Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New Voices - first stage

As the clock ticks down to the time when the first round of the New Voices contest closes, and the preliminary judging begins, I know there will be a lot of nervous writers chewing fingernails, crossing fingers (if you can do both at once), worrying and very probably praying.

I know how you feel. Or, rather, I know something of how you feel. Believe me, I remember only too well just how it felt to submit a first attempt at writing a novel, the stomach-churning panic that went with it, the fear that my efforts would be totally rejected, and yet knowing that the only possible way ever to have a chance at publication was to have gone down this route.

What I didn't have to endure was the thought of having to upload it on to a public site where the world and her husband could read it and comment and judge it. The idea of putting it in front of an editor was bad enough.

I've said before that I have ambiguous thoughts about the public arena bit of this contest. It has been fascinating to visit the New Voices web site, see the number of entries grow - 728 the last time I looked! I've dipped in to some of the entries, admired some, wondered at others - has the writer even considered the sort of story that Mills & Boon publish - or are they just using the contest as a public display for their work, to give it a large audience, appropriate or not?

And the comments - some have been kind, some partial, some hyper-critcal and some - well, not kind. I really hope that everyone who has submitted, whether they got oodles of praise or the exact opposite remembers that these are only personal opinions. Anyone who progresses any further, anyone who ever publishes anything anywhere, will have to get used to having their work appraised, commented on and criticised. In my writing career I've had praise, great reviews, Romantic Times Top Picks - and critical, hostile reviews that have torn the books to pieces - usually for the same stories. You can't please all of the people all of the time. But I know it's the critical review you remember most. That's how I feel too.

In the end, with the aim of publication in mind, the only opinion that matters is that of the editors who will decide on the next stage of the contest. But even if your work isn't selected for the second round, that isn't necessarily the end for you. I'm sure that entries that have caught the editors' eyes will be followed up. As the stories of previous entrants show, winning isn't eveything - there can be a writing career ahead of the runners up, the ones who are not 'placed' anywhere.

And for the 'chosen few' -this is where the real hard work begins. As I've said before, it's one thing to turn in a cracker of an opening chapter that delights just about everyone who reads it. Quite another to take that chapter and develop it into a fully formed novel, with a conflict that works, characters that readers empathise with and care about, a story that has a begining a middle and and end, with pace and excitment and emotional punch - and a wonderful, satisfying, fulfilling ending. Reading around the internet, looking at blogs from those who have entered in the past, been place - won even - there are plenty of them still struggling, still trying to make that move from winning chapter to completed, polished, publishable book.

And I'll let you into a secret - there are published authors, multi-published authors, who go through the same struggle at times in their writing lives. Because every first chapter, however wonderful, is just the tiny seed that is the start of what you hope will turn into a book. But it needs to be nurtured, worked on, sweated over . . . wept over . . . sometimes even abandoned and replaced by something new.

The problem with published books is that you can't tell from looking at them on the bookshop shelves which one had weeks, months, years of blood sweat and tears poured into them - and which ones just fell off the writer's fingers and onto the keyboard like a dream. But I'll bet you their authors remember. Personally, there are books on my own shelves that I feel should still be wringing wet from all the tears that into writing/rewriting/re-rewriting them.

Good luck to each and every one of you who has entered. With so much competition there's going to be a lot of chapters that won't make the second round - but do remember that whatever the result, none of this writing is wasted. If you learned to drive, you know that you needed to practise, drive miles with stops and starts, learning to get to understand the controls, then to work out how to use them all at once, how to accomplish the necessary manoeuvres - and to travel down the long and winding roads. Some of you might have managed that quickly and easily some (OK - I admit it - me) took longer and needed to try again and again before we got the idea. Writing's like that. And each time you try you get closer to 'passing your test.' But even then that doesn't mean you can set off on a round the world trip, navigating and dealing with everything that gets thrown at you.

I'll be looking forward to seeing which chapters the editors have selected. I have my own list - and I know it's not going to be the same as lots of the commentators on the site, or possibly the same as the editors will choose. They only have ten places - and there are more than ten entries that deserve to continue. So I hope those of you who don't make that top ten won;t give up now. You've only just started. You've taken that all important first step.

And what is it Lao Tzu said - the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Trying to be a writer is a journey and if the end of the journey(publication) is all you're looking for then I'm afraid there's going to be a lot of disappointment on the way. But if you settle down to enjoy the journey then you can get such a lot out of it. Whatever stage you're at - and whatever stage you'll be at when the contest results are announced - I hope your journey is a great adventure - with, as in all the best romances - a very happy ending.


Teresa F Morgan said...

Thanks for the wise words, Kate. I've found it a very useful experience entering this competition.

I think I'll be glad when it finally closes and the chapters are announced... I might get on with some more writing then :D

Unknown said...

Thank you for this lovely post. I'm one of those newbies who is hoping for honest & constructive comments to help me improve as a writer and hope that's what many others take from the competition no matter how far they go.

It's amazing to have the opportunity to receive this kind of feedback from other writers, especially for someone still so green!

Stephanie Bisby said...


As always you have a wise perspective on it all, and so much empathy for struggling new writers. I'm also looking forward to seeing the editors' choices and have enjoyed lots of the entries - as you say, far more than ten deserve success.

Quillers said...

Great post, as always, Kate. I've been sharing it all over the place as it's one I think all New Voices entrants should read. It is nice to meet a well-published writer who still has empathy for those of us on the lower rungs on the ladder.

Joanne Coles said...

I agree, this is a lovely positive post. It's been a great experience to enter and I'm looking forward to seeing who the editors pull out as their top 10.

No clue how the poor editors feel with so many fab entries to choose from, they are really going to have their work cut out.

Unknown said...

Thanks for being so encouraging and understanding, for taking time out of a very busy schedule - and for being so spot on. Almost exclusively, the comments I've read - and hopefully left! - have been kind, constructive and supportive. That alone has been worth entering to see.

Jude said...

Hi Kate

Thanks for this positive and timely post. There will be a lot of people disappointed at not making it through to the next round. But your post puts things into perspective.

I'm glad I entered the competition and feel like I've learnt a lot from the experience. Just need to put it into practice now!

All the best
J x

Lacey Devlin said...

Thanks for such a lovely post Kate!

Michelle Reid said...

This was really great post, Kate. So measured and wise and thought provoking even for this old hand at the publishing game. I was nodding my head all the way through.

Wishing all of you who submitted to New Voices the very best of luck.

Cara Cooper said...

Hi Kate, thanks for this. I think everyone who entered New Voices has learned something, and it's very encouraging to hear from a really successful author that at times the process of writing is still hard. There is no magic wand, just hard hard work, but the competition has been fun and kept us all buzzing!

Phillipa Ashley said...

Kate - I haven't entered the contest but I have read your post about the blood, sweat and tears that goes into a finished book. I thought ti was only me... seriously, thank you for pointing out just how hard the journey from first word to bookshop shelf really is, and that the hard work and angst - and joy - never stops.

Rachael Thomas said...

Thanks Kate for a great post. The task of finding the top ten is not one I'd like.
I entered NV to gain feedback on my work and have made new writing friends in the process, both in person and online. Part of the journey that I'm enjoying so much.

Caroline said...

As everyone else has commented - wise words as always Kate. Thanks! Caroline x


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