Monday, 8 April 2013

Let Yourself Shine: Tips for Writing Competitions - Guest post by Natalie Charles

Not only does Natalie have some great advice to share - she's also giving away an ecopy of her book (which I've read and enjoyed). Just leave a comment to be in with a chance of winning. Over to you, Natalie ...

Thank you so much for having me today!

One question I get all the time is, "Do you think writing competitions are beneficial to aspiring writers?" My answer usually involves some kind of enthusiastic nod, because I've only entered one writing competition—Mills & Boon's 2011 New Voices—and winning it was how I got my big break. But the better answer is that I think the right kind of writing competition is beneficial to the right kind of aspiring writers, but that competitions are by no means necessary to success, as proven by the many writers who have achieved their dreams in other ways.

Seek out the right competitions for you. I entered New Voices because the Mills & Boon editors were judges, and my hope was to catch someone's attention. If you're looking for motivation to polish that first chapter, then by all means seek out whatever competition is going to give you that push. If, on the other hand, you're looking to use the competition as a step to publication, seek out competitions where the judging panel includes editors and agents. If you're lucky enough to get feedback, their feedback is worth the price of entry.

Competitions aren't for everyone. New Voices was a very public competition that allowed readers to leave comments for the entrants. I received many lovely comments, but I received some criticism, too, and not all of it was constructive. Before you enter a competition, be honest with yourself. If you are confident in your abilities and ready to withstand that kind of heat, then by all means, enter a competition. If unfair words may shake your confidence or tempt you to give up writing altogether, then maybe you're not ready to be judged in this manner.
The other advice I can give about competitions has to do with strategy. When I prepared my New Voices first chapter, I kept the following in mind:

The hook matters. Hooking a reader always matters, but if you're trying to stand out from other talented writers, you've got to step up your game. I ended my first chapter with my hero and heroine discovering that the heroine is the target of a killer who hunts his victims by leaving six signs over six days and killing on the seventh. My hope was that readers would want to read on to know what the signs were, and they did.
The tricky part is carrying this hook throughout a novel and making every page compelling. I've heard that every chapter should end by answering one question for the reader and raising two more, and that seems like sound advice to me.

Voice matters. You have something special in your style that is uniquely yours, and no matter how ordinary it may seem to you, I assure you that readers will love it. Forget about imitating your favorite writer and be your own, shiny self.

How do you think writers in competitions can best stand out from the crowd?

Natalie on the web: Website Facebook Twitter

The Seven Day Target

He never meant to speak to her again. Back in Arbor Falls for a funeral, Special Agent Nick Foster has moved on. He has no plans to stay in his tiny hometown-or to reunite with the beautiful Libby Andrews. His onetime fiancée broke his heart, and what's past should stay buried.

Libby doesn't want his help. Her childhood sweetheart can never know the real reason she ended their engagement three years before. But when a serial killer targets her, she must team up with the rugged agent for her own safety. Something in her past has put her in danger, and the passion they've reignited puts their future in deadly jeopardy.


54 comments:

  1. Thanks for the tips, Natalie.
    If there's a required theme for the comp I always try and think up an angle that no-one else will have thought of. Not always easy though.

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    1. It isn't easy, Keith. It's hard enough sorting out what's in our heads without wondering what's in other people's.

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    2. Definitely not easy! But I've heard that when writing, we should disregard the first three options for our characters and think a little harder. Seems to me that even if you don't win, thinking differently could help your writing to shine.

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  2. Excellent post, Natalie. Well done on winning that comp - the book sounds great! I'd agree that entrants need to find an original angle - and to follow every single rule laid down by the competition.

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    1. There's no sense losing out because we failed to comply with the rules, Rosemary.

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    2. Oh yes, rules are critical! Good point, Rosemary.

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  3. Thanks for the post Natalie and Patsy. Some very valid points especially the one about choosing the right competition. There is a lot of time and money spent on sending stories rendomly to competitions without thought of what the gain is to you as a writer.

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    1. I confess to adopting the random approach at times myself, Wendy!

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    2. Hi Wendy! Those entry fees sure add up, though I suppose if a competition motivates you as a writer, then they may be worth the cost. :-)

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  4. Great post, Natalie. And congratulations on winning the New Voices comp. I very rarely enter competitions, but I agree with Keith and Rosemary about originality and following the rules :-) x

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    1. I haven't converted you into a comper yet then, Teresa?

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  5. I like to enter competitions when I can and have had some success but I like to make sure it is the right competition for me especially as all the entry fees can mount up! Thanks for the tips it is always interesting to hear of others stories.

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    1. Not all competitions have entry fees though, Suzanne - including all the ones I link to.

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    2. Congratulations on your success, Suzanne! Writing can be so lonely that competitions can be a great way to receive some encouragement to keep going. xx

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  6. Hi Patsy! Thanks for hosting lovely Natalie here - I like her advice on entering competitions - you really have to step up and step out to get noticed amongst the sea of talent you are up against! Well done Natalie!!!

    Now I do hope Agent Nick finds the true love he had for Libby to help her beat this bad serial killer!! Yay! Take care
    x

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    1. That's the trouble with competitions, Kitty - good writers keep entering them.

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    2. Aw, thank you, Kitty! And Patsy - LOL.

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  7. Good tips, Natalie. The NV competition was an open genre competition. I entered that writing a very traditional romance and my aim was to fit in not to stand out. So well done to you. Your book makes compelling reading.

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    1. I think we have to fit in whilst we're standing out, Maria - not an easy trick.

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    2. Hi Maria! Thank you for the kind words. I think what Patsy said is very true. There were some entries in NV that weren't quite right for series books, but were still outstanding reading. I think it's true that you have to find a way to be recognizable and different at the same time. I wish I had advice on that one, by the way -- it's something I may always struggle with.

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  8. Thanks for the really interesting post, Natalie, and Patsy.
    Very good point about choosing the right competitions...And congratulations on the 2011 New Voices win.

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  9. Great posting thank you for sharing them with us. Well done on your win, Natalie.

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    1. I hope some of that winningness will rub off, Paula.

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    2. Thank you, Paula! I sprinkle you all with my best competition advice and warmest wishes. xx

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  10. Lovely post Patsy and Natalie, will read it in more detail when I have more time. Well done on winning Natalie, and for choosing the right competition for you. Good advice.

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    1. She certainly thought it all through and got a great result, didn't she?

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  11. I don't think I'd enter a competition where people can leave comments... ;)

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    1. A little extra bravery is needed for those, Linda.

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    2. It's not for the faint of heart, Lynda. Harlequin's So You Think You Can Write competition, which has replaced New Voices, does not allow for reader comments.

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  12. Really enjoyed the post Natalie and Patsy. Some good tips here - thanks! And good luck with future writing too.

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  13. Thank you for paying it forward, Natalie. It made for fascinating reading.

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    1. Yes, Deborah - interesting stuff.

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    2. My pleasure, Deborah! I hope you can find it useful. xx

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  14. Great post on entering competitions, Natalie! And it all turned out so well for you, Congratulations!

    Thanks Patsy!

    Nas

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  15. Thanks to Natalie for the great advice and to you, Patsy, for her spot to blog about competitions.

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  16. So true. Competition's use depends on what the writer tries to achieve.

    Also, I don't think someone can do more for an entry once it's polished to a shine. Reading is so subjective. So the best an entrant can hope for is that something in his/her writing is what an editor or agent is looking for.

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    1. Reading is indeed subjective - that goes for all submissions as well as competitions I think. It's still the case even after a story has been accepted and published - we won't all love every piece of published work.

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    2. Absolutely true, Misha and Patsy. The best advice I can give to any writer is to cultivate a strong belief in your own abilities, because you can't always look to others for validation. xx

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  17. Good advice, Natalie.

    Tipping my hat your way, Patsy.

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  18. Hi Patsy .. great interview with Natalie .. and she does have some good ideas - here's to success to one and all .. cheers Hilary

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    1. I'm seconding the vote for success, Hilary.

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    2. And I'll third it! Thanks for stopping by, Hilary. xx

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Thanks so much for commenting!