The Romance Writers of Australia national conference is done for another year, and with it the crowning of the latest Valerie Parv Award winner for 2017. She is Joanna Nell whose entry, The Unmentionables, deals with life and love in later years. I’ll be mentoring Joanna during the year of her award.
Joanna is the newest of my minions – the name past winners chose for themselves. They keep in touch, share their achievements, and we hold our annual Minions’ Breakfast at conference each year. Tiaras are worn and Joanna received hers at the RWA annual conference in Brisbane recently.
Judging and presenting this award is an exciting challenge and an honour. Thanks Romance Writers of Australia and Romance Writers of America’s former Australian Chapter where the award began.
As I read the short list I am very aware of the commitment behind every one. I know it’s a cliché but I see every finalist as a winner. You’ve shown you can write a book to suit your chosen market, and you’ve met the contest deadline.
Reaching the finals means your work has something special. I write an appraisal of every final entry to encourage you to keep striving. Minion achievements include everything from RWA’s Romantic Book of the year, to Romance Writers of America RITA awards for published books, and Golden Heart for unpublished. Minions regularly grace the Australian Romance Readers Awards , the USA Today and other bestseller lists and in one case, get reviewed by the Wall Street Journal.
Winners’ books are published by all the major publishing houses here and internationally and their readers number in the millions. You can see who they are on the VPA Hall of Fame at www.valerieparv.com/vpa.html
Entries needn’t be exclusively romance. This year’s finalists included a Regency-set historical with a heroine posing as a pirate; my first-ever heroine specialising in dung-beetle reproduction; a beautifully-handled disabled heroine; a runaway bride and a reunion romance with a cranky heroine. Plus of course, Joanna Nell’s topical romance in later years.
So how do you become the next VPA minion? I take four aspects into account.
- You need to write from the heart
Every highly placed entry over the last 18 years has been a labour of love – and it shows. The writer has written a story s/he’s passionate about and can’t wait to share with readers. They aren’t always perfectly written, but they have compelling characters we care about from the beginning.
- You need a touch of originality
You don’t have to break the mould with a defrocked nun or a Playboy model character, although we have had a cross-dressing Regency hero, a gnome kidnapping conspiracy, and fairies on crack among past winners. If two entries vie for the top prize, I tend to favour the more original. Yes, there are conventions in every genre, such as the happy-ever-after in romance and the dead body in a mystery, but there should be something that transcends genre, giving us story we haven’t read before.
- You need to be a storyteller
I don’t use a score sheet to judge the final entries. I’m more interested in whether you give me a strong opening, a story that comes to life right away, and people I can care about and want to see succeed against the odds. I’m happy to read in any setting or time period and will forgive a few mistakes as long as you tell a gripping story. This doesn’t mean ignoring grammar or spelling, but they can be fixed. It’s far harder to fix a lifeless story.
- You know where you want the book to go
The winner can pick my brains, share questions and concerns, and have me critique work as we go along. I read with an editorial eye, helping the author to spot issues they may have missed through being too close to the work. The one thing I don’t do is alter the author’s voice. Ultimately, this is your story told in your unique way.
Finally there’s the X-Factor. Call it natural talent, star quality or the X-factor, it’s the extra something readers recognise as soon as they see it. The moment I start reading I know when the writer’s voice has the power to lift the hairs on the back of my neck. The book may not be the one I want to choose as the winner, but the choice will be inescapable.
Does your story have these qualities? The Valerie Parv Award 2018 opens on April 9 and closes on April 30, 2017. Details at http://tinyurl.com/y74gar78 Have you entered previously, or plan to next year? Share your thoughts here. The blog is moderated to avoid spam but your comments can appear right away if you click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.
STORY MAGIC WORKSHOP, TOWNSVILLE
Valerie will present her Story Magic Workshop in Townsville, Queensland
on Saturday October 7
Valerie will also attend a Romantic High Tea on Sunday, October 8
Contact the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Valerie’s book, Outback Code, is out now
3 books complete in one volume
For international orders, print & ebook formats,
From Amazon for Kindle http://tinyurl.com/hxmmqsk