I don’t feel qualified to give writers advice, but I would say this – something I have learned is to ‘write the book of your heart.’ I don’t refer to romance when I say that. I mean a book in any genre.
Write it YOUR way and stuff all the technical lectures about ‘what editors want’ that you have been fed. As you become more experienced at writing you realize that a good deal of the time, editors DON’T know what they want, but they’ll know it when they see it, i.e. it has to be a book that grabs them.
If you don’t write with your emotions lying naked and pulsing blood with each sentence, the reader (not to mention an agent or editor) will pick that up right away. It’s a long apprenticeship that we writers endure, so understand that you must bleed and give, give, give.
Also, get yourself several critique partners, either online or locally. Be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. If you have several, their varying opinions may help you see your work more clearly. There can be danger in having only one crit partner, because you may be swayed in the wrong direction for YOUR writing. Always assume ownership of your writing. Take their advice pleasantly and quietly ditch it if you know it is inappropriate. And if you strike a derogatory and difficult crit partner, wriggle out of the relationship. Life is too short to waste time on people who might damage your ability to write.
Judging Contests: This is a great way to read other people’s books for free! More importantly, from a selfish point of view, it is an excellent way to improve your own writing skills. You can think, ‘Ooh…that doesn’t sound right. I would have put something else there.’ Or perhaps you have been asked to judge in a genre you haven’t read before. It may open your eyes to see that the genre you were totally uninterested in can be thrilling and challenging. It might even prompt you to try to write in that genre yourself.
Remember you are judging, not critiquing, when you judge the work of others. Don’t try to rewrite excerpts in your own style except as a quick example. Contests now are very varied e.g. some ask for an outline and the first chapter; some may want the first 50 pages; some want two columns to a page etc. It is up to the contest co-ordinator to check out if the entry falls within the rules of the contest. As a judge, don’t worry about whether the font is one of the required ones; don’t nitpick if the writer has a tendency to use capital letters for a particular item that doesn’t need capitalizing.
As a judge, your job is to be impartial and also to encourage newbie writers. A handful of kind words will encourage the entrants a lot more than a sharp, negative phrase. I’ve received some really nice cards and thank-you notes from entrants in the past and I’ve been thankful that I aimed for constructive criticism e.g. ‘You say you are aiming this book at Dorchester. May I suggest that your style is more in keeping with Avon?’
Every year I am one of a big bunch of judges for awards such as the Ruby and Emerald awards as well as the Australian Romance Readers Association pick of favourite romance books of the year which encompasses all sorts of subgenres. My favourite contests to judge however is the Valerie Parv Award (unfortunately Valerie is no longer with us but she gave SO MUCH to the writing industry because she was not "just a romance writer” but had delved deeply into other genres). The VPA is intended more for beginners and as a judge I am very conscious that I might put off forever some budding author. At the same time they need to know that some of their techniques might be unacceptable to many publishers, so the judge needs to tread a fine line…These contests have opened the doors for many a budding writer and they are IMPORTANT.
Yes, I find judging very rewarding. Heck, I’ve derived some of my better ideas out of judging. Something someone has written has lit a flashbulb in my head and I’ve been able to construct a whole character around that idea. Also, I enjoy judging. I’ve always liked helping people in their work, one of the reasons I enjoyed h.r. so much.
Try it and see. As a writer, either published or unpublished, judging is one of the most rewarding things you can do.
Now – forget the lecturing. Below are some handy websites for readers and writers. Some give advice on how to write a query letter, others show you how to get the best out of your research:
I did an interview about the Regency era and a 'discussion' with the heroine of DANGEROUS HOMECOMING:
This site gives you the bases of names and their nationalities.
It also has a random name generator especially for writers and screenwriters. Very handy.
If you wish to join a loop for Regency readers and writers, go to: yahoo.com/group/TheRegencyReader/join
http://www.britishempire.co.uk/timeline/19century.htm Excellent for relating your writing and reading to various historical occurrences.
www.georgianindex.com. Everything you ever needed to know about the Georgian era.
www.rasley.com. Alicia’s site is a miracle for readers and writers. Loads of information, online courses and references with kernels of hard, gritty truth buried among all that useful stuff.
www.dellejacobs.com. This lady’s site reflects her personality. Her son has devised a website that is very ‘Delle.’ She is an indefatigable researcher and has a wealth of general writing experience.
www.annegracie.com. Anne writes Regencies and dispenses very, very useful advice to writers on her website – stuff like writing the dreaded synopsis and how to avoid abrupt switches in point of view so as not to confuse the reader. A vibrant and hard-working Australian with a heart of gold.
http://lisagardner.com. Yup, not only are Lisa’s suspense books chilling and enthralling, her website is one of the best. She advises on how to write stuff like query letters, blurbs, synopses – all the creepy things that freak out writers, any writers, not just suspense writers.
www.oldbaileyonline.org This is fascinating reading for followers of crime and punishment in Britain through the ages.
thebeaumonde.com/resources/the-regency-reader The Beau Monde, a specialty chapter of the Romance Writers of America®, is a community of Regency writers, both published and unpublished, who specialize in the Regency genre.