Hey, can you believe we've gone through eight of these posts already? Today, I think we're up to the wrap-up. I can't believe I had so much to say about writing for Harlequin Presents, and I have to thank Kimberly for helping me out with the Modern Heat posts. I might even have learned a thing or two — namely that I can't write for Modern Heat! 🙂
So what's left? Not much, I think. Basically, we've talked about why you want to write these books, the hero, the heroine, the emotional conflict, crafting the first chapter, and the global voice. I've covered pace when I've talked about crafting that first chapter because I've told you it needs to move along without being encumbered by backstory.
Someone asked about flashbacks, and my gut feeling is to avoid these like the plague. When you go into flashback you are simply finding another way to tell backstory — and you are stopping the forward motion of your story to do it. Keep moving forward. As an unpublished writer, you simply can't afford to spend valuable time talking about backstory. Keep moving forward, keep the reader engaged. When you have a couple of books under your belt, and a readership who buys your stories whenever they hit the stands, you can try the long flashback in Chapter One. Until then, resist the urge. Feed backstory into your story in bite-size pieces.
Now for my general advice! Read a lot. Read across genres, but read many, many Presents if this is what you want to write. Study them and see if you can figure out why they work. Because the writing competition, though fabulous, is not your only chance to see your story published with Harlequin Presents! I won and sold my story, but other writers got requests too; Tina Duncan sold her story after working through revisions with an editor. She was not even a runner-up — so take heart! If you don't get that call that you won, or that you are a runner up, it's not over for you.
You simply must keep writing. If this story isn't the one, the next one might be. Or the next. Writing, as much as we love it and put our heart and soul into it, is a business. It's a job, and the writer who sits down and works, who doesn't wait for inspiration from the muse (or for the stars to align, the dog to stop barking, or the perfect idea) is the one who will sell and have a career. Deadlines are a great motivator, believe me. If you have to trick yourself into thinking you have one, then do it.
And yes, I know that when you already have the editor who will read your baby and tell you what to fix, it might seem a bit easier to complete the book — but you have to learn to do it sometime, and it's a really good idea to learn it now, before the editor is flipping through her calendar and saying, “So when can you get this to me?” You don't want to make a mistake and tell her it'll take you three months when it'll really take you six. You'll only know this by writing a lot and completing books.
Another thing: the more you write, the better you will get. We all have doubts, we all have fears, and we all think we can't pull it off or that it's all wrong. If you keep writing, you'll bust through those barriers at some point (the ones on this specific book) and reach the end. And the end is what you must reach. Again and again and again. Do you think Nora Roberts writes when the mood strikes or the perfect idea hits? I think she probably writes a whole lot more than I do, and so I picture her in what must surely be her gorgeous custom office, hunched over her keyboard, typing furiously. And it makes me want to write too, makes me keep going long past the point I'd have flitted off to do some online shopping or something (though I still succumb on occasion).
You'll find your own motivator, of course. It's not just Nora that motivates me. I have an entire RWA chapter full of amazingly talented writers who seem to keep producing books, so I can't let them pass me up. Gotta keep working. Whatever it takes, right?
Remember that where you are today as a writer won't always be where you are. You may be a beginner, or you may be on the cusp of selling. This is not an instant, scratch-off business. Your talent is not measured by how long it takes you to reach the point of selling a novel. If you don't sell soon, keep writing. If you do sell soon, keep writing (they'll expect it!). See, it's the same for all of us. Keep writing.
Don't let anyone tell you that you are an untalented hack who'll never make it. You may have room for improvement, and that's fine, but don't let anyone stop you permanently. You may have gotten a rotten comment on a contest entry; wait until you get a bad review — criticism doesn't stop, though instead of a private comment on a private entry, it'll be out there for everyone to see. Shrug off contest comments as bad reviews (though of course you must decide if there is merit to comments because sometimes someone is trying to help you break through a hurdle). Eat chocolate, drink wine, wallow for a day or two. But really, really don't let anyone stop you for long.
Best of luck if you are entering the Mills & Boon contest! If not, then best of luck getting your manuscript ready for submission.
I think that's it! Any questions? 🙂