Over to you Emily...
Facing “The Fear”
Have you ever had a nightmare where you are walking naked down a crowded street and everyone is laughing at you? How did you feel? Ashamed, humiliated, wanting a sinkhole to appear in the road and swallow you up?
Multiply that by a few thousand. Now you’re pretty close to how I felt about letting someone read my novel.
The thing is, the whole point about being an author is that people are going to read your books and (quakes at the thought) some of them will write a review.
So why, I ask myself, do I want to do this? Why romance? The genre is generally frowned upon even though it takes just as much effort to write and just as many people (if not more) enjoy reading romance compared to other genres.
Many authors will probably say the same – it’s just something I have to do.
My problem was, when I had written my novel, what comes next? This is where the wonderful Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) came in.
Sometime in March 2014 I stumbled across a website for professional writers, the RNA, which has a New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) for unpublished authors, restricted to 250 members each year. NWS members enjoy most of the benefits of full membership, eg access to events, a quarterly magazine, plus a full critique of one novel from an experienced author. Perfect! Sadly, all 250 places for 2014 were filled. My naïve reaction was “but it’s only March!”
Never mind - I cracked on with the draft of another novel and waited till the end of the year when applications opened for 2015. Huddling over my computer at just after midnight January 2 2015, I pressed the “send” button the moment my clock registered 12:02, jumping for joy when I received confirmation of my success a few days later. Little did I realise how lucky I was. A fellow NWS member told me she missed her alarm in 2014 and sent her application at 5am, but the places had all gone. The NWS is heavily oversubscribed and I can understand why.
So what has the NWS done for me? Through membership of the RNA’s online forum I connected with a fellow NWS member who set up a critique group which now has a range of members at different stages in their career – newbies like me and more established authors. Being in the NWS is like going back to University where I’m a 1st year undergraduate with “graduation” to full membership, ie a publishing contract, an indeterminate number of years away.
The critique group was and is an invaluable source of support and advice, not only on writing, but how to cope with twitter, websites and blogs – all the essential skills an author needs in addition to being able to write books. Being an online group I never had to look any of my critique buddies in the eye, but The Fear still gripped me when we started to share chapters and extracts for comments. But the feedback I got was great – really constructive tips on editing and pacing as well as encouragement to stick to my own writing style.
So when I finally submitted my manuscript in mid-2015 to the NWS for critique I knew I had something that was at least better than the first draft. At this point, other than the odd chapter and a few passages shared among the critique group, I had not let anyone read the whole novel from start to finish (cue images of being pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables as I continue to walk down that street – Cersei Lannister, anyone?). The Fear gripped me again - images of feedback such as “what on earth do you think you’re doing”, “stick to the day job”, “this is a pale imitation of a cheesy bodice-ripper” flashed through my mind.
When my report came back, not more than three weeks after I sent the manuscript off, my blood pressure spiked. It was like those end-of-year university exam results which determined whether or not you’d get kicked off the course for being too stupid.
Needless to say the lady who critiqued my novel was positive, constructive and gave excellent editing advice. I assume she’s a lady – the NWS critique panel are anonymous. This makes sense because writers can be a feisty lot. I have heard stories of rejected authors parading up and down outside an agent’s offices yelling obscenities and someone once told me an author sent an agent a cake with a begging message iced on the top; so I can understand why reviewers want to be protected by the veil of anonymity. Artistic temperament + negative feedback = ugly meltdown.
But it’s a shame I don’t know my reviewer’s name because I’d like to give her a big hug! By giving me feedback on the bits that needed work she has helped me improve and prepare my manuscript for agency submission. By her positive feedback on the plot and characterisation she has begun to convince me that my book doesn’t suck and that if I persevere at it I have a chance of getting that elusive publishing contract. And finally, by being the first ever person to read my book in its entirety without spontaneously combusting at the awfulness of it she has helped me to conquer The Fear.
If I don’t manage to secure a publishing deal in the short term the silver lining is that I have many more years to look forward to in the NWS, knowing that there’s a very supportive community in the RNA as a whole and some talented authors and reviewers to help me understand what works in a novel and what doesn’t. I can’t recommend the RNA/NWS enough and would urge any budding romance authors to join.
I just need to make sure I set my alarm for 12:02 next January. Oh, and write a decent book!
Emily grew up in Sussex where her love of all things Medieval made her nag her parents to take her to Bodiam Castle at every opportunity. She loves romantic novels with lots of conflict and hardship and characters with a dark edge. She is currently writing gritty medieval romances but has outline plans for other historical settings as well as contemporary romances. She now lives in rural Scotland with her husband, children and menagerie of dogs, chickens and snakes (often to be found on her lap when she’s writing). Emily Royal is the pen name of Sally Calder. She is in the process of setting up a website but can be found at: