17 February 2014

Author Interview: Narelle Atkins (part 2)

Today we're welcoming back Narelle Atkins, debut author, for the second half of her interview. The first half (here) focused on her novel, Falling for the Farmer. This week, we are looking at the writing and publishing side. Welcome back, Narelle.

When did you seriously start writing? How long did it take before you signed your first publishing contract?

I started writing my first book in 1998, and I discovered I had a lot to learn. I believe it takes time to learn the craft of writing. Not many people write their first book and sell it straight away to a traditional publisher.

I took a long break from writing while my children were small. In 2006 I started to seriously pursue my love of writing. I used to write for two hours every Friday morning while my children were attending pre-school programmes. In 2007 I entered my first book in a number of writing contests in the US. My goal was to receive constructive feedback on how I could improve my stories. I was a finalist in four contests and received a full manuscript request from a Love Inspired editor, who left the company a few months later. I submitted the book and received a form rejection. Over the next few years I wrote my runaway bride story and the second book in my Sydney series.

In August 2012 Harlequin announced they had purchased the Heartsong Presents line from Barbour. I emailed a query and sold my first book in September 2012. My editor asked if I’d written anything else, which led to writing proposals for three brand new stories. I signed a six book contract with Harlequin Love Inspired Heartsong Presents for two 3-book series in February 2013.      

Heartsong Presents novels are known as category romance. What does this mean, and how is it different from the longer single title romance novels?

Category romance books are usually shorter reads that fit within defined parameters. My Heartsong Presents books are just under 200 pages long. My publisher, Harlequin, is the biggest romance publisher in the world. Harlequin has a large number of romance imprints in a wide range of romance sub-genres, including the Love Inspired range of inspirational romance books. The books are released on a monthly schedule. Heartsong Presents currently releases two contemporary and two historical inspirational romances each month. Readers can subscribe to the Harlequin Reader Service and receive a shipment of books every month from their favourite romance lines.

Single title books are longer, and are usually more complex stories with subplots. My Heartsong Presents books focus on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine. The romance plot is the central storyline, and I introduce minor characters who will feature in later books in the series.

Another difference between category and single title books relates to marketing. A new category romance author will sell their book to loyal readers of the category romance line. Readers who love the Heartsong Presents books will buy new authors because they trust the brand will deliver the type of story they like to read. The Heartsong Presents brand will generate sales. In contrast, a single title book is more dependent on the author’s name. It’s harder for a new single title author to stand out in the crowded book marketplace. That’s one reason why building an author platform is important for new writers looking to sell a single title book or series to a traditional publisher.   

Why have you chosen to write category romance? Do you think you will stick with category, or will you move into full-length novels?

I started reading category romance when I was a teenager. My grandmother was an avid category romance reader and she used to share her large book collection with me. I like writing shorter books and I’ve never felt that the category guidelines have limited the scope of my writing. Our books are a product and authors need to deliver books that meet reader expectations. There are genre expectations that single title authors need to follow.

I recently signed an agency agreement with Steve Laube from The Steve Laube Agency. This means I can potentially sell to the larger Christian publishers who only accept agented submissions. I’m more than happy to continue writing for Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents because I love category romance. That said, I do like new challenges and one day I may decide to write a single title contemporary romance series. I’ll work with Steve to map out my career goals and future directions.

People often criticise romance novels (and especially category romance) for being formulaic. Is there a formula? Does this make it easier or harder to write a novel that is accepted for publication?

All genres are formulaic in some way because readers have specific genre expectations. For example, romance plots must have a happily-ever-after ending. Romance is a popular genre with readers because they like reading stories with those essential romance story elements that could be considered formulaic.

I think it’s easier to write a shorter, single romance plot story that doesn’t have one or more sub-plots woven into the main plot. Other writers will say it’s harder to write category romance because they find it difficult to write short. I’ve read single title books that sink in the middle and are boring because the author hasn’t mastered the art of writing effective sub-plots.   

I’ve spent a lot of time studying story structure. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler explores the mythic story structures. He talks about the stages of the hero’s journey, starting with the ordinary world and call to adventure. In essence, all stories are formulaic if you look at them from a structural perspective, and readers find this underlying story structure satisfying.   

What kind of support does your publisher give you? What are you expected to do yourself?

My publisher provides all the editorial and other support you’d expect from a large traditional publisher, plus they have in-built marketing support eg. Harlequin Reader Service. I’m expected to market and promote my books, and Harlequin provides author copies to help with this process. I was also given the opportunity to write an article for Harlequin’s Simply Books Magazine, which will be mailed out to all their reader service subscribers this month.

It’s important for authors to work with their publishers in all the stages of the book production process. I provide art fact sheet information that is used to create the cover art, and a list of suggested book titles. One day a title I suggest may actually be used, lol.  

Lol indeed! Thanks for visiting, Narelle. 


  1. What a terrific interview. Narelle, it was great to read more about your journey as an author. Very informative, thanks ladies.

    1. It's been a long journey for Narelle, hasn't it? But it's great to be able to learn from her experiences.

    2. Hi Cate, Thanks for stopping by and reading the interview :) I'm glad the information is helpful.

    3. Hi Iola, Thanks for the opportunity to visit your blog and talk writing. My journey to publication has been long, compared to other authors, but I wouldn't change anything. In many ways I'm glad I didn't publish any earlier. My kids are older now and cope with my full writing schedule. I also have more time and the skills needed to write faster and manage my deadlines. God's timing is perfect :)

  2. Excellent post, Iola, and thank you Narelle for sharing so clearly about category and single titles. I wrote the shorter romance novels and did enjoy being published in the original Heartsong Presents book club originally owned by Barbour Publishing. It was only when I went from writing contemporary to writing four historicals for the line that I became frustrated at not having the space I needed for adequate historical setting, spiritual elements and the growth of the characters - especially their growing love for each other. However, in hind-sight, I now know writing the tighter category length was good training for longer manuscripts even though I've found them considerably more difficult and time consuming. I love your first book, Falling for the Farmer and looking forward to the next in your series.

    1. Thank you, Mary.

      I understand what you mean about single titles being more difficult - I've read several novels from authors who've made the leap from category to single title, and some of them manage that additional length and integration of subplots better than others.

  3. Hi Mary, Thanks for stopping by :) The short books are good training in writing tight. There's no room to ramble in the 45-50k word length. Iola, I agree that some authors make the leap from category to single title length more successfully than others.

  4. Congratulations Cate McKeown! You're the winner of a print copy of Falling for the Farmer :)