Today we welcome not one, not two, but three RNA members to the blog to talk about their different experiences of the New Writers’ Scheme. We’re delighted to be joined by scheme member, Sasha Greene, schene reader, Jennifer Young, and our NWS Co-ordinator, Imogen Howson. Imogen is up first:
In 2018, the RNA will offer 300 memberships to writers who are not (yet) published, and so who are not (yet!) eligible to join the RNA as Full or Independent members. These New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) members will then have the opportunity to send in a full-length manuscript for a critique from our team of readers, all of whom are multi-published, experienced authors.
As NWS Organiser, I have the privilege of managing the administration involved.
And it is a privilege. In the world of writers’ organisations, the NWS is, as far as I know, unique.
The life of a writer is an isolating one. And all the craft books, talks, workshops and writers’ forums in the world can’t offer the help that you get from an actual hands-on appraisal of your writing. It’s why personalized rejections can be so valuable (albeit disheartening!), and one of the many reasons why a good agent or editor is worth their weight in gin.
So being in the position of assigning manuscripts to the most appropriate reader, sending the resulting report to the writer, and then hearing the subsequent success stories, is deeply satisfying.
This year, in particular, I’ve had a huge amount of comments from the readers for the scheme, telling me that the quality of manuscripts this year has been particularly good. I’ve also had a huge number of extremely happy members of the scheme contact me, asking me to pass their thanks to their reader and saying how helpful and encouraging their reports have been.
This year, as every year, I’ve also seen members take their revised manuscripts to publishers, and end up with contracts. Something that the RNA celebrates at our Summer Party in May each year, when the Joan Hessayon Award is given to someone whose book has been through the NWS and has gone on to be published.
The presentation of the Joan Hessayon Award is a lovely event. It’s wonderful to see all the members who are ‘graduating’ the NWS, a thrill to see who’s won this year, and always fun to change from writing clothes (pyjamas, anyone?) into party clothes to celebrate with them.
Managing the day-to-day administration of the NWS is, admittedly, less glamorous, but on the other hand, it gives me the opportunity to read emails from members saying: “When I sent my manuscript in for critique I didn’t know any more whether it was good or terrible. Thanks to my report, I now know that it is good, but I also know how to make it better.”
Or sometimes, which is even more lovely: “This year has been really discouraging, and I’d reached the point where I was thinking of giving up writing. My report has given me so much encouragement and spurred me to carry on.”
I don’t get to put on my party dress and heels and drink prosecco when I read those emails (although I guess I could!). But all the same, knowing I’m part of an organization that not only helps writers become better, but helps them know they’re better, what could be more exciting than that?
Imogen Howson writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults. She won the YA category of the Romantic Novel of the Year 2014 with Linked, and also won the Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2008 and 2017. She’s represented by Mandy Hubbard of Emerald City Literary Agency.
When Immi’s not writing, going to RNA parties, or organizing the NWS, she cooks, runs, reads, and looks after a household of one Church of England curate, two young adult daughters, three cats, and one tiny dog. She lives in rural Nottinghamshire between a cornfield and a graveyard, and expects aliens, zombies, or both, any day now. You can find out more about Immi on her website or by following her on twitter.
So that’s the NWS from the co-ordinator’s point of view. What’s the scheme like for those who read the manuscripts? Over to Jennifer Young to find out:
I enjoy reading and critiquing other people’s work, so when I saw that the NWS was looking for readers, I jumped at the chance, as a grateful graduate of the scheme, to give something back.
In my time as a reader, I’ve critiqued everything from the tentative words of complete beginners to the polished work of writers far more accomplished than I will ever be. I’ve critiqued a first draft full of beginner’s errors yet which had that certain something that brought a tear to my eye. I’ve felt like a fraud writing comments on novels even as I learned from their authors.
I try — always — to find something good to say about a manuscript and I can put my hand on my heart and say that I’ve never read one where I’ve had to resort to false compliments. To produce a manuscript for submission, even if it isn’t complete, requires imagination, application and effort, and all of them — especially the imagination — show through.
That said, I don’t think it’s fair to shrink from the problems. Just as I pass my own work to beta readers expecting them to be as hard on me as an agent, editor, publisher or reader would be, I will always tell a writer where I perceive that there are problems. I find it difficult to write a tough critique, especially because I know from experience how hard it is to read one, and the last thing I — or any other reader — would want to do is discourage an aspiring author when the game we play is all about persistence.
Of course — and this is something I always stress — judgement is subjective. No matter how hard I might try to be dispassionate, I will inevitably be kinder to someone who writes in my style, or somehow catches my imagination, or even accidentally sets a novel in a place dear to my heart. There will always be a reader who loves a book that I find fault with, or hates the one I adore. It’s like love. A book and a reader require chemistry, and that’s beyond our control.
So my tip for NWS members is this. Don’t be afraid to write what you want. Listen to your reader’s comments but don’t be bound by them. Writing is a craft and craft requires hard work. But never, ever give up.
Jennifer Young is an Edinburgh-based writer of contemporary romance and romantic suspense. She graduated from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2014 with her contemporary romance, Thank You For The Music. Five other novels followed with e-publisher Tirgearr Publishing, and in 2016 she branched out into self-publishing with a series of romantic suspense novels set in her home city.
Thank you Jennifer. The work of the NWS readers is so valuable to the RNA, but what does the scheme mean to its members? Here’s Sasha Greene to talk about her experience of being in the NWS:
This is my third year in the New Writers' Scheme. It all started a few years ago when I went to a course given by the lovely Kate Walker. She encouraged me to join the RNA, and mentioned the NWS. The midnight deadline for applying was a little unusual, but by some twist of fate I was visiting friends in Canada that year and so I sent my application off on the dot at 5pm in the afternoon!
The excitement upon hearing that I had been accepted was soon replaced by the realisation that I had only written around 10,000 words of the manuscript that I was supposed to be submitting at the end of August. I put my nose to the grindstone (or rather, my fingers to the keyboard), detemined to finish something that I could be proud of. I submitted so close to the deadline that it took a while for comments to be returned, but when they did I sat down and laughed for at least five minutes, as I had made so many of the elementary mistakes I had promised myself I would never do. And my characters always seemed to be eating...
The reviewer was incredibly thoughtful and positive in the comments made, which gave me fresh motivation to take the story forward. The following year I submitted a revised version, and was advised that once the comments had been taken onboard I should try for publication. This year I submitted a fresh manuscript, and also had very encouraging feedback which has spurred me on.
What I really like most about the NWS is how encouraging everyone is. Submitting your work for another person to comment on is never easy, but the reviewers always make sure that the comments they give are constructive. Imogen does an amazing job of organising everything, and we even had a NWS session at the RNA conference this year where we could meet the other NWS members and ask her and a graduate of the scheme any questions we needed to know. All the published writers in the RNA are so incredibly supportive, and go out of their way to help us make the networks that might help us get published. I can highly recommend the scheme to any unpublished romance author who is really serious about trying to make a career with their writing.
Thank you Sasha, Jennifer and Immi for telling us what the NWS means to you. The 2018 scheme will open to new applicants in January 2018, and is expected to fill up quickly. Details of how to apply can be found in the ‘Join’ section of the RNA website.