Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas and Hanukkah

Best wishes to all from sunny Johannesburg. Wherever you are, whether you're enjoying sun or snow, we wish you all the best for this season and for the coming year.

Friday, December 18, 2009

External Conflict vs Internal Conflict

For romance writers, this is a biggie.

You need to know the line you want to write for and whether the emphasis is on internal or external conflict. So if you're writing single title, external might predominate, but if you're writing category romance aimed at Mills & Boon your focus should be on internal conflict, and if you're targeting a romantic suspense line, you'll need to find a fine balance between the two.

But do you understand the difference?

Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" provides the perfect example.
* Spoiler alert below *

Pretty Belle is a dreamer, a hopeless romantic. Gaston, the town's most eligible - and most self-centred - bachelor, decides that he wants Belle as his wife. Meanwhile, living alone in a nearby castle, is the Beast, a prince transfigured by an enchantress because of his selfishness and his inability to love. The spell will only be broken when he learns to love and is loved in return. But as the years pass and no-one can see past his hideousness, the Beast grows more angry and more reclusive.

Belle and the Beast are thrown together (watch the movie for the details I'm skipping over). Slowly, despite the obvious obstacles, they become friends and attraction grows between them. She learns to see past his hideous face to the man within and he learns to control his anger and find hope and joy once again.

Just as it seems they are going to come together, Belle looks in a magic mirror and sees that her father is ill and needs help. The Beast lets her go, even though he knows it means giving up his only chance to break the spell and transform back into a prince.

In trying to help her father, Belle tells the townsfolk about the Beast. Led by the jealous Gaston, the townsfolk storm the Beast's castle. The Beast is injured in the fight and Belle finds him. She reveals her love for him in his dying moments and so he is saved and transformed back into a handsome prince. Happy Ever After.

Now the external conflict is clear: the enchantress' spell, her father's illness, Gaston's jealousy, the excited mob. A certain amount of external conflict is always necessary, but it is the less obvious internal conflicts that add depth to any story and which keep the reader hooked.

Internal conflict stems from who they are as people, their beliefs, their experiences. In Belle's case, this is her romantic idealism. She dreams of living the fantasy she reads about, and yearns for a hero like those in her books. She knows she doesn't want Gaston, but she still has to learn to look beneath the Beast's hideous features to love the man within.

In the Beast's case, he needs to learn to love and to put someone else's needs above his own.

Even when all the external conflicts have been resolved, and the battle with the townsfolk has been won, Belle and her Beast cannot find their Happy Ever After without overcoming their own prejudices and issues. And it is important that they are the only ones who can help each other overcome these issues. No-one else but Belle can draw the Beast out of the anger he has withdrawn into and bring him to the point where he is able to put her needs before his own. No-one but the Beast is able to show Belle that true beauty is within.

Having a clear idea of what your characters' conflicts are and how they're going to overcome them is the basis of your character arcs. In resolving their internal conflicts, your characters learn and grow. This gives them depth, makes them real people as opposed to two-dimensional characters, and makes your reader care about them.

Can you see how you can apply this in your own writing? Do you have any questions regarding internal and eternal conflict? Please feel free to leave a comment ...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Publishing as a business

Just how badly do you want to be a paid, professional writer?
If you are serious about being published, here are a few basic suggestions to follow:

1. Write! Don't just talk about it or plan how you're going to do it, or dream about the life you'll lead when you are published.

2. Write Regularly. Ask any published writer and they'll tell you that writing is about discipline way more than it is about inspiration. Don't wait for those rare moments when the muse strikes. Write every day, even if it is only an hour a day. Put yourself in the right place for the muse to come find you.

3. Develop your craft. Published writers often talk about how they never stop learning. For me, that's part of the fun of this journey toward publication, that I'm always learning new things. Never rest on your laurels; always keep improving your skills.

4. Treat this as a career, not as a hobby. This is more important than it sounds. You cannot expect other people (editors, agents etc) to take you seriously as a writer if you don't take yourself seriously.

5. Learn the business. Yes, you're an artist, but it still helps to know the business end of the industry you're trying to break into. And I don't just mean reading the types of books published by the publishers you're targeting (though that goes without saying). Learn about how royalties work, what trends are developing in publishing, which imprints are opening/closing, what the agents are saying on their blogs. Learn, learn, learn.

6. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, behave like a published writer. You can start small by printing business cards, starting a blog, developing a web presence. But even if you are not yet in the public eye, remember that everything you say and do in the public arena should be professional. In every correspondence with editors or agents, no matter how hurt or rejected you feel, stay courteous. In everything you do and say, be polite. And that includes Facebook. One day you plan to be a public icon - and you don't want to be remembered as a person who bad-mouthed a certain agent or editor or writer. You want to be remembered as that incredible writer who is also a really nice person. At least I do!

Is there anything else you can think of to add to this list? All comments welcome.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Kimani Romance

Kimani Romance is Harlequin's African-American imprint. The novels are quite rare here in South Africa, which is surprising considering our multi-ethnic society and the popularity of all things American, but for any of our blog readers who read Kimani novels and are interested in writing for them, you'll be interested to know that eHarlequin are running an editor pitch in January. Editor pitches are a fast track way of getting your work seen by an editor, though they do require a basic knowledge of on-line chatting.

For more information, check out the writing guidelines here, the editor podcast here, and books can be bought online here. Please note that the deadline for entries is 6th January 2010.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

eBook or Print?

We South Africans like to think we're up there with the developed world, but when it comes to new technology we're not quite as quick on the uptake as some of them. And who can blame us? After all, where would you go to buy yourself an ebook reader? Do you even know what an ebook reader is ... or an ebook?

As aspiring authors we're all keeping up to date with news regarding new publishers, old ones closing down or merging and any information we can find to answer the question ... do we go epublishing route or do we stick to a traditional print publisher? And what's the difference? Will we sell more or do we limit ourselves? Or, do we find a publisher who will do both? How does the market vary in each?

Decisions, decisions ... and quite frankly not enough information out there yet.

There are some fabulous sites on the net where we can go as romance readers to buy our "fix" outside of the well known Amazon. Some of them give us the option of buying either one format or the other or oftentimes both. Price difference is perhaps another factor to consider as the ebooks are definitely cheaper. However they are still too expensive! The cost of paper, printing and distribution is astronomical and the fact that an ebook does away with all that should reflect better in the pricing models. And let's not get started about the fact that you can't "lend" your book to a friend with an ebook because of the copyright!

Which leads us very nicely into the next question. Which device should you buy to read your ebooks? Most publishers offer document types such as PDF, Adobe Digital Editions, Sony Readers, Kindle Readers, Microsoft readers ... Which one do you choose?

Well as far as Exclusive Books is concerned you shouldn't choose any of them ... yet! As an Apple fan myself I have to wonder whether they're waiting for the release of the Tablet which will possibly integrate with the iPhone! Sounds like digital heaven for the multi-taskers among us! I can just see all those hours stuck in traffic becoming less of a problem ...

So, in South Africa I guess it's not always such a good idea to be an innovator! Rather adapt a wait and see attitude before we rush into any decisions when it comes to the ereader.

However, when it comes to publishing ... go for it! eBooks are here to stay one way or the other. The rest of the world is forging ahead with the new technology so don't get left behind as an author. And maybe, just maybe, eBooks will be what gets our children reading again! Surely that thought alone is well worth it?

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's the hardest thing you've ever written?

We all start off on this journey as a wanna be writer with a specific scene or story in mind. Then we jump in, with both feet - hands chained to the keyboard until it's just right. And then ... the story has to move along. Before you know it you've arrived at that scene. You know the one I mean - the one you're not very comfortable writing. It's the one you've convinced yourself you're no good at too! Coincidence?

Hmmm, so authors write from their own life's experiences right? You can just see Roald Dahl trying out what it's like to be buried alive - can't you? No of course not and that's where our creativity and vivid imagination comes from. Although at times it would be nice to try out that shower scene from Psycho - wouldn't it? And I'll just bet you know exactly who's going to be behind that curtain!

This is why, as an author, whenever life throws you scenarios you'd rather not deal with, you still try to psycho-analyse yourself. How does it feel? Is the feeling one that is constantly there or does it come and go in waves? What smell do I associate with it? Who do I turn to? Do they help me?

Then at the end of the day the final question is always - how can I make it better?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Writing can be fun???

Today we welcome guest blogger David Seven, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison for Port Elizabeth:

So it is now nearly two thirds of the way through NaNoWriMo and as I write this I am slightly ahead of schedule (Slightly). This year I went for the slow and sure approach rather than the fast and furious. What I mean is that I am writing the whole novel by hand. Madness? Possibly; But enjoyable madness.

50000 in 30 days is madness and we all need some way to make it fun for us as we do it, as with any writing. For you, that might be wearing a silly hat while you write, or rewarding yourself for every thousand words. For me, the way to make it fun, is to feel the old-fashioned delight of watching word after word appear indelibly on my page. It fills me with a sense of satisfaction like no other, even on the days I only write 50 words. Writing by hand makes me feel more like a writer, and less like a typist. It makes it feel more like creativity, and less like work. It lets me put the book down with a feeling of accomplishment at the end of each day, which I will never get from switching off a computer.

What makes writing fun for you? How do you keep it interesting for the time it takes to struggle through? Why am I asking so many questions?

You can visit David at his blog: or at the official Nano site.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

It's My NaNo. I Control It!

By now you're twelve days into your novel writing and you're bang on target with your word counts ... aren't you? No, well, welcome to the club! If you're one of those incredibly disciplined individuals who are on target ... move on my friends, you're perfect as you are. If you're not ...

So you're behind on the required 1,667 words per day which you will need to write to actually make it to the finish line with enough words in the bag ... erm manuscript ... and you're wondering what temporary insanity made you take on the challenge in the first place? Fear not for you are not alone! Most of us have a life and, yes, it does get in the way at times. Who am I kidding? It gets in the way all the time. Or, do we use it as an excuse? What me? Never! Well ... maybe just a little.

Right. Let's recap then. You took on the challenge because you want to write 50,000 words during November. And then you realised that it wasn't going to be as easy as you first anticipated, or perhaps, you thought it was going to be hard - just not that hard. Which leaves us with an enormous reality check. We have 18 days left to write our book. It's enough. Oh yes it is. If you want it badly enough you'll find that extra hour before the kids wake up, during your lunch break or while you're sitting on the soccer pitch watching your little darling play his heart out. Because you can have it all. You just have to have the guts to go out and grab it.

So what are you waiting for? Go back to that document and write, write, write.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Carina Press

I'm jumping up and down with excitement this morning! I woke to the news that Harlequin Enterprises, arguably the world's biggest publishing house, has opened a new imprint for digital format books (ebooks to you and me).

What is so exciting about this new imprint, named Carina Press, is that they are open to all genres, all lengths and all heat levels, from sweet to erotica, from Space Opera to historical thriller.

Have you ever had a manuscript rejected because it didn't quite fit Harlequin's category guidelines? Then submit it to Carina.
Written a murder mystery with a lesbian heroine that you you don't know where to submit? Submit to Carina.
Or a single title chick lit that you can't find an agent for? Submit to Carina.

Like most ebook publishers, there will be no advances but the royalty percentages will be higher than for traditional print books. For more information on Carina Press and their submission guidelines, click on the link below.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Website Updated


Check out the interview with Fiona Snyckers, author of Trinity Rising, South Africa's first ever chick lit novel, and the fascinating article by Megan Andrews on romance themes.

And once again we'd like to remind you that this website is a community site. Please feel free to subnit articles, book reviews, or make suggestions.

Monday, November 2, 2009

It's NaNoWriMo time!

NaNo started yesterday. Are you signed up and writing frantically? Or have you just realised what today's date is? It's not too late!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NaNo Kick-off

With just three days to go to the start of NaNoWriMo, I hope by now you've got at least a rough idea of what you're going to be writing.

If not, here's a short checklist:
  • What type of novel are you writing - paranormal, chick lit, suspense etc?
  • Do you know your characters? And not just their names but an idea of who they are as people, their backgrounds, their goals etc.
  • Where is your novel set?
  • What are the major conflicts that will keep your hero and heroine apart?
Okay, now you're ready to get started. Or are you?

I highly recommend that in the next three days you clear your desk, do your filing, clear out the cupboards, and get that spring cleaning done. Finish any task that you might grab as an excuse not to write during November.

There are kick-off meets around the country this week-end, so if you want to join in and meet like-minded people and get inspired, take a look at the calendar at If you're in Jo'burg I look forward to meeting you at the Mugg & Bean in Melville on Sunday.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Short Story Radio Romance Award 2010

UK-based Short Story Radio has announced that a new contest for romantic fiction writers. The prize is the chance to have your work recorded and broadcast, as well as to receive a cash prize. They are looking for an engaging and entertaining romance story, told in two parts of no more than 5,000 words in total, similar to the type of romance story you will find in a women's magazine.
The winning story will be recorded and broadcast, in two episodes, on the Short Story Radio website and podcast, of the same standard as the stories already broadcast on Short Story Radio. The story will be available for broadcast for a period of 12 months.
The winner will also receive a cash prize of £150 (approx. $235 USD) and the title of winner of the Short Story Radio Romance Award 2010.
The short-list judge for this competition is Pat Richardson, founder of Perfectly Worded Writing and Editing Consultancy and former Fiction Editor at Best magazine (UK). Pat says: ""I make a living from making words work - it has always excited me, and I love doing it. I am just as excited at seeing how others do it. Coupled with creative inspiration, it is the recipe for a good story, and I am very much looking forward to reading those which are shortlisted for the Short Story Radio Romance Award 2010."
Short Story Radio founder Ian Skillicorn says: "We believe this is the first writing competition of its kind and offers a fantastic opportunity for romantic fiction writers and enthusiasts."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Nollybooks: looking for South African love stories

South African publishing venture Nollybooks is looking for writers and experienced editors. They plan to publish love stories aimed at the young, black South African market. At 30,000 words, they're looking for stories that are short but which pack a punch, similar to Mills & Boon. Also like Mills & Boon they're developing an unusual distribution network: Nollybooks will not be selling in traditional bookstores, but rather through hair salons, spaza shops etc.

Nollybooks is the brainchild of Moky Makura, a former Carte Blanche presenter, who has experience in publishing, PR and is a business writer. She is also the founder of Africa Our Africa, a website aimed at promoting patriotism and African pride.

For more information on Nollybooks, check out or contact Nkateko Shingange on or 011 656 6349.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Great Beginnings

For the Presents contest you only have one chapter in which to woo the editors so you need to make that chapter the best it can be.

This means that it needs to be full of action, introduce the characters and their conflicts, dribble in the barest minimum of back story, grab the reader's attention and end with enough of a cliffhanger to make the reader want more. 'Is that all?' you ask, banging your head on the keyboard.

Don't be disheartened. There are some great resources availble on the net to help you perfect that opening chapter. Check these out to start:

eHarlequin Writing Articles

iheartpresents Competition Tips

Now don't spend all day surfing the net! You have a prize-winning chapter to write.

Just remember the golden rule of scriptwriting and you can't go wrong: enter the scene as late as possible and leave as quickly as possible.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The 2009 Presents Contest

The deadline for the 2009 Harlequin Presents contest is rapidly approaching. If you would like to break into the Harlequin / Mills & Boon market, then this is your chance to submit and be noticed.

Because with only 150-200 entries and a response time of only one month, you're going to have your opening chapter read much sooner than if you submit through the slush pile.

Harlequin is looking for the first chapter and a 2-page, double-spaced synopsis for a novel aimed at Harlequin Presents (published here in SA as Mills & Boon Modern and Modern Heat). To check out the guidelines for these lines, click here.

Details of how to enter are available here.

But ...
The deadline is 2nd November, so you only have 3 weeks in which to submit.

If you already have a completed novel ready to submit, then go for it!
If you haven't even started, don't worry - it's not too late. I'd suggest you use the next 3 weeks to write the first chapter and synopsis, then take the opportunity of NaNo to complete the novel in time for that wonderful request you're going to get from the Harlequin editors ...

[Yes, I know that's not the NaNo ideal and they'd prefer you start a new novel on 1st November - but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do to get ahead in this business!]

The next blog post will give tips on how to write a winning chapter, and after that we have some wonderful news for South African romance writers. So keep checking in here ...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How to prepare for NaNo

Right, so you've decided to give NaNo a try and you're feeling motivated. How do you begin?
Well that depends entirely whether you're a pantser or a plotter.

A pantser writes by the seat of the pants. A true pantser will sit down on 1st November, open a new Word document and simply start to write, letting the characters emerge and the just enjoying the ride to see where the story takes them.

A plotter will spend the entire month of October getting to know the characters, interviewing them, creating a detailed synopsis, perhaps even detailing what will happen in each chapter, and when Day One rolls around will simply start filling in the novel with actual words.

Most of us fall somewhere in between. You have an idea before you start where you want to set the novel, who your main characters are, and what's going to happen to them. If you're writing romance you'll have a rough idea what conflicts are going to keep the hero and heroine apart, and how they're finally going to resolve those conflicts and get their Happy Ever After. The rest will slowly unfurl as you write.

Me, I started as a plotter. I had little tables indicating what would happen in each chapter. Then as I wrote everything would change and I'd spend half my time revising my beautiful tables. I discovered that change is a good thing. Now, I start with the characters and their conflicts, and let them lead the way - often they know what works better than I do! I've learned to trust my characters, but I still have to start with a frame-work.

So how about you - are you a plotter or a pantser?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Wanna be a NaNo winner?

If you want one of these ... you're going to have to work for it! And I mean work!

I earned myself one of these last year when I hit over 51,000 words in November - and I intend to do the same this year. When you get right down to it - it's not such an impossible goal to achieve! But you have to be prepared!

So how did I do it? Well I thought about my hero and heroine all throughout the month of October. I knew who they were, where they had come from and why they would react the way that they did! I fell in love with my hero - which every self-respecting romance writer has to do - and gave him a heroine I knew he wouldn't be able to resist.

On the 1st of November I hit the ground running. I knew I'd have to write a minimum of 1,667 words a day so I set myself that target. I kept track of my word counts religiously and in the days that I didn't write, I knew I'd have to catch up the words in the days that I did. Yes you heard right - there were days I didn't write and I still made it!

In total there were 7 days throughout November when I didn't write. There were days when my total word count was less than target and then of course there were days when I was in "the zone" and I wrote four or five thousand words! It is completely and utterly exhilirating to finish a 50,000 word novel in one month! The sense of achievement is tremendous! I cannot recommend it enough.

If I had to think about the best tip I could give you ... don't edit! Do NOT go over what you've written the day before. You simply don't have the time and if you did do it you run the risk of your internal critic interfering with your progress! So beware!

Remember ... all that matters is that you reach your word count! Trust me, when you do you'll know what I'm talking about! Euphoria!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Official Nanowrimo

The best way to achieve your Nano goal is to keep motivated all month. I'm not just talking about chocolate. Support and understanding from your family go a long way, but even better is the encouragement of other Nano writers, people in the same boat as you.

The official Nano site is at This is where you log in, create your identity, keep track of your word counts and when you finally succeed, this is where you claim your recognition. You can also meet writing buddies here, people who will help you feel like you're not alone and that you really can do this. If you join up on this site, please also join the South African regional group and let them know who you are. The municipal liaisons arrange local events for writers to meet and greet. If you're in Johannesburg, I hope to see you there!

eHarlequin's community site also runs a forum group for Nano participants. Though no-one there keeps tracks of your overall score, the forum is a fun place to hang out (when you really should be writing!) and participants get to post their favourite line of the day which is always good for a laugh or some inspiration. The community site is at

You can go Nanowrimo alone, but unless you really are a tremendously disciplined person (in which case you probably don't need Nano) I strongly recommend that you don't. At the very least, find a writing friend that you can suffer along with, compete against, laugh with or moan with. It'll keep you on track and motivated.

Of course, we'll also be here to post encouragement and to listen to your woes. So don't be a stranger ....

Thursday, October 1, 2009


What is Nanowrimo?

Also known affectionately as Nano, National Novel Writing Month takes place every November, challenging writers to let go of all their hang-ups, of their inner critics, by pushing them to write 50,000 words in one month. That is an entire category length novel in just thirty days!

Why? Because so many people start novels, then lose motivation and never finish. Or worse, get stuck in permanent revision syndrome and never get beyond the first few chapters. Writing an entire novel in 30 days teaches you discipline. You'll have good days and bad days, but by making time every day to try to hit a target of 1,700 words, you'll get into the habit of writing, and once the habit is formed you'll be a better writer for it.

The best thing about Nano is that there is no time to sit and think about whether what you've written stinks or not. You just write. In the now immortal words of Nora Roberts (and I paraphrase!): you can edit a bad page, but you can't edit a blank page.
It is perfectly acceptable to think that what you've written is awful. But just keep writing. Yes, you'll probably land up deleting or rewriting whole chunks in the editing process, but that's okay. It's all part of the process. The sense of accomplishment you'll get from just finishing something, even if it's something that still needs a whole lot of polishing, is unbeatable!

Even if you don't achieve the whole 50,000 words in the month, anything you write will be more than you had before. You'll still feel awesome!

I failed miserably with Nano last year when my day job exploded all over the place, but I walked away with more than 15,000 words on a new novel - a novel that less than a year later has been completed, polished and submitted. I owe that to the push that Nano gave me. And this year I'm determined to win a Nano medal!

Throughout October we'll be sharing tips on how and where to sign up, how to prepare for Nano, as well as personal stories from past participants.

So are you all fired up now to join us for Nano 2009? Let the countdown begin ...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Anon ...

There are moments when we all need a little anonymity in our lives! Ask any celebrity who's been caught on camera doing something silly and I'm sure they'll agree whole heartedly.

But even those of us who are not recognised the instant we set foot outside our front door would love to be able to act out of character without the certain knowledge that at some point it will be held against us. Haven't you ever wanted to let rip at the downright rude shop assistant who's managed to turn a perfectly good day into a nightmare from hell? Or tell that irritating client to stick it where ...

Then there are those times when we choose a nom-de-plume for our writing. Why do we do it? Is it simply because we want to be able to separate our day-to-day lives from our writing persona or is it because deep down a part of us is completely insecure in our ability to create something worth-while? If the critic writes about our alter ego then surely it can't be as hurtful as if they were addressing us by the name given to us by our parents?

And then there are those times when we are so grief-stricken, frustrated or angry that we wish we could crawl into a hole to deal with it privately. This one's for all of you out there - may you find those few precious moments to recharge those batteries before you came back to face the world and do it all over again!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

If at first you don't succeed ... PLAN!

What's that wonderful saying about people generally not planning to fail at something rather they fail to plan? How true that is!

I don't know about you, but I've let life get in the way of my writing once again. This time instead of beating myself up about it I've decided to go to Plan Two! There's a public holiday coming up - on a Thursday nogal - so plenty of time to get in some creative writing. And this time I plan to double my efforts to make up for the lack of writing over the past week.

Even if you're not writing, then at least be kind to yourself by getting rid of some of those tasks on your To Do lists. That too will bring you one step closer to that coveted writing time!

It's a short message today. I'm spending my time planning and I'm certainly feeling a lot better now that I have a plan of action in place! How about you guys - are you planning to succeed? You'd better be!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Do we really write from experience?

What's the hardest thing you've ever written? Was it so hard to write because it came from experience?

As aspiring authors we all begin this journey of writing because we have a story, or more likely a scene, that is just burning inside us and we have to get it down on paper. So we sit, eagerly bouncing on the chair, behind the keyboard until the thing takes on a life of its own and is commited to paper - or in this day and age the hard disk!

Then what? Well then we have to flesh it out and turn it into a master piece which is sure to be snapped up by the first publisher who sees it! So, we're writing away, when ... WHAM! BANG! Oh dear, now we have to write something we're not entire comfortable with! What to do?

Go back to our own experience. That's what they tell you to do isn't it? Errmmm ... can you really see Roald Dahl burying himself alive to see what it feels like? And although at times I'm sure we've all felt like enacting the shower scene in Psycho - well it's not really legal is it?

And that's why we romance writers sometimes have these silly grins on our faces. Yup, you've guessed it! We get to close our eyes and crawl into that lovely place within our mind where no real person gets to intrude - and that's when we imagine what it would be like. That delicious hero you've written the last eighty pages about - what do his arms feel like when they wrap around you? What happens to your heart beat? What do you smell? What do you hear? What can you taste?

Whooops, sorry, just wiping the drool off my keyboard!

This is why we write though - because we get to experience it all through our characters and because it's as vital to us as breathing.

Happy breathing today!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Check out our author interview with Paula Marais!

I consider myself lucky enough to have met Paula Marais before the publication of her fabulous book The Punishment. The situation where we met called for a couple of impromptu writing sessions and I can tell you honestly - the woman can write! Beautifully. On command! Eish.

For some insight about how a South African author tackled writing her debut novel please visit our Interviews page.

And whilst you're on the site ... have a look at our September hero! I promise you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou ...

So, you've applied the bum to chair principle and you're working on the most amazing scene to start you off on your new novel. You're busy thrashing out the first lines when you come to a crashing halt. Your hero! What's his name?

What nationality is he? That should narrow it down, right? But no, that can sometimes make it even harder - especially when you don't speak the native language and haven't even been there on a holiday! I mean, being English speaking we all know we're not going to name our hero Nigel - but that's because most of us have actually met a Nigel. And if you haven't - trust me - going on my experience Nigel and tall, dark and deliciously handsome alpha male would be like drinking French champagne from a polystyrene cup! It's a no-no! Ain't gonna happen.

And that's when we say thank heavens for the Internet. Or actually, thank heavens for Google! Now we can go online, search for a baby names site and even find one that gives us the meaning of the name to boot! Ahhh technology ...

So who's your favourite hero? Well, it's no secret that mine is Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. But what was his first name? Back to Google. OK so it's Fitzwilliam - not exactly a name you could use in a modern romance is it? And it means - son of William. Will-I-Am. No, that won't do!

Should you have the time or the inclination to look up Nigel, you'll find it comes from the name Nathaniel. Hmmm sounding a lot better already! And Nathaniel, means gift from God. So, unless it's a baby you're writing about ... back to the drawing board!

Sometimes I even choose a name to get me going only to change it a couple of times as the manuscript progresses, but mostly I spend hours on Google looking up meanings until I finally hit the right one! How do you come up with your names?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Life is what happens ...

And "the best laid plans" ...

All the sentiment loaded in those statements apply! Don't you just hate it when you solemly swore you'd get an excellent writing weekend in and then ... Even if you have a strategic plan to beat all plans in place sometimes it just doesn't happen. It wasn't meant to be you tell yourself. Anything to stop the mind from slipping into a pit of despair as yet another promise you made yourself went down south.

And then Monday morning comes along and you realise it's a new week! I can make a fresh start. Wipe the slate clean. Isn't that the greatest thing about being an author? Wanna be or published! You get to write what you want, when you want - and if you don't like it you go back later and fix it or ... gulp ... delete! And yes, maybe some of us delete by copy/pasting it into another document for one of those panicky you never know when I might need it moments. But if you're like me - you'll just highlight entire passages and delete the whole dang lot. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day and it just wasn't quite ... right?

And of course the clue there was ... you have to write. (Big note to self on that one!) No book ever got published without the author's blood, sweat and tears going into it first.

So ladies and gents ... welcome to the new week and let's get writing! You all geared up and ready to go?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Spring Day!

Happy Spring Day to all South Africans - and especially to the Cape Tonians who had particularly miserable weather this year.

Yes I know, I'm a day late! Put it down to the fact that I spent the day in a darkened film studio and all I saw of the beautiful warm, sunny day we had in Johannesburg was the sunset when we finally emerged.

How did you celebrate the day?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How Publishing Works - Finale

The Call. This is the moment we all dream of. And it's just as wonderful a moment for your editor. This is the type of call they like to make in person, just so they can share the excitement.

After you've had the happy news, you'll be given a contract to read through and sign. Don't be afraid to ask questions or take advice. It's a legal contract, so no-one is going to mind that you make sure you're happy with what you're signing.

By now it's probably at least a year since you first submitted this manuscript and you probably (hopefully!) have another completed manuscripts ready and waiting to send off. But take a deep breath, because first you'll probably have to do yet more revisions before this manuscript is finally ready to hand over to the copy editors. The writer's involvement doesn't end here, though. You'll be expected to check the line edits and galleys. At each stage there will be more revisions and more checks.

Meanwhile, the publisher will have decided a release date, based on their schedules. If you've sold to Harlequin, the release date is likely to be at least a year away. Scheduling has to take into consideration a great many factors: novels already contracted, holiday and seasonal books, other titles with similar content already on the schedule etc. The same applies to the naming of your novel. It's a complicated process and the writer doesn't get much say. Harlequin writers are asked to fill in an Art Fact sheet which the design team will use to design the cover, which is more input than many writers get to make at this stage.

As soon as a release date has been agreed, the marketing team will roll into action. Promotion is a huge part of publishing a novel and will vary for every book. Harlequin has the advantage of a huge marketing machine, but every writer is still expected to do as much marketing as they can. If you don't already have a blog or a website, now is a good time to start. Think about how you can help launch your own book, be prepared to do interviews and put yourself out there.

Many publishers, especially mainstream publishers, are spending less and less on promoting books, so you need to do as much as you can to help them. They'll also be a lot more willing to spend on you if they see you're willing to meet them half way. Tips on how to market yourself and your novel abound on the internet. Plan a launch party. Take time out from your next book to celebrate how far you've come.

By the time your big day rolls around and your book hits the shelves, make sure you're ready with the next manuscript. Publishers (and especially romance publishers) do not want One Hit Wonders. They want consistent writers who will grow a following and publish yet more books.

Are you ready to be that person? Then go back to the first post of this series and start at the beginning. Butt in chair, hands on keyboard.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How Publishing Works - Part Two

Okay, so this is a little later than 'tomorrow' but here goes ...

Your partial manuscript arrives at the publishing house (or in the submissions email inbox). You should hopefully receive an acknowledgement of receipt. If you've submitted to Harlequin / Mills & Boon, you'll receive a snail mail confirmation with a reference number, possibly in addition to an email confirmation if you've subbed to one of the lines that accepts email subs. Your submission will be handed to whichever editor is 'on duty' that day. If you've submitted to an epublisher you should receive an acknowledgement via email and your submission will be handed to the relevant editor. No matter what publisher you submit to, the average wait time on a response is 3-4 months!

If the response is a rejection, allow yourself a short period to mourn (24 hours is good) then put it behind you and move on to the next project. If you're like me, by the time you receive your first rejection you will already have learned so much during your wait that you'll have a good idea how you can make the next one better. At a later date, we'll post about the different types of rejection letters and what you can learn from them.

However, if you've received a request to see your full manuscript, dance up and down for joy and break open the champagne. You are now officially out of the slush pile! Before you send off your complete manuscript, take note of any suggestions you may have received in your request letter. This is the start of your working relationship with an editor and you want to show that you can work with them and learn from them.

Again, expect the editor to take anywhere from 3-9 months to respond to your full manuscript submission. All editors are busy people, especially in these days of budget and staff cut-backs, so be patient. At this stage, you could receive a rejection, a request for a different manuscript, or a request for revisions. All of these are invaluable, because by this stage you'll be getting feedback on your writing.

A revision request, while it is exciting and worth celebrating, is also likely to be very scary. As with a rejection, allow yourself a couple of days to get over it. Your initial reaction may be "but that's a huge re-write! How am I ever going to do this?". Take a day or two, then re-read the letter. Break it down into manageable bits, starting with the big stuff and working down to the smaller stuff. Take your time and do it right. It'll be worth it.

Unfortunately, revision requests can still lead to rejection ... or to yet more revision requests. There are enough bruised writers out there who can tell you that they've been rejected after multiple revisions. It's heart-breaking, but you're so close. Don't give up. With every story you write, you're learning and growing. In publishing, perseverance pays off. There are many successful published writers out there who wrote 10 or more manuscripts before they finally sold.

One day, you'll hopefully get The Call from your editor and you'll make a sale. By that time, your manuscript will have passed up the chain of command within the publishing house and will have been approved at the highest editorial level. But this is still just the very beginning ....

For what happens after The Call, watch out for our next post.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How Publishing Works - Part One

You've completed your manuscript. What comes next?

Firstly, congratulate yourself on an amazing achievement. Most people who say they'll write a book, or who start writing one, never finish. You're already ahead.

Next, no matter how great you and your friends think your book is, find someone (or a couple of someones) who know your genre and ask them to crit your work. Do not expect them to pat you on the back. A crit partner's job is to find the holes in your work and to help you make your writing stronger. That inevitably means some criticism in with the praise. But this is a whole topic on its own, which I'll address in a future blog post. Alternately, you can pay a professional to edit or critique your manuscript.

When you finally think your manuscript is as strong as you can possibly get it, you need to submit it. This is an important step. You cannot believe how many people complete novels and then never send them out into the world. Yes, you should be writing because you love writing, but you are also denying yourself the incredible opportunity to be published.

Now you are ready to hit send - but where do you send it? Research the options available for your kind of novel. Who publishes that genre? Do they accept unsolicited submissions, or do they only accept submissions via agents? Then check out the submission guidelines for the publishers or agents you've chosen to target. Many agents or editors (the people at the publishing houses who read the submissions) want a query letter, a synopsis and the first 3 chapters. But they all differ in what they want and how they want it. Make sure you give them what they want or you will be sabotaging your own submission.

Once you've hit 'send' on the email or handed the envelope across the post office counter, be prepared for a very long wait. Publishing is probably the slowest business in existence. The best thing you can do now is start work on your next project and try to forget that your little baby has left home.

What happens next?
Well this post is already long enough, so check in tomorrow for Part Two.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Masterclass 101

As we at South African Romance Writers are yet to be published, we don't claim to have all the answers. But in our journey so far we've learned a great deal and we'd like to share what we've learned with those who are starting out on the path to publication.

Tomorrow we'll start with a post on the basics of How Publishing Works.

To kick off, I'd like to ask any blog readers out there if they have any questions they'd like answered. Have you ever wondered how long it'll take to get published, or how much you'll earn, or whether you should wing it as you write or plot carefully before you start? Ask away ...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Writing Contests

There are a few contests currently open to aspiring romance writers in South Africa:

If you have a completed single title novel you might consider Penguin's contest for aspiring African authors. For more information, check out

For category romance writers, Harlequin is running another Presents contest (Modern & Modern Heat to us here in SA). All you need to enter is a synopsis and first chapter - but as Amanda Holly can attest, it's probably a good idea to have written a little more than that! Winners of the last two contests have already sold their completed manuscripts to Harlequin, but even if you aren't confident of winning, I highly recommend you enter. Every entrant is guaranteed feedback and I know several people who've had full manuscripts requested based on their entries. (Isn't it time you submitted yours, Mandy?) Details are available on

Finally, Essentials magazine is running another Voice of Africa short story contest in conjunction with Mills&Boon. Pick up the August issue of Essentials, or visit their website at[IGcms_nodes][IGcms_nodesUID]=da425e83de610e013f2f16d3fdbfdca3. The prizes are absolutely awesome!

So get writing, and please leave a comment to let us know if you plan to enter any of these. Good luck to all entrants!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Welcome to the blog for South African romance novelists. Whether you're a published or aspiring writer, please get in touch with us and let us know your news and views.

We hope to encourage the development of a community of romance writers in South Africa. To find out more, please visit our website at