your original story isn't about a vulnerable hero and a ruthless heroine.

It rather takes the joy out of writing to have not only the characters delineated beforehand, but the course of the romantic subplot as well. The publisher only wants stories in which he's pursuing and she's resisting. This leaves out any story about mutual attraction opposed by outside forces. Romeo and Juliet would not be welcome here.

What I find most appalling is that these are not just the guidelines for this contest. They're the guidelines for Harlequin's entire "Mills & Boon Modern Romance" imprint. Harlequin is devoting an entire division to the publication of books in which the type of characters and the course of their relationship is the same in every book. That's not what I call original.

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