So You Think You Can Write Wrap Up
by Kathleen Scheibling, Senior Editor
In November 2010, the Harlequin editors launched our first ever on-line conference, SYTYCW. It was an exciting week of blog posts, community forums, live chats, webinars, podcasts, Twitter events and more, done by our expert editors in Toronto, New York and London, meant to instruct and inspire writers of romance fiction. Many of our fabulous authors got involved, too, and offered invaluable advice and anecdotes about the writing life.
We learned a great deal in those five days, as many of ventured into uncharted territory of new technologies. During a live chat, Victoria Curran learned the horrors of autocorrected text, to hilarious results. Patience Smith dusted off her (quite excellent) French to do a phone interview with CBC Canada. Birgit Davis-Todd revealed the dangers of naming your hero Peter in our exciting wrap-up webinar. And I learned that I should s-p-e-a-k s-l-o-w-e-r when recording a podcast all by myself (that studio was way cool, but the huge headphones freaked me out.)
But we also learned much in the weeks following SYTYCW as we read through hundreds of first chapter and synopsis submissions. We saw a lot of promising material from many writers who had never submitted to us before, and we were delighted to have reached out to so many new people. Here are some of the things that stood out in the submissions:
Writing a great synopsis remains one of the most challenging obstacles for new—and established—writers. I say that because many of the authors I’ve worked with for years still abhor writing the dreaded “sucknopsis”. But while an author and editor who have an established relationship can fill in the blanks of what might be missing in the author’s new proposal, for a new writer trying to break into the industry the synopsis is your calling card and you must be able to relate the plot and tone of your story there, lest you end up in the dreaded discard pile. We will definitely focus on writing the perfect synopsis in next year’s SYTYCW. In the meantime, we have some good resources on eHarlequin.com in the LTW section.
Other common problems included:
- Undeveloped plots where the author relies too much on the character’s past emotional baggage and not enough on a current problem or conflict. If a hero has been burned by a woman in the past (and he’s a fairly young man), would he really not trust any woman again for the rest of his life? This is not a credible, contemporary motivation.
- Slow pacing in the first chapter. Chapter one is all about jumping right in, not filling in the reader on back story, i.e., this is all that happened up until now. I heard once that you should write your first chapter, then throw it out and call Chapter 2, Chapter 1. It wouldn’t work for everybody, but it’s something to think about.
- Too much focus on emotional reactions and not enough on plot. While it’s definitely fun to read a description of a hunky hero, if that description goes on and on without revealing what the actual plot / romantic conflict of the book is, well… where’s the story?
- Even when the synopsis wasn’t great, there could be some strong characterization in the chapter. Writers are definitely developing interesting, credible, appealing characters, but need to make sure the other elements of story (structure, pacing, plot) are developed around those characters.
It was very helpful to us when the submissions mentioned the series they were targeting. Thanks to all who pointed out their work was for Blaze or American, or Presents, etc. Next year we’ll definitely make this one of the submission guidelines – do a little research, and know what kind of romance you are writing!
Our first SYTYCW was a big experiment – and a huge success! We’ve learned tons from your feedback, and appreciate the effort and the patience of everyone who participated in this event. I know some people are disappointed with their generic reply emails, but we simply couldn’t give detailed feedback to all. Hopefully you still learned a lot from the event.
Note that just because you didn’t get a request, doesn’t mean you can’t submit your manuscript to us through our regular channels (see Writing Guidelines on eHarlequin.com).
We developed SYTYCW because we love romance, and we respect and admire the writers who work so hard on their craft. Best of luck to all for 2011. And see you later in the year for SYTYCW 2.0!