From the Editor’s Desk: Writing for the Market

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Here at Carina, we’re always looking for new authors to sign, publish and build. But we recognize that putting your manuscript out on submission can be an intimidating process. How do you make your manuscript stand out, from the query letter to the last page? We’re here to demystify the submissions process by giving you some insight into what a Carina Press editor looks for when she opens up a submission for review.

Today’s post comes from Rhonda Stapleton, who is a freelance editor for Carina Press. Rhonda’s going to discuss balancing writing for the market with writing what you’re passionate about.

As an acquisitions editor for Carina, sometimes I see submissions where it’s clear an author read our #CarinaWants or #MSWL (manuscript wish list, a hashtag on twitter where agents and editors tell what kinds of submissions they’d love to get) and the author decided change elements of his or her existing manuscript to fit.

I know it’s tempting. After all, you want to sell your book, right? And if an editor is requesting something, you’d love to increase your odds by providing it. Maybe you change the tone of the story to dark, or make it paranormal, or force yourself to add lots of sex scenes.

But the thing is, we can tell when authors do this, because it doesn’t read right. It’s not organic; it feels wedged in there. We can tell when authors are trying to wedge a dark tone into a story with an inherently light plot. Or when the author is uncomfortable writing sex scenes but does it anyway to try to sell—trust me, as an editor who reads and edits A LOT of hot books, it’s easy to see the authors who are forcing that. Lol.

Authors, be true to the story you wrote. Don’t try to shove it into a trope or category or whatever just because an agent or editor is seeking that. However, you can use the #CarinaWants and #MSWL posts as inspiration while still maintaining your own voice and writing.

But how?

Fabulous question! When you see an editor asking for something,, dig deeper than just the surface. What is the editor seeking, not just in the trope, but in emotion, in tone, etc? And what would fit organically into your story without requiring you to turn it into something completely different?

For example, let’s say an editor wants a love triangle in a contemporary romance. You are nervous about writing a love triangle but you want to layer that element into your contemp. So approach it from another way. What is the emotional element from a love triangle the editor is seeking? Maybe she’s seeking a heroine who’s torn between two things with high emotion and stakes that feel big. If your plot supports it, you can add those in without changing your story into a love triangle. Perhaps you increase the heroine’s conflict and make her more torn between the love interest and something else (doesn’t even have to be another person…could be a tempting offer?).

Don’t be afraid to explore the #CarinaWants and #MSWL hashtags. It’s a great way to start mining ideas for books! But don’t try to wedge your story into something it isn’t. Take the underlying elements of what the editor is seeking and see how they can fit naturally into your story. And if it doesn’t? Save that idea for a future book and move on.

Thank you for reading—we hope these tips have you excited to submit your manuscript to Carina Press! Here are some quick references to help you through the submissions process:

  • We’re always open to submissions!
  • We respond to all submissions within 12 weeks.
  • Have a question and can’t find the answer on our guidelines page? Email us at and we’re happy to help.
  • Looking to target your submission to a specific editor? Find out more about editor submission calls here.

Looking for more information on our submissions process? We’ll have more posts coming in this series, and in the meantime, you can read about our acquisitions process here, and find out more about what an editor does here.

Ready to submit? Click here to start your publishing journey with Carina Press!

2016 RWA Critique Group Workshop

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We’re bringing our popular critique group workshop to RWA in San Diego and giving you a chance to win a spot in the group!

This workshop is an opportunity for authors to solicit professional and peer feedback on their manuscript, in real time, in a helpful, constructive and kind environment. We’ll discuss overall story arcs, the all-important “hook,” pacing, characterization and tension (among many other important topics). Attendees are given marked-up manuscript pages to take with them when they go.

CHANCE TO WIN the opportunity to join either Carina Press Editorial Director Angela James or Senior Editor Kerri Buckley and a small group of your fellow authors, and get feedback from both Angela/Kerri and your peers on your work-in-progress.

Critique groups will be held concurrently on Thursday, July 14th, 2016 from 9am–11am PDT in San Diego, California, at a location near the RWA conference hotel, the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina.

At the event, each author will be allotted 20 minutes in which they will receive feedback from both Angela/Kerri and the other author participants. Participants are asked and expected to read and comment on all chapters prior to the event and not just attend to receive comments on their own work. All critiques will be expected to be helpful, constructive, and framed kindly. These types of groups are most successful with a variety of feedback and discussion! Participants are encouraged to print out the pages and comment directly on them, so they can be handed directly to the authors after the critique session.

To enter: 

  • We will select winners via random selection from qualifying entries on June 27, 2016. Winners will be notified by email.
  • Click here for Official Rules.


  • Manuscripts must be for unpublished work but authors who want to participate may be at any stage of their writing career.
  • Manuscripts for the critique groups must fall within these adult fiction genres: Romance (all genres/subgenres & heat levels), new adult (all subgenres), and mystery. As we do not publish young adult or younger, we are unable to offer feedback on these genres/manuscripts in these critique groups.

If Selected:

-Winners must confirm their attendance and upload the following (via link provided in notification email) by June 30, 2016:

  • 2 chapters
  • A longer synopsis (~500 words recommended), if desired

-Please remove all identifying name/address/phone number information from your pages.

-Chapters will be forwarded to all critique group participants for blind commentary prior to arrival at the critique group.

Additional Information: 

Those entering must be able to attend the critique group on the date and time set above in person. Potential winners may not attend via any other means, including conference call or video chat. No date/time substitutions will be offered and feedback will not be given at any other time. Participants must be aware that their chapters will be shared with the other group participants in order to provide commentary and critique. Winning authors may not transfer their place in the group to another author. In the event that someone cannot attend, a new participant will be selected. All authors must confirm their attendance no later than June 30th, 2016. If attendance is not confirmed by that time, a new participant will be chosen.

Entries and/or submissions are not considered to be submissions to either Carina Press or Harlequin and all non-winning entries will be deleted.

Note: Authors should consider this an opportunity to solicit professional and peer feedback on their manuscript, not as an opportunity to pitch their project to each editor.  Authors who participate in these sessions are welcome to submit to Carina/Harlequin following official submission guidelines, but chapters for this session will be used only for the purpose of critique and will not be considered submitted for potential publication.

Please email with questions.

A Rebellious Debutante’s Thoughts on Her (Third) Season

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By Amanda Weaver, author of A COMMON SCANDAL

Victorian Society was all about adhering to the rules. Every aspect of a woman’s behavior was strictly dictated, from the way she walked across a ballroom to the way she held a teacup. Amelia Wheeler, the heroine of A Common Scandal, is pretty terrible at following those rules, and after three Seasons, she’s just about had enough. So here are…

A Rebellious Debutante’s Thoughts on Her (Third) Season:

  1. Behaving is boring.

  1. Kitty Ponsoy had better watch her back.

  1. Proper gentlemen are insufferable.

  1. Where did Nate Smythe learn to kiss like that?

  1. Haters to the left.

What about you? If you had a London Season (or three), would you be a good girl or a rule-breaker?

0516_9781459290631_A Common Scandal_WebA COMMON SCANDAL by Amanda Weaver

The Grantham Girls, book two

Finishing school taught Amelia Wheeler how to put on a well-mannered performance—when she’s not bored and looking for trouble. Lady Grantham’s is behind her and now it’s time for Amelia to keep her promise to her dying mother: marry a title and leave her wild days behind.

That promise would be much easier to keep if Nate Smythe hadn’t just reappeared in a London ballroom. The son of an impoverished sailor, Nate—Natty, as he used to be called—has grown up to become handsome, rich and polished. He claims to be looking for a proper bride who can advance his business interests, but that doesn’t stop him from seeking out Amelia every chance he gets. Challenging her. Kissing her.

Suddenly, struggling against her simmering passion is the least of Amelia’s problems—one of her titled suitors is hiding a desperate secret that could stop Amelia from pleasing her parents or finding happiness with Nate. As a weeklong house party threatens to derail her hard-won future, Amelia must decide: fight against disaster or act like the lady she’s promised to become?

Amanda has loved romance since she read that very first Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel at fifteen. After a long detour into a career as a costume designer in theatre, she’s found her way back to romance, this time as a writer.

A native Floridian, Amanda transplanted to New York City many years ago and now considers Brooklyn home, along with her husband, daughter, two cats, and nowhere near enough space.

BETA TEST playlist

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By Annabeth Albert, author of BETA TEST

My May Carina Press release, BETA TEST, is a road trip romance where two feuding coworkers are forced to take a trip from Los Angles to Seattle together. And everyone knows that any great road trip needs a fabulous playlist. For BETA TEST’s playlist, I was drawn towards great road trip anthems as well as songs that speak to where the story was at a particular moment in time. You can discover the whole playlist on Spotify:

However, I wanted to share my six favorite songs from the playlist that I feel really showcase their journey as a couple.

Shine by Anna Nalick

This song speaks to where Tristan, my hero, is at the start of the story, trapped by  his own fears, waiting to make sense of who he really is and get the courage to shine.

Running on Empty by Jackson Browne.

An epic road trip anthem and it applies to both of my busy heroes at the start of the book, both running on empty, both needing something more.

(I’ve had) The Time of My Life by Bill Medley, Jennifer Warner.

Another great road trip sing-along song, and I think it fits the story because despite their obvious connection, both men think their romance is temporary, even as feelings deepen.

Photograph by Ed Sheeran.

In the middle of the book, things are uncertain, but the men are falling in love despite their better instincts, making room in their hearts and lives for each other, trying to brace themselves for the coming hurt.

Locked Away by R.City, Adam Levine.

Both guys need unconditional love and by the end of the book, they know what they must do to get it.

Lost Stars by Keira Knightly.

The perfect song for the end of the book, when they’ve fallen in love and can’t deny it any longer.

0516_9781459290648_BetaTest_WebBETA TEST by Annabeth Albert

#gaymers, book one

Player vs. Player. Fight!

Brilliant graphic designer Ravi Tandel is ahead of the game—he’s just been asked to present a top secret project at a huge conference in Seattle. All systems are go…until he learns his buttoned-up office nemesis is coming along for the ride.

Tristan Jones isn’t really the gamer type, but he knows the back end of the video game business inside out. Together, he and Ravi will give an awesome presentation. If they survive the cross-country trip first.

Tossed together in close quarters, Ravi’s shocked to see Tristan’s sexy, softer side emerge from such a conservative shell. He’s less shocked to learn his handsome colleague’s prominent family would never support an out-and-proud son. But Ravi didn’t struggle through his own coming out to hide who he is now. To be together, Tristan will have to push past his fear and ultimately decide: Does he want a future with Ravi? Or is it game over before they’ve even begun?


Annabeth Albert grew up sneaking romance novels under the bedcovers. Now, she devours all subgenres of romance out in the open—no flashlights required! When she’s not adding to her keeper shelf, she’s a multi-published Pacific Northwest romance writer of the Portland Heat, Perfect Harmony, and #gaymers series.

Emotionally complex, sexy, and funny stories are her favorites both to read and to write. Annabeth loves finding happy endings for a variety of pairings and is a passionate gay rights supporter.  In between searching out dark heroes to redeem, she works a rewarding day job and wrangles two active children.

Represented by Saritza Hernandez of the Corvisiero Literary Agency

Spotlight on Sexy Romance

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Are you looking for a romantic read that will make your temperature soar? These sexy reads are guaranteed to spice up your e-reader and leave you craving more!

Heat Things Up:

Didn’t You Promise by Amber Bardan

lgcover.9781459291997He always keeps his promises.

Angelina has sacrificed everything to be with the man she loves. Forced to abandon her family, and even her own identity, Angelina depends on Haithem as never before. With no more secrets between them, Haithem has become the source of all her needs. Sexually. Emotionally.

But not even Haithem can hide forever.

While they’re sneaking across borders, avoiding persecution from everyone who would see Haithem dead and his prototype stolen, the media fascination surrounding Angelina’s disappearance continues to mount.

For Angelina, it’s a brutal reminder of what she’s left behind and the pain she’s caused to those who believe her dead or held against her will.

To Haithem, it’s a warning: he stands to lose the one person left in his life he loves beyond measure. The hunt won’t be called off until his enemies have destroyed him, his life’s work and everyone involved—including Angelina.

He has only one choice. He’s promised to protect her. And Haithem always keeps his promises.


More Steamy Reads:

Vengeful Love: Black Diamonds by Laura Carter

lgcover.9781459294295The final, heart-pounding installment of the darkly suspenseful, sinfully sexy Vengeful Love series

I loved him with all of me.

It wasn’t enough.

Gregory Ryans was everything I wanted, but he didn’t trust me with the truth.

When I walked away from him, I should have known Gregory would follow. For a man like him, walking away—no matter the odds—is never an option.

He’s come to offer me the deal of a lifetime: his heart. All his secrets. Him. Forever.

But at what cost?

The past refuses to stay buried. There are things about his family, dangerous things even Gregory didn’t know.

This time, we’ll have to fight together to save what we’ve built. To show our enemies that love like ours can’t be destroyed.

I believe that.

Does he?

At the Brink by Anna del Mar

lgcover.9781459293564A Story of Sexual Obsession


I should never have agreed to it.

A woman will do a lot to keep her husband happy. But when my husband sells me to the highest bidder—billionaire, former navy SEAL, pride of Boston’s business scene—I agree, not to keep him happy, but because it gives me the chance to finally escape. Escape my marriage, escape my debts, escape my life…

Josh Lane demands a steep price: my pride and my morals. But the truth is, I’ve never felt anything like what I feel for him. He brings color into my gray world. And his insistence that I submit to his commands—his depraved, filthy,amazing commands—only feeds my craving to be taken by him. Again. And again.

I should never have agreed to it, but I’m so glad I did.


I don’t need to pay to keep women in my bed. Though my preferences may be unorthodox, I never leave a woman unsatisfied—far from it. Lily Boswell, though… Her innocence draws me, her secrets intrigue me. Having her is worth dealing with her cowardly scum of a husband.

I want to release her passions and heal her wounds.

On my terms.

Because the blindfolds and restraints hide more than she could imagine. I must keep her safe from the people who would destroy me—and the demons that haunt my dreams

Lethal Pursuit by Kaylea Cross

lgcover.9781459296633New York Times bestselling author Kaylea Cross delivers edge-of-your-seat romantic suspense with the Bagram Special Ops series

Security Forces Lieutenant Maya Lopez is right at home in a war zone: she’s been fighting all her life. A hard-won commission in the air force has brought her to Afghanistan, and if she plays her cards right, she could end up with an FBI job. It won’t be easy, but that just makes her more determined.

Jackson Thatcher is a protector in all senses of the word. A pararescue jumper with Southern-boy charm, he easily captures Maya’s interest, but her trust is another story. He’s sexy, strong and caring, but she makes it clear she’s no damsel in distress. She’s never relied on any man, and she’s not about to start now.

When Maya and Jackson become pawns in a radical warlord’s deadly game, they find themselves on the run and must depend on each other if they want to make it out alive.