How to get a writing commission for Unlocked

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Today, I got to meet the lovely @hapgoodness, one of the authors who won our first Unlocked novella competition and got commissioned to write us a Christmas novella.

Yesterday, we launched the next competition to write a dark romance novella for the next set publishing in March. (All details here.)

Next week, we’re kicking off on a campaign to spread the Unlocked Christmas cheer to the world.

Jumbling all of the Unlocked excitement into my blog today, I thought I would offer some advice to anyone looking to audition. Here are two rambling points from me (in addition to the quick fire ones that are on the details).

As I was speaking with Harriet, I remembered the moment I decided I absolutely must commission her to write the full manuscript. If you want to know what I think the beginning of a great contemporary romance looks like, here it is:

Outside after class, the air was crisp and clear. Sun sparkled on the snow-covered colleges, making Cambridge look just like the Christmas card that had inspired me to apply.
“Devil’s advocate,” I muttered to a gargoyle as I stomped past through the slush. “Can you BELIEVE him?”
Even though I’d come from Manchester, I still felt like a rube in this small town. From my The Notebook poster to reading my horoscope in the student paper, everyone acted like I’d just fallen off an apple truck. Like on our first night, when Jeanne had collected everyone’s toothbrush beakers so we could do rum shots. By 2am, she was cross-legged on my bed, and giving me The Sex Talk.
“And you can tell me anything, sugarplum,” she said earnestly, prodding my knee. “I’ll be your protector. Don’t let them try anything without talking to me first, OK?”
“Um, I’m not a virgin,” I’d told her. “I had a boyfriend at sixth form.”
“A boyfriend!” she’d hiccupped. “Oh, pumpkin pie, that’s adorable!”
Not that there had been any boys all term. Sometimes I wished I could be more bold, just look around and—
A snowball hit me, smack-bang in the side of my head as I crossed Jesus Green. What the…? Like the village idiot I was, I turned in the direction it had come from, and—
Snowball No 2 got me in the face, knocking me to the ground. Awesome.
“Sorry!” Half a dozen voices yelled in my direction. Maybe it was the corneal damage, or the snow in my eyes, but I couldn’t focus on the giant boys looming over me.
“Are you all right?” I had a vague impression of an Edinburgh accent and pink cheeks, dark hair and – was that a bobble hat?
“Mmmm. Your hat is really, really…”
“Yes?” he purred. Scottishly. I wanted to lick his voice. “Your hat is really stupid.”

There is so much emotion in each line. If you really break it down, which I like to do, we get: amusing grumpy, to loneliness, to feeling patronised, to longing… and then a brilliant shock. But it doesn’t end there. It’s a romance, so we get our injection lust followed immediately by a decent chuckle. That’s less than minute of reading, packing in all of that, in a very clear and steady way.

In the same conversation, I realised that this contest is significantly different to the first. We aren’t providing a brief. We did try to come up with a brief, but with a contemporary romance, the world is already set. But fantasy is so dependent on the world, and briefing a world would remove much of the flexibility.

So, my second rambling tip is: for this competition we want all the emotions and the same kind of speedy novella pacing, but you’ve also got to give us an interesting world.

In Harriet’s extract above, she has balanced it jsut right: picture perfect postcard, gargoyles, a glimpse of inside the dorms. It’s just the right amount of detail to create an image in your mind as you read.


So, I encourage you to take some inspiration from Harriet when contemplating your dark romance writing – and I really really look forward to discovering another brilliant new voice, like Harriet.