The FINAL Challenge! Submit Your First Chapter and Synopsis

Now it’s your turn!

Are you ready to show us what you’ve got?  Well, we’re ready to read your work.  It’s time for you to fine-tune your opening chapter and synopsis.  Here are some pointers to get you started:

The Opening Chapter:

  • Begin your story in an exciting place. Does your story open with the heroine picking out yarn to use for her next sweater?  Or maybe the hero can’t decide if he should put skim or whole milk in his coffee. These more mundane activities can be woven into the main story, but for the opening chapter, you should work on luring the editor/reader into your tale.
  • Remember not to begin with a gimmick.  Often, a sex scene can seem a cheap way to get a reader’s attention.  For a romance, it’s easier for the reader to buy into the sex scene if there’s an emotional investment in the characters.  We want to know a little more about them before intimacy.
  • Try to steer clear of clichés. For example: the heroine is rushing out the door and runs smack into the hero.  You know what clichés are because you read them over and over again—and you can almost see them coming.  When you’re tempted to insert a cliché, try to put it off.
  • Strong points of view win the day.  You could have a character doing a mundane action if the point of view is fun to read.  The heroine could be brushing her hair, if she’s planning something devious, something exciting.  This is often the exception to the rule, but if you have a strong voice, you can get away with a lot more in the opening chapter.
  • End your chapter with a bang.  This is what film buffs might refer to as the “inciting incident,” which propels the character on the journey.  The heroine could realize she’s trapped in the elevator with her (very good-looking) enemy; the hero’s estranged wife could inform him that she’s pregnant with his child.  You get the picture.  Think of this ending as the ultimate challenge for your characters.  And, of course, by the end of this chapter, we will be desperate to find out if they decide to take the challenge.
  • Keep the chapter to twenty-pages or under (with 12 point size so that we can read it). Please double-space your prose, using one-inch margins.

The Synopsis:

Ah, yes, the dreaded synopsis.  We know they’re not fun to write, but they can help keep you on track and they help editors in a variety of ways. The ideal synopsis is between 5-7 pages, showing a clear vision of the story’s arcs and characters. As editors, we want to see how the characters develop and how they’re tested. In addition, we need to gauge if your story builds in momentum to the end. If not, we can help you find ways to strengthen your plot. Often, if a synopsis is too short, the writer isn’t quite sure what he/she is writing.  If the synopsis is too long, the writer might be bogging down her/his story with too much detail and not enough romance. You want to get to that “just right” synopsis-length that gives a clear overview.

So, the question is: Are you ready? If so, we would love to read your first chapter and synopsis. Making sure to put “SYTYCW 1st Chapter & Synopsis” in the subject heading of your email, feel free to submit to the same email address: ucanwrite@harlequin.ca by December 15, 2010 at 6pm EST.  Our panel of experts will read every one of your proposals and consider pursuing submissions further. We will update you on our results by January 31, 2011. We thank you for your fabulous participation this week.  Good luck!

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Comments ( 41 )
  1. Ginny Lester
    November 20, 2010 at 10:29 am
    Reply

    Good morning,

    The one question asked that I did not see an answer to is, do we send our submissions in the body of an e-mail or can we send as attachments? Thank you so much for this opportunity. What a challenge! Love it!

    Ginny

  2. Stacie
    November 20, 2010 at 11:30 am
    Reply

    This is one of my first writting contests and I’m a little confussed about how to enter. Do I just E-mail the stuff to you? Or do I have to post something on the blogs? I’m really confussed here and I really need some direction here…Please help!

    ~Stacie

  3. So You Think You Can Write? « Waiting for "The Call"
    November 20, 2010 at 9:24 pm
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    […] is that I want to have something new finished, at least in first draft, to sub to the Harlequin So You Think You Can Write competition. These one chapter and synopsis contests, with a guaranteed response time, are too good […]

  4. Gratitude ABC « Waiting for "The Call"
    November 25, 2010 at 11:39 am
    Reply

    […] without needing a whole partial worked up, like the Medical FastTrack, New Voices, and next up So You Think You Can Write. I know I write better if I do the whole first draft first, I write my way in and my stories change […]

  5. Olga
    December 7, 2010 at 11:11 am
    Reply

    @Ginny: You can send as an attachment.

    @Stacie: Yep, just send an email to ucanwrite(at)harlequin.ca. Read the full page here for all of the details, Stacie!

    Thanks!

    Olga @ The Harlequin Blog

  6. Denise
    December 8, 2010 at 7:16 pm
    Reply

    Good Afternoon ~ I’m curious if once we do submit if there is a confirmation of receipt. Thanks so much!

    • Olga
      December 9, 2010 at 10:04 am
      Reply

      Hi Denise,

      You won’t receive a confirmation of receipt as you’re sending us your submission as an email. Sorry for the low-techyness of it, but our email servers are quite sturdy! If you haven’t received a response by January 31st, which is OUR deadline to respond to all submissions, please send another email to the same address and we’ll get in touch. Thanks!

      Olga @ the Harlequin Blog

  7. Rachel Ope Morgan
    December 10, 2010 at 5:26 am
    Reply

    I want to know if we can send the first chapter and synopsis as an attachment and still copy and paste it in the body of the mail, as a back up, just in case one refuses to open.

    Thanks for this spectacular opportunity. I will not disappoint.

  8. Amy from Harlequin
    December 10, 2010 at 12:23 pm
    Reply

    I think a couple questions were still hanging:

    1) The manuscript does not have to be complete, it can be a work-in-progress. Just keep in mind you don’t want to lose an opportunity if you get a request for more by not having a good start on the rest of the story underway!

    2) Subs aimed at any line will be considered, including the single titles.

    3) Yes, you can submit for any line edited out of either Toronto, New York or the UK (like Riva).

    4) @mkbarrett — I don’t think your concept will be a problem for Spice. Your best bet would be to submit (with a note that’s what you’re aiming for) and hopefully the Spice editors have some good feedback for you!

    5) In general, I think editors prefer attachments since they’re easier to print out. Please include enough information in your email about your story, line you’re interested in, etc. so it gets to the right editorial team.
    ~Amy

  9. Kelly
    December 15, 2010 at 11:57 am
    Reply

    I sent my first chapter and synopsis in already but didn’t put what line it was directed to. Should I resubmit it with that line or just let it be?

  10. Marcie
    December 15, 2010 at 12:42 pm
    Reply

    What is the preferred attachment type: MS Word or PDF?

  11. Amy from Harlequin
    December 15, 2010 at 1:22 pm
    Reply

    @Marcie – MS Word, please.

    @Kelly – you can send a follow-up email to clarify, but please don’t resend the whole submission.

  12. Paprika
    December 15, 2010 at 2:51 pm
    Reply

    Thank you so much for this opportunity and your help and encouragement to those of us who wouldn’t have gotten up the guts to send something in otherwise.

    Having just written my first synopsis (yikes), I have a suggestion.

    The synopsis sample that is linked off the Extras: Submission Samples at eharlequin.com is 5 pages long, but is not complete. As a result, isn’t helpful for learning how to close the synopsis. And it appears to cover, I’d estimate, about 3 chapters of material, so the detail level is way off from what it needs to be to come in at 5-7 pages for an entire manuscript.

    I expect you’d prefer to receive synopsis of a certain detail, so perhaps providing a sample that is complete and the right length would be in aid of that. I know it would have been helpful to me. I felt I was working blind on how to condense down after copying the style of the example to get started.

    But, it was an very helpful exercise, actually, once I got into it, so thanks for that learning experience too.

  13. Reminder: So You Think You Can Write Submission Deadline December 15!
    January 5, 2011 at 6:26 am
    Reply

    […] more about Harlequin and what it takes to write a romance novel. As part of SYTYCW, we set out a  final writing challenge: submit a synopsis and first chapter of your manuscript to ucanwrite[at]harlequin[dot]ca by 6:00pm […]

  14. Brad
    August 24, 2011 at 2:48 am
    Reply

    A love story that crosses bothy space and time.

  15. Reminder: So You Think You Can Write Submission Deadline December 15! | I (Heart) Presents
    October 6, 2011 at 8:24 am
    Reply

    […] more about Harlequin and what it takes to write a romance novel. As part of SYTYCW, we set out a  final writing challenge: submit a synopsis and first chapter of your manuscript to ucanwrite[at]harlequin[dot]ca by 6:00pm […]

  16. trish dechant
    October 17, 2011 at 8:48 am
    Reply

    I am currently working on my manuscript and it is a contemporary romance that I am hoping to write for Harleaquin Blaze. My question is this–must the manuscript be finished prior to submitting the first chapter and synopsis for this challenge? Thank you for your time.

  17. amenla
    April 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm
    Reply

    My 15 year old daughter has written a fiction novel and prepared a synopsis of her book with the hope that she can submit to a screenplay writer could you be interested to go through it ? Thanks.

  18. Erika Jones
    December 5, 2012 at 2:05 pm
    Reply

    I have yet to write a synopsis for my book, I keep forgetting I should write one out, but this is still going on right? I mean, it’s two years old, we can still submit our first chapter and our synopsis? I would be so thrilled if that’s remotely possible!

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