Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Seeing what a slush pile is like by Michelle Styles

Slush pile. Almost every author is there in the early stages of her career. Many myths are told about the slush pile but few outsiders ever get the chance to see it. However, Harlequin Mills & Boon is doing just that with its current competition -- New Voices.
One unpublished and unagented author of the  entries will eventually see her book published. Currently the entries at 263 and counting. The top ten finalists will be chosen by a panel of experts but every entry is on view to the public.  The reason for the competition is to highlight the New Look that the  M&B covers have and to demonstrate that Harlequin is ALWAYS looking to find new authors. Over the years, they have found that authors who started out as readers tend to be particularly successful.
This is your chance to pit your wits against the experts and to read the slush pile for this competition.
Which ten do you think should be chosen? You can make a list and see if you are right when the finalists are announced on 27 September. You can also rate the various entries and leave constructive comments. In other words, you can put your editor's hat on and see if you have an editor's eye.
One thing that has struck me is the diversity of entries and how some entries are in the wrong categories.
For example, Historical doesn't publish time slip or novels with paranormal elements. Paranormal does publish books with historical elements. Some entries in Warm and Cosy read like maybe they ought to be elsewhere.
 And there are some entries that clearly fall between two stools. Are they warm and cosy and aimed at the heart and family lines like Cherish or are they contemporary romance and therefore aimed at the new Riva line (this is the fun & flirty line which starts in January and is made up of Modern Heat  and those fun & flirty Romance authors like Liz Fielding, Jessica Hart and Nicola Marsh), Modern or Medical. And  what about the Passion lines such as Blaze and Desire?  Some of the contemporary romance entries could easily fit these lines.
So while the writing may be excellent, do the stories fit the lines? Can you tell which lines the authors have in mind or have they written and hoped? HMB publishes series romance which means the stories do have to fit one of the lines. Each line is a separate and distinct entity.
Sometimes, the writer's voice is excellent but the plot doesn't hold you as much as you hoped.
Then there is the short blurb. This would be the middle paragraph of the cover letter. Every entry has one and it is apparent that some authors have a better grasp of what is required. However, the grasping of what is required does not necessarily have any bearing on the actual quality of the writing.
All in all from my point of view, the New Voices Competition is an excellent insight into what an editor experiences when she picks up her slush pile. She has no control over what is there. She might recognise a name or two but what she is looking for is something that fits one of the lines and has an enthralling story that reaches out and grabs her from the first page.
There are many fantastic entries, a few that take your breath away and some that could do with a bit of work. More arriving each day. The competition closes on 22 September.
 10 will be chosen to go forward in the next part of the competition. But everyone who takes part will have a chance to learn and submit the traditional route -- ie the first three chapters, plus a one - two page synopsis for those lines edited out of London. And hopefully some of the comments, and seeing the mistakes that others make will enable authors to improve the quality of their eventual submission.
So even if you are not actually entering, I would urge everyone to take some time and read some of the first chapters. It is highly addictive and I do not envy the panel of experts who have to make the first cut! But then I'm an author and not an editor. But I can't wait to see who is chosen!

Michelle Styles writes Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical. Her next release in the UK is The Viking's Captive Princess (Dec 10) and A Question of Impropriety in NA market (Dec 10) There will also be a free online read on eharlequin starting on 15 November to celebrate the publication of A Question of Impropriety. You can read more about her books on her website.


Caroline said...

Totally addictive if you are me - lol! Great post Michelle. Caroline x

Scarlet Wilson said...

I have the addiction too Michelle and I'm loving it. I don't buy a lot of historicals or paranormals (Except books by yourself and Michelle Willingham) but I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of historical and paranormal entries I have enjoyed. I think that there's something for everyone in there and that's got to be a good thing.
Have to admit though that the bad spelling and grammar is driving me insane!

practimom said...

oh, i could not do it! be on the panel that is. i would love all of them, but i could not tell the authors that i did not like that i did not like their hard work. it would make me cry with them (yeah i am a wuss)!

Anonymous said...

I would love it. To be able to read the historical romances before others.