Today, in the latest of the series ‘Chatting with Publishers’, we are delighted to welcome Laurie Johnson to the blog.
Harper Collins is a huge organisation split into many component parts. Could you give our readers an insight into which imprints you are involved with and what is your particular role?
I’m an Associate Editor for the Mills & Boon Global Acquisition team within HarperCollins. We work with colleagues in London, Toronto and New York to acquire series editorial for global publication. In London, we work closely with the UK business, including HQ and Mills & Boon marketing teams to support wider UK publishing programmes. Within this role, I acquire and work with authors writing across all UK series: Mills & Boon Modern, Historical, Medical, Cherish and our brand new series, Dare launching in early 2018.
Because readers and writers are a nosey bunch, we’d love to have a pocket history of your career to date.
At university, I studied Creative Writing, which has put me in a good position to be an editor since we had to learn how to give—and take—constructive feedback on stories. I understand how brutal it can be, but appreciate that ultimately it’s a useful process. From there I became a magazine editor, I did this for four years before transitioning into commercial fiction publishing and finding my home at Mills & Boon. I’ve worked for Mills & Boon in the office and as a freelance editor for the last six years.
While this is a question that frequently comes up it would be helpful to know what advice you would give writers wanting to submit their manuscript to you.
Think about your characters. Mills & Boon romances are all about the characters. You could set your story anywhere within any situation, but the emotional journey your hero and heroine go on is what is key. Remember to dig deep into your characters, learn who they are, what their emotional conflicts are, what his/her motivation is, what’s the end goal? Don’t shy away from the emotional, keeping everything external and on the surface; get in there and learn what makes your hero and heroine tick. Use their internal, emotional conflicts to drive the story. Think about how they’re going to come together, what emotionally is going to keep them apart and how they’re going to use what they’ve learned over the course of the story to overcome their conflict and be together.
Ensure you read the guidelines for your desired series and read as many of our titles as possible. These provide the best guide to our readers’ tastes. And don’t give up. It can be disheartening to get a rejection, but do keep trying!
What does a work need to have to make you read beyond that first sentence; that first paragraph?
I look out for a strong, exciting voice that captivates my attention from the very beginning. If there’s an exhilarating story with three-dimensional characters we can’t help but love in there too, then that’s a real bonus. But mainly we’re looking for that great author voice we just want to read again and again.
Following on from the previous question, you may often know immediately when something isn’t right for you. If it is something in the story rather than the writer’s voice, would you encourage that author to submit something different or perhaps even send you a rewrite?
Yes, definitely. If it’s something that can be fixed, I’ll often send feedback so the author can work on it more. If it’s something more fundamental in the story, but the author has a strong voice, I’ll provide advice and ask them to submit another project.
What is the position regarding unsolicited submissions?
Harlequin Mills & Boon does accept unsolicited submissions. For more information, check out the guidelines and send your story to us via:
Do you ever have time to read for your own pleasure; genres other than the ones that constitute your work? What would be your genre of choice?
I’ve always been an avid reader, although admittedly these days with reading for a living it’s a lot less. However, I always ensure I’m reading something for pleasure. This year I’m using the Goodreads Reading Challenge, it’s really helpful to keep track of what I’ve read and what I thought of it.
While I read a lot of competitive titles, which helps to identify trends in the romance market etc., I do breakout of the Romance genre as much as I can. My go to is usually Crime, I love authors like Kathy Reichs, James Patterson and Preston & Child. I also love a good Fantasy; I’m currently re-reading Harry Potter and I’m the proud owner of the entire Terry Pratchett Discworld collection! And an Action-Adventure, such as Thunderhead (Preston & Child again), anything about Atlantis or other lost worlds, always provides great escapism. The only genre I avoid is Horror, I’m a real scaredy-cat!
Have you ever become so drawn to a real place, albeit in a fictional context, that you just had to visit it?
Yes! I once read Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer, it’s set in a little bookstore in Paris called Shakespeare and Company that sits opposite Notre-Dame Cathedral. I was so excited to see it! It was exactly as described with books covering every conceivable surface, it was bliss to get lost in there for hours. It’s a fabulous bookstore and I highly recommend a visit for anyone who loves books!
If you didn’t do what you do, what would your dream occupation be?
To be honest, this is my dream occupation so I’d hate to be doing anything else!
A lovely thing to be able to say whatever one’s job. Thank you for joining us today, Laurie.
Laurie was interviewed by Natalie Kleinman. Thank you Natalie for a wonderful interview.
Natalie Kleinman writes contemporary and historical romantic novels. Her latest Escape to the Cotswolds, is set in the beautiful English countryside and was published by HarperCollins HQ Digital in June 2017.