Writing Copy Advice for Harlequin Books

A water downfall in December had Mary-Theresa Hussey (executive editor for Harlequin) going through things tacked to a bulletin board, and she found a memo from 2002 about giving feedback to the copywriters (she was senior editor of Silhouette Romance at the time). Nothing particularly revelatory, but we thought it might be interesting to share! And still appropriate a dozen years later!

Copywriting Notes

–          A strong shout line.  Not clichéd, but grabbing the attention, leading into copy.  If you want to use a familiar phrase, twist it in some fashion

–          Varied first lines.  Don’t  always start off with the hero/heroine’s name.  Get something interesting and adjective or situation up at front.

–          Don’t put anything depressing in the top lines.  We want the readers to choose these books for  escape, not put them back because it seems too realistic.

–          At all times, it should be love-affirming, upbeat, and positive.  If there is drama and melodrama, that can come through at the end (unless the directions specifically say to emphasize something downbeat—and that’s rare)

–          Know our hooks—pregnancy, royal, wealthy, transformation, fairy-tales, brides, babies, cowboys.  Try to get at least one in as early as possible.

–          Don’t have the hero in love with the heroine and waiting for her to notice—this cuts down all tension in the story.  He needs to have some reluctance about him.

–          Pay attention to the title—is there some way that it can be used in the copy for contrast or reinforcement.?

–          Be innovative with the closing lines.  Some months all six titles use heart or love.  Try to vary this into more intriguing moods or with different words.

–          If you want to switch POV and use different shout lines, that’s fair game

–          If you’ve got a wild and crazy idea you’d like to add to standard copy, feel free.  A checklist, a piece of front sales, an invitation, diary entry, etc. are possible directions to head.

–          Be true to the story—but in the best way possible!

–          If you can, let it sit a day and re-read.  Would this intrigue you into picking up the book?  If not, do what you can to make it right.

 

So what’s the best copy to catch your attention? What makes you pick up a book by an unknown author and know you’re going to take it home? Or what makes you put the book back right off without finishing the copy? We’re always curious about what we can do better!

 

These points are directed at writing back cover copy, but hopefully they will be useful when considering how you write your scenes, cover letter, synopsis and book!

Check out the Harlequin Community for more writing advice, and follow the various lines on Twitter or check out @Matrice (Mary-Theresa’s nickname).

Happy reading–and writing!

4 replies on “Writing Copy Advice for Harlequin Books”

I love it when a line of dialogue is used or something really captures the author’s own voice. And I hate it when something fun and juicy is said that doesn’t actually happen in the book!

Writing copy can be a real challenge! For many of our single title projects, the copy is written based upon a synopsis or partial, so we –and the author–don’t always know how the book will end.

For our series books, we often try to get the author’s input and approval, but even then it can be tight timing.

And writing copy is a very different skill than writing a book!

What else can appeal to you?

I can tell you what can keep me from picking up the book – when a theme is overused and the market seems flooded with it. For example – PTSD.
Just yesterday I picked up an author that I haven’t read and when it was about a hero coming home and was suffering, I put the book back. The market seems inundated with this issue.

I do need the copy to tell me exactly what the book is about. Sure, it can be written in a fun or teasing way, but I need to know the basic plot. Because if they don’t match, chances are slim I’d read that author again.

Hello, Marcie!

I agree, it’s a very tricky line to walk. There needs to be good balance between being true to the author’s voice, representing the story in an appealing way, letting readers know about themes and also making it feel fresh and intriguing.

Always a tough job! But happily I think we have some great people adding to the process at every stage.

Thanks!

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