Welcome to…So You Think You Can Write!

By Senior Executive Editor Birgit Davis-Todd

Once again Harlequin and Mills & Boon are searching globally to find new authors for all our category series. Always wanted to write a romance novel? Be sure to enter our Writing Contest. One lucky winner will be offered a fabulous publishing contract with the world’s leader in romance fiction!

The Ultimate Author’s Publishing Prize

New for 2014! The grand prize winner will be offered a two-book contract with the first book to be published digitally on or around Valentine’s Day 2015—print edition to follow. The winner will also celebrate success in style with a complimentary champagne dinner for two. Support for the book launch and promotion plans will be provided by the services of an in-house publicist for up to sixty days along with social media training and tips. The winning writer will meet—via Skype or phone— the Series Creative team (Editorial, Marketing & Art) charged with launching the debut book! Finally the winner will be working with a topnotch Harlequin editor on current and future books along with all-important career planning. Last but not least, the winner will be featured on Harlequin.com and on the Harlequin Blog.

How’s that for a fantastic basket of goodies to set a writer on the exciting journey to publication? Tell me what you think!

Five Day Online Conference

This is where things really get started! Join us all week long September 15 – 19 for our 24/7 online conference AKA Harlequin’s boot camp for writers. Exercise those writing muscles with an intensive workout packed with blogs, live chats, writing challenges, Twitter events and more. You’ll meet over 50 Harlequin Editors ready to coach you, answer questions and get your book in shape. Features such as our writing challenges and “Ask the Editor” forums provide you with professional feedback on your writing so your manuscript will be in great shape for entry in the contest on September 22. Get tips on pacing, plot, characterization and more from our experienced editors in the daily blogs. And socialize with the editors and authors through fun live events on Twitter.

Writing Contest Details

What you’ve been working for all week starts now! Beginning September 22 you can submit the First Chapter (5000 words max) of your romance story plus a 100-Word Pitch to the series you have targeted. The pitch should outline the concept, plot, characters, conflict and setting. You must target one of our 18 eligible series.

All First Chapter submissions will be posted for everyone to read and add comments in the space provided. Last day for submissions is October 1. Don’t delay—submit your chapter right away so more people—including the editors—will see it!

On or around October 6 Harlequin editors in New York, Toronto and the UK will select the Top 25 best chapters from all the submissions received and begin requesting full manuscripts from those writers.

Once the Harlequin editors have read and evaluated the full Top 25 manuscripts, they will narrow the field to the Top 10 manuscripts, which will be posted for voting.

Public Voting: November 3 – 10

Yes, that’s you! Read the Top 10 complete manuscripts, post comments and vote for your favorite. During this time visit with our wonderful Author Mentors & Editors who have teamed up with each of the finalists to post their thoughts and generate excitement.

Grand Prize Winner Date: November 13

We’ll announce the name of the winner of the Ultimate Author’s Publishing Prize—and lucky recipient of a two-book publishing contract with Harlequin!

The Last Word

Why do we offer an online conference and writing contest each year? Harlequin is always looking for new writers for our many programs.

1500: the minimum number of books published a year

750: the minimum number of contracts offered a year

500: the minimum number of authors under contract now

4: the number of books an editor needs to contract each business day

1: You—our next new author!


Let’s get this conference rolling.

Post your questions—I want to hear from you.

48 replies on “Welcome to…So You Think You Can Write!”

Would you be interested in a submission to Medical UK as a part of the contest? (The manuscript is complete and I’ve already written a synopsis). Thank you, Amy

The conference is open to residents of the U.S. I am a U.S. citizen who is temporarily living in France with my husband, who is stationed here. I still own my house in the U.S., and in fact, travel back and forth between the two (I just got back from spending the summer there), but I’m not sure what that makes me for purposes of eligibility. Thanks for any clarification you can provide.

Hi, many thanks for these great conferences! I want to ask about pacing and desirable chapter length. I often found my chapters were around 2,500-2,750words and got great feedback such as ‘strong voice’, ‘good pacing’ however, crucially, I ‘sometimes lacks emotional punch’ – essentially missing that essential Harlequin M&B ingredient. In trying to ensure every chapter stays true to that theme, I’m finding my chapters run more to 3250-3500 and I wonder if that will adversely impact on the good pacing? Is there an ideal chapter length (when balanced between story and romance, of course)? (My last two MSs have been intended as Intrigue – however the first one was steered more to the Medical series).

I’d be interested to know the extent to which humor and pop culture references are welcome in the submissions. Based on the story and characters I have been working on I think it lends itself to the Desire series. Thanks.

Hello everyone! Welcome to our five day online conference for 2014. It’s great to be back again this year to offer this free conference but also our contest.

@Amy Jane
Welcome! I’m pleased to see you posted the very first question of the day. Indeed we are looking for submissions for Medicals in the contest. It’s great to hear your ms. is complete as well. Beginning Sept 22 at 10am EST you can submit the first chapter and a 100 word pitch. Good luck and hope you enjoy this week. Look for a session on Medicals this week in the conference calendar.

Some great questions here! There is no ideal length for a chapter since your plot and how the scenes unfold will dictate chapter length. I’ve seen effective chapters that range anywhere from 12 to 20 pages. With chapters you want to balance the unfolding of the story with natural breaks to create tension, end on a high note or on a cliffhanger. You need to give the reader a chance to absorb the story but then take him or her in a new direction with a new chapter.

One last comment. You have been targetting both Intrigue and Medical. The pacing will vary in both given one is truly suspense oriented and the other is more tension oriented. Your Intrigue chapters should definitely build toward a cliffhanger ending. Good luck with the submission you enter in the contest on Sept 22.

Humor is always a nice addition to a romance story since as we know the process of falling in love can be awkward and emotional. Humor can help at times like that. The amount of humor you use use and how will be impacted by the series you are targeting. So yes there is room for humor in a Desire but balance it with the sensuality and the plot. Join Stacy Boyd at 10am EST today for a Twitter chat on Desire and the other passion series: Blaze and Presents.

As for pop culture references…? A great question since we want our books to be relevant, fun and appealing to a wide group of readers. If a pop culture reference is too specific or limited, however, it can date the story quickly especially since a book is onsale forever in ebook format. So use pop culture references with care–did you have an example?

Hello! I’ve completed and edited an epic fantasy which does have a romance between the main characters as part of the overall story line. My question is, how strong does the romantic element have to be? I don’t want to assume you’ll not want to look at my work and miss this fantastic opportunity. Also would you be interested in a work of fantasy? Thank you.

Thanks for stopping by to chat. For the contest we are looking for submissions aimed at the 18 series we are currently publishing. We don’t publish a series that would be described as fantasy per se. You might want to check out one of our other imprints Carina Press since they do publish fantasy. Good luck!

Since some of your imprints include explicit sex, will those titles be included for public voting if selected? Is there a limit or preference in regards to profanity? ~MM

Good news, Trisha! I’ve checked with the contest rules people and you are definitely eligible to enter the contest. I hope you enjoy the online conference this week. You can submit your first chapter and a 100 word pitch as of 10am EST September 22 when the submission form goes live. Good luck!

Thankyou – that seems so obvious when someone points it out to you! Yes, I think I have been trying to stuff every element (pace, punch etc) into every single chapter and thereby always losing something.
I’m not sure I’ve fully explored using each chapter to my advantage to gear up or down as a new direction for the reader and/or to give them time to properly catch a breath and absorb. So perhaps high-pace suspense in one chapter followed by a more modest paced chapter showing how the Hh are assimilating their changing relationship?
Guess my completed MS isn’t so complete, after all! LOL – Revisions, revisions.
Also, yes I must concentrate on at least *trying* to master one series before leaping all over multiple (I’m also partial to a bit of Historical!) LOL
Rachel Burkot = In diary

@Malcolm Moss
Thanks for stopping by! Three of our series are pretty sexy: Blaze, Presents and Desire. If a submission from one of those lines makes the Top 10 finalists–indeed the manuscript will be posted in full for everyone to read and cast a vote.

@Malcolm Moss
Readers will find the occasional swearword in our books. It’s okay to use profanity at a particularly tense or emotional moment in a scene. Any more than that though a writer runs the risk of turning off readers. Best advice? Focus on telling a great story first and limit the profanity.

“So perhaps high-pace suspense in one chapter followed by a more modest paced chapter showing how the Hh are assimilating their changing relationship?” I think taking this approach will help. Good luck and enjoy the session with Rachel on pacing!

Thank you for the prompt response. It is a relief to know we can be free in our content during the contest. And I agree, profanity is a dish best served in small bites.

@@Malcolm Moss
“Profanity is a dish best served in small bites” Love this! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Enjoy the conference and get ready to enter the contest starting Sept 22 at 10am EST!

I have a MS, but it’s the second in a series. I’ve already pubbed the first book. Each book is a stand alone though, with a separate couple as the MCs. Is that eligible for the contest?

I’m loving the info offered so far; can’t wait to see what HQN has for us for the rest of the week!

i need some more information before I can give you a response. What is the link between these two books? What series would you be targeting with this second book?

I notice the pitch is different to the normal synopsis. Do you have any tips or advice on how we can make our pitch stand out? Thanks

I have written a synopsis before, but not a pitch. How are they different?
I am so looking forward to each challenge. It makes the writing even more exciting.
Thank you,

Hi Birgit and Fellow competitors. The Ms I am using was originally geared toward the new line space opera, but at its heart in a romantic suspense. The hero and heroine are police officers that can time travel. Will this affect my eligibility for romantic suspense. It’s sci fi ish, but it’s romantic too.

@Shadia & Jeanne
Great questions! For the contest portion we are looking for a maximum 100-word pitch. You will have to pack a lot in those words so it’s good to practice writing it beforehand. You’ll need to highlight plot, characters, setting, tone, sensuality if applicable, conflict and anything else that will hook an editor. Try to make your pitch unique and capture your voice.

In contrast a synopsis is generally much longer–anywhere from a few paragraphs to five pages. In a synopsis you have the luxury to provide more story detail.

Think of a pitch as an ad designed to catch the editor’s attention.

Good luck!

Our Romantic Suspense and Intrigue lines aren’t looking for time travel at this point. These lines focus on contemporary settings and situations. You might consider querying one of our other imprints Carina Press to see if they are interested. Go to http://www.carinapress.com for more information. Thanks for stopping by!

i have an idea for a book, obviously it will not be ready this year, but it has a prologue that takes place in the 1700’s, but then the story is told in present time. would this be acceptable? and no, the people from the 1700’s are not in the current time, only the descendants.

Birgit: the link is that the characters are all from the same town. Some know each other, others are newcomers. It’s contemporary romance (with a bit of suspense as a subplot; but overall its categorized as contemporary).

Very excited about this! I’m working on an erotic romance novel that is nearly done–I just ki–whoops, I almost gave away one of the plot twists! I have posted excerpts of this online, and my erotic fiction has received more than 118,000 views on short-fiction.co.uk. This particular story is about Connie, a woman who is struggling with working two jobs, who is overweight. She joins a gym, where she meets a trainer who sympathizes with her work situation and talks to her about her weight struggle. However, the trainer, as wholesome-looking as he is, has some kinky sexual tastes. He gets very exciting about spanking and tickling, and offers to “motivate” Connie to lose weight and whittle her tummy. Blake, the trainer, and Connie hit it off, and a romance unfolds. But there’s a rival at the gym for Blake’s affection. Stephanie, a total narcissist, plans to have bariatric surgery in order to win Blake. She doesn’t know that no matter what she looks like, her mean personality is a total turn-off for Blake. She has a plan to blackmail him. While all this is happening, Blake and Connie are separated by a family crisis. Will Stephanie lose Blake and disrupt his life even further as revenge? Will Connie and Blake be living in the same town, or will they have to continue their long-distance romance indefinitely?

I like to think of this as ordinary people having extraordinary sex. You won’t find any handsome billionaires in my stories! I definitely plan to submit my first chapter even though my manuscript isn’t done yet! Good luck to everyone!

I think having a prologue like that might be quite intriguing. The key thing is to hint at what is to come in the main story so there is a logical link to the events to come. Good luck with the story and let us know how it goes and if it will work for one of our series.

Per the rules you can enter only one story to the contest so choose what you consider your best work–or the story that most closely fits one of our series. Thanks for stopping by!

Thanks for clarification on how the books are linked. You are fine to submit that second book to the contest. What series might you be targeting?

We’re glad to hear you are enjoying the online conference!

Most of our books will have POV from both the hero and the heroine. While you can aim for a 50/50 split in theory–in practice POV can shift a little more to one character depending on how the story is unfolding and what the key plot points are. I think we have all read books where we decide it’s more the hero’s story than the heroine’s–and that’s okay. Let the characters guide you from the start. Whose POV would you have in the first chapter?–Again it all depends upon your plot and the impact you want to make in your first chapter. Thanks for stopping by!

Indeed the Desire editors are looking for something different and a story with first person is just fine for them.

Will you be entering the contest?

Just want to remind everyone I will be here all week and would love to chat or answer any questions. You can also find me and all the other editors on the 50 Editors tab.

You may have noticed the site was down for a while yesterday. All is fine today!

Remember to submit your first chapter and 100-word pitch beginning Monday, Sept 22 at 10am EST.

Good luck everyone!

@Birgit: I’m not sure, yet. I have to look into the differences more of each imprints so I target the right one. Though I read them all the time (:D) I’m not sure what the parameters are for each one. Is there a blog/website which outlines what each of the imprints looks for specifically? (I don’t want to target wrong one, by mistake!)

It’s been a great online conference, don’t you agree? Get ready to submit your first chapter and pitch starting Monday, September 22 beginning at 10am Eastern Standard Time(US) when the submission form goes live. Look for Submit! on the Home Page and follow the instructions. Good luck to everyone!

It sits right now at about 85k, but I imagine that after final edits (if a pub takes it, or if I self pub it ever) it would end up around the 70-75k word count. Level of heat would be sensual, I think. (Definitely not fade to black, lol. But not erotic in the BDSM sense. It’s hot, or so I’ve been told by my critique partner. :D) Thanks to you and HQN for all the great advice I’ve seen so far and this opportunity!

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