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

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.