The actual writing is only one part of the job of
being a writer. Selling your work is an aspect of writing that it at least
as difficult as the writing itself. I hope you find the following helpful
in your quest to sell.
One Size Does Not Fit All : Choosing
The Contest That Works For You
Speak Out: Networking through
Speaking at Writing Conferences
Ten Tips for Query Letters that
Top Ten Ways to not Final in a
Romance Writing Contests
First Impressions Count:
A Simple Guide to Manuscript Format
One Size Does Not Fit All:
Choosing The Contest That Works For You
The romance writing realm is filled with contests.
Nearly every chapter of RWA has a contest for aspiring authors, with some
sponsoring more than one. And there also plenty of multi-genre contests
with romance categories. There are contests for first chapters, for page
lengths of 10, 20, 30, and 55 pages, for first three chapters, for scenes
where the hero and heroine first meet, first kiss, first make love. A
person could go broke entering all these contests!
Even aside from the sheer cost of entering the contest
(and aside from the actual fee, costs include copying and mailing –
both ways – entering every contest a writer happens upon is a bad
idea. Not every manuscript is suited for every contest. The savvy contest
entrant studies the contest opportunities before making her choices.
Know Your Goals
Before any writer enters a contest, she should examine
her goals in entering. All contests offer the potential for the thrill
of victory (and alas, the agony of defeat). Contests also offer a few
other nice things: prestige, feedback on craft, and the opportunity to
by-pass the slush pile. But not every contest offers all of these things.
So an entrant should know what she wants, and then check to see if the
Entering for Prestige
Generally, the greater the number of entrants, the
more likely the contest is prestigious. Winning, or even finally in the
larger contests can be an entrée to an agent or editor. In the
romance world, the Golden Heart beats out the competition hands down.
Other contests with hundreds of entrants include the Molly, the Maggie,
the Orange Rose, and the Emily.
If prestige and adulation is your goal, look for
the contests you hear people talking about entering. Ask the coordinator
the number of entries expected this year, or received last year. Ask about
the success of past finalists or winners. Prestigious contests maintain
their prestige by keeping track of such information!
Entering for Feedback
Most contests offer some sort of feedback –
the question is how much. Some offer written critiques, some offer score
sheets with comments, some offer comments written on the manuscripts,
and some offer a combination of these. And still others don’t offer
anything other than a score. If feedback is your reason for entering,
make sure you investigate the nature of the feedback the contest provides.
Check with past entrants to see what sort of feedback
they received. Survey a minimum of five entrants to get a balanced view
of the quality of the judging. Ask to see the score sheet – does
it offer detailed information that would be helpful, or is it very generic?
The contest rules generally describe the judges
– some have no specific qualifications, some require experienced
critiquers, while others use only published authors, or only published
authors in a higher round. Increasingly, judges trained in a specific
RWA-related program are available. I have gotten good advice from both
published and non-published authors, so this has never been a concern
to me. However, many people believe that published authors have a more
realistic view of the writing level needed to publish. Others are simply
more inclined to accept advice from writers who are more experienced than
they. If having published authors as judges is important to you, be sure
to check the rules, and enter only contests fitting the bill.
Entering to Bypass the Slush Pile
If the contest offers an editor final judge, finalists
get their work in front of the editor in a specific time frame. Countless
entrants have received requests for complete manuscripts as a result finaling
in a contest. An entrant with this goal in mind should check the identity
of the final judge. Listings in the RWR may note that final judges will
be editors, without giving names. Often, this is because no final selection
has been made by the deadline for the RWR. So before you enter, check
the website or contact the coordinator. If the house, or even better,
the editor, is one you want to read your work, great. But if you are targeting
Harlequin Blaze, and the final editor is from Kensington – or vice
versa - the contest won’t satisfy your goals.
Know Your Manuscript
The very nature of some contests eliminates the
likelihood of certain types of manuscripts doing well. Sometimes, this
is obvious. Contests devoted to romantic suspense, for example, probably
receive few entries without some sort of crime or mystery, but if they
did, such entries are unlikely to fare well.
But other times, the unsuitability maybe more subtle.
For example, the shorter the page limit for entries, the less likely a
very long book – 100,000+ words -- is to do well. Why? Because the
longer length of these works gives the writer more room to develop theme,
conflict, character, and so forth – and makes it less likely that
this will ALL be done in the short length of the page limit. This doesn’t
mean there is anything wrong with the manuscript or the contest –
just that they aren’t a good match. Longer works are more likely
to be properly appreciated in contests with longer page limits –
or in contests, like the GH, that have categories specifically devoted
to works of that length.
So how do you tell if your manuscript is a good match
for the contest? Simple – review the score sheet. Ask yourself how
YOU would score you entry using based on that score sheet. If you’d
have to give yourself low points because you just don’t have some
of the elements named in the work sheet, you can either look for another
contest, or revise so your manuscript is a better fit.
A contest can be a great way to further your writing
goals. But that only works if you know what those goals are, and take
the time to research the fit between your goals, and what the contest
Speak Out: Networking
through Speaking at Writing Conferences
Everyone knows that authors can increase name recognition
and readership by public speaking engagements. But there is another advantage
to speaking at writing conferences -- the opportunity for networking with
publishing professionals. As a speaker, you are often given preferred
seating status at meals and events, as well as invitations to parties
and social hours limited to other speakers. Since those other speakers
often include editors and agents, you have an opportunity to meet these
folks in a relaxed atmosphere, and even better, as peers.
So how do you become a speaker? It is a lot easier
than you think. Here are some steps to get you started:
1) Decide on a topic.
If you write, then you know the sort of things that writers want to know.
Take a look at your particular strengths – what you do particularly
well – and build from there. Are you a whiz at research? What short
cuts have you learned? Is characterization your greatest strength –
what techniques have you developed? Do you have a failsafe technique to
avoid sagging middles? Share it with others. If you’ve finished
a single book, you’ve done something most people never will –
and you have probably learned something that could make the task a bit
less daunting for the next person.
2) Plan your presentation.
Once you’ve decided on a topic, decide how you will present it.
Is one hour enough time, or do you need more. Think about workshops you’ve
attended – what sorts of thing worked for you as a participant?
Do you like handouts? Visual aids? Do you prefer hands-on activity, or
does a lecture work best for you? All of these techniques are good. Choose
the one that you like best.
3) Create a written description
of your presentation. Include a catchy title. You’ve seen
brief descriptions of workshops in conference programs. You want a short
paragraph description – kind of like a teaser. Here’s the
title and description of a workshop I presented at RWA’s National
Convention in New Orleans :
Anatomy of a Scene: Creating Full Bodied Scenes
Scenes are the building blocks of the novel. Learn
how to layer the Bones, Guts, Muscle and Flesh of a scene for strong passages
that lead to a powerful novel.
Then, create a more complete description, laying
out the details. This description might be several paragraphs long:
This workshop outlines the four components of a
Scenes are the building blocks of a strong novel.
Each scene must advance the storyline, but they can do much more: reveal
character, increase tension, develop atmosphere, set a mood, and that
is just the beginning.
The anatomy of a scene can be reveal in four layers:
First there are the Bones. A
good scene must grab the reader's emotions. To do this, the characters
must themselves have a strong emotional connection to the events that
are happening to them, and show the motivation behind their actions.
Next comes Guts. A good
scene must grab the reader's emotions. To do this, the characters must
themselves have a strong emotional connection to the events that are
happening to them, and show the motivation behind their actions
Next there is the Muscle. The
author’s voice propels the scene, while theme keeps it on course.
Finally, the scene is Fleshed
out. Using the five scenes, the scene is embellished and mood
Using examples from film and novels, the workshop
will demonstrate how these layers combine to create powerful scenes.
4) Build a reputation.
Unless your name is Nora Roberts, you probably won’t have conference
coordinators hounding you to speak. So start slowly. Offer to speak for
local writing groups – and don’t limit yourself to your own
genre if your topic is applicable to other forms of writing. Libraries
and bookstores often sponsor writers’ workshops – call them
up or send a letter outlining your idea. Gather feedback from participants
– handing out an evaluation form can help you improve your presentation,
as well as gather favorable comments to use in promoting yourself as a
speaker. Always thank the coordinators for having you, and let them know
if you are interested in coming again in the future.
Do not be offended of there is no payment at first.
Many groups offer it; others do not. Some offer expenses, others do not.
Don’t make commitments you can’t afford, but remember that
you are gaining valuable experience here.
5) Get the word out. Once
you feel ready to spread your wings, starting pitching your presentation
to conferences. You need to present you idea anywhere from six to eighteen
months before the conference. Use back issues of the RWR to see when romance
writing conferences are likely to be held in the future – most (but
not all) conferences listed there are annual. You can also find conferences
listed in an assortment of guides and books; www.writersdigest.com has
a database of conferences, searchable by date, region, and topic. Send
your proposal to the contact information provided in the guide.
Most conferences offer some sort of remuneration
for speakers – ranging from all or a portion of the conference fee
waived, through all expenses paid, to a cut of the participant fee. Multi-genre
and screenwriting conferences generally pay much better than romance writing
conferences, but you don't rule out the non or low paying conferences;
these might be the conferences you'd most like to attend. For example,
RWA National offers only $120 for member workshop speakers, which would
not come close to covering expenses. But as one of the largest conferences
around, it offers tremendous exposure and networking opportunities.
6) Fulfill your responsibilities.
Once you are in – have a good time, but also remember you are working.
Participants paid to hear you speak and receive your advice, so be willing
to spend a reasonable amount of time with them and answer questions. Show
up for meals, especially if your meals were comped. Sit in your assigned
seat, if seating is assigned (although don’t afraid to ask that
you be placed near someone you want to be meet!). Behaving professionally
towards those who want to meet you is the best way to increase your chances
of making a good impression on the people you want to meet!
Ten Tips for Query Letters
that Get Results
If there is one thing a writer wants, it is to get
a jump on the competition. Writing “Requested Material” on
the outside of an envelope containing a partial or complete manuscript
is a privilege a writer has to earn. But fortunately, earning that privilege
is not an insurmountable task. All it really requires is a well-written
query letter. And here are ten tips to help you do just that:
1. First, know the requirements of the house to
which you are submitting. No matter how good your story is, a house
that publishes only sweet contemporary romance is not going to ask to
see your erotic paranormal thriller, or vice versa.
2. Direct the letter to a particular editor by
name. Research editors within a house to learn which might be most inclined
to accept your particular story. Editors have personal favorite for
story elements; find out what they are. If you story has a cat, or a
ghost or a firefighter, you want to know if a particular editor loves
stories with cats, or ghosts, or firefighters.
3. Learn the query expectations of the house.
For example, Avon prefers to receive email queries. Other publishers
want only snail mail queries. Meet editor expectations, and demonstrate
you’ve made the effort to learn the house's requirements.
4. Remember you are writing professional correspondence.
For snail mail queries, use reasonably good quality paper, but don’t
feel you need to have embossed letterhead. White paper is best, although
ivory or pale gray are also commonly found in business correspondence.
Designing a simple letterhead is a breeze with any computer, so make
the effort. Be sure your name, address, telephone, and email addresses
5. Be direct. Make the purpose of the correspondence
clear upfront. The first paragraph should tell the editor the word count,
the type of story, and the line to which you are submitting. Example:
"I have completed a 65,000 word romantic comedy I would like you
to consider for the Duets line. "
6. Tell about your story in a paragraph or two.
Keep this brief – consider how the back cover copy piques interest
in a story, and try for a similar approach for starters. Then let the
editor know where the story goes, and how the characters get there.
Make the major internal and external conflicts clear, and remember –
a romance story should focus on the romance.
7. Convey the tone of the story in the letter as
a whole, but especially where describing the story. If your book is
warm and emotional, let that come through in your letter, as well. If
you have written a romp, use wit. Convey a sense of suspense, if that
is what you’ve written. Give the editor a taste of your unique
8. Don’t be afraid to compare (honestly)
your writing with that of a known author or authors who write for the
target house or line. Example: “This historical romp is somewhat
in the style of Julia Quinn.” This serves more than one purpose
– it gives the editor a concrete sense of your book’s tone,
and also demonstrates your own familiarity with the authors published
by the house or line.
9. Close with personal information, but only if
it is relevant, and even then, keep it short. Mention any special expertise
related to the story. Point out publishing credits, but don’t
give citations. Mentioning you’ve won writing awards is fine,
but don’t list all twenty contests by name and date, or you’ll
risk having the editor’s eyes cross. Membership in writers groups
is not a credential.
10. Don’t forget to ask for what you want!
State your willingness to send the manuscript on request. Thank the
editor for her time and consideration. Remember to sign your letter.
There – that’s no so bad, is it? One
short, but well-thought-out letter, plus a stamp, is all it takes to get
to that coveted request for submission. Get your query in the mail this
Top Ten Ways to not Final
in a Romance Writing Contest
I’ve entered a number of contests over the
past few years. Recently, I also coordinated one. And I’ve judged
in more contests than I can count. These experiences have given me a pretty
good idea of what things, either individually or combined with others,
manage to keep good writers and good stories out of the finals. These
experiences have taught me much about the craft of writing, and also,
about reasons some entries are successful.
So, without further ado, here are the top ten ways
to not final in a romance writing contest:
10. Ignore the rules. Sounds
pretty basic, doesn’t it? But an amazing number of entrants appear
to have completely ignored them. I’ve seen entries with many pages
over the maximum permitted. Entries using a font other than one expressly
named in the rules. Single space where none is allowed. Titles pages with
author identified, and so on and so on. None of these relates to the writing
itself, but if a contest has a score sheet that asks about such things,
the entry is doomed to lose those points. When finalist status is often
determined by a single point, it is madness to give any up needlessly.
Finalists don’t give up unnecessary points.
9. Fail to learn formatting conventions.
This one is right up there with the rules. I don’t mean picky items
for which there are ten different “right answers,” like how
to indicate scene breaks. I mean using double quote marks for dialogue.
Double spacing. Printing on only one side of the page. Placement of header
inside or outside margin is a picky item – that a margin should
be one-inch a would-be professional writer should know. Finalists do know
8. Ignore the nature of the contest.
No entry is suited to all contests. If someone needs to read several chapters
of your story to get into it, don’t submit it to contests that allow
only a scene or first chapter. If your writing is heavy on angst, there
is little point in submitting it to a contest for romantic comedy. If
unsure of contest suitability, finalists ask the coordinator to see the
score sheet and honestly assess how their entry measures up before they
spend their money.
7. Fail to take advantage of
the amount of material you may submit. I can’t count the
number of times I’ve judged contests where synopses of 5, 8 or 10
pages are permitted, but the entrant submits a one or two page synopsis.
Or where 55 pages of manuscript are permitted, but only the first chapter
is sent in. There is certainly strategic validity to ending at a natural
stopping point -- one that leaves the reader wanting more. But if your
entry is half the size of all the others, it can’t help but come
up short. Finalists come close to the limits, while still choosing a natural
6. Don’t proofread at all.
One or two typos won’t keep an entry from finaling. I personally
won a Golden Heart with a typo on the third page. But there is a big difference
between an error here and there, and an error in every paragraph. Incorrect
spelling, grammatical errors not explained by dialogue or emphasis needs,
and repeated typos will distract from the reader’s enjoyment. Finalists
don’t repeatedly tempt unhappy judges to give a lower score.
5. Have no believable romantic
conflict. Having everyone and his brother opposed to the hero and
heroine getting together makes for great external conflict. But something
needs to be keeping your hero and heroine from acknowledging they are
meant for each other. If the only thing keeping your characters apart
are external forces, you have no romantic conflict. Since a romance is
about the resolution of romantic conflict, your story is missing an essential
ingredient. Finalists not only have romantic conflict, they make sure
it isn’t false conflict – i.e., characters who take offense
at their opposite’s every action.
4. Have passive characters.
Have your characters do things; don’t just have things done to them.
One thing that will help with this is to avoid “passive voice,”
a grammatical issue where what appears to be a subject of the sentence
is actually the object. Example: “Pamela was taken to the highwaymen’s
hideout.” Unless they truly have a good reason to emphasize Pamela,
rather than whomever is doing the taking, finalists tend to avoid passivity.
3. Tell, rather than show. One
easy way to show, rather than tell -- avoid passive verbs. Often mistaken
by judges as passive voice, excessive use of the verb “to be,”
in any form, is generally a symptom of telling. Another easy way -- name
no emotions in your manuscript. Many entries have sentences like “Pamela
was shocked to awaken in the robbers’ hideout.” Chances are,
the finalist entries have paragraphs more like “Her eyes opened.
Firelight flickered against the walls. But how odd – the firelight
seems to flicker against all the walls. How could the fire be in the center
of the room? And the walls seemed to strange. Dark and uneven, they resembled
the underside of a cliff. Pamela bolted upright. A cave? How in the world
had she come to be in a cave?” (But finalists probably have better
examples than mine...)
2. Exclude development of the
romantic relationship from the synopsis. People really do fall
in love at first sight. But when they tell the story of how they fell
in love, they don’t speak for very long. Most people fall in love
gradually, moving from acquaintance (with maybe some lust), to a bit of
mutual (although not necessarily simultaneous) respect, and then to mutual
(although not necessarily simultaneous) trust, and finally, to love. Finalists
tend to give updates on this progression throughout the synopsis.
And the number way to not final in a contest:
1. Don’t enter any contests.
Entering contests is courageous. Total strangers will read it, and possibly
not love it as much as your mother does. Finalists take this risk. And
sometimes, the gamble pays off.
Count: A Simple Guide to Manuscript Format
It’s true. First impressions really do count.
In many ways, a manuscript submission is similar
to writing to a prospective employer. Your resume may show that you have
exactly the right experience for the job. But if your resume is handwritten
in purple ink, it is possible that the employer will never read enough
of it to find out what a great person you are.
Similarly, if your manuscript screams that you are
unfamiliar with reasonably standard submission practices, an editor may
never read enough to find out your story is wonderful. You could be lucky,
and get an editor who will wade through single spacing, unusual fonts,
and double sided printing on fancy colored paper with light colored ink.
Or you could get a rejection letter, and never even realize that it was
your format, not your writing, that caused the rejection.
To avoid that uncertainty, and to increase your chances
that your work will be read, follow a few simple guidelines:
-- Use white paper. Use standard letter size paper
-- 81/2 x 11 in the U.S., A4 acceptable elsewhere. You do not need to
buy the expensive, linen resume paper. Any decent quality white paper
sold at office supply stores is just fine. Resist the impulse to use
a colored paper, even if you think red makes your mystery more exciting,
or blue really exemplifies your futuristic world. White paper will show
the ink best,. You don’t want the paper color competing with the
-- Use black ink. Black ink on white paper –
the best contrast, therefore, easiest to read. Do not skimp on the toner
and change the cartridge or typewriter ribbon if it is beginning to
-- Print on only one side of the paper. Double
sided printing can bleed through.
-- Double space the body of the text. The only
exception to this is when the submissions instructions for a house request
a single spaced synopsis.
--Use one inch margins. The header (more on this
later) may be placed ½ inch from the top of the page. The text
of the manuscript would still have a one inch margin.
-- Use size 12 font. Traditionally, publishing
houses liked Courier (or New Courier). With the advent of computers,
Times New Roman is also often seen. Personally, since no one objects
to the Courier fonts, I suggest using them. Don’t b concerned
about whether the font is “pretty.” What matters is whether
it can be easily read.
-- Do not staple the pages. Partial submissions
can be bound with clips; complete manuscripts can be placed in a manuscript
box, or bound with rubber bands. Be sure to use rubber bands large enough
to go around the paper without tearing or bending it..
-- Now – for the looks of the pages. I have
attached pdf files for each type of submission. I put these in pdf.
format to avoid changes that different browsers can make.
-- For article and
short story submissions, the upper left corner on the first page
should contain your name and contact information. The upper left should
contain the word count. Subsequent pages should include a header that
lists the article title, author surname, and page number.
-- For novel submissions,
you may include contact info as with shorter submissions, but usually
that information is contained on a title page. The first page may have
no header, or it may include the header used in the rest of the submission:
title and author surname, and page number.
--Text on the first page generally begins at some
point one third to one half down the page. Practices do vary on this.
Some writers insist that only halfway down is acceptable. I personally
go three inches from the top margin. At that point, I center the title.
For a novel manuscript, I drop one space, and center “Chapter
One.” I then drop two spaces before beginning the text. For short
story or article submission, begin the text two spaces below the title.
Only titles and chapter headings are centered.
-- For fiction submissions, indent your paragraphs
½ inch (s spaces). Left justify only.
-- Many authors use an asterisk ('*') to indicate
a scene change. Others use a pound sign (“#”), and still
others will use three of one symbol “***” or the other”###.”
However, increasingly, it has become common practice simply to leave
two blank lines. If you choose to use the asterisk or pound sign, leave
a blank line, center the symbol, then follow with another blank line
before beginning the next part of the manuscript.
-- In books and magazines, emphasis and express
thoughts (i.e., thoughts written in first person, where the rest of
the piece is written in third person) are often shown with italics.
Since the advent of computer printers, submissions can show the words
in italics, as well. Note that for romance, the common practice is still
to underline those words or passages.
-- Many authors indicate the end by leaving two
blanks lines after the final line of text, and then centering “The
Following this advice will not guarantee your manuscript
will be accepted for publication. However, it will help to decrease the
possibility that it will be without ever being read.
Best of luck – and remember, you can’t sell if you don’t