Friday, October 05, 2012

A Date With Kate - SYTYCW thoughts

The So You Think You Can Write contest is in full swing.  The bootcamp is over, submissions have been loaded on to the site. Public voting is under way. And in just a few short days, the Editor Request round will be here. 25 top entries – and  3 wildcards – 28 people will have their full manuscripts asked for.

I still remember only too well what it felt like to send off a manuscript to a publisher and then put myself thorough the waiting game. Waiting and watching - in those day, watching the postman because I had no email and my submissions were full manuscripts in great big padded bags.

So I know too just how the entrants to the SYTYCW contest were feeling as they prepared, polished, and finally posted their entries to the contest page. I think this takes an extra sort of bravery - not one that I feel I would probably ever have managed, when I was starting out. It's one thing to submit your work to a trained editor for assessment and critique - quite another to most it up on to a public forum for anyone and everyone, friend and foe, to read and judge and criticise.

I've visited the website several times. I've been intrigued to see the different styles and subjects of the stories, the ones that have stuck to the tried and tested sort of romance, the ones who have tried something different.

What I haven't done is try to judge and specially not to vote.  Even though my university training and the work I do for the RNA has taught be to be as totally objective as I can, inevitably, I will have favourites. But as I've always said, it doesn't matter if your mother and your sister and your aunt and your best friend love the story - the opinion that matters is that of the editors. Ask any author writing today, whether at the start of their journey to publication or after 25+ years and 60 published titles. It's the editor's view that counts. (That's the bit that means I still remember how nerve-wracking it is to send in a new submission - because it still happens every time I do it now!)

Anyway, soon congratulations will be in order -  Congratulations for the 'winners' only?  Well, no -  for me the emphasis should be the other way. The first congratulations should go to the total of however many entrants (last year there were 822) all of whom are, in my mind, winners. Winners because in a world of people who want to be writers, they put their words where their mouth is and wrote.

And, as the saying goes 'Writers write, everyone else makes excuses.' (Jack Bickham)


So everyone who submitted a chapter fulfilled the demands of being a writer by sitting down and writing a chapter aimed at a particular market.  Because being a writer means writing - not being published. That's being an author. Writing is what writers do. I was writing for almost thirty years before I was published. I have written for publication for 28 + years (the + bit being the times when I was writing for publication and getting it rejected regularly) So let's say I have been writing and been published for 28 years - writing for publication a bit more  - add on a couple of years.


And if it all ended tomorrow then I would keep on writing. I'd be telling stories - I have to - it's what I do.


Being an author? That's different -and more difficult. It depends on other things, like market forces and individual publishers and individual editors within individual publishers.

But the current editors will choose a short list - writers who they feel they could work with to build on those chapters submitted, take them further and hopefully turn them into the next stage on - other chapters . .  . the development of a plot, the building of characters. The telling of a story. As the editors said of  a past contest : "We weren't looking for a perfect story . . . but we were hoping to find fresh voices and raw potential.' The editors' comments on why they picked each individual entry are going to be one of the most interesting parts of this contest.


I hope the  writers who are not in the selected 28 will find lots to help them in any  posts that go up. Information about what the editors are looking for, advice about what works and what doesn't. It's going to be intriguing to see how the next stages of the process work - how the chosen chapters have been worked on, developed . . . turned into a story - or not. Because for me the important bit is that.

There are writers and there are writers who are storytellers. And telling a story so that people want to read it takes a different set of thought processes from just putting down an opening that you feel is going to grab an editor's attention. It's not the same thing as refining, editing, polishing a clever chapter till it squeaks. There are reasons why an editor's job is very different from a writer's and for me the difference is right there in that 'story tellling'.

Some of the 28  selected might make it. Some might not. Some of the other hundreds of entrants could very well go away, complete their novels and turn them into a book that might not have the 'best' opening chapter but tells a story that reaches out and grabs people so they want - have to read on. I hope so. Because a chapter is a chapter but a story is a book.

So congratulations to all the writers who submitted a chapter - I hope this is the start of your journey towards doing more with your writing, submitting again, finding the story you want to tell, 'winning' first chapter or not. And the secret to making it more than just a first chapter is persistence. Trying trying, trying again. The new authors that Mills & Boon bought the other week had been doing that, I know, for a long time.  One at least entered a previous contest and did well – but didn’t win. Did she give up? No – she picked herself up, dusted herself off and  kept on trying.

Persistence. That’s what it’s all about. It takes courage to be persistent, but without that courage you’ll never get there.

I can't give you the 'secret', the 'formula' to being published - because if there is one then I honestly have never ever found it in the past 25+ years - or the 30 before that! - but I can tell you the one thing that will guarantee that you'll never ever be published and that is if you give up now. If you can't take the risk of rejection, then you're making sure you'll never know the joy of success.

Thinking about my 25 years of being published and the books that have my name on it, I'm also well aware of the 'ones that got away' - the stories that never made it into books. The ones that were rejected. But did I let them stay rejected ?

But that's a different story. Today, I've rambled on for long enough and -

Writers write, everyone else makes excuses

I have writing to do - and (I hope) so do you.
Kate has just discovered that  five of her earlier titles have been republished  as eBooks in the new  Mills & Boon Vintage (90s) collection.  She’s not too sure  about being described as ‘Vintage’ .
You can find out more about Kate Walker, her books and her latest news over on her web site and her blog.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Michelle. I'm glad you enjoyed it

  2. Hi Kate,

    Lovely post, thanks. I don’t know if you’ll remember me, I was one of your Virgins in Guildford – is it really 9 years ago?! So many of that group have been published since and although I’ve not been writing for a lot of that time I’ve kept the dream alive…and have finally taken the plunge with SYTYCW.

    With the result of being a bag of nerves ever since! At least polishing the rest of the MS has kept me busy, got to make sure the rest of it lives up to that (hopefully) polished first chapter.

    Whatever happens re: the finalists, the contest has been gold for me because it’s:
    1. Reminded me how much I like writing
    2. Reminded me how much I like interacting with other writers
    3. Made suck up my courage and put my writing out there again
    4. Made me finish the damn book!
    5. Made me start outlining another one
    6. Given me the determination to submit the rest of the book even if I don’t hear back from an editor

    So thank you Harlequin Mills & Boon for the contest and thank you Kate for your encouragement – both here to all the entrants, and to a shy conference virgin all those years ago.


    1. Hello Vicky - how lovely to 'see' you! I do remember you - was it really and truly 9 years ago?! Time is scary isn't it? That group of Virgins (first time attendees at the Conference in case anyone is bemused and wondering!) does have a good record for being published now - some multi-published. I'd love to see you in that number. I'm thrilled that you've taken the plunge with SYTYCW - but even more deligthed to see that you had such a positive respnse to getting down to writing. That is the only way to ever have a chance to be published. There will be only one winner and some runners up but each and every one who writes and tries has the potential to be a winner for themselves.
      I hope we'll meet up agian one day - at another RNA conference or maybe at one of my courses/workshops?

      Good luck with your writing

  3. Thanks so much for such an inspiring post. Really enjoyed it!!!

    And I hope you are right about the editors giving feedback on the entries they chose and why they did so.

    It should be an interesting week coming up. :-)

    1. Hello Jennifer. I'm so glad you found this post inspiring. As I said to Vicky - there may be only a very limited number of offical winners, b ut ever entrant has the potential to set themselves on the road to succss with thier entry. I do hope that the editors will comment on the entries they pick to see more of - as I said, that is how the ones who don't get that'call' can learn so much from any such comments.

  4. Hi Kate, Thanks for the words of encouragement. I loved what you said about storytellers. For me it is always about the stories, about sharing the stories. I've always loved the way a well told story takes me into a different world with people I can believe in and engage with over and over again.

  5. Hi Kate,

    WOW!What a beautiful and VERY inspiring post. Thank you.


    1. Hi Khaleda - you posted as I was commenting - thank you so much for your comment. I'm so pleased to think that my post inspired you.

  6. Wonderful post, Kate! Persistence is definitely what it's all about. Thank you for taking the time to share with us and encourage us all.

    1. Hello Tammy - persistence is so important, isn't it? I was so pleased just recently o hear how one writer who had done well in a previous contest had kept on trying and just got the call to have her very first book accepted. It may be years ago, but I still remember how that feels. But if you give up you never have the change to succeed.

      Good luck to you - and everyone else who has enteres SYTYCW

  7. Hello Fiona - writers are strange creatures (you can say that again! :o) ) some people can write wonderfully, create amazing pieces of writing but can't tell a story with characters people care about, conflicts that matter and motivations that are believeable. Like you I believe that a well told story is a form of sharing and it does take us into another world. I think that's why the 'soaps' and other dramas are so popular. And we all need taking out of this world and into another sometimes

  8. Hi Kate - Thanks for the inspirational post. So great to get your inside birds eye view! Jen

  9. Loved your post. I really needed to read this tonight, especially after editing a chapter I paid a editor to edit. I've sent out a query to get rejected and I've also entered the sytycw contest 2012 with my debut novel Allured. I have not been notified so I doubt I've been chosen. I will not give up on my dream to be published. Thanks again for the post.

  10. Loved your post. I really needed to read this tonight, especially after editing a chapter I paid a editor to edit. I've sent out a query to get rejected and I've also entered the sytycw contest 2012 with my debut novel Allured. I have not been notified so I doubt I've been chosen. I will not give up on my dream to be published. Thanks again for the post.