There were over a thousand entries for the New Voices competition this year – an incredible number of people with the nerve and the determination to write a first chapter and put it up there for everyone to see. I salute you all – I’m not sure I would ever have had the courage to do that.
For the 21 who are through to the next round, it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity and they are all due huge congratulations. But if you’re one of the thousand who didn’t get through, what are you going to do now?
If you haven’t already done so, I recommend a good old sulk for a day or two. Get it out of your system and look on that as a learning experience too, because as Heidi Rice said, you’re going to have to get used to rejection if you want to be published. Any published writer will tell you that it doesn’t end with that magical acceptance. Even established authors sometimes crash and burn and have manuscripts rejected after revisions. It happened to me with my 11th book, and it could happen again with my 59th (if I ever get round to writing it). Sometimes a story just doesn’t work. You have to learn to deal with major revisions which can feel like rejections in themselves at times, and crushing reviews … few of us have as tough a skin as we like to pretend, and it can be bitterly disappointing.
Are you still up for it?
Do I hear a ‘yes’? In that case, I suggest you forget about competitions, forget about workshops you’ve been to, or every bit of advice you’ve ever read for now. Sit down and finish your story. I know you only need to submit a partial, but until you’ve got the whole story in your head, I don’t think you’ll be going anywhere. Don’t stop if you get lost in it, or change your mind about something half way through. Just carry on as if you’d already written it the way it needs to be and keep on writing until you’ve got 50,000 words and can type those magical words: THE END.
Don’t worry if it’s rubbish. Chances are it will be, but somewhere along the line, you should be getting to know your characters, and the bones of your story will emerge. Sadly, there are no shortcuts to this. You only get to be a writer by, er, writing.
When you’ve got a draft, that’s the time to dig out any notes you’ve made. Re-read books like Kate Walker’s 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance. Look again at the comments you had on your first chapter. Do they make more sense now? Go to workshops if you can. Because now you’ve got something to work with.
More importantly, you’ve got the time to do it properly. Yes, it’s fabulous for the 21 who go through to the next round, but they’re going to be under a huge amount of pressure unless they’ve already got a manuscript completed. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published. Once you are, you will be up against a remorseless set of deadlines, so make the most of the opportunity now to polish your craft and get it right.
So no magic quick fixes, I’m afraid. Sulk, then write, write, write. Then rewrite. It’s the best advice I can offer.
To help you through, I’ve got five copies of LOVING OUR HEROES to send out as consolation prizes. This anthology includes stories from award-winning authors Amy Andrews and India Grey, as well as my RITA-shortlisted story, Last-Minute Proposal, and is a great chance to read stories across the different lines (Romance, Medical and Modern). A £1 donation will go to Help for Heroes for every book sold, so I’ll make that up and you can have a copy for free. Just tell me the title of the story you’re working on in the comments section below, then email me your postal address at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll do a lucky dip.
Good luck – and happy writing!