Your ‘Skip to the Good Part: 20 Authors Reveal Their Steamiest Scenes’ is such a fantastic idea…for readers and writers alike. Could you share a little bit about this project? How it came about? Where do you see it going? What do YOU like best about it?
Katherine Ernst: Honestly, I don’t think it’s much of an issue anymore. One of the best things about doing Skip to the Good Part is that I’ve now read *a lot* of steamy scenes. For every scene we published (80 in total by the end of March) we rejected approximately an equal number, so you can see that that’s a lot of reading. I think there was maybe one where the author used euphemisms (as in, love rod, or quivering staff, or whatever you think of with old-school romance). It’s just not really done anymore. Half of our submissions were from books the author considered “erotica” and half were from books the author considered “romance.” I didn’t see a difference in the heat level between the two, and everyone, for the most part, was very clear in what they were describing.
If you were to give an aspiring romance writer advice, what would it be? Would the advice be different than for an aspiring non-romance writer?
Katherine Ernst: It would definitely be different. I think the publishing world of romance is very different from the publishing world of other genres/categories and I think what you need to do to write a great romance novel is different from what you need to do to write a great book in other genres/categories. I literally could write an entire book devoted to this question (perhaps I will one day), but the best encapsulated advice I could give that would actually apply to all genres is: keep writing. I know you hear that all the time, but I am friends with many many bestselling authors. Some are self-published, some are with small presses, some are with a Big 5 publisher, many are hybrids, but the thing that unites them all is persistence. I have one friend who got a huge advance from a Big 5 publisher for the first novel she ever wrote. (Everyone’s dream, right?) It bombed. Terribly. Her hope of selling another book in New York became slim to none. But she didn’t give up. She started self publishing. She tried a couple different genres and categories. She tried different promotional strategies, but she had book after book that didn’t sell well. Eventually, after her 5th or 6th book, she finally had one that hit it big, and she’s now a New York Times bestseller. I have another friend who queried agents for 8-10 years. Wrote at least half a dozen books. Nothing. Until she finally sold her “debut” novel, and it hit it big and is now being made into a movie. I knew both of these people while they were still unpublished so I saw their persistence firsthand when they were in no way assured of success. And these are just two stories of many I could share. The vast majority of authors struggle for a long time before they “make it.” Even those with heaps of talent. So just stick with it. If you don’t like writing without the knowledge of reward, you’re in the wrong business.
Okay, contemporary romance is what you are looking but you could consider paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction for the right manuscript or author. Anything within this parameter that you’d like to see? Anything you definitely would not be interested in?
Katherine Ernst: We’ll definitely consider any type of steamy romance, although paranormal et al. is definitely harder to sell than contemporary right now. But, if your book is fantastic, we want to publish it. The most important thing is: is the relationship front and center? Is your novel truly a romance novel or is it a fantasy novel with romantic elements? If it’s the former, we’re interested. If it’s the latter, then we’re not the best publisher for you. This goes for contemporary as well.
So… how would you describe (maybe an example or two) what makes a hero swoon-worthy?
Katherine Ernst: To a certain extent this question is unanswerable because there are always going to be love interests who don’t fit an established trope but who still make your heart go pitter patter, but let me mention an element that always makes a hero compelling to the reader. There has to be sufficient push-pull between him and the heroine. What does that mean? Well, all successful stories involve tension. If your book is about two people falling in love, what is the tension there? It’s about whether they’ll get together, right? (There are a few other types of love stories, but they’re rarer, so let’s stick with this for now.) If they get together at the beginning of the book and then go on picnics and horseback rides for the rest of the story, that wouldn’t be very interesting, would it? So there has to be either an external or internal conflict that’s keeping them apart. Well, now it sounds like I’m just talking about the mechanics of plotting, but this is also what makes the hero swoon-worthy. Every woman is reading a romance novel because she wants to escape into a fantasy. At the beginning of the book, the girl and guy aren’t together. The hero keeps pushing the heroine away. This is necessary for tension in your story, but if done properly then it also makes the hero very attractive. How many jerks in your life seemed to like you one minute, but then pushed you away the next? It was infuriating, but you still were very attracted to him. In real life the guy probably had mommy issues and wasn’t worth your time, but in a great romance novel it turns out that the hero keeps pushing you away because…he’s a CIA operative and is trying to keep you safe! Or, he has deep-seated issues stemming from a tragic childhood that he wants to protect you from, but because of your love, he’s willing to overcome them! Or, he’s a vampire and he can’t get too close because then he might eat you! It’s what every woman’s ever wanted. The guy isn’t “not that into you”–he has a valid reason why he’s pushing you away. And actually, it’s a noble reason. He was trying to protect you all along. Swoon.
On a personal note…Favorite Socrates quote? And which continents are you missing?
Katherine Ernst is a successful attorney who has worked on billion-dollar cases. Five years ago she gave up the full-time practice of the law to pursue her real passion: publishing. More recently, along with her business partner Heidi Joy Tretheway, she has founded the romance publishing house Jasper Ridge Press. Their first series of books, Skip to the Good Part: 20 Authors Reveal their Steamiest Scenes, have featured over 30 New York Times and USA Today bestselling authors and have produced strong sales. In her spare time she is actively involved in her local community and was recently elected committeewoman in her district. For fun, she loves board games of all types, playing pub trivia, and travelingundefinedher goal is to make it to every continent; as of now, she’s visited four.
Jasper Ridge Press only publishes steamy or erotic romance, so first and foremost I’m looking for that. I am actively looking to acquire contemporary romance, but for the right manuscript and/or author I’d be willing to consider paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction. I’m also very LGBTQ friendly-I’d especially love a great F/F story. Here’s where editors usually tell you that they’re looking for perfect mechanics, a strong voice, and brilliant plotting. Well, of course I’m looking for that, but that doesn’t tell you a whole lot, does it? Here’s the secret to submission success that every writer is looking for (the following is assuming M/F romance, but the advice applies equally to M/M and F/F): I am looking for a hero that makes me swoon. Bestselling romances have one thing in common: they feature heroes that make readers’ hearts go pitter-patter. Everything else in your manuscript is window dressing. If I want to climb into your book and wrap my arms around your hero, you’re getting a contract even if your mechanics could use some work. Conversely, you could have the most beautiful writing in the world, but I won’t be able to offer you a contract if the romance isn’t sizzling. It’s as simple and difficult as that.
Tammy Burke, GLVWG member, 2011 conference chair and past president, has published over 400 articles in daily newspapers, newsletters and regional magazines. As a journalist and also with helping with the GLVWG “Write Stuff” conference she has interviewed a wide-range of literary agents, publishers, authors, state and local government officials, business and community leaders, everyday folk and celebrities. Currently, she is in the revision stage for her first YA fantasy adventure book, Uriah’s Window, the first in an intended series. When not writing, she works in the social service field, fancies herself a student of the fantastic and mundane, and is a fencing marshal in the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA).