SYWTBAW: Anatomy of a rejection –OR– What’s Love Got to Do With It?

So, I had my third manuscript, Fighting for Her Love, rejected by Harlequin Superromance today.

*drinks deeply of her red wine, takes a deep breath, sighs, gets over it*

I had high hopes for this particular story—I really loved writing it, loved my characters, and the premise. But I also had the barest inkling of the inherent problem with the piece—what ultimately got me rejected.

After I received the news, I got the unique and extraordinary opportunity to spend time with Superromance Senior Editor Victoria Curran to talk about my manuscript and learn some (not so) secrets about the whole book selection process and what turns the editors' cranks. Eye-opening and insightful, it was thrilling to get the feedback I did (even if I was shrivelling up inside at the thought of yet more edits and more rewriting.)

Let me start by saying that this was my most encouraging rejection yet. It wasn't simply, "Great writing, keep trying!" It was "You were really close, but you missed the mark right HERE." I will be going back to work on this story...right after I get over my four-pizza-slice, four-glasses-of-wine and four-hours-of-TV condolulatory* hangover.

Here are some of the highlights of the conversation we had (roughly paraphrased, so forgive me, Victoria, if I misinterpreted.)

On plot and conflict:

"The romantic conflict is central to the plot of a Superromance. The hero and heroines should be proactively creating their own conflicts through their actions as opposed to reacting to the external conflicts going on around them."

This was the main issue with my story. Victoria, along with the freelance editor who read the book, said while there was lots of great stuff happening around the characters, the real romantic conflict between the hero and heroine was lacking. I'd suspected this in the beginning, and it was interesting during our discussion when I said to her that it was hard to write a proactive relationship because real life never felt like that--that it was much more reactive.

She countered by saying this:

"At the same time, you're here, in this room talking to me about a book you actively wrote and submitted, and now you're reacting to what I'm saying..."


Proactive action from heroes and heroines is what character-driven contemporary romances are all about, according to Victoria. And it's by no means easy. Even some of the published and even well-establish authors will write stories in which the action is almost entirely reactive.

Victoria says:

"Lack of drama in the romantic plot makes people turn to external situations to up the stakes. There needs to be a paradigm shift in order for them to act and drive the action."

So contemporary romance is about more than stuff happening to two people. It's about stuff they make happen for and to themselves. The best romantic conflict will lead up to that OMG moment of impasse that makes you wonder, "How will they get together???" The most important moment, or climax, to a contemporary romance has to pit the hero against the heroine in matters of the heart--love and what's important to them.

Here's what Victoria said that really hammered it home for me:

"To love is to lose. Raising the stakes means that to love each other, they must lose something, but to not love each other means they'll lose love and each other. This is the heart of character-driven romance."

A simple and deeply emotional romantic conflict is what drives a contemporary story. The simpler, the better. Victoria says she can tell by reading a synopsis and partial right away how easy the story is to write because of the inherent conflict between the protagonists.

The romance plot is central to Superromances and to all character-driven contemporary romances. The rest of it is just dressing.

Whew. Okay, so that was the BIG thing.

Stay tuned for more great talking points with Victoria--right now, I need to sleep off this condolulatory* headache.

* condolulatory from condolulations (noun; interjection) = condolences + congratulations: expressing both sadness and sympathy with heartfelt sorrow. Ex.: "Condolulations, man, I heard you finally divorced your wife of ten years. She was a bitch and made you miserable."; "Here. Have this condolulatory cake on me. You were horrible to be with while you were on that diet. Good thing you failed."

4 thoughts on “SYWTBAW: Anatomy of a rejection –OR– What’s Love Got to Do With It?

  1. Stephanie

    This is very interesting. Makes a lot of sense when you think about it, but I had never thought about it before. Good luck with revisions!

  2. moor

    You know, condolulations is probably the best way to put the info in this post -- and having the mans rejected seems like it gave you a fantastic new perspective on how to write for Harlequin. 🙂 Speaking to you and a few other writers, and taking some time to write for fun on my own, I've learned where quite a few of my weaknesses are (and what to look out for), and have enrolled in some proper writing classes to have some 1:1 time with someone who can help coach me through them. (Because I seriously need some help!) XD Reading your posts actually has given me the courage to go out and start asking for what I need to improve my skills, so I can learn how to be a better writer -- and that rejection isn't a bad thing, it's a learning thing. 😀

    ... I'm just wondering, though... Have you considered writing/aiming for a different publisher? What about making romance part of a story, but not THE story? You're so good at other parts of writing, too, like plot development, humour, etc -- have you thought about shifting genres slightly?...

    (Just wondering) 🙂

    Anyway, condolulations! 🙂 And here's hoping the next one garners more praise! 🙂

  3. Victory Essex

    Thanks, moor. I am working on a young adult fantasy now which has significantly less romance; and I have pitched once to another publisher. But because of my job position, I have a "duty" to offer to Harlequin first.

    Good luck on your writing--so glad to know you're pursuing it, cuz you're gifted, too! Let me know if I can help you in any way!

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