On the 13th of September, Mills and Boon will launch their New Voices contest for a second year. Very exciting stuff if you're looking to be published in category length fiction. I have some thoughts I wanted to share with new writer's looking to enter for their first time. Keep in mind that this is only my opinion and that I'm neither published nor did I final (although my entry has since gone onto win one USA contest and final in another two).
First of all, make sure you get someone to read your entry before you send it. Don't email you favourite author and ask them but equally, don't email it to your mum and ask her advice either. You absolutely have to get another writer or author to check it over for grammar, pacing and plot. But before this step, you actually have to write it. The rules say that your entire entry, if you make it through all the stages, should be no more than ten thousand words (make sure you read the rules at least three times and maybe once backwards too). As a general rule of thumb, each chapter should only be about three to four thousand words in Category length, longer for Single Title.
So, chapter one needs to start somewhere exciting. Don't start with your heroine waxing poetic about her surroundings unless she wakes up and has no idea where she is or how she got there. Start in the moment with your heroine being chased down a dark street or meeting your hero and hating him off the bat. Number one is to write the story that needs to be written. Don't pick up ten Mills and Boon and try to write a cross between all ten that you think will sell because the others did. Hopefully you already have a story written or started. This is a contest that calls for chapter one and two and then the pivotal moment. If you have no idea how your story will end or what your characters will get up to, it's going to be super hard and maybe almost impossible to get that final chapter.
Before you freak out and get all stressed that you're not ready, last year, the finalists got to work with a mentor for chapter two and the pivotal moment. With a few months left to go, get to work on an idea that will blow everyone away. Make sure you write it with voice! Lots and lots of voice! If you have no idea what that means, Google it or check out the following websites.
And Romance Writer's of Australia and Romance Writer's of America are fantastic resources too. Mills and Boon New Voices are on Twitter and Facebook where you can ask questions and meet up with fellow entrants. Make sure you check back regularly to the New Voices website and check out the tips and updates.
The last thing you need to remember is that not everyone is going to love your entry. Last year there were some toxic people who posted comments meant to dishearten and discourage your dreams. Ignore those ones and don't retaliate. They aren't the ones you have to impress with your entry. Also, there can be only one winner. Thousands of entries, one winner. That winner could be you! You can't win it if you're not in it =)
I'm off to a conference next week but in the mean time, I'm going to offer to help one lucky commenter with their entry. Remember that I'm not published and my opinion my not count for anything but it can't hurt right? So leave a comment before the 24th of August with your name and maybe something like 'Pick me!!' and I'll draw a name out of a hat (or rather one of the kids will to keep it fair). The winner can email me their first chapter and I'll give you some feedback and maybe some help if you need it.
It occurred to me that I've never thrown the floor open to you. So ask me anything! I won't promise to answer it if it gets really weird but if there's something you want to know, ask away! I'll start by telling you that I love to sleep in monkey pjs, if I could live in my ugg boots I would and my favourite food is anything with salt on it =)
Oh? Serious stuff?
My favourite author right now (changes a fair bit) is Anna Campbell for romance and Robin Hobb for fantasy. Does that help? Good.
Now your turn...
I realised today that even though this Romance Writer’s of Australia conference will only be my third, that I also have some conference tips. Most of them you would have already heard and with RWA’s US conference just wrapped up, they aren’t new. This is just my spin on classics...
Dress nice. Even if you aren’t pitching or looking to rub elbows with an agent or editor, others will notice the effort you make with your hair and makeup and clothing. You don’t have to wear sequins to Bob Mayer’s workshop but don’t wear trackie dacks either. Me? I’ll be rocking the heels every day much the same as the last two years. Mind you, they look uncomfortable to the height, age and conservatively challenged, I could run a marathon in them if I had to. And let’s face it, I’m going to be on my bum for most of the time so I could wear 5kg clogs and still be good.
P.S. Sorry in advance if you have to bend your neck to look up at me.
Dress up! The cocktail party on the Friday evening is one of the best kind of icebreakers I’ve ever been to. Even though sessions start running from about Thursday, by the time Friday night rolls around, most are only just starting to catch up with conference buddies, more are finally putting online names to real faces and so on. If you haven’t organised a roaring 20’s outfit yet, what are you waiting for? Do you think more people will notice you if you don’t dress up? Think you’re too old, too young, too introverted, to unnoticeable? You’re not. The perfect start to a conversation last year for me was, “Do you want to see my guns?”
P.P.S. My gun is even better this year!
Caffeine. If you’re anything like me, you love coffee but caffeine is not necessarily your best friend. Ask for decaf. If you’re into instant, every hotel and conference venue will provide it. If it’s not on the table, ask for it. They don’t bite and I won’t laugh. I promise. At my first conference, I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to have eight cups of coffee without throwing up that I packed a little container in my handbag with decaf Moccona. There, now you’re probably laughing at me.
Introductions. If you forget names easily—in one ear and right out the other—try using their name as soon as they give it to you. “My name’s Mary.” “Hi Mary, I’m Bronwyn.” Get it? Got it? Good!
Business cards. Are. Awesome. I love mine but don’t hurl them at people. I always have a few special ones with my mobile number on them just in case but the rest I only give to people who either ask me if I have a website or ask for my email addy. Otherwise, put those badboys away. This doesn’t count for bookmarks and postcards. Get them out but put them on the freebie table where others can grab the ones they want.
Mingle. This one is very important for me. I love the gals at SARA (South Australian Romance Authors). They rock but I can see them anytime, converse with them anytime and be blown away by their helpfulness and brilliance anytime. I can’t meet new people and hope some of their cleverness will rub off on me every time. Approach a stranger, tell them your name and take it from there. Awkward silences are a given but are easily filled with silly giggles and lots of head shaking.
Pitching. Please don’t be scared. Agents and Editors are there to take your pitch, not blow up your dreams or shoot down your ideas. They don’t eat aspiring authors for breakfast with their bacon and bagels despite what you may have heard (unless you pitch to them while they’re in the loo, they don’t like that). Do some research. One of the visiting OS eds, who I’m not pitching to this time, drinks decaf, likes pink stuff and buys alcohol mostly based on the pretty bottle rather than taste (don’t buy one for a bribe, they may like it but conference organisers might not). One agent has only ever taken on two clients from conferences and would like it if you asked questions once she’s done with hers. Also make sure they represent your genre!
One of the most important things to remember is that not every agent and editor will love your idea. Just like not every reader will love your book and not every person you meet in the world will love you. Don’t get upset and pour your coffee on her head. Say thanks for your time, back out respectfully and save it for someone who does love it.
Oh and if you buy a stack of books or win heaps on raffles or whatever, don’t despair and think about the squillions in oversized baggage it’ll cost you at the airport. The bookseller at the conference usually has post paid red satchels for the books you get from her (she comes well prepared) and since we’ll be in the centre of Melbourne, find a post office and send them to yourself. I had to post 5kgs of books and I had another 5kgs in my carry on last year but I just had to have every one of those books! That’s my type of hoarding =)
I think that’s it. I’ve already started packing my bags (so I don’t forget the iPad for the Firefighter’s raffle. BUY HEAPS OF TICKETS!!). I’ve worked out my costume and nearly all of my outfits too so I pack them away early. Now I’m off to unravel another of the plot kinks my manuscript seems to be attracting.
If you want to see how I fared to date in contests, check out my new page Good, Bad, Ugly. There you'll find scores and some of the feedback I've had over the years.
I really like entering contests despite not always doing well. It is a great way to get a feel for how your story will do with agents and editors but it's also a good way to have your dreams crushed. You need to have a thick skin and be able to handle very constructive (and sometimes destructive) criticism with a smile and thank you. When you do final or win, expect to happy dance for hours if not days!
I'm a published author but I'm still mostly stumbling about in the dark looking for the right paths so this blog is about that, though sometimes something will give the me the shits and I'll have a bit of a rant. I'll try not to be offensive but occasionally my mouth opens without asking my brain's permission so I'll apologise in advance.