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Using Titles, Hooks and Tropes to Break In at Harlequin Love Inspired

By Lee Tobin McClain

Did you ever look at Harlequin Love Inspired books and wonder why their titles are so weird? Seriously, “The Hometown Sheikh’s Secret Baby?” But those titles work because they showcase the “hooks” that make readers want to read the books. Don’t scorn them; use them to discover the hooks that will help you sell your novel!

Including hooks will absolutely help you break in. Here are some examples:

  1. Hometown: Most Love Inspired novels are set in small towns rather than big cities. Readers want idyllic settings where neighbors care for neighbors and the streets are safe. Nostalgic? You bet! Given the world we live in, that’s very understandable.
  1. Babies: Love Inspired readers like kids all the way up to, say, age 6. After that, kids can be in a story, but they’re not the same “hook” that cute babies can be. So if you’re trying to break in, don’t lead with your heroine’s surly teen. Instead, showcase her two-year-old triplets!
  1. Holidays: Book covers with holidays evoke warm family feelings; whatever our own situations, we love to look at a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting or watch a Hallmark Christmas movie. Capitalize on that desire by centering your story around a holiday. Christmas works best, but Love Inspired has recently done Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and Easter stories, too.

  1. Secrets: Ever notice that, when you’re whispering something juicy to your friend, everyone around you leans in a little, wanting to hear? Secrets can be a great plot device for romance. Maybe the heroine’s dying friend asked her to care for her baby and to keep the child’s existence secret from its father. Or maybe the hero’s sister couldn’t care for her infants and asked the heroine to raise them without revealing the fact that she’s the mother. Think of the plot twists and turns!
  1. Amish/Western: if you have a natural connection to the Amish community, or you live in ranching country, make use of that expertise! These types of communities are very popular with readers.
  1. Police/Military Heroes: if you know men in uniform or can research them… do it. Courage, valor, strength, integrity… all are qualities women swoon over in a hero.

Playing with hooks can stimulate your creativity. My latest book, in stores now, is a good example. Love Inspired wanted to do several books based on Christmas Twins (see above—two hooks!). Author Deb Kastner did Texas Christmas Twins (see above—Western!), and author Patricia Davids did Amish Christmas Twins (see above… Amish!). And I was given these three words to hang a story on: Secret Christmas Twins.

Here’s how I made it my own. First, although I wanted twin babies on the cover (and aren’t they adorable!), I don’t know much about babies before age 1, since that’s how old our daughter was when we adopted her. That experience also made me familiar with early intervention and language and motor delays. So: the twins in my book are eighteen months old, with special needs.

I live in Pennsylvania, and I adore farms… but I’ve never lived on a working farm. Hence, my book takes place on a snowy farm at Christmas, but there’s no need for plows or threshers in the plot.

The secret part… well, you’ll have to read the book to see how it plays out!

I wish you all the best in using hooks and tropes to break in at Love Inspired, and I’ll stop by several times today to answer questions, if you’d like to know more.

Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author Lee Tobin McClain read “Gone With The Wind” in third grade and has been an incurable romantic ever since. When she’s not writing emotional love stories, she’s probably driving around a carload of snarky teen girls, playing with her rescue dog, or teaching aspiring writers in Seton Hill University’s MFA program. She is probably not cleaning her house.




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