My writing life
They say that life begins at 40 and that was certainly true of my writing life.
I’d always aspired to be a writer but life got in the way and it was not until my 40th birthday that I decided that if I didn’t get moving and do something about achieving my ambition, I would still be daydreaming about it when I was old enough to retire.
I knew I wanted to write romantic novels. By chance I read an article by a new writer who mentioned that she had been published after receiving help from the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer’s Scheme -https://romanticnovelistsassociation.org/membership/.
Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer’s Scheme.
Intrigued, I discovered that the scheme opens each year in January. There is much competition for places, which are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis. Once allocated a place, new writers have until the end of August to prepare a full or partial submission. They then receive a reader’s report containing feedback and advice from a professional, experienced writer.
That year I did finish a manuscript of 50,000 words (just) and sent it off on the last day of August. A few weeks later, I received a reader’s report. I won’t lie – I was scared to open it.
New Writers’ Scheme Reader’s Reports – Not for the Faint Hearted!
The Reader’s Report was encouraging and helpful but it pulled no punches in telling me what was wrong with my manuscript.
First, the reader hated my hero. I had fallen into the classic trap of writing an alpha male who was almost a bully.
Secondly, my heroine was weak and insipid – why didn’t she stand up for herself, my reader wanted to know?
I realised that I had modelled my book on romances I had loved as a teenager in the 80’s – romances which were now well out of step with the times. It occurred to me (belatedly) that if I met my hero in real life, I would be running in the opposite direction as fast as my legs could take me! Did I want a man who wanted to control and dominate me in real life? No! So, why would I want one in my fantasy life? And if I met my heroine in real life, would I like her? Definitely not! I’d be telling her to get a grip and get a life!
The third problem the reader identified was that the characters did not change and develop enough throughout the story – they lacked character arcs. Without the ability to learn and evolve as a result of what was happening to them, they were flat and one dimensional.
The reader suggested reading up-to-date books from the lines I was interested in. She also suggested reading some guides to writing romance. I realised, at that point, that I needed to put some serious work in to understanding how stories are structured and characters developed before I was going to be able to write a successful book.
Harlequin Blitz Call for Submissions
I decided that I needed to start smaller, so I began to write short stories. I was overjoyed when the first one was published and that gave me the impetus to keep going.
Meanwhile, I read all of the books recommended to me I began to see how character arcs worked in stories that I loved. I also thought a great deal about what kind of traits a hero or heroine in the twenty-first century should have.
Finally, I saw an advert for a Harlequin Desire Blitz. Harlequin is one of the world’s biggest romance publishers, with many different lines and imprints – guidelines can be found here https://harlequin.submittable.com/submit
They occasionally run a ‘Blitz’ where they ask for submissions of the first chapter of a book (approximately 5,000 words) and a synopsis of the rest of the story. If they like what they see, they may then ask for a full or partial manuscript. There was no harm, I thought, in giving it a go…
So, my first Blitz crashed and burned…
So, I submitted Romancing the Rancher to Harlequin Desire and received this feedback:
Our readers love the fantasy of wealth, drama and a bit of juiciness. This ultimately felt too realistic to provide the romantic escape our readers are looking for. In addition, some of the extra detail slowed the pacing.
Oh, well. Back to the drawing board. Over the next eight years, I continued to write short stories. They grew longer and longer as I became increasingly confident at structuring and pacing more complex plots.
I continued to submit to Harlequin Blitz competitions and began to send pieces to other publishers. Finally, I sent a one chapter submission to a Harlequin Dare Blitz and was thrilled to receive the following response:
I loved the first chapter… and I'd love to read the rest of the story. Holly and Mac had great chemistry, and Mac is such a fantastic alpha male—the perfect mix of protective and caring. Whenever you've finished with the full, I'd love to read it.
YES, YES, YES!!! At last!
But they wanted the full manuscript. And now I needed to make sure it was perfect.
At that point, I realised I really needed the help of the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme.
It was time to brave the Reader’s Report once again.
So, in 2018, I signed up once again for the New Writers' Scheme and wrote what would become Midsummer Man.
Midsummer Man – What the Reader Said.
I won’t lie – I was so nervous when I received the report.
I sat in my sunny living room with a fortifying cup of tea by my side, opened the Word document, and began to read.
This book was the work of a polished, professional writer. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This is everything I want– a slice of escapist fun, two well drawn, sexy characters who are strong but flawed, an intriguing and enticing set up… snappy dialogue, good descriptions… and great sex scenes. What is there not to love? It takes a great deal of skill to be able to pull off this type of writing.
I am struck by the depth of this piece. From the opening, I had expected a light-hearted, x-rated romp, it has developed into something far deeper and more affecting than I was expecting.
I loved this book… I read it in one lovely, long, indulgent go – in my favourite reading place, glass of wine beside me, blanket over my legs and dog snuggled up beside me.
Instantly, in my mind’s eye, I could see her… and the idea that she had read my book and loved it – well, I felt totally dazzled by the idea.
A reader loved my book.
They actually loved it.
The Romantic Novelists’ Association Annual Conference
The reader did suggest some small changes, which I made. Then I saw the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference advertised.
The conference offered NWS members the opportunity to talk one-to-one with editors and agents about their manuscripts, as well as the chance to mix with actual published writers.
Could I go? I admit, I was apprehensive – I’m no fan of walking into rooms full of strangers.
But if I was going to become a writer, I needed to learn about the industry.
Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference 2019: University of Lancaster.
I needn’t have worried. There were loads of newbies going from the New Writers’ Scheme.
We were able to get in touch via Facebook before going, and the NWS Coordinator at the time, Imogen Howson, arranged an NWS drinks event on the first night of the conference.
I was really taken aback at how friendly people were. Even really well-known romance writers were open and friendly and encouraging, and there was no sense of hierarchy.
There were a fascinating range of talks on offer, ranging from ‘ask the agent’ to ‘how to market your book’ to ‘How to Write a Mills and Boon.’
The one-to-one meetings with editors and agents gave much food for thought, and some of the suggestions I received helped to polish Midsummer Man further.
But for me, the greatest value of the conference was in the conversations I had and the friends I made.
The conversations suddenly made an actual career as a writer seem possible. They challenged me to think strategically, not just about the one book I was writing, but what I wanted to write in future. Did I want to write series? Sagas? Fantasy? Young Adult? Romance or women’s fiction or even literary fiction?
And the friendships I made there have endured. Since that conference, several of the friends I made have had their books published.
Now they are there as I too take my first steps into publishing Midsummer Man.
Another great benefit of the conference was that I got to hear lots of publishers talking about their imprints, and lots of authors talking about their publishers.
When I got home, I researched them all, considering their submission requirements, reputation, publishing models etc.
Those that I researched included:
Boldwood Books https://www.boldwoodbooks.com/submissions/
Hera Books https://www.herabooks.com/submissions/
Please note, I do not endorse these publishers – they are just some of the publishers I considered, whose submission guidelines seemed like a good fit for Midsummer Man. There are many other great publishers out there who only accept longer submissions etc.
Finally, I sent off Midsummer Man to a select list. And surely, there is no lovelier feeling in the world than reading an e mail which says:
We would love to offer you a contract.
And it arrived just days before my 50th birthday… almost ten years to the day after I made the decision to become a writer. Surely, the best birthday present I could ever wish for!
Midsummer Man is available for pre orders from 4 May, 2021, and launches on 15 June, 2021.
Find out what happens next as I work towards the launch of Midsummer Man on my blog.