Pippa Heart’s Online Pitches! + Top Writing Tips from Authors

Pippa Hearts Presents

The journey of one (relatively) young, single girl’s romance with Harlequin Presents!

by Harlequin Presents editorial assistant Pippa Roscoe

Sorry ladies, my dating life has been put on hold this week to focus solely on your wonderful submissions! But I’m sure I’ll have even more exploits to kiss and tell you about next month. In the meantime…

Thank you to all the lovely people who entered our online pitch competition this month. We had a whopping 39 submissions in just two weeks and the Presents team just can’t wait to read them!  The authors of our top 5 pitches will be contacted early next week and invited to an exclusive online chat where they will come in character!

However when one door closes on the competition, it still leaves another open. To get all of you aspiring authors buzzing with enthusiasm and creativity for your future submissions, we have asked five of our newest, brightest Presents authors to give us their top writing tips! After all, who better than to advise you than the authors who have sat where you sit?

Here are Victoria Parker’s secrets to success… Her debut, Princess in the Iron Mask is on sale in July.

Tempted by partials? To a new writer, this sounds so obvious but when someone tells you to finish the book know that it’s the best advice you’ll ever hear. Not only will the hair-tearing yet addictive process greatly improve your craft, the partial you then send to an editor will be far stronger starring fully-developed characters they are sure to love.

Trade secrets? For me it’s all about the characters and the plot should rise organically from the very people you’ve created. Make them breathe with emotion. Give them interesting conflicts so they clash and bond and plenty of room to grow. Then let them lead each other to their HEA.

 Dani Collins’ tips on making your writing shine… Dani’s debut, Proof of Their Sin is available in July.

Submitting these tips was hard! Writing short is tougher than writing long. You have to be succinct, but pack a punch.

I try to use an active voice, side-line secondary characters, and continually ask myself ‘How is he/she feeling? Why?’

Keeping the heroine aspirational is paramount, so I also ask, ‘Where is her self-respect?’ If she’s folding, she needs an emotional motivator beyond love (especially if it’s unrequited.)

And get as much emotion on the page as you can.  Good luck!

In August Michelle Smart debuts with The Rings That Bind. Her words of wisdom are…

1)      Read as many Presents as you can lay your hands on.

2)      Read as many Presents as you can lay your hands on.

3)      Read as many Presents as you can lay your hands on.

Once you’ve read them as many times as you can, the ‘flavour’ of the line will seep into your writing without you even realising it. Most importantly of all… Do NOT

give up. Perseverance is key.

Tara Pammi’s top tips… Her debut, A Hint of Scandal, is available in October.

Write every day, even through the hard days. Even if it’s just sketching out the next scene. I’m always amazed at how fresh and cohesive the story remains in my head when I do that.

If the ‘R’ letter comes, consider it a badge of honor, a rite of passage. Take a break and come back with an action plan. I always used those periods for binge reading all the latest Presents. J

Within the guidelines, make the story your own. This I truly believe is what separated my rejected stories and the one that caught my editor’s attention – because I stopped thinking what the story ‘should be’ and instead let my characters really tell their story.

 So You Think You Can Write competition winner, Jennifer Hayward, debuts in October with The Divorce Party.

The unique storyline of The Divorce Party helped me catch the SYTYCW editor’s attention. What distinctive idea or spin on a tried and true tale makes your story stand out?

Read great writers, take all the courses you can — absorb what works for you, then sit down and write the story that keeps you up at night. Your passion will shine through.

Give your voice permission to take over. Don’t hold back – make it the heart and soul of your book.

So just before I go, I hope that you found the wonderful advice from our sparkling new authors inspiring and that you’re raring to go, ready to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard! But, ladies, if there are any burning questions you would like our advice on, please post comments and we will get back to you!

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26 Responses to Pippa Heart’s Online Pitches! + Top Writing Tips from Authors

  1. Jennifer Hayward says:

    I am looking forward to the update on your dating life, Pippa! :) Just wanted to say good luck to all the pitchers! Here’s to making some dreams come true with your fabulous, exciting stories!

  2. Lorraine Hossington says:

    Great advice ladies. I have started writing a presents novel set in Manila. Also my problem is I have to much conflict between my hero and heroine. Can you advise how I can narrow this down?
    Jennifer, your advice is so true about not holding back on your own writing voice! I now realise that this is what I am doing. Didn’t realise it until I read your advise.

  3. CrystalH says:

    How did you all get through the sagging middle? How do you keep the characters motivated to keep the emotional punch through out? I can write a strong beginning and the ending is easy too, it’s the middle (I know that most author/ wannabes struggle here). Any tips?

  4. Jennifer Hayward says:

    Lorraine, The Divorce Party was the first book I wrote completely unselfconsciously if that makes sense. Try and stay as laser focused on your conflict as you can and keep it simple but strong. Glad it helped :) Good luck with your submission! Crystal – the middle is the toughest part! Make sure you have a super strong conflict from the beginning – internal and external, escalate your tension with every scene you build – make it worse – and you might find some of the plot structures out there helpful to follow – such as the W plot structure – to make sure you hit the key plot points. I’m sure the others will chime in too :)

  5. Victoria Parker says:

    Hi everyone! Just wanted to start off by saying another huge good luck to all the pitchers. You all deserve a whopping hi-five for putting yourselves out there. It’s not easy. I did it several times myself. And although I gained heaps of experience and it thickened my skin…although I won and lost in equal measure, I eventually sold through slush. So whatever happens, be proud of yourself and keep going. I, for one, would love to see your names on the shelf one day!

  6. Victoria Parker says:

    Hi Lorraine, so pleased to hear you are targeting Presents. I am biased of course but Jen will agree, our line rocks!
    So, conflict. Can I ask, how do you know you have too much? Has someone told you or is it a gut feeling? Because many a time I can feel choked with conflict but it doesn’t necessarily mean I have too much. Then it depends if you are you talking about internal conflict or external. If you could give me a couple more details I will certainly try to help more but otherwise I stand with Jen – go simple and deep and stay true to character.
    I remember an editor speaking in NY a couple of years ago and she gave this example that really worked for me. She said; conflict could be something so simple as being the first born son in a powerful family. Then all you have to ask is how that ‘accident of birth’ had affected him throughout his life. The stress of obligation, the need to succeed and not disappoint. The fact his personal life had been put on hold for the sake of power and money. My God, the pressure! can you imagine? I could write endlessly about all the tiny slivers of inner conflict that lead back to the main route of the problem – he was the first born son. To me that is keeping it simple and going deep. Dig, dig, and dig some more. When I draw up my leads, I spend weeks doing exactly that :D

  7. Great tips, ladies!

    And I’m so excited to read all these debuts…

  8. Michelle Smart says:

    Good luck to all the pitchers out there! I’m answering in response to Lorraine’s question about too much conflict, as this is something I had to deal with during book 2 – the best advice I can give is to ensure the core of the conflict is internal and inherent to what is keeping the hero and heroine apart. Pare back all external conflict to a minimum so that your focus is is solely on them. I hope that helps! :-)

  9. Lorraine hossington says:

    Hi Victoria,
    I have a gut feeling that I have to much internal conflict.
    Just an idea of the conflicts he has. His childhood, being brought up on rubbish dump,
    father left him and his brother to fend for themselves. Was brought up in wealth until he was ten. His father lost his fortune, and turned to alcohol. His mother left and married someone else.
    I feel as though I am overloading my poor hero! Having read what you said, I believe I may have made things complicated instead of simple.
    My heroine doesn’t seem to have enough!
    Would appreciate your advice.
    Thanks, Lorraine

  10. Victoria Parker says:

    Hi Crystal, thanks for stopping by :-) The dreaded middle. *Shudders* Admittedly they were my downfall when I started out and still, the odd one can trip me up. But (for me) there is always a reason for that sudden sagging pace and unfortunately it is only through experience (making heaps of mistakes that make you scream blue) that you learn how to avoid them. For the purposes of this chat though, I will try to focus on my main offenders :)
    1) ‘Telling’ too much, too soon. This can affect pacing massively, especially in the second act which should be the main journey of discovery for the H&H. Cumbersome back-story drops, not only drag at the first act but by the time we get to chapter five we risk having nothing left to reveal. For the best tension our story needs to be staggered. From the start we only need small drops of backstory to ‘show’ conflict or hold up the motivation that’s driving the plot. In fact, the lovely Maisey Yates wrote an excellent blog post on backstory and pacing just recently – go read it, it’s great!
    2) Poor characterisation. In the past if I hadn’t done my homework and I didn’t know my characters inside and out I would begin to flag wondering what they would do next. Then maybe I would toss everything but the kitchen sink in their way with a good heft of author interference to keep things interesting. Yep. That was me. Thing is, by the second act our characters should be driving the story themselves and that push-pull, action-reaction keeps things interesting and boosts momentum. Plus, everyone loves a well-developed intriguing H&H. I’ve read many a book with no plot to speak of but for some reason, two fascinating individuals have held my attention and I simply could not let go. Why? The author gave me a reason to care. Again – that’s just great characterisation.
    3) Too much telling and introspection. Try to create scenes that do double-duty. Ones that ‘show’ us more of who your H&H really are as they get to know each-other. Stick them in situations that will test them. Use luxurious aspirational settings that set the scene. Intrigue us with hints of what’s to come. And give us lots and lots of dialogue to keep those sparks firing as the sexual tension escalates.
    Hope that helps!

  11. Hi All, I’ve snuck away on my lunch to the library to say hello. (big waves)

    First, well done authors. Fantastic tips, all of you. I kept thinking yes, yes, yes as I read through all that you said.

    Lorraine, conflict can be such a bear. One tip I received a long while back was to try not to do too much with a single scene. At the time I was juggling Every Possible Shred Of Conflict in one scene and everything just clogged up.

    I think Victoria has nailed it in saying to let the back story (source of conflict) be threaded in at the beginning. Just hint at it then use the middle for the Big Reveal once there`s more trust between the two. Then they can confide those deep dark secrets. Helps with the sagging middle, too!

    In terms of having too much conflict on his side, not enough on hers… I would say that in itself is a great source of conflict! How does he feel about all this hardship in his life. Does it make him think he`s not good enough for the heroine. On her side, does this put her somewhat easier life into perspective so she`s able to let go of her own emotional scarring. Does he begin to overcome his insecurities because she admires him rather than reviles…

    (Note: This keyboard at the library is a French one so each time I try to get a question mark, I get this: É. That`s also why my apostrophes are out of whack. Welcome to Canada!)

    Crystal, I feel your pain with the middles! They can be such a Now What Happens wasteland when you`re working through that first draft. I second all that Victoria said and add this tip I got from Kay Gregory many moons ago. She, in turn, had heard it from another writer friend.

    `The middle is for developing the romance.`

    I personally interpret that to be the push-pull stage where they make assumptions and try to push the other away, then defend themselves and wind up revealing the things that provide understanding, trust and increases the attraction.

    Okay, must run back to work. I`ll check in once I`m home this evening. Best of luck to the pitchers and everyone else submitting to PPresents. It`s worth the hard work! Hang in there and keep trying.


  12. CrystalH says:

    Thanks Ladies for all the great advise! I have been taking courses, and devouring everything available at the Harlequin Community. I will definitely keep your advise in mind. And of course Congrats on all your releases! I can’t wait to read them all!

  13. Victoria Parker says:

    Hi Lorraine,
    Sorry for the delay there, it’s bedtime bedlam!
    Your hero’s backstory is certainly heart-wrenching and could make for some great internal conflicts. I have hero’s who have a very twisted past and if I summed up their life as you have in one short paragraph I may have come to the same conclusion myself – that I was over-loading my hero. But here’s the thing – backstory makes our characters who they are today. Explains why they behave the way they do, why they make certain decisions about their life. I imagine your hero feels very protective of his brother for example. That’s fine. We love him for it. I imagine he’s very angry at his father. That’s okay too. We don’t blame him. As a writer it’s great to know all these facets, it makes our characters real. Makes us feel empathy for them. Makes us care. Brings them to life before out very eyes. We may not need all of this information on the page but it’s very important to bear in mind.
    What you have to decide is which aspect of his backstory gives him the strong internal conflict keeping him apart from your heroine.
    Abandonment so he cannot trust?
    The intense need to look after his brother above all else? Or does he strive for a better life for them both, which makes him cold-hearted and ruthless in business because he is determined never to go back to that dump?
    The possibilities are endless.
    Once you decide what his inner conflicts are you will be better able to work out your heroine, I’m sure. And remember your heroine doesn’t have to have had an equally heart-wrenching backstory. They just have to be the worst possible match in the world…or as it turns out the best!
    You have a great start already Lorraine and I wish you much luck!

  14. Victoria Parker says:

    Hey Dani,

    I love this! – “The middle is for developing the romance.”

    So very true.

    V :-)

    And thank you Crystal, you are very welcome. Glad to have helped in some small way. Keep going. Best of luck!

  15. Victoria Parker says:

    Oh and Lorraine, did you see this from Dani?

    “In terms of having too much conflict on his side, not enough on hers… I would say that in itself is a great source of conflict! How does he feel about all this hardship in his life. Does it make him think he`s not good enough for the heroine. On her side, does this put her somewhat easier life into perspective so she`s able to let go of her own emotional scarring. Does he begin to overcome his insecurities because she admires him rather than reviles…”

    Another take on your over-loaded hero! Anything is possible…

  16. lorraine hossington says:

    Thank you so much for your help,ladies.
    I feel as though I know where I am going with my conflict, and so does my hero and heroine. What a wonderful opportunity to be able to ask your advice. Congratulations on the novels to be published. Thanks Dani for the advice about my heroines lack of conflict it has helped me to see her in a different more positive light. I felt she was missing some depth when it came to internal conflict. Now I see you are right, she does already have that conflict.
    Thank you all so much. It would be great if you could do a post like this again.
    It has been a great help.
    Lorraine x

  17. Victoria Parker says:

    You’re more than welcome, Lorraine. I used to love these posts too. Still do in fact. We can all learn so much from each-other. And it never stops. Even after you sell you continue to grow more and more every day.

    Enjoy the rest of your evening :)

  18. Lorraine Hossington says:

    Thanks Victoria,
    You really have helped me. You have broken my conflicts down, and have made me see more clearly which direction I am going in.
    Your absolutely right about my heroine.
    She doesn’t have to have such a heart wrenching story. It could be to much over load. I was thinking that she needed to have an equally dark past!
    Thank you so much for your encouragement and advice I am so grateful. Internal conflict has been something that I have had a struggle to write about. But you have all really given me a great advice, and I feel as though I know where I am going.
    Lorraine x

  19. Great advice ladies!

  20. Jane Linfoot says:

    Thanks for all the advice and tips – great to read and remember, and interesting to see the different points from each of you. And what a great follow-up discussion – so much to learn from this too. Brilliant!

    Can’t wait to read the books! Good luck!

  21. Rachael Thomas says:

    Thanks Ladies for all the advice and I wish you well in your new careers. Can’t wait to read the books!
    Good luck also the Pitch entries.

  22. maggie jones says:

    Oh some great tips! Only just seen them LOL. Finger-biting wait today to see what happens – but some of the ideas here will definitely improve my writing. Big shout out to authors taking the time to stop by here :)

  23. Hi Kat, Jane, Rachel, Maggie :)

    I was dropping by to pick up the link for a blog. Good luck, Maggie and every one else who entered. The waiting is always so hard! But just putting your work out there is a huge step, so be proud of accomplishing that much.


  24. Meant to say–glad I stopped by, lol.

  25. Jennifer Hayward says:

    I see the announcement should be coming soon! Good luck Maggie & all! My fingers are crossed for all of you. And if you aren’t chosen, send it in the normal way. Every time you submit you’re moving yourself closer to your goal!

  26. Tricia Saxby says:

    Thanks, Jen! It’s good to hear that we are encouraged to submit in the normal way. I do love the Presents line and I hope that I can find success here.
    Congrats as well to all the winners of the pitch contest. I didn’t make it through but it was fun and gave me a chance to deepen the scene and my characters.