Interview Transcripts

Laurie Sanders is an author,  publisher, and editor of romantic fiction. She is the founder of Black Velvet Seductions Publishing and a new site (still under construction) which is dedicated to providing the knowledge and tools to assist new authors in their journey toward publication and to providing established writers with the tools to enhance their writing careers.

September 12, 2008


Laurie Sanders

Hi Mary and All,  Sorry I am a little late in posting. I had some difficulty figuring out the system here and getting registered. It looks like I am doing things correctly now.

Mary Rosenblum   Sorry you had trouble, Laurie!  Glad to see you here!  Thanks for talking with us!
Laurie Sanders 
Thanks for having me Mary. I am delighted to be here.

Rae:  I am working on a romance story for a new magazine that is going to start up. They want the stories to be sexual, but I am not sure that what I did is not too sexual. Is there a place to check it out?
I am over 63 years old (going to be 64 next month) and it has been a long time (blush). But I do remember how it works. Now my concern is this: I don't include as much detail as young people do, but when I try, it feel like I go too far. How do you know when it is enough or not enough to sell? How can I tell which market takes what? I mean, I read on tape, so they don't have a lot of variety. Any suggestions?

Laurie Sanders  Hi Rae,
There is wide variance in how much sex is appropriate for each publisher, or for each line that a publisher publishes. Generally I would suggest reading the books published by the company that you want to write for. However, since the magazine that you are writing for is new reading what they have already published isn't an option. Given that, your best bet is to look at the guidelines issued by the publisher. Sometimes the guidelines are general too...and don't offer much help, but there is a general kind of code which seems to exist when you read and compare guidelines from various publishing companies.
Sexuality tends to break down into three kind of broad divisions...sweet, sensual, and erotic. Sweet romance typically focuses a lot on the emotional aspects of lovemaking. If the lovemaking occurs on the story stage it is typically described euphamistically as opposed to graphically. Sensual romance tends to be more physical. In sensual romance sexual activity does occur and is described within the framework of the story. Whether the lovemaking is described euphamistically or graphically depends largely on the lines of the specific publisher. At Black Velvet Seductions we like to see books in which the sexuality is described as the characters would describe it. Different types of characters would be comfortable describing their lovemaking experiences in different ways. One character might be very comfortable with graphic description and another character might be more comfortable with euphamism. Sensual romance is the realm of gray area though. Exactly where the line between sensual and erotic is is not clear at many publishing companies. At Black Velvet Seductions the line between sensual and erotic is the type of sexual activity. In our lines sensual romance (Sensuous Journeys Line) includes everything except fetish content. Fetish content is included in our erotic line (Forbidden Experiences.)
I'm sorry I can't be more help on the specific magazine that you are writing for.
I would look for clues in their guidelines. What kinds of characters and situations do they want in the stories for their magazine. Some kinds of characters and settings lend themselves better to one level of sexuality than another. What words do they use to describe what they are looking for in terms of sensuality. Do they refer to the sex scenes as sex scenes or love scenes? Love scenes would generally be softer/sweeter, while sex scenes might be more graphically described. When in the manuscript do they want sex to occur? Only after marriage? Only within comitted relationships? On page one? All of these things give you some general clues to the company's wants around sexuality, but it is a bit of a game of deciphering the code.


Genre Questions


Mary Rosenblum   Well, I have a question if nobody else is going to jump in here.  Can you explain 'Gothic' and 'Regency' to me?  I've never quite been sure what the 'rules' are here.  Thanks!

Laurie Sanders  Regency refers to a historical time period. A regency romance would be set in the Regency period. (Early 19th Century England.) Regency romances are often heavy on the social experiences of the time -- balls -- parties -- suppers and so on.
Gothic romance is a sub-genre of romance which mingles elements of fear, not the same as romantic suspense where it is clear that there is a mystery and/or the heroine's physical safety is at risk. In gothics it is more a sense of foreboding that is woven into the story...a low level fear...nothing you (or the character) can really put her finger on. Just a sense that things might not be as they seem. Many gothics are set in large houses, often there is a history of murder or suicide attached to the house. Often gothic romance focuses heavily on the element of fear, and takes a softer approach with the romance, although this isn't always the case.
Regency is a time period. Gothic is more a kind of story, if that makes sense.

Rae:   My Romance is about a paralyzed woman who learns that she can be a "complete" woman even with her disability. Is there a market for this type of story?

Laurie Sanders  I think there are markets for most every story if it is well written. I expect the market for a romance with a paralyzed heroine is probably quite a bit smaller than the market for a more traditional romance though. This is because publishers are business people. As business people we publish the books which we believe will look the best on our bottom lines. A book that is like another book that did well for us will look more attractive to us from a business perspective than will a book that is unique. The unique book represents a gamble...a serious financial investment into something that we are unsure will pay off. 
Publishing decisions are not made just on the basis of a manuscript being a particularly good story, or even a particularly well written story. Publishing decisions are made largely based upon what the editor (and all the others who are involved in the decision) think the company's readership will purchase.
My position at Black Velvet Seductions is a bit different than the position of most editors who work at other companies. I am the founder and the CEO as well as the editor, which means that I make all of the decisions about what we publish at Black Velvet Seductions. At many publishing houses there will be a chain of people who share in the decisions about what is and isn't published at that particular house. In these companies the editor is more of a gatekeeper. He or she looks for the manuscripts which he or she feels have the most appeal and he or she puts those books forward. A group of people who are all involved in the success of the proposed book would weigh in on such things as legal issues that might arise from the publication of the book, the sales figures of similar books, how the book might best be marketed, whether the company already has an established readership for the type of book. All of these things will weigh into the decision of whether the company accepts or rejects the book.
At most houses snaring the editor's attention and approval is the first step, but it is only the first step. Many other people with decision making power have to be convinced as well.
To make a book with unique elements more marketable I would suggest spending considerable time thinking about who the readers for the book are likely to be and how you as the author will promote that book to that readership. Create a serious promotional plan. (Don't do what I see a lot of authors do and write something like XYZ book is such a great book that it will appeal to men, women, and children, becoming a bestseller upon publication. I am currently at work on the screen adaption.) This just makes the author look silly. It is not a PLAN for how the book will be moved from zero readership to the bestseller status the author is claiming it will have. Saying that you believe the message will appeal to men and women who are paralyzed and that you intend to promote the book by advertising it in a magazine that paralyzed people read, or that you plan to promote it through support groups for paralyzed people is a much stronger approach and shows that you have given some serious consideration to how you will promote the book. A well thought out marketing plan will sometimes make an editor take a chance on an unproven author with a unique book that he or she likes. 
It will be a more difficult sale, both to publishers and to readers than a more traditional book.


What is a ‘Good’ Romance Story Anyway?


Mary Rosenblum   So what does a Romance editor look for, Laurie?  What makes it a good story?

Laurie SandersWell, Mary, quite a few things actually, but the top requirement is a yummy hero. I firmly believe that heroes sell romance books. So a book has to have a hero that romance readers will want to get to know.
The majority of readers seem to like alpha heroes but they like alpha heroes who have a soft spot...who are kind, considerate and understanding, in addition to being a bit dominant, or a bit bossy, or a bit hard around the edges.
I like to see an interesting, believable meeting between the hero and heroine. Or in the case of reunion stories where the hero and heroine are not meeting for the first time, I like to see a believable reason why they are reuniting now.
I like the hero and heroine to meet as close to the first page as possible.
I like to see the seeds of conflict right away. I like to see internal conflict...conflict which stems from who the characters are, or who they perceive themselves to be, and what they need or think they need in a relationship. When the romance novel is set up such that the conflicts stem from inside the characters (she wants someone who is safe, predictable, ready to settle down and have a family and he is a daredevil who jets to a new place to participate in a new extreme sport each week) then you have the makings for conflicts throughout the manuscript. This sets up the romance novel to be about these two people, both growing, both giving something, both expanding beyond their limits in order to give the other what he or she needs. It also sets up a more believable conflict.
I like to see character growth and like to see the growth on the story stage. Starting out with a commitment phobic hero who somewhere in the middle of the book is no longer commitment phobic doesn't work. The author has to show me him changing, so that I can believe in the happy ending when it comes.
I really, really, really like to see well developed characters who act in character with their histories and backstories.
I like to see a believable happy ever after ending. (Yes, they are required at Black Velvet Seductions.) For a happy ending to be believable both characters must have grown throughout the story so that the things that stood between them no longer stand between them.


 What Do We Want to See (and not see!)


Mary Rosenblum   So, Laurie, what do you NOT want to see?  What is your slush pile full of???

Laurie SandersI will read about anything in terms of submissions. I tend to like things that have a bit of series/category romance feel...but with a new twist. I guess my personal favorite plotlines include -- marriage of convenience, revenge stories, reunion stories. This said, I acquire manuscripts not just for my own tastes, but to satisfy the desires of the readers who buy Black Velvet Seductions books. Their tastes are sometimes like mine, but sometimes different, so I choose both inside and outside my own favorite sub-genres and plot line categories. There is no romance sub-genre that I dislike categorically.
We accept manuscripts of all lengths from short to very, very long. Short stories are grouped together with other short stories into anthologies. Stories of at least 30,000 words are typically published as stand alone novellas or novels. The reason for this is that we publish in both paperback and ebook format. A book needs to be about 30,000 words long to be viable in paperback.
The most common reasons for rejections are not really related to the story itself (usually). The rejection is more often related to the story being outside the scope of what we publish in terms of genre or in terms of viewpoint. There is no romance sub-genre (other than mainstream and chick-lit which we don't publish) that I am not currently reading. I tend to receive a lot of romantic suspsense, so the wait to be reviewed with romantic suspsense is a bit longer than it is with other genres.
The most common reasons I reject manuscripts are:
Shallow point of view -- The most common reason for rejection at Black Velvet Seductions is that the manuscript is written in shallow point of view. Black Velvet Seductions ONLY publishes material written in deep third person point of view. Depth of point of view is a subject too lengthy for the time we have here. We do however have several articles on deep point of view on our website at The link to the page with the articles is on the left menu, about 3/4 of the way down, where it says "read past issues of the writer's newsletter." We also offer workshops on the topic through our sister site, We currently have about 10 spaces in our October workshop.
First person viewpoint -- Black Velvet Seductions doesn't publish any material written in first person viewpoint. All material for us must be written in deep third person point of view. I still receive a lot of manuscripts in first person viewpoint.
Material not in the romance genre -- Black Velvet Seductions only publishes romance. We do not publish straight erotica (though we do publish erotic romance), we do not publish mainstream, chick-lit, westerns, non-fiction, straight historical (though we do publish historical romance). I would like to see fewer manuscripts not fitting the romance genre.
Other than that, I am pretty much open to reading romance novels within all time periods, sub-genres, and plot lines.
I am available to answer author questions about what we accept and do not accept most Saturday evenings between 9 PM and 11 PM Eastern time. Authors are invited to drop by and ask any questions they have about anything they want to ask. The chats are fun, impromptu, and completely governed by what the authors in attendance bring up to talk about. We've talked about erotic romance, flawed characters, critique groups, done some brainstorming of internal conflicts. It's always a fun chat. It's my opportunity to talk to authors, both those already published with BVS and those who are still under consideration or who are thinking of submitting. Sometimes authors pick my brain about things. Other times I pick theirs.


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