Meanwhile, Back at the Spanish Castillo


Sometimes people ask about my writing. I am a writer. Most writer stuff is really boring. Plot points, character arcs, black moments. Line edits, page proofs, house style. Even I find writer talk tedious and I’m a writer. I’d rather talk about chickens and chocolate lava cakes. But last week, I was involuntarily engaged in one of the more entertaining-slash-frustrating aspects of my job, so here’s a glimpse into one of the things you do if you’re a writer for Harlequin, the mega giant in women’s fiction. At some point down the road after you have turned your book in (read: when you have completely forgotten what it was about and what the characters’ names were), your editor will gently nudge you that it’s time to fill out the Art Fact Sheet. The art and marketing departments use the AFS to prepare cover art and to promote your book for foreign distribution. Don’t be fooled by the word “sheet” as it is multiple pages, accessed through an online system, each screen filled with a dizzying array of drop-down menus designed to simulate water torture.

First, you have to pick a “theme group” for your story. Abduction, aboriginal hero, amnesia, betrayal, baby/children, bachelor auction, bad boy? Billionaire boss, espionage, forbidden love, forced marriage? How about forced proximity? Hero as boss, hero as guardian, hero as lord, hero as prince, hero to the rescue? Italian count or Italian hero? Kidnapped bride, makeover, manhunting, matchmaker, miracle baby, plain jane? There are more. (I just pick suspense…..)

Where does the story take place? The world is your oyster! China? How about Colombia? The Biscayne Bay, Borneo, a fictional desert kingdom? A fictional European principality or a fictional island? Monte Carlo, Nepal, or Papua New Guinea? Burkina Faso? Where is Burkina Faso? (My story is set in West Virginia.)

Does the story take place over any holidays? Father’s Day? Easter? Independence Day, a town’s centennial, or a royal coronation? How about during the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts? (I don’t make this stuff up! That’s a choice!)

Any landmarks in the story? Like, the Acropolis? Or the Auckland Sky Tower? The Bay of Naples, the Loire Valley, Machu Picchu, the Parthenon? Stonehenge, the Taj Majal, Mount Vesuvius? (Does I-79 count? Wait, I can’t find I-79 in the drop-down menu. How odd….)

What type of places are in the book? Any archaeological sites? A chateau? An exotic beach? How about a grand reception room, an oasis, or an olive grove? A sea loch, a Spanish castillo, a waterfall, a Turkish bath? (Much of my book is set in a cabin in the woods…..)

Now you get to tell them about your characters. What is their theme? (Yes, they have to have a theme!) Are they ambitious? Accident-prone? An alpha male prince? A crusader, a Cinderella? Brooding, bubbly? A dashing adventurer or a missing person? Are they scatty? (What is scatty?) A virgin or vivacious? Rugged or a runaway bride?

What do they do for a living? Are they an artist or an angel? (Yes, angel is an occupation. Harlequin says so. Do not question a publishing superpower.) They could be a breakfast TV producer, a cowboy, or a courtier. A sheep baron or a sultan! And yet they cannot be a U.S. Marshal. Which my hero just happens to be. No U.S. Marshal choice in the drop-down menu. He could be a vampire, but not a U.S. Marshal. So I picked vampire. (I’m just kidding. I think. I don’t actually remember what I picked.)

What about their hair? Is it brown with copper highlights or brown with honey strands? Sable or sandy? Is it rumpled or sleek? Elfin or glossy? The choices are endless! And baffling…

And their eyes! They can be forget-me-not blue, blue-gray, blue-violet, cornflower blue, cobalt blue, electric blue, dark blue, dark blue-violet, greeny-blue, gray blue, ice blue, inky blue, one blue and one green, peridot blue, light blue, robin’s egg blue, sapphire blue, silver blue, sky blue, slate blue, or smoky blue! (Let’s not talk about the browns…..)

Is it their first love? What’s their nationality/ethnicity? Do they have any disabilities? Are they astute or authoritative? Guarded or guilt-ridden? There are more drop-down menus! More and more!

Then there is a little text box at the bottom that invites you to type in further character description. I don’t think so.

There are more pages for you to make up scene ideas for the cover and type in a synopsis. I’ll spare you the details. You’re welcome. Then my editor asked me to come up with a list of titles. And another list of titles. And another list of titles and another list of titles. And when I was completely beaten down and mumbling nonsensical combinations of words, they picked one.

And so my next book (coming out in December 2008) is titled Protected in His Arms. My bad boy hero is a vampire. He has rumpled sable hair and peridot blue eyes. He’s guarded AND guilt-ridden. The story’s set at a Spanish castillo in Burkina Faso during the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. Anything else you want to know?

P.S. Art Fact Sheet aside, I actually have no final control over the cover art. I will not see it until it’s completed and it often bears no resemblance to anything I put down in the AFS.

P.P.S. Protected in His Arms isn’t really set in a Spanish Castillo in Burkina Faso.

P.P.P.S. The book I’m working on now is about an accident-prone sheep baron in an olive grove in Papua New Guinea. His hair is brown with honey strands. His eyes are greeny-blue and he is very rugged. I got the deadline extended due to all the moving and chickens and chocolate lava cakes. It’ll be published sometime in 2009. (That’s not really true, either. Except the part about it being published sometime in 2009.)

P.P.P.P.S. A few people have mentioned looking for my books. I write what is known as “series” or “category” romance. My books are published in the Romantic Suspense line (or series) by Silhouette Books, which is a division of Harlequin. The books are published monthly and are available in bookstores and supermarkets everywhere the month of their release. After that, their shelf space is given over to the next month’s releases and the best place to find books published in previous months is online booksellers such as Amazon, who carry monthly romance releases for longer periods of time.

P.P.P.P.P.S. How many P’s are you allowed to have?


  1. Becky says:

    Wow! And I thought the hard part was the research and writing of the book. Shows what I know, huh? :shocked:

  2. Kim A. says:

    Loved this glimpse into how the art work is developed, Suzanne. I had no idea you had go through this process.

    “Protected In His Arms” sounds good! I’m looking forward to reading it, though it’s many months to wait. (Good thing my TBR pile is extensive, I guess.)

    And of course, I can’t wait for the accident-prone sheep baron’s story. :rotfl:


    P.S. You can have as many “P’s” as you choose. So there!

  3. Blaze says:

    and to think I was interested in writing..good lord, thats alot of stuff to go through for something that you basically have no real input in when it actually gets done..ugh.

    But oddly enough I’d read a book about a vampire sheep famer. :mrgreen:

    And I actually did wander though the bookstore looking for your stuff, but books a million didn’t seem to have any.
    Not that I wanted to wander aimlessly though the romance novels, guys get funny looks doing that. 😉

  4. Amber says:

    I am off to read one of your books! I think the one about the accident-prone sheep baron sounds great! :thumbsup: LOL!! Thanks for the post, though! I read constantly and I love to peek instead the life of an author.

  5. Lora says:

    Thanks for all the interesting information. That sounds like what we have to fill out around here to get a library card. Like every job, I’m sure there are things you find frustrating, but I hope you enjoy most of it.
    I cannot picture you doing something you don’t want to do.
    How did you find this nifty gig?

  6. becki says:

    My daughter and I found a bunch of your books at a used bookstore near NASA. Story the folks who work there tell is astronauts will pick up a couple of paperbacks before a mission to the space station and bring back ones folks up there have already read. Now, I don’t know if your books went up in space (it is a VERY big used bookstore) but it is a good story.

    About Suzanne the Author….my princess is quite impressed that I knew you in college. She can’t believe I never asked you for your autograph. I tell her if I had, you would probably have thought I was wierd. Her reply? “Mom, I hate to break this o you, but…”

  7. MARY says:

    :drowning: /wow! And here, all this time we thought you were shopping crazily, baking cakes, enjoying your birthday, and playing with eggs! You poor thing. I :butterfly: know you’ll get it done, though. I think you must write in your sleep, because you always make your deadline! LOL!! Good luck!

  8. Suzanne McMinn says:

    Becki, you can tell her nobody else was asking for my autograph in college either, LOL.

  9. Lisa J says:

    Oh my goodness, and we thought you had such a cush job!!! Little did we know you had to make sooooo many decisions! You should get hazardous duty pay!

  10. Becky says:

    I think you’re allowed a maximum of 3 Ps. You’ll probably have to pay a fine.

    Hey, you know, romance novels are really not my thing, but “Protected in His Arms” sounds really interesting! You might just turn me into a romance novel reader, yet!

  11. Jeri From Newcomerstown Ohio says:

    This post really isn’t about the workings of how you write your books, but I must say that I would never have believed it took so much to get a book finished. You rock. :rockon: I brought up your site as I do every morning at work with my cup of coffee and I was looking at the pictures and reading what you had written and I suddenly started to cry. I am getting really homesick for Spencer, Wv and my best friend in the whole wide world since the 4th grade Ronda who lives way up and I mean way up Triplett Road off of Arnoldsburg Road. Your site brings back a bit of home for me every day and I guess today I am really missing what is familiar to me. So, I just want to say thank you for letting me have the chance to stay a little connected to my home.

  12. Tresha says:

    HOLY COW..I MEAN CHICKENS….. I thought a reference page was bad for a high school essay!! hahaha….it is amazing ANY BOOKS ARE WRITTEN AT ALL!!!!!!!!!


  13. Shirley says:

    I alwasy thought the life of a romance was well, romantic. Little did I know it was such hard work.

    Good luck on the book.

  14. Tori Lennox says:

    :rotfl: Those choices are a riot! Makes me want to pick the weirdest combination I can come up with and write it. *g*

  15. Linda~ says:

    How interesting! I think I feel sorry for the artist that has to interpret all that mumbo-jumbo.


  16. Susan says:

    Yikes!! All I can say is it’s a good thing that I don’t write books because I don’t think I would have the patients to go through all of those choices. Kudos go out to you! :hug:

    I loved the blurb and can’t wait for the book to come out! :shimmy:

  17. Elcie says:

    The Festival of Hungry Ghosts is a Chinese festival on (I think) July 13th. They (Chinese, Taoist, Buddhists) believe the gates of Heaven and Hell open, allowing ghosts to receive food and drink. So basically, there are a lot of offerings to ancestors/deceased loved ones during the festival, and rituals to absolve the sufferings of the deceased. It’s actually pretty interesting stuff, though kind of an surprising option for your sheet you have to fill out. I’m sure there’s a story behind that. . .

    Ha, I find the fact that you actually have to fill out a cover art sheet kind of amusing, since it seems to me the cover art never fully matches the story.

  18. Shimmy Mom says:

    Wow thanks for the insight I actually found that VERY interesting. You must REALLY love what you do. I thought the hard part would be deadlines or research, but it sounds like the WHOLE process can be hard and by the time your finished and can exhale you have another one due. God bless you!

  19. Jennifer Robin says:

    Thought I’d pee my pants laughing by the time I got to the end of this post! As a once avid reader of Harlequin Romances (back in them olllld days), my imagination went wild thinking about how they create cover art. I don’t think I would do so well with so many choices. I’m still stuck between greeny-blue and robins egg blue for his eyes!

  20. Jodie says:

    RE: photo – looks like you all need a few reference guides to wild mushrooms to determine which ones are edible. :hungry: I googled and found several references to West Virginia wild mushrooms (books & other websites). They are beautiful, even if not edible! In France, during wild mushroom season, the pharmacists will help you determine if your mushrooms are edible. (Read it in one of Peter Mayle’s books about living in Provence). US pharmacists would probably not be helpful, but Parks & Wildlife department might be of help.

    RE: Books, Thanks for the post about your book completion process… I agree that cover art usually doesn’t match up with titles or content. I mostly read Mystery and SciFi but love your blog, so I’ll look for your next title in the grocery store book section.

  21. Renna says:

    :mrgreen: Thank you for taking some of the mystery out of romance novel writing.

  22. Kim W says:

    What’s the name of the book you were talking about that happens in the log cabin?? THAT’S more my genre. WOOHOO!!!
    :treehugger: :snoopy:

    Blessings from Ohio…

  23. catslady says:

    Oh thank you so much for my biggest laugh of the day. Although I know it’s not funny when you actually have to fill out that crazy form. Maybe that’s why so many covers don’t fit the book – they want it to fit their thinking and not the authors. It’s like an assembly line – one of these and one of these…and after all that, how many times do they even get those wrong. Wouldn’t it be really neat if the author got to talk to the artist!!! At least I now know what peridot is since it’s the color of my daughter’s maid of honor dress :mrgreen:

  24. margie rusnak says:

    thats a shelf fungi in the photo. it causes the trots if you eat it, but apparently it will cure worms?

    i know a couple of ppl that go ‘shrooming in wva, but i never had the nerve to eat them. that morel looked tasty although.

    ps, i saw 2 chickens and 1 turkey today! one was a polish black hen and i forget the other one. this couple also had a llama with them. they were at the ice cream store and i had to ask if the icecream was for the llama they named barrack.

  25. kacey says:

    hm, since it appears they don’t look at the fact sheet when doing the covers, maybe just make up the most outrageous answers and go with that.

  26. Christine says:

    “Then there is a little text box at the bottom that invites you to type in further character description. I don’t think so.”

    By that point I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. 😆 Priceless.

  27. Brandy says:

    I knew about the fact sheets for covers, but had no idea HOW detailed they were. Whew!

  28. Amy Addison says:

    Ah, the (non)sense of it all. Thanks for the morning smile.

  29. Alice Audrey says:

    You can “P” as much as you want, Suzanne. :mrgreen:

  30. Jake says:


    I’ll be waiting, camped out in my lounge chair in the book department until this book is at the market! LOL!

    Can’t wait. I love your books! And…Your blog.


  31. Krista says:

    I really think you should run with the sheep baron idea. But sheep are so typical. How about an alpaca baron? You’d be much more accident prone from the top of an alpaca.

  32. Kathy Erb says:

    I’m so glad i stumbled on your website, since then you’ve given me hours of reading enjoyment, as well as some great new recipes to try. Lol at your take on the whole eH writing process, hahaha
    Kathy 🙂

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