The RNA New Writers’ Scheme by Sarah Callejo

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Sarah Callejo

Sarah Callejo

Sarah Callejo, a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2023, tells us about her New Writers’ Scheme experience.

As a naive first timer, I thought I simply had to send off the novel I’d just written and it would be on the shelves of every bookshop a couple of months later. Of course, it was soon pretty clear that things don’t work that way in the publishing world. However, I was fortunate to read a Katie Fforde novel a few months later and in the acknowledgements she mentioned the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). That’s how I began to truly learn about the long, winding journey of a writer.

By looking up the RNA, I was able to join the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) for newbies who need help with shaping their manuscripts. So I printed my manuscript – this was back in 2012 when e-books were supposedly doomed to failure – and sent it off to England like a proud mother sending their talented kid to an audition. I won’t lie, my first NWS report was quite a shock. It made me cry and huff for a few hours, but then I went back to it and read it with a more open and humble mind. Yes, it was obvious that my poor reader had struggled to get through it, because, let’s be honest, it was boring, but somehow, despite the slow pace and sagging middle, the reader had found words of encouragement and advice for future books. This meant that my reader believed I should keep on writing and that was the main takeaway I clung onto.

This first blow was necessary to thicken my skin for future criticism and pushed me to write my second novel. Indeed, the pressure of having a deadline to submit your manuscript to the NWS kept me from procrastinating and forced me to complete a new novel every year. Once I’d got over the initial shock of having my “child” criticised as unfit, I realised that the reports were an invaluable, detailed guide to spot bland or unlikeable characters, surplus scenes that didn’t move the story forward, flimsy character arcs, a missing theme for the novel, the lack of internal conflict, a self-pitying character who doesn’t drive the story but rather lets things happen to them, so many instances where you should show not tell, too many speech or thought tags, too little tension… and all this advice could be used for all my other novels, because I learnt from every single one. In fact, after several reports, I also noticed a recurring mistake: my first chapter was always unnecessary. There are so many elements one has to subjugate in one’s novel and the writer is often too close to it to see them clearly. This is why we need a pair of expert, unbiased eyes to help point them out and that’s what the NWS has done for me. It has given me an honest, objective, detailed, clearly explained critique of my work, pointing out the bad and the good, to help me build a publishable book.

But besides the literary support, the NWS has also provided me with emotional support by introducing me to other aspiring writers who were suffering the same insecurities, fears and doubts, with whom I could share my hopes and rejections and, eventually, the good news of a book deal.

Being a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2023 fills me with pride because it means I learnt from all those NWS reports and harnessed all that precious advice to produce something publishable. It also means that I now navigate the literary world without the NWS support I have relied on all these years and I will miss my anonymous readers dearly. I hope they realise how much they’ve helped me and how grateful I am, as I wouldn’t be on this new thrilling stretch of the writer’s journey without them.

(c) Sarah Callejo

Facebook: Sarah Callejo – Author
Twitter: @SarahCallejo – https://twitter.com/SarahCallejo
Instagram: callejosarah

Some of the other contenders for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2023 had this to say about their New Writers’ Scheme experience:

Stella Holt: “Finding the Romantic Novelists’ Association was like discovering my own golden ticket; joining the New Writers’ Scheme was a game changer. Up to this point in my decades-long writing journey I hadn’t put myself, or my writing, out there in a group setting. But in the NWS the ability to submit a full manuscript and receive kind, constructive, thoughtful feedback in an editor style letter was fantastic! Pages of insight that helped me see my writing from a new perspective, and guided me to craft the book that won my first publishing contract and a 6 book deal.”

Angela M Sims: “Without the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), my novel, The Rose of Florence, may never have blossomed. The reviewer report was honest and detailed in its critique, but more importantly, it was positive and encouraging. My reviewer gave me the belief that I had written something worthwhile. I urge anyone who is considering writing their first book to join the NWS. Such professional support is invaluable to any new writer.”

Emma-Claire Wilson: “The New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) has been a vital part of my journey to publication. Through the scheme, I met my mentor and my writing tribe who helped me along the way. They kept me strong, focused and held me accountable. The feedback I received on my manuscript gave me the confidence to finally send my novel, This Child of Mine, out into the world and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be published today if it wasn’t for the support I found through the scheme.” 

Sarah Rodi, NWS Co-ordinator: “Congratulations to Sarah, Stella, Angela and Emma-Claire on being contenders for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2023. They are just a few of our recent success stories to come out of the New Writers’ Scheme. Many of us in the RNA certainly would not be where we are today without the help of the NWS. What an incredible scheme it is, that you can send in your manuscript to be critiqued by published romance authors and receive professional feedback to hone your craft. I too came up through the scheme, and now take pride in knowing that I’m helping the novelists of the future.”

If you’re interested to learn more about the New Writers’ Scheme, contact Sarah Rodi at rnanwscoordinator@romanticwriters.co.uk

dark sanctuaryAbout Dark Sanctuary:

Lonely and financially desolate, Sofia thought she’d found the security she craved as a live-in carer. When she starts digging into the suspicious ramblings of her elderly employer, she uncovers a hidden journal written in the wake of the Spanish Civil War. As Sofia edges closer to the truth, she has no idea who she can trust. Are some secrets better left buried in the past?

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Sarah is half English, half Spanish and is an eternal foreigner enjoying the best of both countries. She is a freelance translator and writes about fictional lives in between financial and legal translations. She has a close relationship with her sofa where she spends hours reading or watching k-dramas and mysteries and believes books with a sad ending should come with a warning, like gluten and nuts. Sarah lives on the outskirts of Madrid with her husband, two kids and three dogs.

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