Sunday, 21 August 2011

Surviving New Voices with some help from Rufus Sewell

I have just had a stoke of genius! Whilst writing the blog post below I was simultaneously trying to watch a BBC4 Italian crime drama; one term of Italian language lessons nine years ago obviously preparation for multitasking with subtitles,when I suddenly saw the face of my hero – not on the screen but in my head, Anyone see Zen with Rufus Sewell earlier this year Shamefully cut thanks to budgets? Inspiration for an Italian hero if ever I saw one. And who says watching TV is wasting time?

Heroic Zen

Okay, stop daydreaming - back to business: Last year I came upon New Voices somewhat unaware; a post on the Mills & Boon Facebook page piqued my interest, I clicked, noted the rules & regs & posting date and that was that. Completely ignorant of the vast amount of advice, knowledge and help available online I wrote and posted and that was that.

This year is already very different. New Voices has its own distinct Facebook page with over 300 followers including published authors, past participants and new entrants. Three of last year's entrants have forthcoming books with HM&B, many others have found success with rival online and offline publishers, I have taken two courses with the brilliant Jessica Hart and joined the Romantic Novelist's Association New Writer's Scheme (look at all those capitals) and nervously, email-obsessively await feedback.

I will, of course, be entering again. I have written just 1000 words but spent hours thinking about it, dreaming about it (writing and deadlines combining with tents and Scandinavian serial killers in an unsettling combination: may need to change my current reading material and holiday in an apartment in future), characters are beginning to make sense, a plot to develop. My expectations are more realistic this year, my focus on the entire book, not just one chapter. However, if I did learn anything from last year it would be this:

1. Act professionally. If you want to be a writer then every NV interaction is with potential bosses, colleagues and customers...
2. So, be polite, but not over the top! Sycophancy is embarrassing, rudeness even more so.
3. Want comments on your writing? Comment on others, we all want attention but with 800+ entries (based on last year) are more likely to click on those writers who have commented on us.
4. Remember, the commentators may mainly be your fellow competitors but they are also your future readers so treat their comments with respect even if you disagree.
5. Of course you will disagree with some comments but take a deep breath, ignore the urge to be rude about their entry and even more importantly resist the urge to argue. Thank them for taking the time to comment.
6. Even if you disagree, if the same point is made over and over then take it under consideration – remember these are your future readers.
7. It is a first chapter competition. Telling people they will understand when they read Chapt 2, 3, finish the book won't help – they are judging you on what they can read
8. Make sure your comments are constructive. Don't like something? Say it nicely, tell them why and give examples. Help them improve.
9. If you can't say it nicely and constructively then don't say it at all!
10. Market yourself. Use Twitter, FB and forums but remember – there has to be give and take. If it's all “me, me, me” people will ignore all your postings no matter how witty they are!
11. Have fun and good luck!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Recharging those flat batteries

I always knew I was deadline driven but writing over 13,000 words in 3 days, two of which were work days, then printing out the manuscript and trying to write a (forgotten about until the last minute – oops) synopsis whilst packing for a camping holiday and then posting manuscript on the way to said camping holiday was a little white knuckle even for me. It wasn't even the real New Writer Scheme deadline, that isn't until the end of the month, it was the made up deadline I inflicted on myself because I wanted to relax during my holiday knowing I had sent the TS safely off.
And because it is time to think about New Voices.
This year's camping trip was refreshingly free of rain except when we travelled there and packed up but, although my nostrils are filled with the scent of drying out canvas draped over every chair I possess, that is such a marked improvement on last year I can gloss over it, dwelling instead on swimming in blue, blue seas (very cold blue seas), roasting marshmallows on campfires, local cider, cliff tops filled with gorse and heather, no news. Riots? What riots? Safe in our Dorset bubble we had no idea that anarchy and craziness was breaking out across the nation's cities.
Should have been the perfect idea dreaming up scenario. Sun, sea, cider, what else does an aspiring author need? Armed with a freshly sharpened pencil and a very gorgeous A4 notepad from Paperchase I sent husband and daughter to collect fossils on the beach and started to explore the several ideas that had been stirring whilst I finished the NWS book.
They were all rubbish. Contrived, derivative, dull. Was it the writing in longhand? I am so used to typing have I lost the ability to use pen and paper? Looking at the state of my hand writing I am worried that the answer to that question is yes... Or were my batteries simply completely run down by that last, frantic weekend of writing?
So I read instead. I didn't go near romance opting instead for some nice bleak Scandinavian Crime and a touch of Young Adult.
There is just four weeks to go until New Voices launch and although there is almost a month for competitors to post entries – and several finalists did post late on in the competition last year – I want to get in at the start (there's that self imposed deadline again), not just because you get more comments and feedback but because it's fun to be taking part.
So I ran through the five bad ideas with my three faithful friends who very kindly didn't snort with laughter (actually as they are online friends they probably did but had the very good grace not to tell me) and they all quite liked one and helped me work it into something that may just work. If I can sort out those pesky motivations and conflicting goals and all the other ingredients that doth a good romance make. Meanwhile I am returning the favour with definitely no snorting with laughter just awe at their inventiveness and talent.
So now I just have to write the thing, that's the easy part isn't it?