Tuesday, September 28, 2010

New Voices revisited

So the Top Ten entries in the New Voices Contest have been announced and congratulations are in order.

Congratulations for the 'winners' ? Well, yes - but for me the emphasis should be the other way. The first congratulations should go to the total of 822 entrants all of whom are, in my mind, winners. Winners because in a world of people who want to be writers, they put their words where their mouth is and wrote.

And, as the saying goes 'Writers write, everyone else makes excuses.' (Jack Bickham)

So everyone who submitted a chapter fulfilled the demands of being a writer by sitting down and writing a chapter aimed at a particular market. Well - yes - OK - some of them clearly were not aimed at the market that was being offered, and some had a strangely distorted view of just what that market was looking for - but they all wrote 2- 3- 4,000 words. Because being a writer means writing - not being published. That's being an author. Writing is what writers do. I was writing for almost thirty years before I was published. I have written for publication for 25 + years (the + bit being the times when I was writing for publication and getting it rejected regularly) So let's say I have been writing and been published for 25 years - writing for publication a bit - add on a couple of years.
And if it all ended tomorrow then I would keep on writing. I'd be telling stories - I have to - it's what I do.
Being an author? That's different -and more difficult. It depends on other things, like market forces and individual publishers and individual editors within individual publishers.
But the current editors have chosen a top ten - ten writers who they feel they could work with to build on those chapters submitted, take them further and hopefully turn them into the next stage on - another chapter, the development of a plot, the building of characters. The telling of a story. As the editors said : "We weren't looking for a perfect story . . . but we were hoping to find fresh voices and raw potential.' The editors' comments on why they picked each individual entry are going to be one of the most interesting parts of this contest.

And they are the bits that writers who really want to be authors for this particular company can learn most from. Where they can learn what these editors are looking for, why they like something when they see it. What reached out and grabbed them, lifting this entry out from so many many others.

Did I have the same Top Ten? No - but then I've not had time to read every single one of the 822 chapters ( kudos to the editors who did - it's no mean task!) But the ones I felt wouldn't be there weren't.
What mistakes did I find that stuck out?
Chapters that hadn't done their marketing homework - writers who submitted work that just wasn't what this very specific publisher is looking for
Showing not telling
Narrative . . .. lots of it without the dynamism and drama of dialogue
Chapters that were trying to be too clever for their own good - that 'cute meet' thing .
Chapters that were pale versions of stories that had been published so often - the advice was 'don't imitate - innovate'.

I hope the 812 writers who are not in the selected ten will find lots to help them in the posts in the next few days. Information about what the editors are looking for, advice about what works and what doesn't. It's going to be intriguing to see how the next stages of the process work - how the chosen chapters are worked on, developed . . . turned into a story - or not. Because for me the important bit is that.

Because there are writers and there are writers who are storytellers. And telling a story so that people want to read it takes a different set of thought processes from just putting down and opening that you feel is going to grab an editor's attention. It's not the same thing as refining, editing, polishing a clever chapter till it squeaks. There are reasons why an editor's job is very different from a writer's and for me the difference is right there in that 'story tellling'.

So some of these top ten might make it. Some might not. Some of you 812 could very well (as Maisey Yates did) go away, complete your novels and turn them into a book that might not have the 'best' opening chapter but tells a story that reaches out and grabs people so they want - have to read on. I hope so. Because a chapter is a chapter but a story is a book.

As a result of my last post on this subject, I received an email from one of the entrants to the New Voices contest. She was reading one of my books - Sicilian Husband, Blackmailed Bride - and she wanted to tell me how brilliant she thought the opening was. (Thank you Jennifer if you're reading this) I was complimented, honoured, obviously - but as a writer/storyteller/author what meant most to me was the next bit 'I wanted to tell you that you're queen of opening chapters and I am riveted to this story.'

That's where the real compliment is - that's why I write. To have readers wanting to read the story.

So congratulations to the 10 whose chapters were chosen this time. I hope this is the start of your journey towards becoming a published author and writing stories that people want to read. Congratulations to all the writers who submitted a chapter - I hope this is the start of your journey towards doing more with your writing, submitting again, finding the story you want to tell, 'winning' first chapter or not.

I can't give you the 'secret', the 'formula' to being published - because if there is one then I honestly have never ever found it in the past 25+ years - or the 30 before that! - but I can tell you the one thing that will guarantee that you'll never ever be published and that is if you give up now. If you can't take the risk of rejection, then you're making sure you'll never know the joy of success.

Thinking about my 25 years of being published and the books that have my name on it, I'm also well aware of the 'ones that got away' - the stories that never made it into books. The ones that were rejected. But did I let them stay rejected ?

But that's a different story. Today, I've rambled on for long enough and -

Writers write, everyone else makes excuses

I have writing to do - and (I hope) so do you.


Teresa F Morgan said...

Very good advice, Kate. I am one of those 812 lol! I was possibly going to 'sit' on my story for a bit, as I have loads of other stuff going on, wasn't really sure I was at a phase in my life where I could concentrate on a novel. (I have two young kids, but next year both will be in full time education so thinking then would be better). I'm also studying through The Writer's Bureau and really want to finish that and not let it sit on a shelf collecting dust... but I've been convinced to keep at it... Even if it's just a chunk a week, I'm going to keep going and write my novel!

Kat said...

Thanks Kate, that was an interesting and encouraging read at just the right time.
Am going back to the drawing board this week to see what I can do to strengthen my chapter and hopefully move forward with it.

Sophia Harrop said...

Hi Kate, from another one of the 812! Thank you for your encouraging words!

Looking through the winners and working out why they were chosen has been a revelation, although it shouldn't have been - we did actually know what the editors wanted from the outset! I guess that actually having a go is all part of the learning process, which helps you to really understand what's meant by those all important words like character, dialogue, pace etc.

Some of the winning entries were really stretching the boundaries though - I am very surprised by the one written in the first person, although it is very definitely beautiful writing, and great story telling.

Xandra James said...

Hi Kate,

I guess at the moment I'll be known as one of the 812 as well, lol. And I would like to thank you for your encouraging words; it can be very disheartening not to get through.

The hard work and stress is only just beginning for those lucky enough to make it through to the top 10 though and I wish them all the very best of luck!

Lacey Devlin said...

Lovely post Kate! Everyone loves a good Maisey reference in times like these. Thanks so much :)

Mavis Smyth said...

Excellent post Kate! I was one of the 812 and would so have loved to get the chance to have had my own personal mentoring team. On the bright side one of my Harlequin writing pals got through.

Rachael Johns said...

Fabulous post Kate! Thanks for the encouragement to keep at it if it's what we love to do! And it is, so I will! I didn't make the Top Ten but am planning on subbing my partial of that chapter very, very soon!

Anonymous said...

CarolC said...

Brilliant post Kate. Full of great advice and infectious enthusiasm as always.

I didn't enter the NV comp, but was really impressed with the number of people who did and the standard of several of the entries I read.

Good luck to the winners and to everyone else.


Rachael Thomas said...

Thanks Kate for the great advice. I am one of the 812 and I REALLY want to be one of those who makes it one day.
In the meantime I'm learning so much, traveling to new places, meeting new friends and having a ball doing so!

Caroline said...

Hi Kate - wise words as ALWAYS. Thanks for sharing. I got over my disappointment yesterday by writing a short story - a case of getting back on the horse after falling off - lol! I got some lovely positive comments about my NV story and some great advice about dialogue/narration etc. So I'm going to polish it up, edit the next 2 chaps (which are written) and send it off to M&B HQ. Well that's the plan anyway...Caroline x

Jude said...

Hi Kate, thanks for such an encouraging post.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a tiny bit disappointed on Monday morning not to have been one of the top ten. But that feeling didn't last many minutes. I learnt so much from entering the competition, and found such great new friends, that I consider myself a winner!

J x


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