The 2012 Royal Ascot is Complete
Please look for the 2013 Royal Ascot early next year.

Monday, July 20, 2009



*Regency Historical:*
FIRST PLACE: Alleyne Dickens, MisMatched ***
SECOND PLACE: Carol Jo Kachmar, Seduced By Passion
THIIRD PLACE: Karen Dobbins, Never Too Late
Final Round Judge: Linda Fildew, Senior Editor, Harlequin Mills & Boon
***MisMatched Revised full manuscript submission requested

*Sweet & Mild Regency:*
FIRST PLACE: Constance Hussey, The Angel and St. Clair (Traditional Regency)
SECOND PLACE: Donna Maloy, Legend of the Fox (Young Adult Regency)***
THIRD PLACE: Marjorie Gilbert, The Return of Hope (Traditional Regency)
Final Round Judge: Deb Werksman, Acquiring Editor, Sourcebooks
*** Legend of the Fox Submission of partial manuscript requested to Children's Editor

*Hot & Wild Regency:*
FIRST PLACE: Pamela Bolton-Holyfield, The Deceit of Desire (Very Sensual Regency Historical)
SECOND PLACE: Leah Ball, Secret Possessions (Very Sensual Regency Historical)
THIRD PLACE: Shereen Vedam, The Coven at Callington, (Fantasy Regency)
Final Round Judge: Tessa Woodward, Associate Editor, HarperCollins

Thursday, May 28, 2009



*Regency Historical:*
Karen Dobbins, Never Too Late
Aleyne Dickens, Mismatched
Carol Jo Kachmar, Seduced By Passion
Final Round Judge: Linda Fildew, Senior Editor, Harlequin Mills & Boon

*Sweet & Mild Regency:*
Constance Hussey, The Angel and St. Clair (Traditional Regency)
Donna Maloy, Legend of the Fox (Young Adult Regency)
Marjorie Gilbert, The Return of Hope (Traditional Regency)
Final Round Judge: Deb Werksman, Editorial Manager, Sourcebooks

*Hot & Wild Regency:*
Pamela Bolton-Holyfield, The Deceit of Desire (Very Sensual Regency Historical)
Shereen Vedam, The Coven at Callington, (Fantasy Regency)
Leah Ball, Secret Possessions (Very Sensual Regency Historical)
Final Round Judge: Tessa Woodward, Assistant Editor, HarperCollins

Entries and score sheets will be returned to contestants by June 18, 2009. Thanks for entering!
Winners will be announced at the Beau Monde soiree in Washington, DC, July 15, 2009.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

EVEN MORE FAQ's: Why not .docx?

I've had several people ask me what .docx is and why they shouldn't use it.

If you don't know what it is, then you probably don't need to worry about it. This is the file extension for the new format of Word 2007, so if you have Word 2007, you might want to check to see if your document extension is .docx and not .doc

Why can't we use it? Well the older versions of Word can't read it, and a lot of people have chosen not to update a program they see as working perfectly well for them. I actually bought a version of it, but it's been sitting in its original box since last summer, untouched, uninstalled. I don't want to go through the problems it creates. I'm sure it's a perfectly fine version, but if nobody can read it, why don't I just stick with my favorite, WordPerfect, which I already have to convert to send to people? Why go through two conversions?

There is a conversion package you can get. But I will be much better off as the coordinator if I don't have to solve this problem in addition to others that are bound to come up. So that's why I'm asking all contestants to save their entries in .rtf format. Then we all can read it. If you happen to make a mistake and send it to me in WordPerfect or Word as a .doc file, I'll just convert it for you and send it on to the judges. But if you send it as .docx, sorry, I'll send it back and ask you to fix it.

If you don't know how to save as .rtf, I'll be happy to help you do it. It's easy. But I can't do it for you because I can't open your .docx file. No, I have no clue why Microsoft did this and I probably won't ever know.

Maybe next year.


I've had a few more questions I'd like to share with you. Most of them seem to relate to format, but there are others.

1. You don't say I have to double space my entry. But if I single space, I have far too many words. Why didn't you just say to double space?

We're trying not to get into the old format wars that have dogged so many notable contests in the past. And we know sometimes double-spacing isn't really double, for various reasons. But at the same time, we want to give all contestants an equal chance.

So rather than concentrate on formatting issues, we've set a word and page limit. We hope you'll be kind to us and use a standard font and font size, reasonable margins and a nice healthy space between lines.

2. Okay, fine. Why don't you tell us what you would use?

Okay, you asked. But keep in mind you don't have to do it my way.

I'd set my margins at 1 inch, use Courier 12 pt, and 25 lines per page. To do this, I actually have to set line spacing at 1.85, not double. Sometimes I use Times New Roman but it's really difficult for me to spot typos, so I set it at 13 pt. Most people would go to 14 pt, which means it uses up more space than Courier. Times New Roman 12 pt. should NOT be set to get 25-26 lines per page. This gives far too much word density, since TNR's normal double spacing is 21-22 lines per page.

3. But if I do that, I can only get one chapter into the contest. I want to send three chapters.

The Royal Ascot was originally a "First Chapter" contest. We've always limited it to 30 pages including synopsis. We want to keep it that way but also realize for some writers the "beginning"
can include more than just the first chapter.

Regardless, try to find where your first major "hook" is, and stop at that point. If it falls outside the 30 pages, especially with the synopsis included, you probably will do better in contests if you condense your first chapter. I think you'll find that contests expecting three chapters will tend to run about Golden Heart-size length, 55 pages.

4. I want to get the judges to the point where the action starts to sizzle, but it doesn't fit within the 30 pages. What do I do?

Edit. Like crazy. Throw away those first few chapters that don't sizzle. Personally, I want my action jumping right out of that frying pan sizzling from the first page, but I know other people prefer it a little slower. Whatever your style, the point where the action "sizzles" is where your story starts.

Everything before that is backstory, not story. Move it or delete it, but don't put it up front because your readers have come for your story, not your words- no matter how beautiful your words are. Do your best to keep your lead-in to a page or two.

Please go read my post on February 26, FINDING THE RIGHT PLACE TO BEGIN:

It explains this concept more thoroughly.

Monday, March 30, 2009


Some of the frequently asked questions about the Royal Ascot:
1. Why do you care about the format of my entry?
If all entrants use similar formatting, no one is getting any special breaks from that, and the quality of the story itself is showcased instead of unimportant things like font. It's also easier for the judges to read if they are not side-tracked by unusual fonts or densely crammed paragraphs.

Sometimes contestants feel if they can just get the judges to read more of their words, they will have a better chance. Actually, the reverse is true. I've seen some really extreme examples of attempts to cram more and more words into an entry, things like not indenting paragraphs, running paragraphs together, and cramming extra lines on a page. In reality the entry becomes less and less readable. White space is good. It makes the words stand out.

2. Why do you have both a page limit and a limit on the number of words?
The maximum word count of 8500 words allows for 283 words average per page. If you have more words than this in 30 pages, you have a densely crowded manuscript, and it will be difficult for judges to read. That has a negative impact on a judge's opinion of your work.

3. Am I supposed to provide a set-up for my story in addition to my synopsis and manuscript beginning?
Only if you are entering a time travel that doesn't begin in the Regency period. In that case, give us a short summary of what happens between your story's opening and the time when it enters the Regency period. Begin your manuscript portion of the entry with the point where it enters the Regency time period.

4. Why can't I send you a printed entry?
We've tried having both printed and electronic entries at the same time, and we have received poor response for the paper entries. They add a lot of work and expense in relationship to their value to participants, and we believe we're giving better value to everyone, including those judges and coordinators who donate their time, if we just keep it all electronic.

5. Does an entry in the Hot & Wild category have to be both Paranormal AND Erotic?
No. Our categories are designed flexibly, to provide the most opportunities for the contestants and help find suitable judge for such a wide variety of sub-categories. Hot & Wild entries could be paranormal, or very spicy, or erotic. Or they could be both paranormal and very sexy. They might also include other elements that might make them fit into other categories, but generally if the paranormal or very hot elements are dominant in the story, the Hot & Wild category would be the best choice for them.

6. But what if my entry has no sex in it, and has some romance but is really more of a mainstream historical about the Peninsular War, but also involves angels on the battlefield? What category should I choose for it?
We'd like to find room for everybody who is endeavoring to write Regency-set romance, but sometimes that does create puzzles for us. You could probably choose any of the three categories. If the story is not all about angels, though, I'd suggest avoiding the Hot & Wild category. If it's an Inspirational Romance, you might want to put it in Sweet & Mild, where most Inspirationals will be. And if it's most strongly historical, perhaps the Regency Historical category would be best.

7. Will you disqualify me if I pick the wrong category? What if I end too many pages? What if the formatting messes up my page count?
No. We'll discuss it with you if we think another category would be a better choice for you, or if your story doesn't fit in that category at all. For example, an Inspirational romance probably needs to remain in the Sweet & Mild category because that's where its strongest judges will be. And a sexy story really should not go in the Sweet & Mild category.

If you have too many pages, again, we'll talk about it. I might be able to suggest something that will help you edit a bit more. The problem might be caused by different formats, or there might be too few lines on a page. If you send me 50 pages, though, I'll send it back and ask you to cut it down before submitting. All of this must be finished before the deadline, though.

8. Are your deadlines firm? What if I send it out on time but it gets there late?
Now that we're all electronic, this isn't much of a problem anymore. But we have to adhere to a tight time schedule if we're going to be done in time to announce our winners at the soiree in July.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Crafting the Winning Synopsis

The question has come up of whether the synopsis for the Royal Ascot entries is judged. Yes. I'm still surprised when I hear this question because it's only been recently that the notion of submitting something that's not judged has developed any popularity. But I'm an old contest maven, remember. I entered my first contest back when notifications of contests were done entirely by circulating flyers to other RWA chapters. They weren't even listed in the RWR back then (which by itself was a pretty primitive magazine at the time). Okay, that was 1993, if you really need to know.

Another thing about back then: You could read books on how to write a novel, but nobody wrote one about how to write a synopsis. Nobody taught any courses about it, and you couldn't find any information online. Heck, you couldn't find anything online. Chances were, you hadn't even heard the word modem then.

So I spent a lot of time trying to igure out how to do a decent synopsis. I still have one of my earlier ones, and I'll guarantee, it is awful. It's a 12 page list of events in chronological order, in sentences that all have the same structure, short and clipped, and bare. No wonder no one was interested in buying my stories then.

But no matter who I asked, no one could, would maybe, tell me what I needed to know. There was "You've got to get the emotion into it." Yeah, I did ask over and over how to do that and got what amounted to blank stares in return.

And mine were long. The first one I wrote was 42 pages. I did have the sense to not submit it, and realized it was really a story outline, the kind I'd use for myself. With great effort, I got it down to something almost useful. The above-mentioned 12 pages.

So what have I learned over the years? Well, most of that is covered in these three links to some great information for synopsis writers. I swiped this list from another author, Jenna Bayley-Burke, right out from under her nose, because I thought you could use them:

Synopsis Creation-Plot Revision by Alicia Rasley - example of how to fix a bad synopsis

Honing your Synopsis Skills by Joanne Rock - emotional landmarks make the synopsis, not just a string of events

Synopsis by Linda Needham - synopsis worksheet

What did I personally do to make my synopses work? Well, I started with my first tool, whiich was my first excited notes/outline of the story. Sometimes, if I'd finished the story, I'd go back and briefly edit to make the synopsis fit however the story had changed. Then I'd get out my YELLOW highlighter and mark all my major points- plot turning points, emotional turning points, motivations-- everything I thought needed to be in the synopsis. I'd then copy and paste them into a long list, which I would whittle down further by using the PINK highlighter in the same way as I'd done the yellow one. That makes orange, by the way. Delete the stuff that's still only yellow. I'd re-phrase next, trying to consolidate sentences. This usually got me down to the 12-15 page stage. Still too long, and it didn't exactly make exciting reading.

Next, I'd look for ways to generalize the plot. Instead of the detailed interaction of the hero and heroine going fishing, I'd just say they went fishing, where he rescued the trapped otter-- whatever, and she saw a softer side of him.

I discovered that by making a separate emotional plot line, which sometimes I run in a separate column side by side with the physical plot, I can see how it's the emotional line, the romantic growth, that makes the story strong. Then it's much easier for me to write sentences that combine the two, while minimizing plot and maximizing emotion.

A number of times my first plot sketch has been good enough to work into a synopsis. This has usually happened when I set out to keep my story-teller voice in the sketch. I just act like I'm explaining-telling- my exciting new story to my best friend. Somehow it ha better voice and shorter, too.

Another approach when I'm stumped, and need a much shorter synopsis but it wont trim down: I go to the extreme in shortening it. All the way to a blurb that would fit on the back of a business card. Sometimes not any more than a sentence. The question I ask: What's the essence of my story? Think Elevator Pitch. How would you describe your story to an editor if she asked you in an elevator, and you know she's getting off on the eighth floor?

An example: Sunrise on the Cornish Coast: Two ladies. One spyglass. Two naked men dashing into the surf. One of them is the man Lady Juliette hoped would never find her.

Sure, there's lots more story after that. But this captures the theme, suspense, setting-- go from there.

This one better encapsulates the entire story: What was intended to be a restorative tonic for women turns out to have an entirely different effect on men. And the bachelors of the Ton re running scared.

The object is to keep your tiny blurb in mind as you expand it. Build your synopsis from that point, maybe occasionally checking with your long one where you think you had it just right before. But build like you're putting up house framework, then adding on the remainder. Stop with the framing for a very short synopsis- just the emotional guts with clear but very general plot line. Add more detail for one that's 3-4 pages long, more emotion and motivation, more plot. Then your 7-10 page synopsis can be your mainstay that fleshes thing out. But again, keep your concentration on motivation and emotion.

Hope this helps! Now go get busy and polish up your synopsis!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

NIT-PICKY STUFF: All about Entering

I've given you the basic rules for the Royal Ascot in the Side Bar. But here is some more specific information on submitting, formatting, eligibility, etc:


Regency Definition: set between 1785 and 1830
Setting must be at least partially in the British Empire during the Regency period, or any setting which includes British citizens in any other part of the world during the Regency period.
Entries with strong paranormal or erotic elements are best placed in the Hot and Wild Category. Entries without explicit sex in the story lines would be best placed in the Sweet and Mild category.


Open to all authors who have not been published in romance fiction by RWA PAN standards in the last five years.
Published authors may enter for feedback, but will not be eligible to participate in the final round of judging.
Entry must not be published or contracted in any form at the time of entry.
A previous entry may be entered again if it was not a previous winner of the contest.
An entry may be entered in only one category
Participants may enter more than one manuscript but must submit a separate entry form and fee for each entry.


SIZE: Maximum 30 pages and 8500 words (computer count), to include the story opening and a synopsis not longer than 10 pages. Time Travels should begin where Regency setting begins, with a one-page summary to that point.
FORMAT: Use standard fonts and standard sizes, preferably Times New Roman or a Courier font, at least 12 pt, and standard margins and indentations, please.
HEADER: include title and category, and sub-category if applicable.
NO AUTHOR'S NAME anywhere on manuscript or synopsis.
ATTACH SYNOPSIS to the end of your manuscript pages.
USE Word or RTF. Please don't use Word .docx because many judges can't read it. Coordinator will help if you need help.
No cover sheet needed. Your email serves this purpose.


ENTRY FORM is found at http://dellejacobs.com/royalascot
If you can't access this, contact the coordinator for help. Fill out entry form and submit it.
PAYMENT: Check or PayPal. Use one of the links on the entry form. Follow instructions on the link. Any checks must arrive by the contest deadline.
EMAIL: to contest coordinator at theroyalascot@gmail.com
Entry Form, attached to email
Complete entry, attached to email
Subject Line of the email: RA- plus the title of your entry (may be abbreviated).
You may put a message to coordinator in the message box.
Please keep an un-altered copy of your submission in case of problems

Each entry will receive three judges in the first round, at least one published in romance fiction, and another published or a major contest finalist. Royal Ascot Score Sheet is used and judges are encouraged to write on the entry, and the entries and score sheets will be returned to the entrants after the first round of judging.
Discrepancy judging will only take place if there is at least a 30 point spread between the two lowest scores, and the entry would have a possibility of finaling with a higher total score.
Only three entries in each category will become finalists. If necessary, any ties will be resolved before the final round , using a fourth judge.
Note: If the sub-genre of any finaling entry is not one acquired by the final round judge, an attempt will be made to obtain a read from an editor who acquires that sub-genre. This editor will not participate in judging. All final round judges place priority on story quality, not acquirability.

ANY QUESTIONS? NEED ANY HELP? JUST ASK: theroyalascot@gmail.com

Thanks for your interest! We look forward to having you in our contest.

Delle Jacobs,
Royal Ascot 2009 Coordinator

Thursday, February 26, 2009

DEB WERKSMAN, Casablanca Acquiring Editor, Says:

Several of you have asked what the Royal Ascot final round judges want for submissions, since that's often a criteria contestants use in determining which category will best suit their needs. So it occurred to me, why not ask the editors themselves to talk about what they want to buy, and what grabs ther interest.

I've invited Deb Werksman, Casablanca Acquiring Editor for SourceBooks, to be our guest, to tell us how she sees the current market trends and what she is seeking. Deb first posted the below information on Casablanca Authors, following a pitch contest, and at the end, her basic submission criteria. I think both the information on the pitch and the market wil be useful.


Hello, everyone. The pitch contest was FANTASTIC, I loved it! Thank you to all who participated and all who didn't.

An extended list of winners was posted, so if you didn't see your name on the short list, please go back and check again (I believe the extended list was posted on 2/17).

Of course, I have an open submissions policy, so if you're not on any winner's list, you can still ubmit to me (and some of you already have!)

However, the value of the contest is to see:
*which pitches caught my eye
*which ones didn't

For the most part, the ones that did had something unusual that grabbed me (think "HOOK!!!!!!!) and the ones that didn't either weren't clear, sharp and fresh in the writing, or seemed like something I've read before.

Here's a quick update on the state of the category, subgenre by subgenre, very subjective in some ways, but hopefully informative.

PARANORMAL: still the hottest subgenre in the category, but it's harder and harder to debut in this subgenre, especially with vampires. They've been done so many ways that unless you've got something new/fresh/different/hot, it's probably been done before. I'm still digging werewolves, got a mermaid trilogy that's incredibly hot (and unusual--look for fantastic world-building) and a light para series that's funny and growing (think vicious bunny slippers). Psychics, ghosts, etc. are tough to sell, but give me something new and different, and I'll be all over it!

HISTORICAL: strong, strong, strong. Best periods are English Georgian, Regency, Victorian or Scottish any time. Other periods really tough to sell, alas, but don't hesitate to try me--something truly new/fresh could be a break out winner. We've got two trilogies coming (one with a suspense element, one magnificent Regencies with the most appealing nobleman rogues for heroes...) also a Scottish that's got one of the most flawed, amazing heroes I've ever read..we sigh his name around the office from time to time when we need a pick-me-up.

CONTEMPORARY: straight contemporary tough in the marketplace right now; without a great hook, there's simply too much competition. Cowboys work (yeehaw!), Navy SEALs work (yes sir!), other military types can work, and we have an author who does love triangles like nobody's business, which I think is going to work as her readership builds. I say romantic comedy is going to rise soon and rise fast (I may be the lonely voice in the wilderness, but our series with the nurturing heroes is getting great kudos and as this recession deepens/widens, I think people are
going to want to laugh). See also below, for the contemporary Jane Austen sequels, which are really working as well.

ROMANTIC SUSPENSE: I wish I had more of this on my list (I've got some Irish suspense with paranormal elements that's unbelievable!), but it's tough to find. Two big issues that come up over and over are:
*world-building--I'm not getting the world of the story--I'm seeing lots of FBI agent/cop eroes/heroines, but without a sense that the author really knows what that life is like--it's kind of second-hand experience
*plausibility--there's a lot of murder/mayhem, but it's plot devices that aren't at all fresh (the murdered/kidnapped twin sister she didn't know she had, the murdered parents, etc.). These things just don't happen that often in real life, so it's hard to relate. The characters need motivations that the reader can relate to.

Romantic Suspense was the #2 subgenre before the economic crash, but since then all escape fiction is up EXCEPT mystery/thriller, so I don't know what's going to happen to this subgenre. People are hurting, they may not want to be scared for fun.

EROTIC ROMANCE: I haven't gotten into this subgenre yet, and I expect to, but I'm not seeing stories that are (once again) fresh and interesting. I'm seeing a lot that I feel like I've read already.

YA ROMANCE: Bring it on! We're bringing out our first YA fiction this fall, and this is a subgenre we're eager to build into, so this is my first official call for submissions.

WOMEN'S FICTION: Must have a really unusual premise to work on my list--not seeing much that's new/fresh here.

HISTORICAL FICTION: PW recently named Sourcebooks the leader in Jane Austen sequels--keep 'em coming (including YA)--readers can't get enough! We just launched a new series that's the sweetest, most romantic sequels ever done and they're flying out of Target-- other series include hilarious takes, American cousins, minor characters developing in amazing directions, unexpected variations, and altogether something fresh and new in the genre. We've also got contemporary JA sequels that re-tell the Pride and Prejudice story with modern
characters--these are really hot and fun. It's a formula created over 200 years ago, and you know what! It works!

Check out my specific romance fiction guidelines at www.sourcebooks.com

Remember my criteria:
*Single title only (90K words) also series and trilogies in this length
*Heroine the reader can relate to
*Hero she can fall in love with
*A world gets created
*I can sell it in 2 sentences (or 50 words!)
Things you can do from here:
- Subscribe to Casablanca Authors using Google Reader
- Get started using Google Reader to easily keep up with all your
favorite sites



You've got a great story idea. You've figured out the plot and the hero and heroine are growing magically in your mind. You know all about who they are and how they got to be the way they are. The story is just begging to be written. It assaults you eager mind every minute of the day.
But where does it start?

Or maybe you've already written the story. You know it inside and out now, even to the parts you didn't put in it. But there's one thing wrong, and you've gone over that again and again.
The opening.

You're not alone. Most authors, published or unpublished, have trouble with the beginning, sometimes on every one of their books. As authors, we know our story, but we also know all that led up to it, all that surrounds it and all that follows, so it's confusing to separate out exactly where the book should open. It's not uncommon at all for an author to try four, five, even a dozen different ways to open, and still not grasp why it isn't working.

The most common problem all authors face with openings is STARTING TOO EARLY. I see this so often in contests, I think it must be the most common problem unpublished authors face. Now and then I've seen an author open TOO LATE, but that's rare. We seem to want to get in and explain the past, so the reader will feel grounded when the story opens.

But how much explanation does the reader need? The answer is, not much. That's what the story is for, to show her this new world where she has not walked before. Your opening is there to open her eyes, make her ears hear. Let her discover for herself.

One of my early books, The Mudlark, had one of the most marvelous descriptions I've ever written, all about the heroine and her life an how she had taken over managing her family home in the long absences of her irresponsible father, and...

Get it? Heard it before? So had my contest judges. "Cut to the chase!" one of them said.

I loved my wonderful prose! It told the reader all about who Izzy was! How else could I get that across? Well, the answer was clearly to show who she was by what she did. And one contest judge even helpfully pointed to a paragraph and said, "Your story starts here."

It didn't sound like an opening to me, and I diligently tried to re-work it so it would. But that took me right back to where it was, with twelve pages of explanation. Finally I gave up and just whacked. This is what I found:
When the sun came out from beneath dense clouds, Izzy Daventry threw her
shawl over her shoulders and set off from the manor across meadows that were
still slick from the last downpour. Within moments, the collection of children
commonly known as Izzy's Urchins gathered around her, warbling like the first
larks of spring, eager to see what adventure she had prepared for the day.

What does it do? It sets the scene. It introduces Izzy by showing her doing something she loves. And within the next page it takes what she loves and gives it all a bizarre twist that forces the story into action. I'm even tighter at getting to the point now, but this is the place I learned how to do it.

My favorite opening is probably from His Majesty, the Prince of Toads:
Tucked in amongst the odors of wax and smoking wicks, lavender and musk, lurked the aura of anticipation. Faint, yet distinct, it hung like a scent itself in the heavy air of the Carstairs drawing room.
It became more than a smell. Sophie heard it in the sudden hushing of voices, saw it in the slight raising of eyebrows. Previously attentive gentlemen stiffened, and with polite nods faded away as if they had not been fluttering about her just moments before. Her nape prickled, and Sophie felt like she was a goat staked out in a tiger trap.
This one is better because it makes heavy use of sensual details to present the setting, and to characterize the heroine, not by telling who she is, but by showing her poised at the point of action. And because she is poised, tension builds in the reader immediately. And action does begin immediately, with the confrontation with her husband she has been dreading for years. The reader only needs to know at this point that something is going to happen. And she knows she wants to find out what it is.

Here's an example from J. D. Robb from
Rapture in Death:
Three weeks hadn't changed Cop Central. The coffee was still poisonous, the noise abominable, and the view out her stingy window was still miserable.
She was thrilled to be back.
Nora at her best. She entices the reader with a concise lure that is almost impossible to resist. A lesser author might have started the story where "she" is getting exiled from "her" beloved/hated environment. Not Nora. In one densely, tensely packed paragraph, she has set the scene, established a vital character, painted the mood, and let you know trouble is already as thick as the bad coffee. What trouble? Can't wait to find out, can you?

I've heard so many new writers say, "But I like to ease in to my story." Yes, and it's a great way to get the writer launched into writing it. But it's not a great a way to sell a book. If you tell everything the reader knows in the first chapter, why should she bother to read the rest? She has nothing left niggling at her brain to make her turn the page.

If you think you've done that, go back with a highlighter and mark every place that has an important piece of information the reader needs. With each one of those in mind, imagine the rest of your story and ask WHY the reader needs to know. This will point you to the place in the story where that item becomes relevant. All you have to do next is to figure out a place to stick it in- a place that is not in your opening pages.

The idea is to sprinkle these little clues throughout your manuscript, using just a word or two, showing each one instead of telling about it. Get sneaky. Very sneaky. If you're in a hurry to spruce up your beginning, just make yourself a list containing each clue and where you'd like to hide it. Get to it later.

Then go back and whack out everything before the point where the action begins. Ah, another difficult task. How do you know where that is? You may know more than you think.

Go back and look at my first example. Why was this point chosen? Because everything before it was description. It had motion but no action. Izzy fooled around in her garden. She checked the furniture for proper polish. She stared out the window and watched the rain, thinking about her recalcitrant parent. What she was going to do in the future, what she had done in the past. The point chosen was the point where the action began, leading straight to the adventure that left her looking like the Mudlark as the hero imagines her moments later when they meet.

It's likely, if you're having this kind of problem, that you have a lot of narrative full of beautiful, descriptive prose, possibly with a character musing over the past or planing the future, and doing a lot of gardening. Motion, not action. Where does the action begin?

Action requires conflict. The old way of defining plot structures says it well. All plots follow certain basic patterns: Man vs. man. Man vs. God. Man vs. the elements, or nature. Man vs. himself. Where does the conflict in your story begin? That's where your story begins. Everything before it is just backstory. Get rid of it. Hide it. Start with the story.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Those Strange Royal Ascot Categories

Yes, we know- our categories are not like other contests. It's kind of confusing.

But then, the Royal Ascot is not like other contests. To begin with, the Beau Monde, being a specialty interest group with concentration on the Regency Era, limits its contest to Regency entries. But we want to encourage all authors who write about the Regency Era, regardless of their unique slant on it.

At the same time, having more than one or two categories gives authors who are approaching the Regency from unusual directions a better chance to compete. And it gives the coordinators, who would otherwise have one very large and unruly category, a better perspective.

We decided to divide our categories largely by the levels of sensuality. Judges tend to have sensuality preferences, and contestants might feel they have a better chance when being judged by authors who like the kind of story they are entering. To even this out even more, judges are asked to express their specific preferences, so that a judge who doesn't want to read certain kinds of stories won't be getting those entries. Hopefully this pleases everyone.

But how do you know where your story belongs? What if it's a really hot historical? Should you enter in Hot & Wild or Regency Historical? Historicals are for the most part pretty hot right now.

What if you've got a story that doesn't have a lot of sex, or none, but doesn't have a traditional Regency tone? Is it sweet, but you threw in a love potion? Potentially it might fit in any of the categories. And what if it's a very strong paranormal, but without love scenes? Would you get disqualified if the judges disagree with your choice?

First, no, we're not going to disqualify anyone for "Wrong Category". You are the one who gets to decide where to enter your manuscript. Judges will not judge on "Wrong Category", or even take off points for it. If we really think you're wrong, we'll contact you and talk about putting it in a more appropriate category.

Second, keep in mind that the Hot & Wild and Sweet & Mild categories are almost always much smaller than the Regency Historical. Fewer entries in a category increases the chances of finalling for each entry in the category.

But back to choosing. Some entries are going to be pretty easy decisions. Some aren't. Here's my suggestion:

Hot & Wild:
All Erotic Regencies should go in this category.
Very Sensual Regencies.
Paranormals where the paranormal elements are strong and dominant, particularly if the story couldn't exist without the paranormal elements.
Time Travels.

Sweet & Mild:
Stories without explicitly written sex scenes, although sexual tension can be high.
Young Adult Regencies.
Inspirational Regencies.

Regency Historical:
These are the general market stories.
They can have a sensual level varying from light through very sensual.
Paranormal elements would probably not be dominant in these stories.

But what about more mainstream stories, where the romance is a major element but not really the story's focus? I'd say, go for matching it up with the sensuality level. But violence? That's another question. We'd have to talk about it.

I'd also suggest looking at the final round judges and the types of stories they are likely to buy. That will often tell you where your story will best fit. If none of the judges is acquiring your type of story, and you reach the final round, we'll do everything we can to find an additional editor who acquires in your sub-genre to read but not judge your manuscript. All final round judges are instructed to make their placement decisions on the quality of the stories and not on whether or not the stories are the kinds they can acquire.

If you still can't decide, then send me an email at theroyalascot@gmail.com and we'll talk about your specific story to help you decide where your story has the best chance.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Observations of a Contest Judge

Following are some observations I have made over the number of contests I have judge, consistent errors that detract from otherwise excellent entries. These are also factors I take into consideration when editing my own work and critiquing the work of others.

1: Dangling participles. (Walking to the store, the car nearly ran me down. Walking is the Participle. With this structure, the car is the subject, so we have a walking car.)

2: A shocking misuse of commas.

3: Too much telling.

4: Not enough use of the five senses.

5: No sense of time or place through dialogue, description, or tone.

6: No sense of the main characters' goals or conflicts.

7: Forced conflicts—anger and distrust with no logical reason for either.

8: Heroine being physically attracted to the hero regardless of how nasty he is to her. (This may be realistic, unfortunately, and it's not emotionally healthy.)

9: Huge chunks of detailed descriptions without any purpose.

10: Too many point of view shifts in a single scene. (Even if you put in the space or ***, going back and forth every other paragraph is still head-hopping.)

11: Reaction occurring before action. (He jumped when she covered his eyes with her hands.)

12: A lack of hooks at the end of the scene.

13: This is especially important in The Royal Ascot: easily verifiable historical errors--British titles used incorrectly, hero or heroine the brother or sister of the other's dead spouse, anachronistic behavior.