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 As an unpublished writer, you simply can't afford to spend valuable time talking about backstory.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? 🙂
Wow, you make me wanna shout! Get up there and keep on keeping on.
Thank you so much for all your invaluable help, and such a great, geat, post.
I have followed all these posts, and can’t tell you enough how much I have enjoyed, as well as absorbed what has been said.
You are a guiding light to many writers. All I can say, an inspiration from such a wonderful and helpful heart.
Thank you so much for your time and input into something that means so much to many writers.
I’m sure many have gained insight to the Presents line.
Oh, btw, Nora Roberts… Yes, my bookshelf is lined with her novels. 🙂
Hey, Suzanne! I’m so glad if any of this has helped you. I loved it when a published author took the time to encourage me before I sold a book, so I have to pay it forward and do the same. I wouldn’t be here without that encouragement. Without other writers sharing their journeys with me.
The rah-rah posts are my favorite to do! Because I feel passionately about telling other writers not to quit. I’ve seen people quit that were almost there. But they couldn’t take another rejection. I understand it, I really do, but it made me so sad too.
Don’t let that be you. 🙂 Figure out how to deal with the ups and downs of this crazy business in your own way, but keep writing.
I just wanted to say that I to have also followed all your posts and have been struck by just how motivating and inspiring you are. Its been a true gift you sharing all your valuble insights into the process of writing. I struggle so much with reading and believing, meaning the first two days after I finish writing something and read it I think its fantastic, a week later I hate it and loose all my confidence again, however what you wrote today really cheered me up and made me want to try again, no matter how many times I think it is wrong….
p.s And to Kimberly too…. 🙂
Hi, BB! Like I told Suzanne, it’s my pleasure to do this. I have to pay it forward.
Everything you’ve said about struggling with reading and believing, with losing your faith in something after a week – you are NOT alone, believe me. I don’t know a writer out there who hasn’t struggled with faith. It’s natural and ordinary, believe me!
You just have to keep moving forward, knowing that every word you write, every scene you revise, every story you complete will only make you that much better. Writing is like sports – practice makes you better. 🙂
Thanks so much Lynn for the great info and tips – and encouragement.
I think you mentioned that you didn’t have the MS finished when you entered? How long did it take for you to finishe and did you panic?
Hi, Anne! (Thanks for posting my cover on your blog, btw. I popped over and was thrilled to see it!)
You are right – my manuscript wasn’t finished. I had one chapter. I didn’t work forward after I entered the contest because, frankly, I was working on another book (a romantic suspense in fact!). So when I got that call, I hadn’t looked at my story in over a month.
But it was fine, because my editor had suggestions for me as I went forward! And yes, I panicked. But it was far better to work with her suggestions than to get all the way through and have to start again (though, ultimately, I did revise twice for her).
Timeline: I found out I won the competition at the end of March. I submitted the complete manuscript around the middle of June. Once I got revisions, I had about 2 weeks to turn them around. I did so, but the book still wasn’t quite right.
But I met my editor at conference the following week and we discussed it. So I went home, got sick for two weeks, then got back to work. I submitted the revised book (again!) on Sep 17th, got tweaks on the 19th, and completed them over the weekend. Since my editor was on vacation for the following two weeks, I had to wait for a verdict. But on Oct 6, I got the call.
Thanks for all your hard work. I appreciate your insight. Good luck to you.
Lynn, thank you so much for this amazing series on writing for Presents! You are such a generous soul!
I entered the Instant Seduction contest too, and I recall reading your entry. Loved it! I currently have a full manuscript at Richmond (since January)…fingers crossed 😉 ….but I have been given permission to enter the new competition in the meantime.
I keep going back and forth between two different works in progress….Aargh! Must make a decision!
Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and experiences!
Lynn, I read your bio and am tickled to discover you live in Alabama! How cool is that?! I live in North Mississippi! We’re practically neighbors, girlfriend! 😉
Hi, Trenda! Awesome news about your full manuscript in Richmond! Much good luck with that, and you are so welcome for the series on writing for Presents. I hope it helps to spark something for you. 🙂
North Mississippi, huh? We have a couple of people who come to our RWA chapter meetings from Mississippi. We’re Heart of Dixie and we meet in Cullman, AL. (Link in the sidebar.) We are definitely almost neighbors! I just drove through MS today. We were coming home from a funeral in LA. Drove up through Hattiesburg and Meridian before turning to head to Birmingham.
Lynn, thank you for the good luck wishes for my ms! I have so enjoyed your writing series here on your blog. I keep coming back to it for inspiration and encouragement.
I will definitely look into joining RWA and HOD….something I should have done eons ago!
Have a wonderful week!