HERS and his….okay, there’s no his


The HERS system. Harlequin Editorial Resource System. AKA, the Devil. For every book you write, as a Harlequin/Silhouette author, you have to fill out the extensive forms in the HERS system for cover art, otherwise known as the AFS (Art Fact Sheet). We Are Acronym Happy Here. The most frightening thing about my file in HERS is that there are 61 entries. This is because every time you submit a story to Harlequin/Silhouette in the New York or Toronto offices, they are logged in to HERS. Even if they never buy them. I imagine every time I get a new editor and they log in to my HERS file, they gasp, fall on the floor, and begin pleading for their very lives. I’m a teeny bit persistent. YES, YOU WILL BUY ME. I WILL SEND YOU STORIES UNTIL YOU CRACK.

This has actually worked over the years. God bless their weary souls.

After you browse down through the endless entries that were rejected, staring up at you from the screen like angry ghosts of characters forever left in limbo, you click on the title of the book you are currently supposed to be working on (for me, that was the merman story, PAX 3, last night). You know, the AFS you were supposed to be working on two weeks ago before your editor nudged you with an email yesterday gently inquiring HOW IS THE AFS GOING? Not that that happened to me yesterday or anything. The best thing about the HERS system is that in the Days Of Yore when I first sold to Silhouette, they mailed you the forms and you had to go to your mother’s house and borrow her typewriter to fill it in because, you know, who the hell has a typewriter?? Now it’s on the internet.

The first form is the Main Page. This is where you choose the story type (options like paranormal, comedy, glitz & glamor, fantasy, etc), the theme groups (adventure, different worlds, alpha hero, abduction, fairy tales, fictitious fiance, etc), story time period, story time frame, and story locations. They come with dropdown menus with a dizzying array of choices. This last one (story locations) includes options for cities, seasons, landmarks, holidays, and settings. You use a dropdown menu for each item, with options like (for setting) the Scottish Highlands and the Chrysler Building. One always wonders JUST HOW MANY BOOKS are set at the Chrysler Building that it has made its way specifically onto the list??? HAVE YOU EVER READ A BOOK SET IN THE CHRYSLER BUILDING? I want to know.

Then you move on to the Characters pages. You must do Character pages for both the hero and the heroine, and possibly secondary characters if they might wiggle their way onto the front cover. I only did a secondary Character page once, when I had a child that was important to the story. There you select character type (hero, heroine, secondary), name (fill in), marital status, then character theme. Under character theme, there’s a dropdown menu where you have a massive selection of things like pregnant, criminal past, insecure, emotionally traumatized, fugitive, former bad boy, etc. Occupation is next. I was disappointed to find that “merman” was not an option. (What is wrong with the world? They have the Chrysler Building as a setting option but no merman occupation??) Then you have Character Trait (loner, prim and proper, powerful, naive, aloof, etc), Hair Color (does anyone choose the mousy brown option??? and what is titan?? “He combed his fingers through his sexily tousled titan hair…..” I want to use this in a book if only I knew what it meant….), then if Hair Color wasn’t enough you have Hair Description (military cut, neat, hair up, hair down, trendy, unruly…..bald??? WHERE ARE THESE BALD PEOPLE IN ROMANCE?).

Eye Color (green, green-brown, green-grey, greeny-blue….why greenY-blue? why not greenY-grey?), Nationality/Ethnicity (is your character Italian/Australian? HE COULD BE! 5000 choices here), disability (amputee, anyone?), and then they want to know if it’s a “first love” book. There’s a box for you to type in any additional descriptive information. I wrote: HE DOES NOT HAVE A TAIL. HE IS NOT THAT KIND OF MERMAN.

After you do that for both your hero and your heroine, you move on to the Scenes pages, where you are expected to input three cover art ideas. I only ever have ONE good cover art idea. I have learned over time that putting in bad cover art ideas is just an invitation for them to USE THEM. So I put in my one good idea then sort of do take-offs of that one good idea in a mind-control attempt to get them to choose the idea I actually like. The Scene pages include categories to fill in like (and I’ll include my answers for Scene page 1, the one I like, for the merman): Mood/Sensuality (Dark, intense.), Time of Day/Season/Weather (Early fall, stormy, late day.), Situation/Location (Ocean and sky. Boat racing across water. Blue deepens as cover lowers. Hull of ship sticking up from the sand. Gold doubloons scattered along bottom of cover, face of a man taking up most of the upper cover, rising above the water.), Hero’s clothing (N/A, just his face), Heroine’s clothing (N/A, heroine not in picture). I am PITHY. (Let’s be realistic here. They aren’t going to use any of my ideas anyway. Why wear myself out?)

If you haven’t thrown yourself off the back deck by now, you get to cut down your synopsis to approximately three pages and fill in the Synopsis page. A new thing now is that they have Questions you answer to send in to your editor after you do the AFS. They look like college English exam questions. Questions like….. What are the overriding themes that run throughout–the bigger message? (ummm….) What is the significance/inspiration for your title? (Does this mean you’re going to KEEP IT?) Is the title metaphorical or literal? (er…….) What is this book about, beyond plot description? What is the take away? (TAKE WHAT?) For the key relationship, what is the turning point or climax? (DO I GET UNIVERSITY CREDIT FOR THIS?) What interesting visual elements have great significance in the book? (uh…..) WHERE IS A DROPDOWN MENU WHEN YOU NEED ONE?


  1. Katie says:

    Oh, my….I think my head hurts. Yup, pretty sure…

  2. Michelle says:

    Thanks so much for the insider look!

    I think I should now write a book about a bald amputee hero with grey-green eyes who seduces a titan (titian??) haired heroine in the Chrysler Building.

    Too cool.

    Do they have a drop-down menu that writes the book for you? πŸ˜†

  3. Suzanne says:

    Michelle, I just checked–you’re right! It IS titian, not titan. LOL. The print is TINY in the HERS system. So what is titian? 😯 Must look this up…. Have you ever read a book with a character who had sexily tousled titian hair??

  4. Suzanne says:

    Okay, I have LOOKED THIS UP! Titian means reddish/gold or auburn. NOW WHY WOULDN’T YOU JUST SAY AUBURN? However, now I must use this word! It’s in the dropdown menu!! It’s just waiting for me!!! 😈

    I’ve got it. An emotionally-traumatized titian-haired Italian/Australian amputee in the Chrysler Building!!

  5. Katie says:

    With greenY-blue eyes….

  6. kacey says:

    Wow, this in mind numbing. Do you fill it out after a few (or more) glasses of good wine??? 😯

  7. Nicole says:

    Titian! And I think that’s what Nancy Drew’s hair was described as in the books. I’m pretty sure, cuz darnit, how else would I know what titian hair was?

    That process sounds…time-consuming.

  8. Amy K. says:

    LOL Thanks for sharing your little slice of hell with us, Suzanne! (Actually, the insider’s view is much appreciated. Maybe they could pass out our options for everything to all aspiring authors so we can be sure not to use something that isn’t listed…is anything NOT listed?)

  9. Caro says:

    Urk. That’s, well, scary. I know it’s not what happens, but I couldn’t help visualizing that as you clicked the choices, a cover was being created in the computer based on those choices. Click. You’re in the Highlands. Click. You stuck the Chrysler Building in the middle of it. Click. They’re wearing swimsuits. Click. In a snowstorm. 😯

    Hmm, actually, I might buy a book with that cover just because it would be a case of “What the…?”

  10. Cheyenne McCray says:

    Oh, jeez! What a lot to go through! At EC we have a fairly simple form. At St. Martin’s my editor came up with what she wanted and gave it to the art dept., and came up with the best cover. I didn’t have any input into it whatsoever, and I’m pleased as punch about that one. πŸ™‚

  11. Mary Stella says:

    Nancy Drew = titian! Yes, you’re right. I knew I’d heard it before. Titian was a Venetian painter in the 1500s. He used a lot of ‘autumnal’ tones so he must have featured redheads a lot in his portraits.

    I loved this blog. I’ve only done two cover art spec sheets, but I took great delight in the last one. Medallion Press asked for ‘other elements or objects that have relevance to the story.’ I told them land crabs and a stuffed tarpon trophy fish, then gave them websites where the artist could see what I meant. I’m thrilled that the next book cover has both elements!

  12. Lynn says:

    They need to invent a computer that’ll spit a bottle of Tylenol (or your pain reliever of choice–must have another drop-down menu for that one) at you after you’ve completed the form in order to help relieve the eye-piercing headache it gives you.

    Thanks for an insider peek! Now I’m off to search for Tylenol…:razz:

  13. Mary says:

    I love your blog and totally agree.

  14. Robyn says:

    Yikes, get me out of here. This is too
    much thinking for me; hehehe

  15. Jill says:

    I’m just glad I don’t have to do these too much anymore!

  16. Crystal* says:

    Oh. My. God.

    I would be having nightmares about dropdown boxes for days. I am so anal. I would go through and recheck this so many times, I would need a sedative.
    Me=not joking.

    I appreciate the thoroughness of this. I really do. And someone(s) has put a lot of time and effort into this. But I’m a plain-speaking type of gal.
    Hair color? Red, brown, blonde, gray, black, bald. Ayuh. That’s it. I would then use the adjectives (don’t make fun of me, Suzanne. I remember my post), light, dark, and medium.

    I’m now thinking it probably took more time to fill out the AFS than to write the actual book.

    Thanks for the bird’s eye view of the second level of hell. 😈
    I’ll keep you in my thoughts.

  17. Tori says:

    I’m not even sure where the Chrysler Building IS, let alone read any books set there. Freaky weird!

    And I’m doomed if I ever sell to H/S because I have never done well on essay questions. :/ Of course, I’d be doomed anyway with the tiny print. I have a hard enough time seeing as it is. Sheesh.

    Speaking of titian/Titian, I spent years pronouncing it in my head as TY-tee-an. It’s only been the last few years I learned it was pronounced TISH-un. πŸ˜€

  18. Kate Hardy says:

    Ugh, HERS. I managed to get away with it until this year. I pleaded that if they made me fill it out, I’d just crash the system. My ed took pity on me… but now I have to do it. It takes ages, the dropdowns don’t have the right options – and where’s the button that says ‘I must have Antonio Banderas as my cover model and I must be present at the shoot’?

    Re bald – now there’s a challenge. Bald hero. I dare you. 😎

  19. Jennifer says:

    Now I’m off to write my book about the bald man with no arms and no legs who works in the Chrysler building. He takes a vacation to the Scottish Highlands where he falls in love with a titian haired Titan with greeny blue eyes.

    But, first I need a nap…:shock:

  20. Jordan says:

    Wow! I’m overwhelmed just reading about the HERS sheet.:shock:

  21. Suzanne says:

    ::: β€˜I must have Antonio Banderas as my cover model and I must be present at the shoot’?:::

    And to think! They have the Chrysler Building on there and not THAT! 😯

  22. Beth C says:

    :shock::shock::shock: OMG My head hurts. I can’t imagine what yours feels like! I appreciate the insider looks on HERS (I’ll never be able to look at that word the same way), but Holy Wow. :shock::shock::shock:

  23. Kelly says:

    Wow! It sounds really tedious, but is it really awful that I find it interesting to know the business behind the scenes?? πŸ˜† Thanks for sharing!

  24. Cynthia says:

    What a fun way to spend an afternoon…or a week…LOL. Right now I find it all very interesting, but I’m sure if I was actually forced to fill one of those out, I’D end up being the bald one. πŸ™‚

  25. Teresa says:

    This is great information! I loved getting to take a peek inside what happens. Although it does sound like a lot of work.

    And hey, I married the bald hero!:mrgreen:

  26. Jaq says:

    😯 Thank gawd you fill that form out *after* you’ve finished the book. Kinda sucks the life out of you, dosen’t it? Thanks for sharing, Suzanne. πŸ™‚

  27. Anna Lucia says:

    LOL! I’m anal enough that I LOVE the AFS (do you think it’s an offence to possess a copy of the AFS before being published?) but the second section had me hyperventilating… ggg

    Strictly speaking, I have Titian hair. To most people it looks brown, it always, (and inexplicably) turns up red in photographs, and looks like old gold in sunlight. And meeting me, you’d never in a month of Sundays say I had ‘red’ or ‘auburn’ hair. *shrug* I have Magic hair…. ggg

  28. Sharon Barker says:

    :smile:Congratulations! Happy birthday to your son. Please enter me in the giveaway. Thank you.