Interview with Tara Parsons, senior editor of HQN.
Tara Parsons is the Senior Editor of HQN. HQN publishes contemporary, suspense, paranormal, and historical romances. They will publish 87 titles in 2012.
The big news is that current Spice authors are being moved into Harlequin’s other single title programs. Harlequin’s flagship romance brand, HQN, will absorb the existing Spice novels that meet the HQN promise; the existing Spice novellas contracted will be published through Harlequin digitally under the Spice banner but no new Spice novellas will be acquired. The print titles will be published in either trade paperback or mass market, to be decided on an individual basis. Additionally some Spice titles might be moved to the Mira line. The purpose of this is to provide better distribution to the Spice authors. This was tested with some of Spice’s key authors, including Sarah McCarty whose Spice books were rebranded under the HQN imprint with revised covers and picked up by other distributors under the new packaging.
I asked if the Spice books moved to HQN would be romances as opposed to the other types of stories sold under the Spice banner and was told yes.
We then discussed the various types of romances sold under the HQN brand. Tara Parsons is not actively looking for contemporary romances because the line is full of really strong voices but says that there’s always room for another great new voice if they find one:
- Susan Mallery’s very successful Fool’s Gold series continues with a new trilogy, ONLY MINE, ONLY YOURS and ONLY HIS.
- Virna DePaul, new to HQN, brings a romantic suspense to the market in April of 2012 called ”Shades of Desire.” Tara called DePaul a “young Linda Howard.” The photographer heroine has gone blind but prior to her blindness she took a photograph of something she should not have seen.
- Series author BJ Daniels has a growing groundswell of readers. She hit the USA Today list with her Desire titles and has become a highly anticipated author particularly in Western romantic suspense. Her new HQN title will hit stores in August of 2012.
- Lori Foster also writes a strong contemporary series with romantic suspense elements. She’s just hit #8 on the New York Times bestseller list.
- Newcomer RaeAnne Thayne will be writing about “Hope’s Crossing”, a town that has seen economic hard times, crime and is now in the process of being revitalized. Her first book with HQN came out last month, “Blackberry Summer,” and her next book, “Woodrose Mountain,” will come out in January 2012.
HQN is on the lookout for paranormal romance and more romantic suspense. One paranormal romance author Parsons and I discussed was Eve Silver, Rita nominee. She’s writing a dark paranormal series based on Greek and Japanese mythology; “Body of Sin” comes out in September
Parsons says that their historical offerings continue to evolve as they work on the best way to market and package the genre. They’re not actively seeking to add to their historical roster at the moment. Current authors they publish in the historical genre include Brenda Joyce, Kasey Michaels, Nicola Cornick, Charlotte Featherstone, Judith James and Delilah Marvelle. Parsons called Nicola Cornick, “A smart woman’s historical romance. Smart and sexy.”
Really? I read a book of hers a few months ago and it was really, really bad. It had every cliche and shortcut that gets category romance shunned.
I’m a little sad they’re not looking for new historicals. What they have is just more of the same. I’d love some historicals set anywhere but Britain with characters who aren’t noble. I’d especially love some American set historicals on the East Coast. Some new plots and settings would bring me back to historicals.
I’m with you there, and I suspect a significant portion of the romance market is looking for more variety in historicals, but I don’t think we’ll get it any time soon. HQN, Avon, et al have confused what sells, with what they know how to sell. They know how to market Dukes, Scandals, and Mistresses. They’re not certain how to market books without those buzzwords. And the buzzwords have the handy effect of disguising weak or non-existent plots. They suggest conflict by formula. Duke+Mistress=Scandal. Much harder to market something satisfying and complex like Meredith Duran’s latest…so let’s call it A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal! Even though the Lady in question is a guttersnipe factory girl at the start of the story and there’s not a Scandal to be found.
Is it any wonder Courtney Milan left the safety of HQN to go it on her own? Publishers are quick to tell you that periods outside the Regency and settings outside England don’t sell, but Duran and Milan have proved them wrong time and again. The truth is that mediocre books outside the English Regency don’t sell, but mediocre books in that setting can be relied upon to generate profits, if not runaway success. I don’t think we’ll see much innovation until that risk reward ratio changes.
Great interview! Thanks so much for providing insight into a line I’m interested in :)
I definitely enjoy Eve Silver. Are they looking for more dark & suspense in paranormals?
Have a great weekend!
I’m a huge Nicola Cornick fan and although she writes Regency romances, last year’s Whisper of Scandal (one of my favourite historical romances of last year) was partly set in the Arctic.
There is lots of variety in Harlequin’s Historical romance line. Margeurite Kaye has written a Sheikh historical romance duo, Christine Merrill had a gypsy hero in Taken by the Wicked Rake, and they publish Westerns, Medievals, Tudor set romance and books with set in Japan and China.
I’ve enjoyed Eve Silver’s gothic-like historicals, but I don’t read dark paranormal (only paranormal “lite” like Jayne Ann Krentz). I wish she would write more historicals. Or more futuristics as she did as Eve Kenin.
I would LOVE to see more well-written historicals set in the US. I no longer read historicals (outside of Lisa Kleypas) because so many were so trite and boring. I’m so sick of the cynical duke/prince/earl/lord who’s wowed by the “darling” society girl who is also penniless and “unique” and “unusual” compared to all of the other women he knows, and shows him how to love.
I was thinking of single titles, but Harlequin’s Historical line doesn’t seem chock full of variety to me. If you go to their home page now and select “view all,” the majority of titles on the first page–five out of ten–are Regencies. Go to page two, and it’s nine out of ten. And the variety that does exist comes in specific flavors. American settings are limited to pioneer/western stories, non-Regency English settings are Medieval or Scottish.
I wish HQN well. Overall, I believe Harlequin was in a better position with the digital revolution than other houses. Some of the HQN lines always took more direct submissions from authors than did other houses. I believe that’s why the company was in the best posture to adapt to the new publishing ecosystem quickly, and it looks like they’re still making changes.
You go, Harlequin.
Hmm, I guess I’ll have to research the author before buying anything from HQN single titles. I don’t read erotica, so I wish they would have kept it a separate line so I would know not to buy it…
The whole Spice-to-HQN thing really pissed me off. I bought a Sarah McCarty because it was in HQN, not Spice, and I wasn’t aware of why it had been moved there… it was not a pleasant experience for me. I understand that wider distribution is good and all that, but now I’m going to have to check before I buy any HQNs, which probably means I’m going to be buying less of them. (No more impulse buys!)
@dm: Seconding everything you’ve said! Heck, I’d settle for Regencies with new characters, even noble ones… a Duke Not-of-Slut, a society darling who got there because she’s a schemer who knows what she wants… basically, something other than ‘Jaded Gentleman Seeks “Charmingly” Innocent Wallflower.’ (‘Innocence,’ of course, is shorthand for ‘ridiculously naive virgin who is just shy of TSTL’)
What they should have done is marketed Spice better than they did. You never had any idea what you were getting. Erotic romance? Erotic women’s fiction? Erotica with an open-ended HFN? Erotic misery lit? That’s a pretty wide range.
It’s a shame they’re dumping them into other lines, because good erotica is kind of hard to find, but I couldn’t handle the wheel o’ resolutions. I don’t want to read what looks like a romance only to have the hero marry someone else at the end and keep the heroine as mistress, even if the author “fixed” the ending with an epilogue on her website.
Hypothetically speaking, of course.
I know what everyone’s saying about being burned out on typical Historicals. I just started reading Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin (I’m late to the party, I know), and it is so well written and such a breath of fresh air after the last Slutty Viscount Seduces Innocent Maiden that I read right before. I hope Harlequin continues to publish Lin’s books and to actively pursue more truly unique historical books like hers for their HH line.
@dm: I think part of the problem is that the books that are set outside the ordinary aren’t hitting the masses which is what mass market books have to do. This is not to say that I don’t think that the masses want something different (I do and I think that is why Avon is experimenting with different historicals a bit).
@Moth: I’m very excited about the next Lin which is about the “villain” of book 1 and the courtesan. WOOT.
Rebecca, I’m with you. I wish there was a separate line. I’m one of the few people who ignores the erotica elements in pretty much any show, book, or even fanfic. It just doesn’t work for me. That’s why I like different lines letting me what I’ll enjoy and working with that alone.
Also, I really like paranormal historical romances. I’d like more of those because at least they’re a little different than standard fare. I mean, I enjoy historical in cycles but I get tired of many of the same type of characters so I go on to something else for awhile. I like a little variety in whatever I read.
You are totally right. It takes a rollicking good mass market book to reinvigorate a period or a setting. Highlanders only became the rage after Gabaldon. Victorians are viable again because of Thomas, Duran, and Milan. If an irresistible Civil War or Edwardian book came along, those settings would take off as well. To be fair, there’s a good reason Regencies cast such a long shadow. They were a category all their own for so long that many authors like Mary Balogh served fruitful apprenticeships writing them. Regency authors have real storytelling chops, and even though I long to read something new, I’ll always take a good story well told in a familiar setting over a mediocre story poorly told in a novel one. And I can’t blame aspiring authors for sticking to Regencies. Their goal is to be published, and their chances are better if they stick to a setting that sells. So kudos to Milan et al for taking the risk and venturing into new territory.
@Hell Cat: If you like paranormal historicals and, if I can be so bold as to suggest one of my own books, I wrote a paranormal-medieval romance about a werewolf knight. It’s a sweet romance called The Beauty’s Beast (by E.D. Walker) if you want to check it out…The first page was up on Dear Author about a bajillion years ago.
@Jane: RE: Jeannie Lin
YAY! I love villians to heroes and I LOVE courtesan heroines. I hope Ms Lin keeps writing for a really long time. Not only does she have really interesting plots, but she’s a very talented writer into the bargain. Nice to have both combined in one package. :)
I am bummed that HQN isn’t looking for new contemporary authors since I’m putting the final touches on my first contemporary romance as we speak. Grrargh.
Ok, I’m glad I’m not the only one with that concern. It does mean less impulse buys for me too – I only buy print books, so if I see a HQN single title in the bookstore that I haven’t heard of before but that looks interesting, I’m going to be less likely to buy it now unless I’m familiar with the author or feel like taking the time to flip through a significant amount of the book. So unless I save the title to look up online later, I won’t be buying.
@Niveau – I would have known to avoid the Sarah McCarty, but only because I had seen reviews for some of her books and knew from that that her books are not for me. That must have been an unpleasant surprise though!
The HH Undone! imprint has a lot more variety in terms of settings and time periods, with Roman concubines, Vikings, Mediaval, Elizabethan, Roaring Twenties and my own experiments in paranormal-lite. I know they’re only novellas, but I think they’re a great showcase for innovation and experimentation in the series authors and they’re a good way for readers to sample new authors too, without committing to a full-length.
Jane’s right though, taking a chance on material outside the Regency box as a full-length story is still commercially risky, especially when you are writing for a series. But I actually do believe that HH publish quite a variety of stories, you just have to look, and even within the Regency, you can see ‘creep’ to different settings, hero/heroine who aren’t titled, and even heroines who have a bit of experience under their belt (or should that be under the belt?).
RE: Body of Sin by Eve Silver. That isn’t the first book of the new series is it? I thought it was the fourth book in her Sin series which solves the mystery of the “murder” from the first book Sins of the Heart. It is based largely on Egyptian mythology…well actually in that world all mythologies and religious deities actually exist. But the main character is the son of an Egyptian god.
@Tina: According to Eve’s website Body of Sin is part of the Otherkin/Sins series.
Wait, she did? Epilogue on website, where? I cannot find it anywhere. Link, pretty please? I actually objected much less to the ending than I had thought I would because of the specific circumstances. I had been told he did because his father threatened to cut him off financially, but that wasn’t the case.
Speaking for HQN (given that I write for them, lol), I will say that they are stepping outside of the box a lot more than people give them credit for. I would have never thought HQN would have picked me up as an author given the topics I write about and the settings I use for my 1829 and 1830 books (Venice, Poland, Russia, South Africa and my upcoming American New York City series — which isn’t a western, lol, go figure). The problem is readers aren’t always willing to try new authors. They stick with what they know because they’re scared to be disappointed and/or lose money on a book that wasn’t worth their while. They also have a tendency to let reviews guide their judgement as opposed to creating their own judgement. Which sucks for new authors who do have something different to offer despite using that same-old-same-old disguise of dukes and England to make the dang bookstores shelf and buy the book. The industry wants and demands a certain package from its authors and the authors are, in turn, forced to invent themselves within the confines of that sad little package. It’s hard and often results in an author bending and sanitizing their art in an effort to please not the author or the reader but the publisher who thinks it understands its readers.
The only solution is to support those authors who ARE writing different books and send out a message to the publishers that stepping outside the norm is what people want and what people will buy. Money talks. Moaning doesn’t. Of course, it’s a vicious cycle because with only Regencies on the shelf, how are readers to support “other” historicals? It’s a big sigh either way you look at it…