Tuesday, 20 September 2011

New Voices... And How to Adopt the Pollyanna Approach

As I'm sure you're all very well aware by now, the fabulous New Voices — aka The Mills and Boon X-Factor — has launched over on www.romanceisnotdead.com. I spent a very nice afternoon on Sunday browsing through some of the 144 entries already loaded and left fairly detailed comments on a couple which I particularly enjoyed reading. Once again I'm an author mentor for the second round — along with 19 other fab authors such as Abby Green, Natalie Anderson, Liz Fielding, Donna Alward and Fiona Harper — but at this stage I think it's really invaluable for people to get commenting and if you're a new writer, to take the time to read some of the entries (and the comments) as well as your own.

But I do have a little bit of advice... So here are:

Heidi's Top Tips on the Pollyanna Approach to Commentary:

For Commentators: Be Nice. Be Constructive. And Say It Gently!

A constructive comment is an invaluable thing but a comment that just says: 'Your hero's a complete tosser!' or 'Your premise is ridiculous' doesn't actually help anyone. It may be your opinion and that's always valid, but think about why you didn't like the hero, what was it about him that turned you off. And can you think of anything that may have helped to turn you on to him again. If you're a writer yourself, it can be helpful in your own writing to think about how you would revise or edit another's story. And last but not least, be gentle, because us creative types have fragile egos... It's a huge step putting your work out there and many people will be doing it for the first time. We've all been there, so we all know how it feels if someone is unnecessarily harsh or abrupt. And if there's absolutely nothing you liked about an entry, I'm not sure I'd comment at all.

For Commentees (is that a word??): Value Criticism. But Don't Take It Personally. 

As writers whether we're published or unpublished we all have to learn to take criticism of our work and use it constructively, because we're writing these stories for readers as well as ourselves. And great writing is about writing and then rewriting and then rewriting some more and.... Well, you get the picture. The opportunity to get constructive feedback from people who read romance is the real reward of this competition so make the most of it. That said, feel free to ignore comments that aren't helpful or suggestions that you know won't work for your story (this is after all your story and your characters and you know them best) but remember, if a lot of commentators are basically saying the same thing it is probably something you want to look at. And last but not least, whatever anyone says don't take it personally!! Some very nice person who had taken the trouble to read my book and write about it on Goodreads told me she thought it was 'morally repugnant' (and several other not entirely complementary things besides) but I pasted my best Pollyanna grin on my face and figured.. Ok, she didn't like it but at least she told me why in exhaustive detail (and I certainly hope she doesn't take the trouble to read any more of my books!). So if I can do it, so can you!

As part of my Mentoring Duties I'm going to be doing a New Voices Workshop at Mayfair Library tonight at 6.30pm... And I'll be reporting back on it here tomorrow for all those who can't attend.

But until then to all the entrants and commentators.. Keep writing, keep commentating and let's make this competition a positive experience for everyone!

PS: I have rather arbitrarily illustrated this post with a photo from my recent photoshoot with the wonderful photographer Anne Mortensen.. What d'you think??? I'm so chuffed, I think she's made me look like a proper romance novelist - and captured my best Pollyanna smile!


Aimee Duffy said...

Thanks for posting this. I've been trying my best to help others with my comments but wasn't completely sure how to be helpful. Not noticed any nasty comments yet and I hope there won't be.
The photo is lovely, you really do look like a romance author :)

Kavya Rizwan said...

Great post. And your photograph is lovely :) I haven't posted my chapter on New Voices yet, but when I do I'll be taking your advice about the comments. I'm not attending tonight's workshop, but I'm booked for the Fulham one. Looking forward to meeting you!

Heidi Rice said...

I haven't noticed any either, and I hope there won't be too, Amy. But even if there are they'll be in a tiny minority, and no one should be worried about them... And so glad you liked the photo (not that I was fishing for a complement or anything!! LOL!)

Cool Kavya, can't wait to meet you too. Should be fun at the workshop. Hopefully they'll be a fair few NV entrants there, always nice to have peeps attending who know what I'm waffling on about!

Heidi Rice said...

Oops Sorry Aimee, spelt your name wrong... And I call myself a writer!

Susie Medwell said...

Thanks for this post, it's great advice. I've been lucky enough to get some really constructive comments on my entry - which is what I was hoping for when I entered.

Susie Medwell said...

Oh, and lovely photo!

Aimee Duffy said...

lol. It's a weird way to spell it!
I've had some lovely and helpful comments too. I'll have a look at yours later Susie x

Anonymous said...

Sound advice for the entrants there, as always, from you, Heidi!

Love, love that picture. Very glamorous look, I have to say. :-)

Alexandra said...

Over the year since the last New Voices competition I've found that critiquing work has helped me be a little more objective about my own writing - it's still not easy to hit the right note when critiquing, though. I've not entered this year's comp yet but hope to - if I ever get this chapter sorted. At the moment it has been scrapped and it's back to the drawing board.

I live in north east Scotland and quite far from even our nearest workshop so it will be great to read your notes on your own workshop.

Great photo. Love the colour of the dress!

Heidi Rice said...

Hi Susan so glad you've had positive feedback, always so useful... And glad you like the pic!

Yes, Doris, had my glamour-puss socks on that day!!

Hi Alexandra, I absolutely agree it makes as all stronger as writers giving others positive feedback, so it's a win-win really. Best of luck with your chapter... I won't tell you about the book I started five times, in five different places then, before I finally got it right! Arghh, sometimes it just goes like that, don't give up on it. Will try and post some informative comments tomorrow. re: the workshop.

Heidi Rice said...

Sorry, that's Susie not Susan... God, I think I've lost the ability to read and write today.

Rachael Johns said...

Fabulous advice as usual Heidi and can I just say... you look absolutely STUNNING!

Voodoo Spice said...

I'm taking note of all my constructive comments - only have a few to go on so far, to do with suggesting my story be done as a suspense based on the prologue, when I'm actually writing a Warm & Cosy 'rom-com' - which would change the story completely. However, I've seen some really good entries on the site which do have 'crossover' elements (suspense, contemporary, romantic comedy etc) - I tend to start with the genre the writer has picked when reading in mind, because that's what you see on the cover in the store. Nothing has seemed out of place that I've read so far, so the authors are putting that research into their category, and obviously have some idea how they want their book's image to appear on the shelf - as well as the reader-expected outcomes of the book in mind.

One funny comment I had, regarded my 'spelling/grammar' - as I'd checked it, I could only guess the reader was from the US and didn't notice that I was in the UK... I felt compelled to highlight that (in a nice way!) in case other readers looked at my comments before reading my chapter, and assumed I was unable to string a sentence together...

Great advice! My usual defence is to use humour, if anything, but I also heartily recommend the 'smile and move on' attitude in the face of creative conflict - one man's art is another man's chaos :)

Best of luck to all, and enjoy the workshops - nearest one to me was Basingstoke, but I still can't afford to get there :(

Lisa, aka Voodoo Spice (New Voices entry: Neptune's Island) http://www.romanceisnotdead.com/Entries/78-Neptunes-Island/Chapter-One

Heidi Rice said...

Rachel, you sweetheart! Thanx very much.

And Lisa, thanks for your input. First off congratulations for getting your chapter up there. Sounds like you're taking the comments in a really professional and sensible way. Yes, definitely discard anything that would make you change the whole story. Sometimes when I'm commenting on another's work I make suggestions that may well be completely wrong for the story (cos of course these are just first chapters, we can't know what they're replanning to do next), but I hope will still help unlock a fresh idea or solution that could be useful.

What a shame you couldn't make it to Basingstoke, I think that was Sharon Kendrick and she's a real romance star!

Voodoo Spice said...

Thanks, Heidi :) Hopefully some more workshops will crop up in future when I can afford it! x

anna garner said...

Wise words, Heidi! Well put. And you look fabulous in the photo. :-)

I SO wish I was at your workshop right now!


Lorraine said...

Lovely photo Heidi :-)

I am trying to adopt a positive Pollyanna approach this year, i.e. will try not to let anything wind me up!
Hope the workshop goes well, sorry I couldn't be there this year.

Lacey Devlin said...

Gorgeous photo, Heidi. I think it captures your fabulousness (is so a word!) perfectly.

LOL to "and I certainly hope she doesn't take the trouble to read any more of my books!" I hope so too :-)

Thanks for the link to your comments. I learnt so much last year just from comments on other entries. I'm sure your comentees are beyond thrilled with your generous time and detail.

Caroline said...

Lovely photo Heidi. And thanks for the advice. I'm still chewing fingernails before I sub! Caroline x

Laura Russell said...

Hi Heidi, I have actually read the review you referred to on Goodreads so I salute your toughness! And I read the review before I read your book and wanted to read it anyway so perhaps reviewer is telling us more about herself. As someone polishing Chapter 1, I really appreciate your advice on comments.