Friday, September 09, 2011

Gearing up for New Voices?

Four days remain until the big kick off of the Mills and Boon New Voices competition. Last year Leah Ashton won and joined the ranks of the Harlequin Romance line (and we're thrilled to have her!). I got to meet Leah in New York this summer and she's absolutely lovely. Not only that, two other authors have been bought as a result of the competition: Lucy Ellis and Louisa George! (Interesting how all three start with the letter L!)

It's a fun, crazy, whirlwind time that was hugely successful last year, and this year is geared up to be even better. Jodie Prenger is the celebrity judge for this year, as well as a judging team from Mills and Boon. 20 first chapters will be selected based on criteria of voice, content, and overall writing skills.

Each finalist will be assigned an author mentor and an editor to help them through the next stage(s) of the competition. Cool, huh? Those 20 finalists will then upload a second chapter, and then the field is narrowed to 4 finalists who will be invited to upload a "pivotal" moment, and then narrowed to the final winner. The prize? A publishing contract!

Rather than put all the Terms and Regulations here, you can read them on . The site is going to be updated soon with tons of new info. And please note - while the competition begins on September 13, you have until October 10 to upload your first chapter.

I thought it would be fun to give a bit of advice to those who are entering or perhaps sitting on the fence wondering if they should enter.

  • Some people have wondered if it is worth it. Last year there were over 800 entries.  Well, M&B receives thousands of queries every year. The truth is - good stories are good stories no matter how big the field. Someone has to win it. Why not you? What do you have to lose? Nothing! You stand to gain at the very least knowledge from the experience. At best a publishing contract. If you're vascillating, don't. You can't worry about someone else's story - just your own.

  • Watch the rules and guidelines, but don't sweat the small stuff. I know it's easy to panic about if your formatting gets screwed up, or you forgot quotation marks somewhere, or stressing about word count. What is REALLY important is STORY. So - as long as you've accounted for under 10,000 words for all THREE stages, don't worry about length of chapter one. And as long as you proofread, you'll be fine (though please do proofread. It sometimes is glaringly apparent who hasn't). Last year's winner had her formatting mess up. It was not the end of the world. She did win, right?  

  • When it comes to chapter one, a common mistake I see is too much set up. So much time is spent explaining who the characters are and what led them to where they are. But you want to engage the reader in the story right away so throw your characters right into the action. Don't show your heroine going somewhere (like on a bus or a train or driving in her car). Put her at the destination. If the hero is there messing things up, so much the better. Give them an immediate problem. For example, if the heroine is going to a party and she shows up half an hour late, put her at the door or on the steps. Tell the reader why being late throws a monkey wrench into EVERYTHING. Throw in a hero who complicates the whole works and we've got action and sizzle.

  • Make sure the hero also has a problem to solve. He needs to have his own conflict too. So if showing up half an hour late is problematic for the heroine, show how it's effecting the hero, too. If she's the baker bringing the cake and she's lost the engagement ring that's supposed to be cushioned in the buttercream, show how losing the ring is the worst thing that could happen to the hero. What's his deal? Maybe he's the potential groom's brother or best friend, in charge of ordering the cake and making sure the family heirloom ring is in place.

  • And finally - dig deep. What I've described thus far is only the hook - it's not really the conflict. The conflict is the deep down WHY - the characters' deepest desires and goals and why the other person is the worst - and best - person to make it happen. It's the heart and not the head. Maybe your heroine's goal is to be a high end pastry chef or baker to the rich and famous. But why? Perhaps she is determined to be independent so she doesn't have to rely on anyone. Who did she rely on in the past and how did they let her down? How has she decided not to ever let that happen again? How does the hero threaten that? Clearly the heroine would have to learn that sometimes it's okay to trust someone - to rely on someone - to trust LOVE, right? But you have to get to the root of that emotion and insecurity. THAT is your conflict. And the same for your hero. Why is it so important to do this job right? Does he want to marry his younger brother off so there is less pressure on him to keep the family line going? Why is he so determined not to get married (again?). What secret desires does he have and how does the heroine turn it on its head?

That's what's going to make your entry come alive. Sparkling characters launched right into the action.

If you haven't already, check out Liz Fielding's latest blog post. It has some great succinct info for crafting that first chapter. And beginning next week, there will be loads more information and advice for entrants on polishing up those chapters! Just keep checking and also join in the chatter at the New Voices Facebook page.


  1. Thanks Donna. So much to think about. One minute I think I've cracked it, next I think I stand no chance at all. But all the advice is so useful for the future, and I'll be entering just for the experience. Great post. Thanks again.

  2. I think we all need these little pep-talks right now! It's extremely easy to sweat the small stuff and let that make you freeze up over the whole thing.

  3. Thanks Donna. It all sounds so simple. NOT! Caroline x

  4. Thanks for all the encouragement. And I'm with Caroline. It all sounds so easy... in theory.