Friday, October 14, 2011

New Voices - A little tough love

There's a lot of buzz still going on about the New Voices comp - the top 21 were announced yesterday and I've already chatted to my mentee, Vanessa, about her first chapter, what's coming next, and all sorts of other things. Before I go any further, let me just say two things. Vanessa is absolutely lovely. And so is her chapter. I read it and seriously had some writer envy going on. Her voice shines through, she's got conflict, both external and internal, distinctive characters, sexual tension, and spark. No small feat for 3000 words or so.

So it frustrates me just a bit when I read comments that put down the finalists, or cast criticism on the judging team and the company that sponsors this contest.

Mills and Boon doesn't have to hold New Voices. Believe me, there is enough slush passing through their office that they don't need another 1000 plus chapters. It's an immense undertaking, from coordinating to maintaining the site, providing a community, and of course, judging the entries and narrowing it down to 21. That 21 represents a mere 2% of entries. Naturally there are going to be a lot of good entries that don't make the cut.

For the most part the response AFTER the announcement has been positive - of COURSE people are going to express disappointment and even frustration. But most have been VERY supportive of the top 21 and wish them the best.

And yet there are the others. Sigh.

Yesterday I unfollowed someone on twitter simply because while I enjoy half of their tweets, the other half are venomous attacks on a celebrity. It blows my mind that someone passes judgment and dislike on someone they don't even know and who has no effect on their day to day life whatsoever, and then feels the need to spread it around the net. Negative energy - they haz it. And I'm out.

So here's the deal. I'm a firm believer that you get back from the universe what you put out there. There are a few sayings I like to adhere to - one being on the net for the most part it's usually in your best interest to smile from the wrists down. Not always easy, mind you. And the second being - don't post what you wouldn't want on the home page of your website. I thought about that as I considered writing this post, and then I decided yes, I have something important to say. Something that I hope helps writers in the trenches trying to break into publishing. Heck, trying to accomplish ANYTHING. Because anything worth having doesn't come easily.

And the truth is - you need to focus on what you can control.

This is not a business where you can afford to have hurt feelings. Because it is, first and foremost, a business. I think people forget that because it's also creative and especially with Romance writing it is based on emotion. But every publisher out there is in it to make money. So if your feelings are hurt because you didn't make it, it's not Mills and Boon's job to hold your hand. If it stings to feel you're not good enough, fine, but it's not their place to make you feel better. Truth is - you weren't rejected. Your story was. That is an important distinction. So what are you going to do about it? Take your toys and go home? Well, if you can, go for it. Paula Graves (Harlequin Intrigue) said once that if you can quit, do it. I agree. This is a tough business. I came close to quitting lots of times, but in the end I wanted to be published more than I wanted to be right.

So if you didn't make it - that's out of your control. What IS in your control? WHAT YOU DO NEXT. Michelle Styles always says it's what you do after the rejection that counts. So if going on a public forum and telling the publisher that they know nothing about their brand and they didn't make it clear what they wanted is your way of handling it, so be it. However, if you take the feedback you received and rework your chapter and submit it the usual way - and then finish the book - and then start another - if you understand what M&B is looking for by reading within the line you're targeting, joining a critique group, reading tips from authors within the M&B stable - well, in my books that's the road to success. Which one seems more productive to you?

I'm definitely not saying it's not okay to feel badly about it. Of course it is. Lord, that's what stocks of wine and chocolate are for, and sappy movies, and a bit of a wallow.

But going at the publisher and sour grapes is not doing you any favours. It is what it is. You need to decide what YOU are prepared to do. I used to say Don't Get Even - Get Published. One of my favourite biographies is David Foster's Hitman. Two things that stuck with me and I think nearly every day - because even after publication this is not easy (hah! I see pubbed authors nodding!) - is 1)the road to success is straight, and 2) look at everything as an opportunity.

The road to success is straight is what reminds me to focus on the prize and not get distracted. Everything I do should be intended to get me closer to that goal.

Look at everything as an opportunity. THIS HAS GREAT POWER, PEOPLE! It takes a negative and makes a positive. What did you get from this contest? Feedback? Meet someone who can be important to your road to publication? How are you going to take what's happened and work it to your advantage? Because you can. I promise you, you can. As Tony Horton says - you just need to get your head right.

And be gracious. I can tell you after writing 20 books now that editors know what they are doing. Every book I've ever written has been improved by my editor's keen eyes. The top 21 are there for a reason and nothing should take away from their success.

Get your head right. Mourn if you need to - it can be an important part of the process. And then - if you really want it - pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and keep going. Truly - the romance community is a fantastic place. You'll have lots of support  - if that's what you put out into the universe.

Best wishes to all of you.


  1. Donna,

    I wholeheartedly agree w/ you. I grew up in a very negative world and swore I'd never raise my children in one or live in one. I still have to remind myself of this from time to time but I feel better about the person I am.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Abbi :-)

  2. No one's perfect, and of course we have down days! I just think - no one is going to make it better FOR us - we have to do that for ourselves. It's actually a very empowering thought.

    I'm sorry you didn't make it through to the finals, Abbi - but I also know you're one of those who will pick yourself up and keep going. Persistence and positive attitude are key and I'm looking forward to seeing your name on a cover hopefully sooner rather than later! :-)

  3. Amen!
    My dad has this saying. I heard it a lot growing up, almost every time I left the house but especially when I left for college. "Don't forget where you came from." : )
    It was his way of telling me to remember to be good, kind and to respect myself and those around me.
    The contest is a great opporunity -- but it's just that -- ONE of many M&B opportunities.
    Thanks for the great post and reminder. : )

  4. Thanks, Donna for the beautiful comment. Will be linking here soon.

    Abbi :-)

  5. Well said, Donna. It's all about the journey and what we can learn from the experience.
    Great advice :)

  6. Well said Donna, and kudos to everyone who was brave enough to put their work out there.

  7. Well said Donna! There is a lot of nasty stuff out there at the moment. Yes I was disappointed not to get through - as was everyone else I'm sure - but it doesn't mean you have to slag off the 21 that have the opportunity to shine! Onwards and upwards I say. Caroline x

  8. Great post, Donna! I especially like what you said about the balance between what you put out in the universe and how it (eventully) returns to you.

    Success (and peace of mind) really does boil down to recognizing what you have control over and what you don't. Contest results = no control. WIP = total control. So you let go of one and embrace the other.

    Thanks for being a mentor to *all* of us. :)

    Mary Carroll

  9. As others have said: well said, Donna.

    I love that you write 'what you put out is what you get back'. My favourite book of all time (as my friends have all heard endlessly) is "The Secret": it's all about your attitude.

    I've wallowed (in champers), I've dried myself off, and now I'm editing my manuscipt. As Caroline said: onwards and upwards.

    Thanks, Donna!

  10. "Smile from the wrists down." Right on, Donna, that is so perfect. Always enjoy your blog and appreciate the positive energy you're continually put out.

  11. Well said, Donna! M&B gives an opportunity and this is great way to get feedback on your work as well.

    If nothing else at least this way prepares people for future bad reviews from the general public. If someone disregards all the feedback and go self-publishing, imagine the reviews coming their way from the reading public!

    Congratulations to the 21!

  12. Absolutely kudos to everyone who entered! It's hard enough to submit, but the contest made the chapters PUBLIC which is really tough. Thanks for mentioning that, Nell!

  13. Nas - you make such a good point about reviews. Case in point...I had a free read up for the last 2 weeks, and because of it I've had a lot of amazon reviews. Some have been fab. Some have been brutal. It's hard to ignore the brutal ones, but you just have to take whatever is valuable from it and let the rest be. The LAST thing I should ever do is respond to a negative review by trying to justify my work and negate their opinion. Ah, reviews - one more item on the list that I can't control. :-)

  14. I think it's only natural to be disappointed. Of course I wanted the MB editors to email me and tell me how much they loved my chapter. And it didn't happen.

    But I got some nice feedback and met a bunch of great new people and picked up the motivation to keep on trying. It would be such a waste not to notice all of those wonderful things because I was busy thinking negative thoughts.

  15. Thanks Donna for your post. It has been sad to see some of the comments. I loved your comment "smile from the wrists down!" and I will remember that phrase when social networking.
    Of course , people are disappointed, however they have to remember that NV is one very small step on a long journey to publication. If you persevere, you will reach your destination!

  16. Nice post, Donna, I couldn't have said it better myself. No point in beating yourself up if you didn't make the cut this time... And certainly no point in beating anyone else up either. Unfortunately I think a lot of things are said in the heat of the moment that people later regret. The thing about NV is it is very public, writers are very sensitive (especially romance writers, LOL!) and it's not all that surprising that the combination of the two leads to a lot of wayward emotions. Which is why it's always a good idea methinks to pause before pressing that send button!

  17. Anonymous9:52 p.m.

    excellent. Thanks Donna. Love your books btw

    Wendy Curtis