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Editorial Notes That I Find I'm Requesting Again and Again

By Deb Werksman
 Editorial Manager
Sourcebooks Casablanca

There are some editorial notes that I find I’m requesting again and again, from authors both experienced and new. If you are one of my Fall 2012 authors, you will have received this email directly a while ago. I thought of another one, so check it out at the end of the list.

THERE WILL ALWAYS BE EXCEPTIONS! This is a craft we practice, not a science, so please don’t think this is all written in stone. 

Now, without further ado, here is the list of Editorial notes:

1)      The love story must be the primary focus of the book. Your book is being published in the romance category—the love story is what your reader is buying the book for, so please make sure all the other elements revolve around the love story. Make sure the action/adventure elements of your plot are NOT swamping the love story. 

2)      Start the love story as fast as possible. Don’t start with backstory, jump right into the love story. Hero and heroine should be on the page together no later than p. 10, and p. 1-5 is better. I’m not a fan of prologues (THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS)—find a way to tell the reader what they need to know as the love story unfolds.

3)      Not enough sexual/sensual tension or the pacing of the love story is too slow. The benchmark I like to use is: aim for first kiss by p. 50-60 and first sex scene by p. 100-120. If your characters aren’t moving that quickly, then you’re going to have to find a way to sustain the sexual/sensual tension between them in other ways, and that’s difficult to do. Fantasies and dream sequences are often not as strong as real encounters.

4)      Pacing in general. If you’re coming in at over 100,000 words, your pacing may be too slow. It’s worth considering and seeing what you can do to tighten up. The 90,000 words range is usually just about right.

5)      Hero and heroine apart for too many pages. Sometimes plot will require a physical separation of hero/heroine. Make sure it’s short in terms of pages. It’s very difficult to sustain tension if h/h are apart for too many pages – probably no more than one chapter at a time.

 6)      Time has passed indicators. Example: Three months later… This is a pet peeve of mine, I’m sorry. I hate these. Find a way to let the reader know in the course of the storytelling that time has passed.

7)      Do not design a series so the books must be read in order. Every book in your series must stand on its own. If your readership is expanding—and this is what you want to have happening—then new readers will be entering the series with each book. You’ll want them to be able to enter the series at any point. In addition, once you have multiple books on the market, you will have no control over where readers enter the series.

8)      Do not carry a secondary love story across more than one book. [Possible exceptions] If you’re working to set up the next hero and heroine in the current book, great. However, then they must be the hero and heroine of the next book. Do not set up a series so that one hero and/or heroine’s story unfolds over multiple books. You will likely run into two issues when you do that: one, you’re reprising a plot element; two, you’re frustrating your reader’s expectations.

9)      Too much setup of the next book. Focus on getting the job done in this book—if you do, readers will want the next book without you having to work so hard to set i up.

10)   Reprising. Try not to reprise—you need a new hero and heroine, new conflict elements, new secondary characters in every book. You must repopulate your world. This doesn’t mean you can’t keep your key secondary characters, just make sure you’re introducing enough new ones. What  you want to avoid is the reader having the experience that she’s read this book already.

11)   Keep your heat level, level of darkness/lightness and action consistent. Remember you are building your brand and your readers want the reading experience they’re buying you for. It’s like going to MacDonald’s and getting a different amount of pickles every time you go. The brand becomes unreliable. 

NEW! 12) Don’t injure your character so much that you preclude a romantic/sexy/sensual ending. Often at the end of a story there will be a rescue scene and one of the characters (hero or heroine) gets injured. Please make sure either enough time passes for sufficient recovery before the ending or that the injuries are not severe. A love scene/sex scene is often called for at the end and if your character has a concussion or a broken bone, it’s not likely they’ll be “in the mood.”

Thank you! I welcome questions about any and all of this! Here’s what I’m looking for:

*single title romance in all subgenres (paranormal, historical, contemporary, romantic suspense, erotic romance)
*90,000 words please
*send full manuscript (partial ok if you’re a published author already), synopsis, your sales history
*editorial criteria:
--a heroine the reader can relate to
--a hero she can fall in love with
--a world gets created that the reader can escape into
--a hook I can sell within 2-3 sentences
--a career arc for the author—what’s coming next, and next and next if your readers love this book


  1. I'm guessing you could do a dozen of these each week and never exhaust the list. Any other guidance about endings? I seem to struggle with those in particular.

  2. Good things to know. Thanks for taking the time to blog about your likes and dislikes.

  3. Great guidelines and advice! I always look forward to your blogs, Deb.

  4. Thanks, Deb - I wanted to forward that email to all my writing friends because it gave such good tips on how to make your romance work. It's always nice to have rules to go by, and these are good ones! Thanks for making them public.
    Grace, I teach a workshop on endings - but I still struggle each time. It's so important, and such a challenge, to find a wrap-up that resonates with the reader.

  5. Since I've been guilty of one or two or three of these in my stories, I printed the list when I got the e-mail. Never hurts to have it in writing.
    Thanks, Deb!

  6. Thank you, Deb, for providing such crystal clear expectations.

    Now, if I can only manage to follow them! ;D

  7. Great advice! Thanks for putting it so succinctly.

  8. I've lost count of how many writers I've forwarded this link to...great stuff!

  9. Great advice. This will be a printed out keeper!


  10. Excellent post and a big AMEN to all of these, especially about the hero and heroine being separated for too long. I HATE it, even when my favorite authors do it. Also a big YES to no sex with severe injuries. Pulls me right out of the story shaking my head in disbelief. Now a good cuddle on the other hand.... :)


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