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State of the Market: Romantic Suspense
by Dr. Vicki Hinze

Romantic Suspense has been a hot, marketable commodity. According to many of the publishers surveyed, the heat is holding--at least, for the foreseeable future.

Reader Irritants: In a recent RT Book Club survey of 1600 readers, a significant majority were irritated by several things romantic suspense writers should note:

  1. Readers have been supportive of their favorite historical authors switching to writing contemporary, romantic suspense, but are now less supportive. They miss their historicals, and a fair number felt the writers wrote better historicals than romantic suspense.
  2. Readers feel ripped-off when an author switches from paperback--the preference of 82% of the readers surveyed--to hard cover in the middle of a series. While this is considered a wise marketing move by some publishers, the readers don't like it. Not even when they love the writer and/or the books.

Hard covers switches mid-series result in readers borrowing the book from the library and then, if they like it, buying the paperback when it comes out so all the books in the series are the same on their keeper shelves.

It's also worth noting that in this same survey, which does consist of loyal romance readers, that fewer of the readers are taking chances on new authors. They're "trying them out" first at the used book stores (due to the high cost of paperback books.) This is vital information to those who are considering publication in trade paperback or in hard cover.

While the following stats pertain to the entire market, they're important to romantic suspense authors, too. Many of whom are eager to move into hard cover or trade paperback.

Note that 82% of romance readers prefer paperback. Mass market. Trade was considered awkward--inconvenient to carry or shelve--and hard cover was less mobile.

Now, let's move to the individual Publishers and feedback we received from editors whose opinions we sought:

AVON/HARPER COLLINS

Books that reflect what they seek:

When the Storm Breaks, Heather Lowell, 8/04 Into Danger, Genitta Low, 4/03

Publisher Advice:

There are no half-measures in romantic suspense; you truly have to push the envelope and go all the way -- and write a book that we can truly get behind and promote in a substantial way.

But we also encourage authors to break out and try new things. For example, Suzanne Enoch, an Avon historical romance writer, will be coming out with a big romantic suspense book in the upcoming year or so. She sort of surprised us a little (in a good way!), but once we read the story we knew she was really onto something exciting!


Barbour/Heartsong Presents

Books that reflect what they seek:

Roger's Return, Mary Davis A Donut a Day, Gail Sattler

Publisher Advice:

We're looking for romantic suspense that will still focus on the romance. Many times the suspense swallows up the romance and overwhelms it to the point that the romance could be taken out all together and the story would survive in good order.

I would remind authors that we want the focus on the romance, but also desire a strong inspirational theme throughout the story line. We want the spiritual elements to be believable and strongly rooted in Biblical truth.


Genesis Press, Inc.

Books that reflect what they seek:

A Dangerous Obsession, J.M. Jeffries, 12/03

Publisher Advice:

We only publish African-American or cross-cultural romantic suspense. This means the main characters are African-American or mixed heritage i.e. Heroine Brazilian & Hero Irish or American & Mexican etc.


Harlequin Intrigue

Books that reflect what they seek:

No specific titles cited. Advises authors to review their publishing list of previously released titles.

Publisher Advice:

Harlequin Intrigue is actively looking for new, prolific authors.

Specifically eager to find gothic romantic suspense for a monthly promotion being planned. All other mystery/suspense romance stories are welcome as well.

NOTE:  Detailed guidelines are available at the Harlequin website on this and all Harlequin lines.


NAL/Signet

Books that reflect what they seek:

After Midnight, Merline Lovelace, 3/03
The Deepest Edge
, Jessica Hall, 2/03 (Trilogy)

Publisher Advice:

We see a lot of manuscripts that are really contemporary romances with a little mystery or "suspense" element (not truly edge-of-your-seat plotting where you really believe the heroine is in danger) or straight suspense that may involve a relationship, but the story is not about that.

We tend to pass on the former and buy the latter, but publish them as "women's suspense" rather than romantic suspense. Some examples of straight suspense:

Suspicion of Madness, Barbara Parker
A Killing Gift, Leslie Glass
Hush and Sleep Tight, Anne Frasier.

We'd love to find novels that have a more equal balance. Where the relationship is evolving just as the suspense plot is evolving, and the sexier and more exciting and adrenalin-pumping the better!


Red Sage/Secrets

Books that reflect what they seek:

None cited.

Publisher quote: "It depends on what the author wants to write. I do not put forms around what I want. I leave it up to the author."

Publisher Advice:

As with any story it has to jump off the page and grab the reader. That is what I am looking for in any story. It doesn't matter what kind of story it is. That is the bottom line on how you are bought at Red Sage.


Silhouette Bombshell

Books that reflect what they seek:

Aka Jane, Maureen Tan
Heart of the Jaguar, Lindsay McKenna

TV shows/Movies that reflect what they seek:

Alias
Tomb Raider
GI Jane
The Long Kiss Goodnight

Publisher Advice:

Seeking Action/Adventure with a romance subplot. We are looking for stories in which it is the heroine and her skills which drive the plot.

NOTE:  Detailed guidelines are available at the Harlequin Website.


Silhouette Intimate Moments

Books that reflect what they seek:

No specific titles cited.

Publisher Quote: "I don't like to specify specific titles because we do such a range, so I suggest any interested author browse the racks and focus on the specific titles that call to her."

Publisher Advice:

Silhouette Intimate Moments is also open to paranormal plots, which broadens the range for the writer. In all cases, our books are character- and emotion-driven, though not to the point that logic flies out the window.

NOTE: Detailed guidelines are available at the Harlequin website.


Steeple Hill/Love Inspired

Books that reflect what they seek:

Heaven Knows, Jillian Hart, 6/03
A Love Beyond, Kate Welsh, 8/03
Hideaway, Hannah Alexander/10/03*
Still Waters, Shirlee McCoy, 1/04*
* Trade Paperback Women's Fiction Program debuting 10/03

Publisher Quote: " Prospective writers for SHT romantic suspense should also look at competitive writers like Terri Blackstock and Dee Henderson to get an idea of the type of inspirational romantic suspense we're looking for."

Publisher Advice:

We have been publishing romantic suspense in Steeple Hill Love Inspired category romances and will continue to do so, and will also be publishing it in our new Steeple Hill Trade Paperback Women's Fiction Program debuting in October 2003 (in fact our launch title is romantic suspense).

Since Steeple Hill is an inspirational imprint, all romantic suspense written either for Love Inspired (category romance) or Steeple Hill Trade (single title women's fiction) needs to be inspirational, with a faith element, and should conform to our guidelines in all other ways. Keep in mind that while some violence may be necessary to the plot, our readers are not fond of graphic violence.


Warner

Books that reflect what they seek:

Like a Knife, Annie Solomon, 3/03
Don't Tell, Karen Rose, 7/03

Publisher Quotes:

"I love that book [Like a Knife] and would recommend it to anyone who wants to know what I look for in romantic suspense."

"The editor-in-chief for Mysterious Press (one of our imprints) read a galley purely out of curiosity and couldn't stop raving about the author [Karen Rose] after she finished it."

Publisher Advice:

Romantic suspense is a hot category and is going to get hotter. It's very difficult to write, though, because the author has to constantly maintain a balance between the romance and the suspense; neither one should get short shifted and both plot lines always have to move forward. Stay away from women-in-jeopardy stories where the woman comes across as helpless. And I would so love to see romantic suspense with a psychic element.


Ballantine/Ivy

Books that reflect what they seek:

Cry No More and Dying to Please, Linda Howard
Killjoy, Julie Garwood
Bad Girl, Michele Jaffe
The President's Daughter, Mariah Stewart
Out of Sight, Cherry Adair
Dancing in the Dark, Dee Davis
Flirting with Disaster, Jane Graves

Publisher Advice:

We publish a wide variety of romantic suspense -- some is heavier on the romance, others are heavier on the suspense. Some of our authors do more romantic thrillers or romantic adventure but we consider those as falling under the larger "romantic suspense" umbrella.


Bantam/Dell

Books that reflect what they seek:

Specific titles not cited.

Publisher Quote: "The books of Tami Hoag, Iris Johansen, Kay Hooper, Lisa Gardner, and of course, Vicki Hinze."

Publisher Advice:

We are always looking for fresh new voices.


Berkley/Jove

Books that reflect what they seek:

The Perfect Victim, Linda Castillo
Darkling I Listen, Katherine Sutcliffe
Birthright, Nora Roberts

Publisher Advice:

The most important thing is to develop your voice as a writer.


Dorchester/Leisure

Books that reflect what they seek:

Specific titles not cited.

Publisher Advice:

"We are acquiring romantic suspense, but we're feeling our way into it, so I can't really respond to your questions in more detail.


Harlequin: HQN

Books that reflect what they seek:

Specific titles not cited.

Publisher Advice:

The new imprint is doing mainstream single title romances.

Some of them will have suspense or mystery elements, some of them will certainly be able to be called romantic suspense, but it's the romance that has to work for me first.


Kensington/Zebra

Books that reflect what they seek:

Specific titles not cited.

Publisher Quote: "Anything by Lisa Jackson and Beverly Barton. Upcoming books by E.C.Sheedy and Lauren Bach. Our list has some magnificent romantic suspense on it."

Publisher Advice:

We have a wonderful group of authors who write fabulous romantic suspense. If you're fabulous, we want you too.

The only reason I didn't check "avidly" is because we have such a great list already and it is highly competitive.


Multnomah

Books that reflect what they seek:

Autumn Dreams, Gayle Roper
The Rescuer, Dee Henderson
Before I Wake, Dee Henderson

Publisher Advice:

In the Christian market, romantic suspense has as broad a definition as in the general market (i.e., the balance between romance and suspense differs from book to book or author to author).


St. Martin's

Books that reflect what they seek:

Specific titles not cited.

Publisher Quote: "We just bought a very sexy series from Cindy Gerard."

Publisher Advice:

In general, we'd like romantic suspense that is extremely sexy (and more psychological than action/adventure).


Tyndale House

Books that reflect what they seek:

A Whisper of Danger, Catherine Palmer
A Touch of Betrayal, Catherine Palmer

Publisher Quote: "Dee Henderson's books are good examples of romantic suspense . . . And we will soon be releasing a new romantic suspense series by Lois Richer as part of our HeartQuest line."

Publisher Advice:

I am actively looking for romantic suspense in Tyndale's HeartQuest romance line, but since this is specifically a romance line, the romance must always outweigh any other plotlines. So with romantic suspense, the book must be first and foremost a romance & a suspense second.

HeartQuest guidelines are available upon request (send a SASE to Tyndale House/HeartQuest Books, Manuscript Review Committee, P.O. Box 80, Wheaton, IL 60189-0080).


Publishers not Currently Acquiring Romantic Suspense

Avalon Books

No comments cited.


TOR Books

Comments:

"While we are not acquiring romantic suspense, we are actively seeking mystery/suspense novels (however, we do not publish cozies), and welcome strong romantic subplots and emotionally and/or physically strong heroines. For examples of strong female protagonists on our mystery list, look at titles by Sharan Newman, Roberta Gellis, Carole Nelson Douglas, and Julie Smith."


Publishers Not Responding to Informational Inquiry Request

BET/Arabesque/Defina
MIRA
Pocket


Source: Barnes & Noble
Date Acquired: June 27, 2003

Bestselling Romantic Suspense:

  1. The Guardian, Nicholas Sparks, Warner, 4/03
  2. The Falls, Karen Harper, Harlequin, 5/03
  3. Tall, Dark and Cajun, Sandra Hill, Warner, 7/03
  4. Trading Places, Fern Michaels, Simon & Schuster Adult, 6/03
  5. Killjoy, Julie Garwood, Random House, 7/03
  6. Gone Too Far, Suzanne Brockman, Random House, 7/03
  7. Dance of Seduction, Sabrina Jeffries, HarperCollins, 3/03
  8. Die in Plain Sight, Elizabeth Lowell, HarperCollins, 6/03
  9. The Switch, Sandra Brown, Warner, 8/2000
  10. Caught in the Act, Lori Foster, Harlequin, 8/01

Series:

Intimate Moments

  1. Enemy Mind, Maggie B. Shayne, Harlequin, 6/03
  2. Man Behind the Badge, Vickie Taylor, 2/99
  3. Cinderella's Secret Agent, Harlequin, 5/01
  4. Hijacked Wife:  Families are Forever, Bonnie K. Winn, Harlequin, 8/99
  5. Undercover with the Enemy, Christine Michaels, 6/00
  6. Once and Future Father, Marie Ferrarella, 7/00
  7. Her Secret Guardian, Sally Tyler Hayes, 6/00
  8. Lawman's Last Stand, Vickie Taylor, 6/00
  9. Desperate Measures, Paula D. Riggs, 3/89
  10. Runaway, Emilie Richards, 8/93

Harlequin Intrigue

  1. Sudden Engagement, Julie Miller, 6/01
  2. Howling in the Darkness, B.J.Daniels, 3/02
  3. Lawman Who Loved Her, Mallory Kane, 6/01
  4. His Witness, Her Child, Ann Voss Peterson, 6/01
  5. Innocent Witness, Leona Karr, 7/00
  6. Urgent Vows, Joyce Sullivan, 6/00
  7. Conception Cover-Up, Karen Lawton Barrett, 5/01

Source: Amazon.com
Date Acquired: June 27, 2003

Bestselling Romantic Suspense:

  1. Rapture in Death, J.D.Robb, 10/96, Berkley
  2. Naked in Death, J.D. Robb, 7/95, Berkley
  3. The Negotiator, Dee Henderson, 7/01, Multnomah
  4. The Perfect Husband, Lisa Gardner, 7/98, Bantam
  5. Glory in Death, J.D. Robb, 12/95, Berkley
  6. Kill and Tell, Linda Howard, 1/98, Pocket
  7. Hidden Riches, Nora Roberts, 5/95, Jove
  8. After the Night, Linda Howard, 1/97, Pocket
  9. Jade Island, Elizabeth Lowell, 4/99, Avon
  10. Finding Laura, Kay Hooper, 7/98, Bantam

Intimate Moments

  1. The Return of Rafe Mackade, Nora Roberts, 4/95
  2. The Admiral's Bride, Suzanne Brockman
  3. Identity:  Unknown, Suzanne Brockmann
  4. The Heart of Devin Mackade, Nora Roberts, 3/96
  5. Megan's Mate, Nora Roberts, 11/96
  6. Undercover Princess, Suzanne Brockmann
  7. Mackenzie's Pleasure, Linda Howard, 2/96
  8. The Outcast, Beverly Barton
  9. Harvard's Education, Suzanne Brockman, 10/98
  10. Love with the Proper Stranger, Suzanne Brockman, 1/98

Harlequin Intrigue:

  1. No Ordinary Man, Suzanne Brockman
  2. Never Say Die, Tess Gerritsen
  3. Thief of Hearts, Tess Gerritsen
  4. Life Line, Rebecca York
  5. Trial by Fire, Rebecca York
  6. Cry of the Wild, Catherine Anderson
  7. Switchback, Catherine Anderson
  8. Presumed Guilty, Tess Gerritsen
  9. When Lightning Strikes, Aimee Thurlo
  10. The Agent's Secret Child, B.J. Daniels

Copyright Vicki Hinze. All Rights Reserved

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Dr. Vicki Hinze is an award-winning, best-selling author who routinely shares her expertise at national writers' conferences, online, and through her writing guides. Her latest non-fiction book is ALL ABOUT WRITING TO SELL, from Spilled Candy Books for Writers. This 589-page ebook covers everything you need to know about the craft of writing, the publishing business, and the secrets to getting published. ALL ABOUT WRITING TO SELL is available at www.SpilledCandy.com as a download or disk.

Or you can visit Vicki's author site at
www.vickihinze.com



 






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