Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Flip-Side of Contests

I’m told I get to be the Guinea Pig today…the first guest poster on Prairie Chicks Write Romance. It’s kind of a flip-side from a little over a year ago, me being a first for this group of writers, because back then they were a first for me.

I first met Anita Mae and friends at a workshop for the Saskatchewan Romance Writers. A workshop *I* was giving. It was my first all-day workshop and I was nervous as all get out. My publishing credits said I was qualified. But inside I was just little ol’ me, hoping that somehow something I was going to say would make sense and maybe help someone a little bit. I know getting on the plane to fly from Calgary to Saskatoon felt a little odd. I had been a stay at home mom for the 8 years before selling. Now I was getting on a plane to go talk to people about what I did for a job. WEIRD and surreal.

So when Anita Mae e-mailed and asked if I’d be interested in guest posting, I said you bet! After all, this group made my workshop debut not only painless but FUN!

In an effort to give this group of writers their money’s worth, one of the things I offered was a synopsis critique. Each registrant could send me a synopsis which I’d look at, offer input, and give back at the workshop. It was great, seeing them hit my inbox. Sometimes my critique wasn’t necessarily about the story, either. In one case, three of us ended up in a hotel room talking about not giving up and the business in general. What I took away from the weekend wasn’t just that I could get up in front of a room and talk for five hours (FIVE! ACK!) but that the experience would also teach ME things.

As an author, I never stop learning and yes, many of those lessons come from unpublished authors who are untainted by the business of deadlines and revisions and the other details that bog us down. When you are unpubbed, your outlook is pure – it’s about writing the story, and writing a story that someone will want to read. You are not jaded (except for the rejections). It is so affirming.

That experience with the SaskRomWriters is part of the reason why I’m running my current contest for aspiring writers. I had a lot of help before I sold – from my critique partner Michelle Styles, and from other authors who saw something in me and were willing to take their time and expertise and help – Trish Wylie, who critiqued my harlequin debut, as well as Liz Fielding and Kate Walker. To this day they are my support core. And so this is my chance to pay it forward a little bit – to help YOU and to help ME too (after all, I’m not completely altruistic).

Aspiring romance writers (no matter what the subgenre) have until Jan 31 to send a short pitch to me at . I will pick five pitches to send me a first chapter, which I will critique. Then I’ll pick a winning chapter and that writer will get a critique of the partial of that manuscript as well as me for a sounding board/mentor for the remainder of the year. I know I’ll get as much out of it as the winner will.

I did have some questions asked over at my blog about what constitutes a pitch, so here’s the link to the post where I gave some helpful hints.

A huge thanks to the Prairie Chicks for having me over for a visit! But now I need to get back to that crazy deadline that is tapping its foot at me….

Thank you for being an Honorary Prairie Chick today, Donna.

Donna has another contest going on: Sign up for her newsletter and you can win a prize. The signup box for her newsletter is on the sidebar of her blog at
and on her website at .

As well as being published by Harlequin Romance, Donna Alward is the author of books published by Samhain Publishing and Thorndike Candlelight Romance. A complete list of her books is available on her website.


Janet said...

Good Morning, Donna, and welcome to the Prairies (you would appreciate knowing that it's -43 with the windchill this morning!)

One of the highlights of 2007 (hard to believe it's been that long) was your workshop. Hearing about your successes and your goals/dreams/determination just made me want it more. And the information you provided, not only in my synopsis critique and the workshop, was invaluable. Thank you for that.

I think the biggest thing for me was your interest in us. And this contest you're running just proves that you are a caring, generous person. So, as an unpubbed author I just want to say thank you.


Donna Alward said...

Oh Janet, that's so lovely. But why wouldn't I be interested? You have a dynamic group of women who made me feel welcome and then WANTED to talk about my favourite topic (besides my kids). Not only that...but I remember very well what it's like to lay in bed at night and dream that this story might be the one. And I still lay in bed and worry that it might not be after I've sent a book to my editor.

Thanks for having me over today! And have fun at your meeting this afternoon. ;-)

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Donna, you do not miss the prairies today. I won't be going to the meeting after all due to the extreme wind chill weather warning. Hubby didn't say I couldn't go, but he said he'd rather I didn't. Since I'd rather he concentrate on his job outside in the oil field today, I'm staying home. *sigh*

I'm just starting Chap 5 of The Rancher's Runaway Princess and I really like it. However, pg 46 made me cry. That was only in the 3rd chap! So, I'm thinking if that was indicative of the rest of the book, I'm gonna have to stock up on tissues.

Karen said...

Hi Donna, welcome to PCWR. I attended the workshop you gave for SWR and took away great info. I've never entered a writing contest but have gotten to the point where I feel it might be a valuable experience. I am gathering up my nerve to enter a few. Thanks for a great blog.


Donna Alward said...

Karen and Anita Mae - Stay warm.

Hmmm page 46 *pulls out copy* ok, I'm not sure what part set you off, but I'm glad!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Donna - 5th line up after the ellipsis. You did an excellent job building up her emotional state to this point. Having moved many times in my life, I could relate.

BTW - you wrote Princess before you moved east, didn't you?

Princess is Book 1 in the Larch Valley series. Once this series is finished, will you be writing books with a maritime flair now that you live there?

Donna Alward said...

Yes, I did! And I think that in some ways Lucy's longing for a place that felt like home was really something I was feeling even if I didn't realize it at the time. :-)

You know, I'd LOVE to write some with a Maritime flair. And I'm sure I some point. With Larch Valley on the go now, it might take me some time to get to it. But Larch is proving to be quite fun and i'm not in any hurry to leave.

The Soldier's Homecoming was set in Fredericton, which is my hometown. And I'm really hoping to write some stories set here on the coast. I love being by the ocean.

Anita Mae Draper said...

I love being by the ocean.

(Hmmpt...traitor... Anita shakes her head...not even a year on the coast and she's flaunting the ocean at she's going to be telling us it's around 0 deg C and she's having a BBQ...)

Hazel said...

Hi, Donna. I'm another of the SRW members who attended your workshop, got a lot from it, and appreciated your comments on my synopsis. I also have stayed home today because of the ridiculous cold weather. It seemed more sensible than driving 100 km (double that to get back home), even though I HATE to miss getting together with that creative bunch of women who have so much fun and from whom I learn so much.

I am still working on the same novel that was in progress in Oct 2007. My best excuse is that I was also working on other genres for courses I was taking that year (poetry,short fiction,non-fiction) I have just given myself a big boost by taking part in BIAW, and added 18,455 words. Closing in on the grand finale!

I am a beginning writer working on my first novel, and I realise it will end up being a valuable learning experience, but not necessarily worth publishing, tho I will try. I would be interested in your comment(s) on whether someone in my position should even worry about what line it might fit, or what length I should aim for, or should I just complete the manuscript and then find its niche. (I can get hung up at times thinking ahead of myself. At first I wanted to write a SuperRomance, but now they aren't so long anymore, etc. etc.)

I didn't know you had moved east. I took my 16 yr old granddaughter on a trip last summer, and we got as far as Halifax. I hope to make it back soon to "see it all."

Thanks for all your interest and help, Hazel.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Great post Donna, and an excellent start to the Chicks' guests. I attended the workshop last fall as well, and thoroughly enjoyed it. You were very encouraging, very informative, and very welcoming to those of us unfamiliar with the business side.

I just had to say I loved this line in your post: When you are unpubbed, your outlook is pure – it’s about writing the story, and writing a story that someone will want to read.

Sometimes it helps to be reminded about what really matters.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna--I followed the link from your blog and ended up here. I'm usually a lurker but just had to ask-- Do we have to be completely unpublished to enter your pitch comp? I had a novella published with a small non-royalty paying publisher a couple of years ago, but Harlequin is my dream and I'd love to enter your comp.


Donna Alward said...

Jen - send it on. I'll have a look! :-)

Hayley, let me just say that it is good to be reminded of that occasionally, especially when doing the business seems to be taking over. Sometimes you have to shut it all away and just immerse yourself in the story. Unpubs are always asking about how to make the story better, or submitting it, and the bottom line is, if the story doesn't cut it, it doesn't make it. It's a great equalizer!

I couldn't have picked a better group for my first workshop. It's definitely something I'd do again (even if I did lose my voice by the next morning!)

Donna Alward said...

LOL Anita Mae...I know, I know. I love being by the ocean - but in a weird way I also miss the prairie and definitely the mountains. One nice thing about writing books still set in western canada is visiting them even if it's only the setting.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Donna - that's a nice way to think of it.

Thanks again for being our first guest blogger.

If we ever get an Honorary Prairie Chick widget made, I'll be sure to let you know.

c u at eharl

Contest-Gal said...

Today is Feb. 2, 2009 and I can't join the competition..but it is alright with me..but it is much better that I can join..better luck next time:)