From Studio Ghibli's Whisper of the Hearta story about a girl in junior high who dreams of becoming a writer...

Nishi: It’s a special kind of rock called a geode. Hold it close to your eye and look inside. That’s right, like that.

Shizuku: Wow. Look at that.

Nishi: Those crystals are called beryl. There are pieces of raw emeralds deep inside them.

Shizuku: Aren’t emeralds worth a lot of money?

Nishi: Sure, but they need to be cut and polished first. When you first become an artist, you’re like that rock. You’re in a raw, unnatural state, with hidden gems inside. You need to dig down deep and find the emeralds tucked away inside you. And that’s just the beginning. Once you’ve found your gems, you have to polish them. It takes a lot of hard work. Oh, and here’s the tricky part. Look at the crack in the geode.

Shizuku: Okay. Nishi: You see that big green crystal there? You could spend years polishing that, and it wouldn’t be worth much at all. The smaller crystals are much more valuable. And there may be some even deeper inside that you can’t see.

I highly recommend all of Miyazaki's films. I'll be doing a blog post about them in the future...



Over the past five years or so that I've been seriously writing, along with the more than six years I've worked at the company as a proofreader, I've been asked several times how one goes about writing for Harlequin.

Let me preface this by making it clear that I do not speak for the company. This has been gleaned from my own personal experience.

Let's explore, first the reasons you are asking this question.

Why do you want to write for Harlequin? This is a very simple question. If the answer is "because they'll publish anything and I hear I can make easy money writing trashy romances," then stop. Just stop. Writing is not easy, and getting published by the world's largest publisher of women's fiction is even more difficult. Any belief that this will be easy and that you'll become a millionaire overnight needs to be put down right now. (See my About Me page.)

If, on the other hand, the answer is "I want to write for Harlequin because I've got a great idea/completed romance manuscript that would be terrific for their (insert series here) line," then you, my friend, are on the right track.

But what if all you have is a vague idea and a glimmer of hope in your eyes? How do you sell your book to Harlequin?

Boromir should know. His Aragorn/Legolas slashfics were rejected.


1. If you want to write for Harlequin, read Harlequin books. Two or three is not a sampling. Ten is not a sampling. I daresay, 100 probably isn't a sampling, either, but it's closer to some kind of representation (as of this date, I have read more than 670 Harlequin books over +6 years). Harlequin produces tons of different series ranging from contemporary to paranormal. Go to Harlequin.com and study the enormous range of series they have. Understanding what you like and where your story will fit within the Harlequin family is vital.

2a. Write, write, WRITE. Don't just sit and plan and outline and dream. You have to have words to edit before you even consider who you'll sell to or what agent you want. The only way you'll become a published author is to write. Period. A book is not going to magically appear in your hands. Finish writing a book and you'll be that much closer to being a published author.

2b. Edit, edit, EDIT. Your manuscript should be the best it can possibly be. Polish it to a high gloss before you start handing it out...and expect to edit it some more even after you've sold it!

3. Get help. Learn about the romance publishing industry. There are tons of resources out there for the would-be Harlequin author to help you sharpen your writing and learn about the publishing business. The Harlequin website has an entire online community devoted to the craft of writing.

Another resource: The Romance Writers of America is the primary nonprofit organization created to foster the careers of aspiring and published romance authors, and it can give you lots of great perspective about the industry overall.

Go to your local RWA chapter meetings. Find a critique partner or critique group of like-minded writers who work in your genre. And unless she's a book editor, your mom probably doesn't count. Listen to what people have to say about your writing. Seek out resources on the internet and in books. You can never learn enough.

4. Submit your manuscript for consideration. You can't get published by Harlequin unless you stick your neck out there and submit. Check out the submission guidelines on the Harlequin website and, for the love of all that is holy, FOLLOW THOSE GUIDELINES. Nothing will get you rejected faster than flaunting the rules...except maybe dissing the line you want to write for in your query letter. (Note: Don't do that.)

5. Accept rejection. It'll happen. But don't let it discourage you! Learn from your rejection letters. Go back to step 3. Edit.

6. Repeat steps 1-5 until you are published by Harlequin. Writing to get published is not easy. I don't know how often I have to say this. I have 5 books I completed that are sitting on my hard drive, rejected or unpublishable. I've learned from every one of them. And though they'll never see the light of day, at least I can say I wrote those books.

For more tips (helpful or otherwise) check out my So You Want To Be A Writer page for all my posts on the craft and on getting published.



I love interviewing authors of other genres! Today, I've got Canadian erotic romance writer Cristal Ryder on my blog. Make sure to check out her books and visit her social media sites!

About Cristal Ryder

Cristal wrote her first story at fifteen and spent many hours escaping into worlds she created on the walk to and from high school. Now, ready to experience all life has to offer, Cristal tempts her readers and takes them on journeys of passion to vivid locations.
Cristal lives in a small Canadian town, is a single mom of two college-aged sons and, yes, they do fly home after their initial excitement of leaving the nest! Along with her writing, Cristal works full time in the law enforcement field, loves horses, the outdoors and will jet off at any given opportunity to see the world. Cristal is multi-published with Ellora’s Cave, Sybarite Seductions and Lyrical Press

Tell me about your writer’s journey. How did you start writing? Tell us about The Call.

My journey was a little long, starting back in grade 10 which would be 1976, when I wrote my first story about a horse. Then it resurfaced in to my early/mid twenties. I started handwriting a historical, contacted Harelquin to see how to get published. Here's a funny thing, I received the guidelines in a large brown envelope. Inside were Photostatted copies, many crooked on the page, of their lines and expectations. I didn't understand a word, got frightened off and put them away. Then I got an old IBM Selectric typewriter to give it a whirl being inspired by Joan Wilder dontchaknow. Failed miserably and then didn't look at it again until about 1999 when I met a Toronto Romance Writer member and she got me on the RWA path. I won a Writing Round Robin contest with Harlequin in 2001, which was a great boost. I got The Call, or rather The Email for a story that had been rejected everywhere (Harlequin Spice Briefs too when they first started) Background here is a friend at Harlequin read, suggested I bump it up a bit and send to Spice Briefs, when they started the Briefs. It was promptly rejected. (Note the Harlequin trend here? Still want to be an HQ author, hello!!) BUT, if it hadn't been for her I wouldn't have pushed on. After a few years of close calls with comments and editorial feedback, No Fantasy Required was finally published in November 2010. Now, over two years later, I have books with Ellora's Cave, Sybarite Seductions and Lyrical Press. Eleven out now including a trade paperback and three more to be published within the next two months.

Romance writers across the board get flack for writing “women’s porn.” Despite the rise of Fifty Shades of Grey, erotica and erotic romance writers still face a lot of stigma. How do you handle it? Does it affect you?
I had hoped my sales would jump because of it 🙂 Hard to say. I'm small potatoes. If anything, I'm happy the book as broken down the walls and made it *okay* to read erotic romance and not be ashamed of it. So much so that it made it to the New York Times last year after the RWA conference and Passionate Ink party. Even I was in the slide show modeling some very nice rhinestone studded handcuffs 🙂

What kind of research do you do for your books?
I do a lot of online and if I can, in-person research. Talk to people that may have something to offer that will lend authenticity. Even talk to the boys to get their view on things—which is very interesting at times.

plusone_msrTell me about your latest release with Ellora’s Cave.
Plus One came out January 4 in the Exotika line. It's set in an upscale sex club where anything goes. It is a m/f/m menage, so think threesome and moresomes all around 🙂 My second menage story. This did require research and was quite the eye-opener.

Got anything in the works?
Always stuff in the works. A women's fiction I love, my parents WWII story that I have to finish plotting and there are 4 completed stories that need a home ranging from time travel/post apocalyptic/sci-fi to paranormal to contemporary crack. And the many knocking inside my brain trying to get out.

Thanks, Cristal, for stopping by my blog!

Thanks so much for having me Vicki, it has been great to visit with you.

You can visit Cristal Ryder and buy her books at:




Ellora’s Cave

All Romance ebooks


Barnes & Noble

Sybarite Seductions

Lyrical Press

1 Comment

Fellow Superromance author Mary Sullivan asked me to be a part of this chain blog event entitled THE NEXT BIG THING—a series of questions and answers about what's happening next in my writing life.

Sadly, I couldn’t find anyone to chain after me! So, if you’re an author and would like to take part, email me and I’ll set you up!

Back to the Good Fortune Diner, coming January 2013!
Back to the Good Fortune Diner, coming January 2013!

1. What is the title of your book? Back to the Good Fortune Diner.

2. How did you come by the idea?

Pulling from my own personal experiences, I wondered how different my life would have been if I’d grown up in a small town instead of a big city.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

Contemporary category romance. (Harlequin Superromance)

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters if it were a movie?

Ellen Wong (known for her role as Knives Chau in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) would play Tiffany Cheung.

Chris Hemsworth would play the hero, Chris Jamieson.


5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Big-city prodigal daughter returns to her sweet and sour small-town roots and reunites with her old high school crush.

6. Will your book be self-published or traditional?

Traditional—with Harlequin Superromance, in stores and online January 2, 2013.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Four months, plus one month to edit, before I sent it to my editor.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Sarah M. Anderson’s A Man of His Word, which is a great Harlequin Desire about a white high-powered executive and a Native American attorney. Anderson deftly handles the racial issues and prejudice the heroine faces without shying away from the real awfulness.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Being Chinese Canadian myself, I’ve always wanted to write a contemporary Chinese heroine and see more diversity in romance.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

The book does deal with issues of racism and interracial relationships, but more broadly, it is about coming to grips with your personal and cultural identity.


Hey authors! Wanna continue the chain? Email me at vicki@vickiessex.com and you can be a part of this chain of awesomeness!

So the blog tour begins for the release of Back to the Good Fortune Diner! I'll be talking about all kinds of things regarding the book, writing interracial romances, and more. Come and see me at these awesome websites—I'll be giving away copies of BTTGFD to commenters!

You can also find this list on the Events page.

Back to the Good Fortune Diner, in stores January 2013!

Dec. 10, 2012 Madison J. Edwards
Dec. 12, 2012 Superromance Authors
Dec. 19, 2012 Sherry Isaac
Dec. 21, 2012 Romance and Beyond
Dec. 29,2012 Pink Heart Society 
Jan. 2, 2013 Superromance Authors
Jan. 4, 2013 Get Lost in a Story (GLIAS)
Jan. 8, 2013 Drunk Writer Talk
Jan. 16, 2013 Cristal Ryder
Jan. 22, 2013 Lindsay Hautenen/Layna Pimentel

Apologies for neglecting my blog. It's been a busy and rather stressful month. I had surgery to remove my gallbladder in October--in the weeks leading up to it, I was in and out of the E.R. and the doctor's office. I've had a stone measuring 1.9 cm inside me for a while, and after 7 attacks over two weeks, the surgeon said it was time for the gallbladder to go.

So here I am now, minus one gallbladder and plus a few abdominal scars. But now I can have all the bacon I want without fear of (serious) repercussions. Though I should probably, you know. Be healthier.

Send me a SASE and I'll send you a bookmark!

I've got bookmarks for Back to the Good Fortune Diner now! If you'd like you, send me a SASE and I'll be happy to forward a couple on to you:

Vicki Essex
c/o Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
225 Duncan Mill Rd., 6th floor
Don Mills, ON
M3B 3K9

In writing news, I'm working on my third book, another MMA story set in the same universe as Her Son's Hero, and starring Kyle Peters, Dom's wrestling coach. No release dates yet, but I'll keep you posted.

Also, I've finally finished my YA Western fantasy! It's been a project I've been working on for almost 3 years, and I'm hoping to get some beta readers and start sending it to agents in January.

1 Comment

Michael Mandarano is a freelance copyeditor, proofreader and formatter, and (full disclosure) a former colleague of mine from Harlequin Enterprises. Last year, Michael proofread Her Son's Hero and also helped Wynne Channing format her book What Kills Me. I've asked him to tell us about what a copy editor can do, especially for authors looking to self-publish.

So you’ve downed that eighth cup of coffee, pulled an all-nighter and finally completed your work in progress. Your baby is complete. So what now?

Well…you could run a spell-check, close the file and start figuring out how to get your masterpiece into the hands of readers. Yes, you could do that. But therein lies the most common mistake made by indie or self-published authors and, in my opinion, the most damaging one to make.

The manuscript you’ve just poured your heart and soul into may very well be the next Fifty Shades of Grey or Beautiful Disaster, but without a trained and focused eye (and one that’s a bit more removed than yours), it’s bound to contain typos, inconsistencies and other errors that have slipped through the spell-check cracks.

In short, you need a copy editor.

As a copy editor, my job is to take a completed manuscript and smooth out the wrinkles. By this stage, you and your editor (make sure you have one of those, too) will have worked out the major issues in your story: plot and character development, proper use of dialogue, showing versus telling, and so on. Focusing on these top-line elements is extremely important, but it also leaves lots of room for smaller errors to remain undetected. In fact, often the editing process itself inserts errors into the manuscript that weren’t there before.

A good copy editor will go through your work and catch errors of spelling, grammar, punctuation, inconsistency and awkward phrasing. It’s what we do. Some like to call us detail-oriented, while others prefer the term anal. I prefer the first! 🙂 A good copy editor will do all these things while ensuring your author voice remains strong at all times. It’s your book; we’re here to give it that polished and professional look that readers have come to expect.

So once you’ve made the smart decision to hire a copy editor, what can you expect?

First off, I usually ask for the completed manuscript to get an idea of what level of copyediting is required, and to give an estimate of the total cost. I provide competitive per-hour rates and complete honesty when pricing projects. No one likes invoice shock!

Depending on the length of your book, my standard turnaround is usually one to two weeks. At the outset, we’ll discuss your preferences regarding spelling (American, British, Canadian) and whether you prefer any particular dictionary or style guide.

I copyedit most often in Microsoft Word using the Track Changes feature. It’s the easiest way to edit a manuscript with complete transparency and, combined with the Comments feature, allows me to explain any changes I make, as well as add suggestions here and there. For those using Word alternatives (e.g., OpenOffice or Pages for Mac), no worries — they’re compatible!

When you receive the marked-up file, you’ll go through the manuscript and choose to either accept or reject my edits and read the comments throughout. If you have any questions at that point, send them along!

And that’s it! You’ll have a polished, ready-to-be-published manuscript that you’ll be proud to present to readers.

Next up: formatting and producing an ebook. Stay tuned for my upcoming post on this topic…

For a limited time, I’m offering discounted copyediting rates to authors in need of my services. Drop me a line for details, and be sure to mention this post. And stop by michaelmandarano.com if you’d like more information about me and my work.

Best of luck!

1 Comment

Wynne Channing is a national newspaper reporter and young adult novelist. As a journalist, she has interviewed everyone from Daniel Radcliffe and Hugh Jackman to the president of the Maldives and Duchess Sarah Ferguson. The closest she has come to interviewing a vampire is sitting down with True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard (he didn’t bite).

About What Kills Me: An ancient prophecy warns of a girl destined to cause the extinction of the vampire race. So when 17-year-old Axelia falls into a sacred well filled with blood and emerges a vampire, the immortal empire believes she is this legendary destroyer. Hunted by soldiers and mercenaries, Axelia and her reluctant ally, the vampire bladesmith Lucas, must battle to survive. How will she convince the empire that she is just an innocent teenager-turned-bloodsucker and not a creature of destruction? And if she cannot, can a vampire who is afraid of bugs summon the courage to fight a nation of immortals?

V: This is your debut book. Tell us about what inspired you to take the leap and write and publish What Kills Me.

W: Vicki, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about the novel. I’m super excited about it. People were surprised when I told them that I was working on a YA vampire adventure (I saw those eyebrows!). I had built a career reporting on current events. I covered Canada’s first terrorism trial. I followed campaign trails. But the paranormal and fantasy stories came first; when I was growing up, my dream was to be Stephen King. I was on a three-month sabbatical in Taiwan when I imagined the pivotal scene in What Kills Me where my heroine falls into a well filled with blood. I guess I needed the break from my routine to kick start my life as a novelist.

V: What made you decide to self-publish rather than go the traditional publishing route?

W: My co-workers dared me. I’m joking. Kind of. They encouraged me almost every day until I was brave enough to consider it. They sent me articles talking about the benefits of self-publishing, the control that you have, the higher royalties, etc. Then one day, the books editor at my newspaper showed me how to submit my ebook to Amazon. It looked easier than setting up a Facebook profile. (It is not, by the way.) It made me excited to be a part of what I consider to be the future of publishing.

V: How did your skills as a journalist help you in the writing/editing process?

W: Whether for a newspaper audience or for book readers, you still have to tell a story. Good writing is good writing and I work on my craft every single day. (In fairness, I think it made my books editor, Marie-Lynn Hammond, happier that my copy was cleaner than the average manuscript. To keep my tools sharp, I re-read The Elements of Style every so often.)

V: What’s been the most challenging thing about writing and/or self-publishing this book?

W: I am my own worst enemy. I psych myself out all of the time. It takes a lot of determination to finish a product and then bravery to share it with the world. Then once the book is out, it requires mad stamina to promote it. It’s a marathon. I didn’t train sufficiently for it, but I’m still running. Oh, and formatting. I hated trying to format my ebook. Before I threw my computer out the window, I hired Michael Mandarano; he became my new best friend.

V: What’s next for you? Sequels? New projects?

W: This summer, I’m focused on getting the word out about What Kills Me. (If you self-publish, no one’s going to push your product except you, and maybe your mom.) But readers are already asking for the sequel, so I’m getting my butt back in the chair, as you say.


Wynne Channing is giving away 10 copies of her ebook, What Kills Me.

For your chance to win one, follow her on Twitter (http://twitter.com/wynnechanning) or like her at Facebook (facebook.com/wynnechanning), and tweet or post:

“I’d kill for a copy of @WynneChanning’s What Kills Me.”

Visit Wynne Channing at:

Website: http://wynnechanning.com

Twitter: http://twitter.com/wynnechanning

Facebook: http://facebook.com/wynnechanning

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15305194-what-kills-me

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/What-Kills-Me-ebook/dp/B0089H01VO/

It is also available at Smashwords (ISBN: 978-0-9881054-0-9) for Kobo and Nook.