Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know that Mills & Boon is holding the New Voices competition again. It’s a great opportunity to get your work in front of eager editors and possibly win a publishing contract. It’s also damn scary. Some of you may remember the first Mills & Boon contest — it was called Instant Seduction, and it was held in 2008. It wasn’t quite the same format as New Voices. Basically, you submitted your work to the editors directly and they decided the winner and 2 runners up. All three chapters and synopses were then put on the I Heart Presents blog for public consumption.

As I was the lucky winner of that first competition, I can tell you that I was terrified when the moment came to reveal my work to the public. Everyone was nice to me, but I did see much later where a couple of people said nasty things about my first published book (which grew out of that chapter) and how they didn’t understand how I won the competition. Probably, these were people who followed the comp and either entered it themselves and got nowhere, or didn’t enter for various reasons but felt if they had, they would have won. Some people might have been readers only, though it’s perhaps less likely they would follow a writing competition. (Though anything is possible.)

I’m telling you this today not because I’m complaining (I’m really over those comments after writing more than 10 books for Harlequin now), but because I know that many of you are terrified of encountering a nasty person if you enter the contest and have your work available to the public.

Basically, the truth is this: when you stick your work out there for the public to see, not everyone is going to be nice. That’s hard to take when you’re so full of hopes and dreams, and when you’re sticking your work out there for the first time for strangers to pick apart. And they will pick it apart. Someone (maybe more than one) is going to hide behind the anonymity of their computer and say nasty things about your hard work. I can guarantee it.

This is a terrifying prospect, I realize! But you absolutely can’t let that stop you from putting your work out there if you really want to take advantage of this opportunity. Never let ONE person stop you. If you win the contest, or even if you don’t but you sell something later or somewhere else, I can promise you there will be people who don’t like what you write. It can absolutely be soul destroying to have your work torn apart by strangers. It feels like they are saying evil things about you personally.

In some cases, they are. But in many cases, it’s simply a reader’s response to the work and not directed at you personally. It’s still hard to take, believe me. I try not to read the negative reviews, but I have to admit that some of them have crept past my personal filters. If you want to see what I mean, just go read some Amazon reviews sometime. Or Goodreads. If you read mine, you will see where one person thought I must be a man or a computer. One person completely missed where I explained something in the book and went on to gripe about how it was never explained. It was, and he or she is the only one to say it wasn’t thus far.

On Goodreads, some kind soul has put me on a To Avoid list. Makes me want to say, “But what did I ever do to you? I’m nice, I swear! People like me!” But, though it stings, that’s probably not a personal criticism so much as a preference not to read the kind of stories I write (dark, heavy, intense alpha males). People are not obligated to like you, or even to care about your feelings when they are plunking down their hard earned dollars for your book. They can say what they will, and while I wish they were nicer about it, I have to accept that they don’t have to be.

When you put your work on the New Voices site, you’ll be hoping for the best and fearing the worst. And while no one is paying money to read what you’ve written (yet), they will still say whatever they feel like saying. You just have to get beyond it. If you start to read a comment, and it’s negative, skim it or stop reading. Or get a friend to read the comments for you. If you’re pretty sure you can handle whatever someone is saying, then read away.

But never, ever argue. Even when they are wrong (factually, as opinions aren’t wrong), you’re the one who’ll look bad for arguing. You simply must get used to this now, because as a published author, you’re going to have to be professional about reviews. You have to accept whatever people say and you have to do it without disintegrating publicly. The best policy, for me, is NOT to look. Because I am sensitive and I am hurt when someone complains about my book. I try to realize that most of them aren’t criticizing me personally, but it can still be hard to take. Therefore, not looking is the best policy for me.

I’ve told you all this today so you will be brave when it comes to New Voices! Don’t let the fear of that one person who hates your work or tells everyone to avoid you stop you from taking this chance. Take it with hope, optimism, and pride — because you were brave enough to put your work out there for others to see. It’s a training ground, friends. When you are published, you’ll get all kinds of comments. Some are great and make you bounce. Some are bad and hurt your feelings. Some are downright ugly and make you want to break things.

It’s like anything in life. Not everything you do is going to succeed. But if you don’t at least try, you’ll never succeed. That is guaranteed. Best of luck to all you entrants! Be brave, do your best, and never, ever be ashamed of your work.