Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Industry Insider: Kelli Martin of Kimani!

Today marks the very first post in our new feature, the Industry Insider.  Joining us in a mini interview is Kimani editor Kelli Martin, here to chat a bit about Kimani and the pitch session coming up on e-harlequin next week! 

Thanks for being here Kelli!

1) Kimani is still a fairly new imprint – can you give our readers a basic taste of what it’s about?

Of course! I’m all about Kimani, lol. In a nutshell, Kimani is the African-American imprint at Harlequin. There are four parts that make up Kimani/Harlequin: Kimani Tru, the teen line; Kimani Press, which publishes select non-fiction and women’s fiction from established authors only; Arabesque, our single title romance line of established authors only (formerly BET Books); and my personal baby, Kimani Romance (KMR), the only series/category romance imprint that exclusively features African-American characters. KMR features established, published authors as well as new, debut talent. Harlequin launched Kimani in June 2006—and we’ve been going strong ever since. And, I’m proud to say, getting stronger.

2) You’re doing a pitch session on Eharlequin. Is this for all the Kimani lines, or one in particular?

Yes, I’m excited to hear some really terrific pitches! The pitch session will be for Kimani Romance exclusively. However, if a writer is interested in writing for the other Kimani lines, they should check our guidelines on eHarlequin for how to submit.

3) While Kimani speaks to the African American experience, they are at heart romances to be enjoyed by everyone! What themes are proving popular with readers and writers alike?

Oh, absolutely!! This is something I really want to get across. First, a little history: for decades, African-American heroines in romance novels were few and far between. There were so few of them, but African-American women were incredibly rabid readers. Fast-forward to no: Kimani ensures that those readers have heroines who look like and represent them.

Having said all that, I want to stress that just because our heroines are African-American, the storylines are NOT racially- or culturally-specific. We have stories from some very talented authors that run the gamut and, I promise, will appeal to readers across the cultural spectrum: we’ve got marriages of convenience, heartbreaking tearjerkers, lighthearted fare, workplace romances, hero and heroine as rivals, friends turned lovers stories, second chance reunions, glitz & glam romance, über-fantasy romances where the heroine is whisked off to some exotic, sun-drenched island….we’ve got it all! (Though we don’t do historical, sheikh or traditional bodice-rippers).

4) What do you look for in Kimani heroes and heroines?

Now, this is where we do differ a bit from some of the other imprints. Kimani Romance heroines are in their 20s or 30s, and are always capable, pretty independent, relatable and sympathetic to the reader. She should be successful—or at least on her way to success. Most KMR heroines are college-educated, though we have a few who are working towards degrees. Our heroines are as devoted to their careers as they are to their search for love and romance.

Our heroes—Woohoo! I’m always telling authors I edit to have fun making their heroes as unforgettable as possible. The Kimani Romance hero is in his mid- to late-20s or 30s, must be financially secure or wealthy. He can come from humble beginnings—or not—but when the reader meets him, he must be financially comfortable. He also must be at heart a good guy, never cruel. And he can be a ton of other things! Alpha male, bad boy, over-the-top alpha, gentle alpha, workaholic, guy next door, unattainable, wounded, afraid of commitment, playboy, strong & challenging, and of course driven to be with the heroine….He’s the kind of man you to want to take home to Mom and to carry you off to your candle-lit bedroom! (smooch smooch)

In fact, starting in Jan. 2010 we’ll have a Kimani Hottie each month!
(editor's note:  Click to see the HOT Kimani Hottie Calendar!)

5) Are you open to settings outside the US?

Only occasionally. Out of the 48 books that Kimani Romance publishes each year, roughly 42-46 are set in the U.S. and the Caribbean, while the remaining 2-6 feature settings split between international countries and the U.S.

6) Several popular African American authors write for other lines as well. What does Kimani bring to the table that is different and special?

Yes, we love this because it broadens the author’s audience, and it allows the author to stretch creatively. I believe a lot of our authors are loyal to Kimani Romance because of the frequency of being published twice a year; because of KMR’s extremely loyal readers, many who have been with us since the BET Books days; plus, the wide range of storylines we cover; and the focus on pure romance without having to delve into multiple subplots. Also, we get a lot of attention from niche and blog reviewers….Plus, our covers are looking pretty hot lately, if I do say so myself, lol.

7) Finally Kelli, we’re dying to know…what has crossed your desk lately that has made you super excited? And what would you love to see from aspiring authors?

Oooh, I am crazy excited about our Kimani Hotties theme in 2010! First of all, the men on each cover (1 Hottie a month) looks a-ma-ZING. They are the most unforgettable heroes ever. Sexy and driven and passionate. Can it get any better?

What I’d lovelovelove to see from aspiring authors are:

  •  Proposals/chapters/manuscripts that show you’ve read the eHarlequin guidelines and Kimani Romance books. It should be clear that you understand what the KMR mission is.
  •  Romances revolving around a hero or heroine from a prominent family. You can have a ball creating how the family made its mark (i.e. in art or media or politics, etc.)
  • Love stories with humor in it. That can be hard to pull off on the page, but I’d be very impressed if it was done well. Readers would be too!
I would love to urge aspiring writers to really, and I mean, really, lovingly, diligently work at your craft. Writing is an art that must be practiced and practiced. I’m a huge fan of fiction and romance writing workshops, esp. since you get objective feedback. I believe they can be invaluable, at any stage in your career.

Last, as you sit down to write at your computer or brainstorm away from the keyboard, don’t forget to HAVE FUN!

Thanks Kelli for visiting!

Now, for details about the pitch session:

Info on how to participate (January 6 deadline):  http://community.eharlequin.com/forums/write-stuff/editor-pitch-kimani-romance

Kimani Romance Guidelines:  http://www.eharlequin.com/articlepage.html?articleId=1169&chapter=0

To listen to the VERY helpful Kimani podcast with Kelli Martin and Alex Colon:  http://www.eharlequin.com/images/splash/podcasts/KelliMartinAlexColon.html

To check out the Kimani threads on eharlequin:  http://community.eharlequin.com/forums/kimani


  1. Thank you so much for visiting Kelli. Your enthusiasm for the line shines through. May KMR go from strength to strength.
    I'd loved your description of the Kimani hero. And the calander provides good early morning eye candy.

  2. That calendar is HOT. :-) Thanks so much for joining us today Kelli! I too loved the H/h descriptions - aspirational all the way! All they're missing is their HEA!

  3. I'm sooo happy to be here! Thanks for having me. OMG, the Marketing Manager and I had so much fun doing those Kimani Hottie covers....the reception has been terrific so the Hotties will have VERY long lives over the years.

  4. I LOVE the calendar, too! I was going to put it up in the bedroom, but my husband gave me that "you've-got-to-be-kidding-me-look" when I got out my little red tack! LOL

    Hi Kelli!(waving like mad)I've always wanted to know what the process is for bringing an idea like "Kimani Hotties" to fruition? Readers LOVE series stories and Kimani is at the forefront of bringing readers what they want. Share with us how these stories come about. Thanks!

  5. Hiiiii Pamela! I'm sooo glad to see you here, one of Kimani Romance's super-talented authors. :)

    Too funny about your hubby, lol. I know what youm ean. My hubby's name is Darius so when one of the books I edit has the hero with the same name, he gets all excited and thinks it's about him. Cracks me up.

  6. Hey Kelli!

    I was so in love with the calendar I did put it up at my desk with the excuse that I'm supporting my author friends and not really looking at the half naked men.
    Yeah, right! LOLOLOL

  7. You know, the process of coming up with themes like Kimani Hotties is one of my favorite parts of my job. Every few months or so, the Kimani team (2 Editors, Marketing Manager, sometimes 2 Editorial Assistants) sits down and just brainstorms about the various promotions we want to do. The Kimani Hottie idea came from one of those meetings in 2008, I believe from both our Marketing Manager and former Publishing Manager.

    Other times, I devote a day to just thinking up ideas on my own. Or sometimes Brie, our Marketing Manager, has a great idea then she and I sit down and flesh them out.

    It's really fun because it's both a group effort and a solo effort. We get really creative and funny and silly in those meetings!

  8. AC, and Kelli, we need to plan a trip to Las Vegas and call it "research" so our husbands don't get bent out of shape! LOL

    AC, congratulations again on your Romantic Times viewers choice nomination for "FULL HOUSE SEDUCTION" (That was SUCH a great book!!) When does your next Kimani romance hit the shelves and what can we expect in the story?

  9. Hi AC! Another Kimani author, YAY! A supremely talented one of course, lol.

    oooh I'm soooo down for Vegas. Never been there but dying to go.

  10. Great interview, Kelli! The Kimani Hotties promotion is a great idea. Those covers are just amazing and I'm looking forward to reading each and every one of them. I know I'll be adding them all to my ever growing book collection.

    I'm so excited that my August 2010 release, Make It Last Forever, will be a Kimani Hottie! And I adore my cover! ;-)

    You're right Kimani is growing stronger and stronger and it makes me proud to have been one of the four authors in the launch in 2006. Here's to more great books under your wonderful leadership!


  11. Hey Gwen!! So glad you enjoyed the interview. It was really fun to do. You authors make it easy to talk about.

    Love that you're one of the Original Fab Four! :)

  12. Vegas! Yeah, we're just asking for trouble with that trip. But hey, I'm game.

    Thanks, Pamela. I'm excited that Full House Seduction has been nominated. It's one of my favorites in the Donovan series.

    Unfortunately, there will be no Donovan releases in 2010 but I'm a part of a fantastic continuity (a mini-series that Kelli and the crew created) called Love In The Limelight. My book is second in the 4-book series and is titled Sing Your Pleasure. I sooooo love my title and cover! Can't wait until the books are released.

  13. Great interview, Kelli. Can't wait for the outcome of the Pitch...it would be great to see someone find her, or his, dream for the New Year.

    The Hotties Calandar is great! I'm sure all the ladies are loving it. I'm sure I won't be getting a Kimani Babes calandar anytime soon! lol Come from being a man in a woman world.

    Continue doing the great job, you are and Kimani will definitely get even better...

  14. And, AC, don't forget Donovan-spinoff/new fam SUMMER HEAT in Aug 2010! The sexiest of summer getaways ;)

  15. Yeah, Wayne... I'm thinking a Kimani Babes calendar is not gonna happen... LOL.

  16. Hi Wayne!

    Yes, we may have to hold off on the Kimani Babes/Goddesses for a while...lol.

    Thank you all SO much, Wayne and everyone, for the compliments. I love doing those long editorial letters...you all create such great material to work with. Let's keep it up!

  17. I'd to hear more about the Love in the Limelight continuity. That sounds wonderful.

  18. "Sing Your Pleasure" is one sexy title. Tell us more, AC! Are you still finishing up the book, or is it handed in?

    Hi Wayne! I know you've been busy writing, and I am looking forward to your next release. What can you share with us about it? (And Wayne, you're more then welcome to come with us girls to Vegas!!!)

  19. I like books in a series that Kimani offers such as The Braddocks, The Hightowers, Ladies of Distinction, The Best Men, Mamma Lou Matchmaker, etc.

  20. Gwen, what is your Kimani hottie, Darius like? And does Kelli know her husband was the inspiration behind the story? LOL I love the name Darius too!!!

  21. Love in the Limelight is our continuity miniseries releasing in Fall 2010. Brenda Jackson, AC Arthur, Ann Christopher and Adrianne Byrd are the authors. It's all about the love, drama and passion that revoles around 4 women in LA's Hollywood entertainment industry. It's going to be GREAT!!!

  22. I love the Hottie's calendar too. I printed it out and also extras for my book club members. It was well worth the ink :)

  23. That sounds like one killer series, and with the authors you have lined up it's going to be a sales slam dunk! Those are four of my favorite authors, and they NEVER disappoint.

    I am reading "QUEEN OF HEARTS" by Adrianne Byrd, and the only reason why I haven't finished it is because I have some editing to do on my present book, "PLEASURE FOR TWO." What is everyone else reading right now? Or are we still stuffed from Christmas dinner and sprawled out on the couch watching holidays movies???

  24. Sounds like an awesome line-up for the Love in the Limelight continuity, Kelli. I can't wait! I love celebrity stories and the glitz and glam of LA makes a perfect setting. I know those four authors are going to bring it.

    Pamela, I didn't know that Kelli's husband's name was Darius until after I turned in the proposal. I love the name Darius. It's such a strong name. Like I said, I love celebrity stories and my hottie Darius is a rapper. We don't see a lot of emcees in romance novels. So I had to represent. LOL. Oh, and how do I get an invite to this Vegas, research trip. LOL.

  25. Wow, look at all the great authors who have joined the party! Welcome everyone!

    Kelli - for those blog readers looking to participate in the pitch session, what can they do to really make their pitch stand out? What are you looking for in a pitch?

  26. And what about you authors? What tips would you give an aspiring Kimani author to take them from slush pile to sold? What do you think tipped the balance for you?

  27. Welcome, Sheila! So glad you like all the themes and miniseries...we have a lot of them for 2010 and 2011. Romances introducing new families and returning families, lavish weddings, fun themes for Mother's Day, romantic summer getaways, and much more.

  28. Gwen, please, no invitation necessary. By the time the word gets out we'll need to call it a "KIMANI ROMANCE FIELD TRIP! I LOVE to socialize, and I'm always organizing something--board game night, Nigerian movie night, ribs n' chicken night! Leave everything to me. I'll plan the whole thing!

    We haven't met yet, Gwen, but I'm looking forward to it. All the big-name authors I have met so far have been beyond cool, and I've heard nothing but good things about you...

  29. Oh yeah, the Lakefields are a spinoff from the Donovans. Thanks for the reminder, Kelli. I keep thinking of them as a new family, but they're not. Anyway, Sam Desdune (from Guarding His Body) and Karena Lakefield (from Full House Seduction) are steaming up the pages as they travel to the sultury streets of Brazil to find an art thief! This has a great cover too. I'm telling you Kimani's marketing dept are working those covers!

  30. What tipped the balance for me? My agent Sha-Shana Crichton is very hands-on, and after reading my first novel, OTHER PEOPLE'S BUSINESS, she sent me a long, detailed email filled with suggestions and ideas. I took her words to heart and strengthened the story.

    I take writing courses, attend as many conferences and workshops I can and read a craft book monthly. I also am part of a four-woman critique group, and these women tell me like it is. They'll say, "Pamela, your heroine isn't likeable enough" or "Take this subplot out because it crowds the story." They are SO good for me, and I really look forward to our weekly meetings.

    It's getting harder and harder to juggle family, a full-time teaching job, and writing, so I need to write a strong, engaging story the first time around. I'm allergic to rewrites, so I work real hard to avoid them!!!

  31. And I've read Gwen's Make It Last Forever, well some of it anyway--she's being stingy with the rest, but I'm telling you now it's HOT! I love the entire concept of the story, but I'll let Gwen tell you all about that. :)

  32. Pam

    I'd definitely come along...one of the best things about writing romance, you get to hang out with some of the nicest most beautiful women who are not only talented, but fun and kind. I won't give up being a romance author to anything else.

    My first book with Kelli will be in her hands in a few days (Isn't she a wonderful editor). It the third book in the Buchanan series that I took a break from in order to let the hero heal. I know readers have been asking and asking, so they'll be happy to know it's finally schedule for October 2010... I think it's my best book to date...

    Thanks to great editors and good writers friends, I'm truly a must better writer...

    Have a great New Year everyone!

  33. Another piece of advice: pay attention to the world around you! Technology is huge, and if you read the papers, popular magazines, blogs, and interviews, you'll see there's fertile story material everywhere.

    My February release, "LOVE ON THE ROCKS" was developed after I saw an episode of Ellen last year. She interviewed three women who were on the cover of People magazines annual 'Half their Size' issue. One of the women talked about all of her loser ex-boyfriends blowing up her phone now that she was a sexy, blonde bombshell. That got me to thinking, and Tangela and Warrick's second-chance love story was born.

  34. For the pitch session--which I'm really looking forward to--I'd love to see synopses that show the following:

    --a clear grasp of the hero's and heroine's personalities and backgrounds
    --clearly identified motivation, which is also what's blocking hero and heroine from true love
    --what the climax of the story is (what breaks up the couple and makes the reader think the two are NOT fated to be together)
    --at what point/how/why/when the hero and heroine decide they want/must to be with the other
    --how conflict is resolved
    --how the story ends

  35. KIMANI has the best covers--PERIOD! Readers keep emailing me, asking me if select the models for my covers, and I wish I could take the credit, but I can't. The Art Department is really bringing it, and it's translating into sales because the Kimani books are always gone before I can get the books I want.

  36. Gwen, how did you sneak Darius the rapper past Kelli??? And how can I get an advance copy of "MAKE IT LAST FOREVER"?

  37. I also love to see external AND internal motivations; the hero having different motivations than the heroine; and the hero being very driven in his pursuit of the heroine. The romantic courting and the conflict need to be very strong and clear; that ALWAYS make a synopsis stand out.

  38. Pam and Gwyneth, when MAKE IT LASDT FOREVER comes out, my plan is to give a copy to hubby Darius and tell him the hero is his hip-hop alter ego, lol.

  39. Great questions, Donna! The best advice I can give new writers who want to avoid the slush pile, is to make sure that they are targeting the right line. Read some of the books and make sure that your story actually fits. Pay attention to the guidelines. Your story might be brilliant and stellar, but it's up to you to make sure that it is in the right hands. So doing the research is important.

    I think having a strong synopsis is also very important. For a lot of writers this is hard. A highly detailed synopsis sometimes takes the fun and discovery out of writing. But the thrill of a sale makes up for that! ;-) So get a detailed synopsis.

  40. Hey everyone! That was a fabulous, informative interview, Kelli! I'm so excited about the new Kimani Hotties promotion, and so are the readers I've heard from. I know the stories will be as memorable and smokin' hot as the covers!

    I'm thrilled that my June 2010 release, Recipe for Temptation, will be a Kimani Hottie (thanks, Kelli!). I haven't stopped drooling over my cover, as well as the others! :)

    Congratulations on the RT nomination, AC! Fingers crossed! :)

    Definitely count me in for the Vegas trip, Pamela! ;-)

  41. Oh it is so fantastic that our first Industry Insider has gained so many comments.
    It is also wonderful to hear about all the upcoming books. Hopefully we will be able to get several more of the Kimani Romance authors to blog with us in the coming months. The PHS is all about series romance and we are always delighted to authors from ALL the lines.
    It has been to get an insight into how the marketing works as well. The Hotties was truly a great idea.

  42. What a great interview, Kelli! And that calendar? Lawd, have mercy, tooooo hot! I tried to convince Mr. KKT to let me frame and mount that calendar. Like Pamela's hubby, he gave me that *girl, quit playing, look* lol! The Kimani covers are absolutely beautiful, and the stories inside those gorgeous cover matches! I'm happy to be a part of the Kimani family...awww, group hug *grin*

  43. Great interview Kelli!

    Congrats to all the Kimani Hottie authors I know that you'll make 2010 a sizzling year *smile*.

  44. My, my! The covers on that calendar are sinful! I'd pick up the book just to be able to drool a while longer. And the storylines draw you in as well. Great line!

    Love Brenda Jackson and can't wait to see what Kim Terry brings!!

  45. I am sooo excited about this pitch!

    I finally got a gander at the Kimani Hotties calendar and phew! *fans self*

    Can't wait to get my hands on the actual books!

  46. I've got a pot of chili on the stove (it's cold here in Cincinnati!), but I just wanted to say hi and wish everyone a Happy New Year filled with hot reads! P.S. Great interview, Kelli!

  47. Thanks so much for stopping by, everyone! Please be on the lookout for some TERRIFIC Kimani Romances in 2010.

    Ann Christopher is back with more heart-stopping, extreme alpha Warner men. And Kimberly Kaye Terry debuts on Kimani Romance with with searingly hot love stories set out West.

    And a million thanks to Donna and Michelle @ PHS for a really fun day and for this broad forum to help spread the Kimani word. Happy New Year, everyone!

  48. Thanks for this post, and I am excited about the pitching session Kimani is hosting in January.

    I really love the Kimani line, they have some great authors and stories. I don't want to get into trouble by listing names, but I really enjoy all of the authors that have already commented here. I've had an opportunity to meet a few of you at varying conventions and such you guys are very warm and geniune. Keep up the good work.

    Kimberly, I can't wait to get hold of your upcoming release, and Maureen you are truely a favorite of mine, I've been hooked this Whisper My Name.

    Looking forward to 2010 and all the great stories Kimani will bring.

  49. Great and Informative Interview! My brother's girlfriend write stories from what I hear. I'll pass on the information about the Romance Guidelines.