One dream 99 percent of my students share with me is, I want to write a Hallmark movie or novel. I call myself a dream inspirer. While I can’t guarantee any of them will one day pen a movie that airs on Hallmark, last week, I took the first step that I hope will get them one step closer to their dream. I contacted Hallmark to see if anyone would be willing to do an interview about just what it takes to be one of their authors.
Stacey Donovan, the director and acquiring editor at Hallmark Publishing, very kindly responded. So, without further ado, here’s the scoop on writing for Hallmark and maybe, just maybe, having your dream come true…
This Writer’s Life (TWL)-Could you give us a brief background about Hallmark Publishing and when you first started publishing books?
Stacey Donovan (SD)-Sure! Hallmark Publishing is quite new. We began doing just eBooks that were companion novels (or “novelizations”) of our movies in fall 2017. In spring 2018, we started doing paperback versions as well. In fall 2018, we branched out into original fiction (contemporary romance.) In winter 2019, we moved into audiobooks. Starting in fall 2019, we will be doing cozy mystery as well as contemporary romance. So we’ve been expanding very quickly!
TWL-While you don’t accept unagented submissions, in September you’ll be allowing anyone to send you a complete manuscript.
What will you be looking for in a story? Is there anything in particular that always grabs your attention? Anything that gets an instant rejection?
Are there any particular storylines you’d love to see but have yet to find?
SD-Yes, we had an open submission period for authors without agents in February 2019, and we’ll have another one in September. Our guidelines are on the website, and they are pretty specific. If someone sends us a novel that isn’t contemporary romance or cozy mystery, or is shorter or much longer than the word count we’re looking for (65,000 – 85,000 words), or isn’t G-rated, that’s an automatic rejection. And we don’t read scripts, although people send them to us all the time!
For romance, we love a strong seasonal tie-in, though we don’t particularly want that for cozy mystery (and we don’t do Christmas mysteries.) We love great settings: places people would love to live, work, or visit. We always like to see clear “character arcs,” particularly in romance: ways the main characters change or grow over the course of the story.
TWL-You publish both sweet romances and cozy mysteries. I know everyone has a different definition of those two genres, so could you tell us what Hallmark considers sweet and what boundaries do you set for romances? And how about mysteries, what sorts of crimes do you consider for these stories?
SD-Great question! We are extremely G-rated. In our romance novels, there’s no sex, on or off the page, and we don’t focus on desire. We like to see the main characters make a very personal connection. There’s no cursing, no drunkenness, and so on.
We do murder mysteries, but nothing too scary (don’t send me rapists or serial killers) and nothing gory. Children can’t ever be in jeopardy. By the way, we love female amateur sleuths. We’re open to other crimes, like grand larceny, too!
TWL-If you could offer one tip on writing for Hallmark, what would it be?
SD-Watch the new movies on the Hallmark Channel if you’re writing a romance, and the new mystery movies on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries if you’re writing a mystery! We want books that are just like the movies. Just watching a few of them will help you understand our tone.
TWL-And finally, I know Hallmark Movies and especially the Christmas movies, have a huge following and everyone wants to write one. While the publishing and movies are separate entities, is it possible that a production company might like a book and think about turning it a movie for Hallmark?
SD-Absolutely! As I said, we only started releasing original fiction in fall 2018, and already, one of our books (The Christmas Company, a debut novel by Alys Murray) is going into development and will probably air as a 2019 Countdown to Christmas movie. Not all books will become Hallmark movies, but we expect that several will.
Thank you Stacey, and here’s the link to check out all the details about Hallmark books. And don’t forget that in September they open up submissions to unagented writers again….it’s time to get writing!