Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What the Hell Was I Thinking?

Writers are nuts. This month I’m proving it.

Around the end of August I found out Harlequin is running its “So You Think You Can Write” contest. The object is to write a novel for one of Harlequin’s category lines. The winner (and maybe some of the other finalists) gets published. What the hell, here’s the link:

I’m sure every romance writer out there has looked at Harlequin’s monthly entries on the bookstore shelves or in Kmart and dreamed of seeing their byline on a cover. Harlequin is the romance market. They’re at the top of the food chain, the McDonald’s of romance publishing. Take that any way you want. Never mind the accusations of the company short-changing their authors. Publication with them is still the Holy Grail for a lot of romance writers. Success in this contest could help a beginning or lower-tier writer get her name out to the masses.

Which is why I decided to enter. I’ve toyed with the notion of subbing to Harlequin’s Nocturne line off and on over the years. I read the books. I have a couple ideas that might fit. I started one about three years back, and wrote maybe two and a half chapters before I lost interest and tucked it into the closet for safekeeping. So the first hurdle’s down: I already have the required first chapter for when the entry window opens on September 23. All I need is the rest of the book.

Let me repeat that. All I need to enter the contest is a finished, ready-to-sub manuscript of 80,000-85,000 words (standard length of a Nocturne), written, edited and polished in roughly a month. Piece of cake.

Have I ever mentioned what a slow writer I am? Look up “procrastination” and “undisciplined” in the dictionary. That’s me waving in the picture. If I might quote Dr. Phil here: “What the hell were you thinking?”

Theoretically, it can be done. It’s possible to write 1000 words in an hour. If you write 3000 words a day for 30 days, by the end of a month you’ll have written 90,000 words, enough to make up a regular book and more than enough for a Nocturne. I spend more than three hours a day watching TV. Just turn off the TV and I should be able to do this. You in the back, no snickering.

So what if the plot didn’t come to me until I was two chapters in? At least I’ve got one now. I’m still not sure who the characters are, but I’ll know by the end of the book. This is why I want to get the first draft done fast, so I’ll have time for a second. I’m breaking with tradition and drafting the book directly on the laptop so I won’t have to retype. I can email myself chapters and print them out for a hard copy backup.

Why the big push and the pressure? All they want to start with is the first chapter. They won’t ask for the full until the middle of October. The odds I’ll be one of the 50 semifinalists are still pretty nebulous; that’ll depend on the number and quality of the entries. Chances are I won’t be.

That’s what I figured the last time I entered a contest, American Title IV. Then I got the email I was a finalist and they wanted the full manuscript. My “full manuscript” at the time was handwritten pages. I cut work for a day and a half and typed like a madwoman to get it to them by the end of the week. Then I got eliminated in the first round. And lost my job, but it was temp anyway, so no big. The point is, I wasn’t expecting to be chosen and got caught with my ass hanging out. That’s not going to happen again. I’m going to have a finished novel by the middle of October whether I’m selected or not. So there.

The question is, will it be a Nocturne? Wellllllll … it’ll be a paranormal, and there’s romance in it. That’s all I can say at the moment. I’m re-reading the stack of Nocturnes I already have to get a feel for the line. Even with study and the best of intentions, I suspect I’ll end up writing my book and not Harlequin’s. That’s just how it goes.

Here’s a for instance: the heroine finds out she’s (can’t say; it’s a spoiler). She is not pleased. “I’m not a (spoiler)! I’m a waitress, dammit!” She then blasts the bad guy six ways from Sunday. “You want fries with that, you son of a bitch?” she screams at him.

I don’t know for sure if that scene will make it into the final version. Right now I’m leaning that way. It’s how I write. I know Siren would let me get away with it. Maybe so would a couple other publishers. Maybe even Harlequin’s Carina imprint. But one of their category books? No way. Not only is the damsel swearing and tossing around Bruce Willis-style quips, she’s way too proactive for a conservative Harlequin category romance. The monthly series books are the Big Macs of romance: same pickles, special sauce and onions every time. Play with the winning formula and the readers might get testy.

Y’know what? Screw it. I’m holding my own contest. I’m going to write a full-length novel by the end of September. That’s 85,000 words in what is now less than a month. Maybe it’ll even look like a Nocturne. I’m not concerned with that. I just want to finish a book. I’m going to see if I can stick to a schedule, achieve daily writing goals and make a deadline. To motivate myself, I’m entering my first chapter. That should drive me to complete and polish the book by October 10. This time if a publisher emails me, I’ll be ready.

If they don’t, no loss. I’ll still have a paranormal romance novel finished and ready to market. If nobody bites, there’s always self-publishing. I come out ahead no matter what.

Now all I have to do is write the thing. I knew there was a catch. Back to the keyboard and the caffeine. If I can stay awake, I’ll keep you posted.


Pat C. said...

If you think that scene would get me cut, here's another that hit me: the FMC is in bed with the MMC. It's all platonic; they can't do anything because he's possessed by an Australian trickster spirit in the form of a dingo. She rolls over and finds herself face to muzzle with her boyfriend's furry alter ego. "Sorry, luv," he tells her, "the dingo ate your baby." I haven't a chance of getting picked, but boy, I'm having fun.

Savanna Kougar said...

the dingo ate your baby... omygawd! Go for it, Pat. I'm pulling for ya!

Like you say, there are other small print publishers... and Indie publishing.

So far, even though, HMSC isn't on Amazon's bestseller list... or even my topseller there... the book is still selling, and I'm getting paid. ~knock on wood, it continues~

And HMSC is a topseller at ARe... they pay quarterly, though.

I'd so like to up my writing speed... like I say ad naseam... once Red Lioness Tamed is revised and for sale... I have a plan -- you know how those go -- to write a novella, a 1,000 words a day.

Pat C. said...

1000 words a day is doable. 1000 words in an hour is doable, especially if you've already written half those words longhand and are retyping.

I'm already way behind on my schedule. I was hoping to get a quick first draft done because I'm making this up as I go and the plot points keep changing. I'll need at least two more drafts to pull it all together. Plus I want to take a day off and drive over to Gettysburg (it's an hour and a half from where I live) to research and soak up the ambiance.

Part of the problem is FX just started running two hours of Buffy episodes in the morning. Damn you, cable!

Savanna Kougar said...

Oh no, the irresistible lure of Buffy. Yeah, I can't get cable here, just satellite and my trees are in the way... thus, no temptation... 'course, there are a whole lot of other temptations... ~smiles~