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Lynn Raye Harris
Lynn Raye Harris
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So you want to write for Harlequin Presents

I’ve noticed that I’m getting a lot of traffic lately from the posts over at I Heart Presents about the writing competition. I thank you all for visiting me! Maybe as you gear up for the latest contest, you’re looking for wisdom, the secret, etc. Or maybe you just want to know how to write a Harlequin Presents.

So I’m going to share what I know with you. Bear in mind that no two writers are alike. Bear in mind that my way is not the only way or the correct way, etc. But my way does come from experience. Not a ton of experience, but enough. I’ve now written three books for the line, and I’m working on my fourth.

Ready? Here we go with lesson one:

First, ask yourself why you’re trying to write a Presents. Is it because you love reading them? Because you love the alpha male, the glamor and passion of the exotic settings, the seduction of two people falling in love in spite of chasms of issues between them? Do you love the emotional pull of these intense stories?

Or do you want to write them because they are short and surely must be quick to write? Because you’ve heard the editors are buying? Because you want to be published and think this line is as good as any? Because how hard is it to write a jerk and the doormat that lets him stomp all over her?

If your answer is more in line with the first set of questions, awesome! If it’s the second, you probably need to go back to the drawing board. You need to start reading these books and see why they are beloved by women around the world. If you can’t see it, you probably can’t write it. You must love the line, or at least understand why it works, to write it. MUST.

Secondly, if you’re still here, you need compelling characters. Characters with deep issues, with conflicts that drive them. (There are posts by the editors over at IHP explaining all of this.) The story is not about the plot, it’s about the characters. Believe me, I have trouble with this in the planning stages. Because I start with a scenario and then I start trying to figure out the how and why of the scenario. I’ve finally discovered that I really don’t need to bother with a synopsis (other than the one my editor will want). I won’t follow it and it doesn’t matter. WHO the characters are is what matters.

What they want, what they fear, what they desire, and what it is about all of this that makes them both the best person and the worst for the other one. That’s what you need to know.

Your assignment, should you choose to complete it, is to figure out what is driving your characters. That will feed into their motivation, which is another important facet of writing for HP. Learn their fears. Know them inside and out. Know their emotions.

Another tip, and this one is self-serving I admit, is to read not only the usual Harlequin Presents authors you love and are familiar with, but to read the ones who’ve been brought into the line recently. Sabrina Phillips, Janette Kenny, and I all have releases available in stores now. Read us, see what it is about our voices that clicked for the editors.

Next week, I’ll talk about the nuts and bolts of crafting that first chapter.


  1. Jean
      · August 28th, 2009 at 9:02 am · Link

    Good post. I’ve just started looking at the Harlequin line. For interested parties, I’d encourage them to visit the website, look over the titles, then read the guidelines for each line — Presents or otherwise.

    I looked them over and tried to find a line or two that might align with the style I feel comfortable writing. At the moment, I’m looking into American Romance and Intrigue. I picked up a handful of books at Wal-Mart that looked like I might enjoy, and I’ve been reading through them. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the first one I’ve picked up. I’m not much into writing paranormal, but I don’t mind reading it. But what I’m looking for is what I found — characters who do more than think about pawing each other (but there is that tension as well).

    Not for a minute do I think it will be easy to write or sell. Yes, it’s a shorter length, but I know that doesn’t translate to easier to write.

    And a side question (which you may not know the answer to): Why on earth can I NOT find your books at Wal-Mart? I know you’re supposed to be on the shelves, but I can’t find you. Most frustrating. (I’ll look again today…)

  2. Lynn Raye Harris
      · August 28th, 2009 at 9:14 am · Link

    Hi, Jean! Excellent that you’ve been browsing the lines and finding books you like! When the style sings to you, the hallmarks of the line so to speak, that’s probably what you need to write. :)

    I’ll talk about writing to the shorter length next week. It’s tricky!

    Well gracious, I’m sorry you can’t find my book! And thank you so much for looking for it. That warms my heart. :) It was in the Wal-marts here, but it does often depend on the store. My cover might be too racy for your local WM. Or maybe they don’t take all the books in the line (I’m #6 in the lineup – there are 8).

    But, if you’ve only started to look in the last week, then the books are probably gone from WM now. September’s are on the shelves instead (they are here). They might still have them in the back if you felt like asking.

    Good tip about sending people to the HQN website. There is so much to learn there, and the editors do comment from time to time. Also, the posts by editor Joanne Grant at I Heart Presents are fabulous. :)

    • Jean
        · August 28th, 2009 at 10:54 am · Link

      I see there’s a darker cover than the one with the white background. I was looking for the white background one. There were a lot with the blue backgrounds, but I glossed over them and may have missed your name. We’re heading to WalMart later today, and I’ll look again. I even put you on the shopping list, much to hubby’s surprise.

      I’ll be exploring the Harlequin site more, so thanks for the tip on Joanne Grant’s posts.

      • Lynn Raye Harris
          · August 28th, 2009 at 11:01 am · Link

        The blue background is the UK release. Probably the blue ones you are seeing in your WM are Special Editions. That’s a Silhouette line that is more home and hearth.

        Heehee, I’m just happy to be on your shopping list! Though, hero warning: he is a Harlequin Presents alpha male. He will be redeemed, but the going might be rough. :grin:

    • Jean
        · August 28th, 2009 at 10:55 am · Link

      Good point about the August books being gone from the shelves already. I’m not used to that rapid of a turnover. Lesson learned: If you want a Harlequin title, get it NOW. Don’t dawdle.

      • Lynn Raye Harris
          · August 28th, 2009 at 2:18 pm · Link

        True, Jean! The books aren’t in the stores long, so never dawdle. Fortunately, they are still available at all your standard online retailers. And in ebook format! (Did you ever get a Kindle? I just did — looooove it!)

  3. Barbara Burnham
      · August 28th, 2009 at 11:08 am · Link

    Great post, Lynn.

    I would recommend to anyone who wants to write short contemporaries to read Harlequin Presents. You learn so much about conflict and emotion in the process. At least, I know I have. ;-)

    Even if I am not published in Presents, I feel I will be a better writer because I read them, enjoy the stories and learn from them. Plus, I have discovered a line I really enjoy reading.

    Anyone who thinks a short contemporary is easy to write doesn’t understand what the reader wants and looks for from the story.

    Looking forward to ‘hear’ what else you have to say.


    • Lynn Raye Harris
        · August 28th, 2009 at 2:19 pm · Link

      Hi, Barbara! Presents are definitely all about the conflict and emotion between the characters. I sometimes try and throw external elements in that I think are cool, but I usually figure out during the writing that they just aren’t necessary.

      I’m so glad you love reading the line and that you feel it helps you be a better writer! Thanks for commenting!

  4. Jane Mulberry
      · August 28th, 2009 at 2:54 pm · Link

    Brilliant post, Lynn. Excellent news that the proposal for book four has been accepted too! I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts.
    I know I still have a way to go yet to be published, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is exactly what you’ve said here. Start from the characters and their needs, goals and relationship barriers, not with exciting plots with lots going on that isn’t initiaited by the hero or heroine.
    I’m a slow learner! :roll:

    • Lynn Raye Harris
        · August 29th, 2009 at 12:15 pm · Link

      Hi, Jane! You are on the right track, really. If you know what you’ve needed to learn, and you’re making strides there, you’re doing great. I wouldn’t call it slow learning! Some people never figure it out. It’s like anything difficult: it takes practice.

      Thanks for stopping by! :grin:

  5. Kate Walker
      · August 30th, 2009 at 2:05 am · Link

    Great post Lynn – specially the reasons why write Presents and that line –

    The story is not about the plot, it’s about the characters

    That is so so true. The story is the growth of the emotional relationship between your hero and heroine and that’s where the focus of the spotlight should be all the way through.

    Just as it is in your book SMRHR :smile:

    So many would-be writers I’ve critiques start with a plot and then make their characters work through it – if they did as you say, with characters and let the conflict and emotion flow from them then that vital emotional intensity would be so much easier to create.

    Congratulatioms once again on joining the ‘Presents family’ – I really enjoyed spending time with you in Washinton and hope we’ll meet up again soon.


    • Lynn Raye Harris
        · August 31st, 2009 at 8:04 am · Link

      Hi, Kate! You’ve said it all. Took me a while to learn this, and I think I’m still learning really.

      It was great hanging out in DC! I can’t wait for next year. :) Presents authors are the best!!!

  6. Suzanne
      · August 31st, 2009 at 6:30 pm · Link

    Hi Lyn,
    I am enjoying visiting your posts. I’m entering into the competition and have made sure I’m taking into account all that has been said about a Presents.

    It has finally dawned on me that the characters internal emotions, internal conflict comes first not the external plot, or backstory.

    Thank you for helping aspiring presents writers. :)


    • Lynn Raye Harris
        · August 31st, 2009 at 7:23 pm · Link

      It has finally dawned on me that the characters internal emotions, internal conflict comes first not the external plot, or backstory.

      That’s it exactly, Suzanne! :)


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