I’m a finalist in the Mills & Boon New Voices contest. Please vote for me at the New Voices website. (The site requires you to register to vote, which is easy and painless)
It’s not my first contest final but it’s a crucial one because the prize is so great – the winner receives the services of a Mills & Boon editor for a year and publication of their book. This contest has taught me a lot about writing, but the most important lesson has been about publishing, not craft. Lots of people can write and the fantastic entries submitted prove that. So what else will I need to win?
Mills & Boon designed the contest in a very specific way. Judges culled the top ten finalists from over eight-hundred entries because they saw something the Mills & Boon team calls a “…’New Voice’ . So that might be someone who doesn’t have enough dialogue, for instance, but we see a spark of something, a clear and distinct voice that we think that we could work with and help them to hone their craft and writing to publication standard.”
My mentor team, comprised of the fabulous Heidi Rice and Sally Williamson, took this concept to the limit. They didn’t like my second chapter. Or the next attempt. And so on. The version of chapter two I submitted to the contest is my fifth major rewrite and includes a point of view change in the first scene. I turned it around in a week. That’s what I think the judges are looking for.
Someone who can take direction, re-envision their story, but keep a distinctive voice and do it while under pressure. I threw every spare moment into this amongst real life challenges such as lingering bronchitis I can’t get rid of, a sick four-year old who kept me up at night, a birthday party for my nine-year old,and a husband who worked about ninety hours in the last week. I wanted to cry. I wanted to break things.I wanted to quit and find a nice job at Borders. But I did it. I’ve never felt more like a writer and I’ve never been more proud of something I’ve written.
I mentioned none of this to my mentoring team because while I’m sure they would be sympathetic, everyone has professional and personal challenges. This is the big time and I want to be a published author, not whine about my excuses. (I will pause here to say thank you to my friends who let me whine to them and are still speaking to me. I love you guys.)
At its heart, publishing is a business designed to make money. In addition to examining and providing feedback on how I handled the editorial and mentoring process, I expect the team to review my comments on other people’s entries (Is she professional at all times? Does she understand story elements and can she convey issues constructively?), my participation in discussions (Is she committed to this contest?) and now, my strategy for promoting the contest and soliciting votes (Can she promote herself and her book?).
Though I have no special insight into this, I believe all of these elements will go into the judge’s decision and also factor into whether I get a second chance if I don’t win. If not here, I’ll get a chance somewhere else. At the end of the day, being a published author isn’t about producing the most outstanding story ever written, though it’s critical to be proficient. It’s about being a dedicated professional who understands publishing is an industry but still loves it.
I love the chapter I wrote, not because it’s technically perfect or because it’s better than anyone else’s, but because it stretched me as a writer and showed me what I’m made of. I’m a winner even if I don’t win the New Voices contest because I know I have what it takes to be a published author.