last minute prep for Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write 2014 contest!

We think we know how you  might be spending your weekend–getting ready to submit your manuscript at 10:00 on Monday, September 22nd! (that’s New York/Toronto time–we want to be sure all IT hands are on deck in case there are any issues!
And for the next ten days we’ll all be reading and commenting on manuscripts, hoping to find the 25 who will go on to the top round.

 

But before you send off that first chapter, don’t forget to check out today’s Calendar Events–and see what some of the highlights of yesterday were!

 

 

Pippa Roscoe watched Harry Met Sally–for work!–for inspiration on creating chemistry… 

Allison Lyons and Kathryn Cheshire answered questions on our Community Forums.

And to see our thoughts on the brave souls who submitted synopses, check here! :) 

 

So take your time to process all you learned this week and polish that chapter and then work on the rest of your manuscript. 

Good reading–and writing!

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Halfway there for the So You Think You Can Write week!

Wednesday had some more terrific information for authors and even readers!

As you know, conflict is vital–it’s what makes those characters we love get out and do something! So Julia Williams talks about conflict here.

But first you have to figure out your own writing style! Are you a pantser or a plotter? Caroline Acebo helps go over the benefits–and pitfalls!–of each. 

More blogs, Twitter streams, challenges and information rounded out the day. Are you finding it useful? What do you want more of for next time around!

Now get back to writing!

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Tuesday recap for So You Think You Can Write Conference!

What were Tuesday’s most exciting moments?

Well, one is easy, of course! As fans of this feedback page have found out, the feedback process is always exciting! Here are the critiques.

We also appreciated the insight into the life of a busy senior editor! Check out what Kathleen Scheibling’s day is like

And Laurie Johnson’s blog on conflict is also very useful! 

Of course the Twitter #Shelfies, Carly Silver’s blog on heroines and the Community forum live discussions with Susan Litman and Megan Long also give some insight into the process. 

Don’t miss the Twitter chats and info and everything else each day this week. More details can be found on our Events Calendar

Come back for more great info!

 

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Harlequin’s SYTYCW contest tips!

Did you participate in all the exciting events yesterday? Don’t forget to check out the Events Calendar for ideas! 

We just thought we’d recap a few of our favorite Monday tips…

First was an open Q&A on the Community Forums with Senior Editor Ann Leslie Tuttle and Associate Editor Laura Barth! These editors have the answers to the questions you ask!

And isn’t this chart fantastic? 

what category

 

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It’s starting! – Get ready for Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write 2014!

For the past three months we’ve had regular Friday meetings with editors, marketers, PR, social media reps, community members, and our IT department to prepare for the 2014 SO YOU THINK YOU CAN WRITE contest!

So now all the work we’ve done–blogs, posts, twitter prep, photos, forums and everything else–is about to unleashed for this year! :) 

Stay tuned for the next five days while we give you insight, tips, feedback, and comments on how to write the perfect Harlequin title. 

And then get ready to submit your own first chapters for feedback starting September 22nd. We’ll be open to submissions on our website Monday morning, and looking forward to reading all the fantastic entries as we search for the top twenty-five finalists, and the winner of this year’s contest! 

Go forth and read and learn–and write!

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First Page Feedback – Soul Tender

Sophia has sent in a Historical opening set in the 1920s–very intriguing! 

Chicago-1926

Thyra Edward’s paused outside of the Pullman companies Chicago headquarters to straighten her suit, a heavily starched navy Pullman jacket and knee-length skirt.

Company attire. Worn deliberately and, depending on the outcome of this summons by her employer, in defiance more so than out of habit, despite the fact that she had been with her employer more than six years.

Pushing open the sturdy door she noticed right before entering the words:

PULLMAN COMPANY
SUPERINTENDENT
JOSEPH BRICKMAN

Stepping into a large monochromatic office that smelled oddly of leather, her attention was drawn to the right to the room’s only occupant. The man whose name had been announced on the door stood in front of a maple wood desk, blond and broad-shouldered and at that moment a bit red-faced. He immediately motioned for her to sit down. Despite the force of his words which he took no time in lowering to the party on the receiving end of a phone call she wasn’t tempted to listen in. Instead her eyes were drawn to a pair of photographed faces on the green wall above his desk for two entirely reasons.

The first photo was the familiar face of her dad, his dark complexion contrasting starkly with the white suit of his Pullman porter uniform. His picture almost caused her to smile, then she noticed the bright gold lettering: EMPLOYEE REPRESENTATIVE PLAN in bold above the frame of him and the other photo. She stiffened. An unwelcome reminder that despite her father and her working for the same employer, they did not exactly agree on company politics.

Specifically on accusations of how the Pullman managers were underpaying and overworking almost 20,000 porters, nurses and maids in their employment. It made matters no better that until very recently all of those employees had been black while most of the company managers where white, her dad being one of the few exceptions.

The other photo contained, surprisingly, a man of the same race but dressed in a darker suit and hat similar in style and coloring to her own with the dark navy blue not picked up in the black and white photo. He was a strikingly attractive man at least twenty years younger than her dad with piercing eyes and an expression difficult to describe. Although the face seemed open, there remained something mysterious hidden as if saying what you see is not all you get.

Her dad’s gentle gaze held an authority built on experience and connections whIle his was in some way harder no less confident but built on something else entirely. Intrigued, but not liking that he was someone with his picture posted so obviously associated within the higher ranks of the ERP, the Pullman company union which according to her and other members of the Black Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), it was believed did not adequately represent the rights of its workers. So far, although it claimed to support equality by decreasing hours and increasing wages the ERP had done nothing but set itself up in direct opposition to the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) and other attempts by primarily younger black porters and nurse/maids, like her and her brother, to mobilize in support of their own rights to fair wages and fair treatment while on the job.

Still not knowing whether she was absent of a job, or had been summoned here merely to be reprimanded or something else entirely she sat down lightly on the upholstered seat in front of the superintendent’s desk.

First Page Feedback from the Historical Team!

I love the 1920s era, so I was excited to see the time period leap out at me here. From the first page, it’s clear that this story has a heroine who is willing to fight hard for what she believes in, which is always lovely to see! It’s also good to see when an author has done their research; this story promises to authentically address important political issues of the period.

However, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming if the reader receives a lot of information right on the first page. For example here, we do learn a lot about the heroine’s political feelings. Whilst we love to see a heroine with strong morals, so that readers can get behind her actions from the start, it might have been more effective to see more of her emotions on the page here. That way the reader can easily identify with the heroine, without first learning the details about her life. For instance; how is she feeling facing the possibility of losing her job? How could her emotions be conveyed through her actions in this opening section – whether that be defiant, nervous, a little lost, or a mixture of all three?

The glimpse of the man we assume to be this woman’s hero and the way she’s unsure what to make of him is intriguing. But her father’s photo added a little confusion; we didn’t quite get a sense of how the heroine really felt about him. For example, it’s suggested that her father is at odds with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and there’s strong disagreement between them – and yet this conflicts with his ‘gentle gaze’ that Thyra sees in the photograph.

Overall this showed definite potential! But it could benefit from trimming back the historical detail at the beginning, highlighting the emotions of the characters and remaining consistent and clear in the images conjured, in order to really make a powerful impact with this first page.

 

Thyra–an intriguing name–certainly seems to be determined to do something. Can’t wait to find out what!

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First Page Feedback – Heart Talk

Another Medical title! T.D. Jones (@TDJones5) has creating a great story!

“I won’t work with him again!” Samantha Summers insisted as she took a seat in front of the large desk. She sucked in a deep breath and slowly let it out. The news announced to her caught her off guard. She never expected to hear that the man she had
learned to hate was coming back.

“I don’t think you have a choice. He’s the best who’s applied.”

“You can’t do this to me, George.” Samantha quickly realized her tone was above the normal level one should have when talking to a boss. She had to calm down and state her case with professionalism. “Don’t you remember what he was like? He had an ego bigger than life. He did what he wanted, rarely listened to anyone. Surely after only ten years, you haven’t forgotten all the trouble he gave you.”

“I remember well, but ten years can change a person and he’s the best heart surgeon wanting to come to this area. I…we need him on our team.”

“He’s not a team player. Never was and you know that.” Samantha watched as George came around and rested his weight on the desk. Surely she could talk some sense in him. There was no way she was working with Joe Conrad again. The first time was a total disaster. “Please, Geo…”

“Stop, I’m not discussing this anymore. You will work with him and you two will be professional with each other. This is the only hospital in the area that will have two very successful heart surgeons and I will not have them acting like school kids. You were just starting out when you were together, you’re thirty five years old and I expect you to act it, Doctor Summers.”

Samantha knew when the Chief of Staff called her by her professional name, he meant business. She stood up and straightened her white jacket and fiddled with her employee badge. She glanced around the large room and then back at older man. She was wise enough to know she had lost the battle. “Yes, sir.” She quickly turned and was about to walk out when she looked back around and said, “I’ll never agree with this hiring, but because I respect you, I’ll be civil.” She spoke the words George wanted to hear, but what she didn’t tell him was she would do everything in her power to make sure Joe was so miserable he’d run for the door– again.

“Fine and don’t forget three o’clock tomorrow. I expect you to be front and center in the physician’s conference room welcoming him.”

Maybe George was right, people did change. She knew she had. She wasn’t the young, innocent girl struggling through medical school trying to keep grades up and trying to understand everything about the heart. Now a successful surgeon and nothing was going to get in the way of that, not even her past lover Joe Conrad.

 

First Page Feedback from the Harlequin Medicals team!

We loved the beginning of your story, as you immediately hooked us in with Samantha’s horrified response to her boss’s news. It is pacy and flows well, and you quickly establish why Samantha doesn’t want to see Tim again. 

You’ve set up a great premise for an intriguing story, and established from the start the all important emotional conflict between the hero and the heroine. We are now desperate to learn what it was that Tim did to her to make her feel this way! 

On a couple of smaller issues, it might be worth reining in Samantha’s reaction a little so she doesn’t appear too aggressive (wanting to force Tim out is perhaps a little extreme), and also show that despite her negative feelings there is the remnant of attraction there. Perhaps despite herself she can feel nervous/excited about seeing him again, and her treacherous body can tingle at the thought! 

This was a great beginning. Thank you!

Workplace conflicts always make for exciting story–and here there is really life and death on the line! :)

 

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First Page Feedback – Green Coat, Black Gloves, Red Handbag

A fascinating title–or shopping list?  Terry Barca (@terrybarca1) has some great visual images to capture readers in this romantic suspense story…

It’s the middle of Winter and there’s a gun in my handbag.

Actually there is a lot of stuff in there but mostly it’s the usual things that a woman carries, until you get to the envelope stuffed with money and the small calibre hand gun.

The envelope is a pretty shade of light blue and it came from a stationary set that I bought in a little shop in an arcade in Toorak.

I’d been visiting a friend who had made herself invisible in the previous few months.

I didn’t think too much about it, I was just trying to do better in the ‘friends’ department.

I’m a bit slack when it comes to friends so I was trying to make an effort. After several tries she eventually decided to meet me for lunch.

She was very bad company; obviously depressed and just barely able to put on a glad-face. It was painful but we got through it and we bought each other a writing set. I knew she liked to write letters so I thought it would be a fun way for us to keep in touch.

I never received a letter from her and a few weeks after our lunch she arranged for her son to come to her apartment on a certain day. When he arrived he found a note, written on the writing paper I had bought for her, a copy of her life insurance policy and her body, all neatly laid out.

She’d had enough.

Her affairs were in order and she simply, left us; almost as quietly as she had lived.

Her son was evasive about the contents of the note. “Just a goodbye note. Saying how much she loved us, that sort of thing.”

But, there was more to it than that, and while I was still grieving the loss of my friend I received a visit from a certain acquaintance who had come into possession of some information and if i wanted to make sure that the information remained a secret I was to bring along a certain sum of money to a certain park at a certain time on a certain afternoon. I’m on my way now.

It’s cold, but I have my gloves to keep my hands warm with the added benefit of not leaving fingerprints and protecting my hands from gunshot residue.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t actually decided to kill the blackmailing bastard.

I may give him the money instead.

I haven’t decided.

I may flip a coin.

I may kill him if it rains, spare him if it’s fine.

I wonder if he knows that his life hangs on the outcome of a weather report?

He deserves to die for what he did to my friend but that’s not how the world works; people rarely get what they deserve.

First Page Feedback from Patience Bloom

Even though this doesn’t read like the usual romance, I found this very intriguing! I wanted to know more about this potentially murderous heroine. There was a voice that resonated—with her wanting to be a better friend, of wanting revenge, or showing a quiet kind of reverence for someone who is “invisible.” These pages are short, but they pack a punch. I would definitely keep reading.

Just keep aware of some typos–and here’s a hint. StationEry (with the E for envelope) is for writing, while stationary is remaining still. :)

 

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First Page Feedback – Sweet Justice

Here is a Nocturne opening from Elle Clouse! (@ElleClouse) Not much paranormal, but there is something intriguing going on….

The shockwave rocked the fifth floor of the ChemPharm Industrial Company building. The lights flickered. Dust fell from the ceiling tiles as they shook in their rafters. She stood from her desk chair to look across the call center floor, phone representatives looking around them in alarm. A few stood at the narrow tinted windows gazing at the cityscape beyond.

Her brain started to catch up with reality, her grip around the flash drive in her hand tightened. She slipped it into her sweater pocket before anyone noticed the data storage device. Her little agenda would have to wait.

“Please keep calm.” Justice pushed her trendy thick framed glasses up her nose. “I’ll let you know what is going on as soon as I can.” She watched the other supervisors pop up from their cubicles and look around in confusion. Her email box showed no new email and her office phone remained silent.

A voice over the rarely used intercom: “May I have your attention please! May I have your attention please! All personnel evacuate the building immediately. Repeat: All personnel evacuate the building immediately.” The evacuation alarm sounded as soon as the intercom fell silent. Yellow lights started to flash. She watched the members of her team disconnect their lines and discard their headsets.

“Grab your purses,” a fellow supervisor called from across the room. Justice took a moment to grab her clutch from her bottom desk drawer. People were quick to make their way to the stairs. Justice walked down the row of cubicles to make sure every person left their station. With an explosion like she heard, no one would doubt the alarm. Protocol dictated all supervisors ensure their team left.

The last person disappeared down the stairs as Justice cleared the last cubicle row. The other supervisors had left. She rolled her eyes. A rumble started to grow throughout the whole building as she burst into the stairwell. Her lung filled with smoke, disorienting her. She reached for the metal railing and used it to guide herself down the stairs.

Only one flight down another explosion rocked the building, this one closer and louder.  The power flickered off and the flood lights kicked on. The alarms in the stairwell blared.

Justice willed her heart to slow down as it threatened to race from her chest to safety. The air stank of smoke and excellent. She prepared to take another step down but the stairs. Below her was burning office furniture, rubble, and a twenty foot drop.

Nowhere to go but up.

Someone would see her on the roof and be able to get to her before the whole building collapsed. Justice turned and used the same railing to help her go up the stairs. The smoke grew heavier as she ascended. She threw open the roof door and she gasped in the fresh air. The mid-morning sun strained her eyes as it was a stark contrast to the dark hall she emerged from.

First Page Feedback from Shannon Barr

This is a very dramatic beginning! Right off the bat, I am intrigued because I want to know if Justice is actually rescued from building, and why the building was blown up. But there are a few suggestions for improving the opening. 

The first few pages of a manuscript establish a background for the story, so we need to see the character’s full name instead of a pronoun right away (unless there is a specific reason why you are keeping the character’s identity secret from the reader, i.e. they are the killer in a suspense novel.) The object being to engage the reader with the character and get them invested in the character’s future.

It is also important to detail the character’s emotions. Working on a middle floor of a high-rise building myself, I am familiar with the emergency protocols—ours sound very similar, which is a great detail—but even with all the drill we have, I would probably still be panicking while exiting the building.

I’d love to see more detail of what she is feeling, and if she isn’t afraid, some background should be established for why she would be so calm when the floor, literally, falls out from under her. Justice doesn’t seem to be scared of dying at all… 

It is incredibly important to read over your manuscript for any typos or word errors before submitting to a publisher. You might even consider having a friend look it over because a fresh pair of eyes can see small details we tend to miss after looking at it so many times. Toward the end of the first page, excellent is used instead of accelerant, and there is a sentence that ends with, “but the stairs.” that seems like it should have more to it. These small errors can turn an editor off from a story before it even gets going because we have to read so many submissions.

Thank you, Shannon and Elle! I hope Justice does make it out safely. :) 

 

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First Page Feedback – The Paramedic’s Precious Bundle

Our Harlequin/M&B Medical Romances are popular all around the world. With high-stakes emotion and action, it’s easy to see why! Here’s a submission from @abbey_Macinnis1 

“Where’s she off too?” Jeremy watched with concern as a young woman ran across the road, straight into the path of the ambulance.

From her place behind the wheel, Debbie jabbed the horn and slammed on the brakes. “I don’t know why people are in such a hurry. Seems like all we do is rush.”

Jeremy quickly took in the young woman’s appearance. She seemed preoccupied, her clothes disheveled and unkempt. She remained in view until she cut through the alley on the opposite side of the street. “Maybe we should go after her,” he suggested. “She didn’t look well.”

Debbie guided the vehicle around the corner into the fire station’s parking lot. “I’m sure she’s fine. Probably running late or something. That’s how most teenagers are these days.”

Jeremy kept one ear open for Debbie while he scanned their surroundings. He spotted what appeared to bee a rapped bundle on the lawn. His heart rate quickened and palms grew damp when he observed the edges of a blanket fluttering in the dry, hot breeze.

It can’t be.

Jeremy hoped his suspicions were wrong. A baby could die in this July heat. He forced down the rage at someone for leaving a defenseless child to the elements and allowed his medical training to kick into high gear. Whomever had abandoned this baby had left them in the right place where they’d be found and cared for.

“Stop.”

Adrenaline powered through him. Before the vehicle came to a full halt, Jeremy threw open the door. He jumped to the ground and sprinted to the grass.

Debbie followed on his heels. He dropped to his knees inches from the blanket. His partner’s shocked gasp barely registered as he steeled himself to push back one corner to peek inside.

His breath caught in his chest as his gaze collided with the glossy, unfocused stare that reminded Jeremy of another time and place and baby.

The baby omitted a weak cry. “The note here says his name is Collin.” Debbie brought him back to the present.

Jeremy gave a mental shake as with a detached air, he cataloged Collin’s symptoms. “The little guy’s only hours old and dehydrated and hypothermic.”

And near death’s door if they didn’t hurry to get him oxygen and fluids. He didn’t need to spell out the obvious to Debbie. They’d worked together long enough to know what the other needed.

He willed his grip to remain steady as he carefully bundled Collin in his arms. He pulled in a silent breath as he struggled to keep the dark memories of that horrible night at bay. That night where he’d lost all that had mattered to him. Clara and their baby were gone. Even after two years, guilt of losing them still made his chest ache.

First Page Feedback from the HMB Medical Team

We really enjoyed reading your submission, and it certainly has a dramatic beginning, and great last line! The writing is pacy and readable and we wanted to read more and find out both about Jeremy’s background and what was going to happen to the baby. 

However, here are a few things you might like to consider which might make this beginning even pacier. 

It is a great hook to have the ambulance nearly crash at the beginning, but we think it might be even more dramatic if the ambulance screeches to a halt and then your hero reacts. It would be nice to see the woman look up, perhaps in horror, before running off, and while they could consider following her, for the purposes of the story, it would probably better if they are immediately distracted by the baby, then realise they have just seen the mother running away. 

You might also like to consider showing a short flashback from Jeremy’s past, so the reader gets some insight why him finding the baby is so significant. 

On more specific details we wondered if the baby would be suffering from dehydration and hypothermia at the same time. 

Also we felt that Jeremy wasn’t a very sexy name for a hero, so you might want to look at that too. 

On a very minor point, “bee” is a typo, as is “rapped” and “omitted” and others.

This was a good attempt and there is much to like here. Unfortunately, it isn’t quite yet at the standard we require, but we are enclosing some guidelines for writing Medical Romance which may help you. 

With best wishes

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