Even though it is one of the world’s largest romance publishers, with about 1,300 active published writers, Harlequin is still looking for new writers. And it is hosting an online conference and manuscript contest with a publishing contract as a prize to help draw them in.

Harlequin’s first So You Think You Can Write conference was held last year, and even without a contest attached, about 800 writers submitted manuscripts, 25 of whom Harlequin is now working with. Some are close to publication, says senior executive editor for series editorial, Birgit Davis-Todd. This year, she expects that she might see 1,000 manuscripts. “Usually we’re out there attending a lot of romance writers conferences in person…, but with this, we decided we want to find some new authors, some new voices, maybe some younger authors,” said Davis-Todd. “We certainly do get a lot of manuscripts coming to us through the traditional route of the slush pile or through agents or authors we have met at conferences, but for us, it was the attempt to move beyond the usual people that might want to write for us and to find people who are blogging, writing, and doing things but maybe aren’t aware of Harlequin as a place to build a career.”

The conference, running from Nov. 7 to 11, offers interactive assignments each day. Editors evaluate participants’ work such as writing synopses, opening scenes, query letters and post them and their reactions online. “Last year, we just asked for submissions, and this year we said, ‘Let’s kick it up to a contest to get the word out there even more but also to let people know we’re serious, we actually want to publish somebody out of this, “ said Davis-Todd. The manuscript contest runs from Nov. 11 to Dec. 15, and Harlequin plans to announce the winner on March 1. The prize is a standard publishing contract with “a fair advance against royalties.” David-Todd couldn’t divulge an exact figure, saying that it would depend on which of Harlequin’s lines the book fit into, but that the book would be published in Harlequin’s international markets beyond North America.

In recent years, Harlequin has expanded into new genres, such as non-fiction and YA. “We are accepting submissions for every series that we publish….,” said Davis-Todd.