Many thanks to Sally Quilford for this wonderful interview with Maggie Swinburne. So many of our members have found success with these Pocket Novels that it is only fitting we start our new series with a firm favourite.
Maggie Swinburne is the editor of My Weekly Pocket Novels. She has worked for DC Thomson for over 30 years, and is always willing to give no nonsense advice to anyone who wishes to try their hand at writing a pocket novel. I have learned so much about writing and pacing romantic novels
from Maggie that I thought it would be great to kick off this new series by sharing her invaluable insights into writing for the romance market.
Hello Maggie, please could you share a quick bio, including your relevant history in romance novel publishing?
My career started in 1979 in My Weekly when we all had to read fiction manuscripts and write a crit of them. Early on I was applying the “tear to my eye” test, which I still use today for deciding whether I like something or not! I took over the Pocket Novels in 2010 and quickly got totally involved with the writers and the novels. I love the thrills and drama of the story lines. I rewrote the guidelines and brought us up to date with current trends in relationships, and introduced some crime titles to the schedule.
How many titles does your company publish each year and where are your books sold?
We publish two My Weekly Pocket Novels each month, and the novels are sold in supermarkets and newsagents. And can be ordered by subscription.
What do you look for in a romantic novel?
Thrills, drama, and exciting story lines; feisty yet charming heroines; gorgeous heroes. I like my men to have something angsty to torture themselves with. It is particularly important to have OMG cliffhanging moments at the end of each chapter so the reader is so enthralled they can’t stop reading.
How might writers improve their chances of being published by you?
By making sure their work as well as being readable is grammatically correct, and if they have used software which converts their speech into words that the resultant spellings are “right” not “write”. I feel totally insulted when I am expected to read something that would shame a secondary school pupil, and this is the same of emails I am sent. You have no idea how illiterate some people can be.
In this office we also produce the weekly magazine, the specials, the Annual and another magazine, The Scots Magazine, therefore the time available to the subbing team is limited.
What reason might you reject a novel/author?
If the story is too short – the novel has to be 50,000 minimum. Also sometimes, towards the end, stories sometimes go off the rails – it is important to keep the suspense and thrills going right up to the end! What I particularly like is a small interlude before the end when our hero or heroine thinks that they have lost the relationship. I love them to contemplate the desert their lives will be without the other person. This makes the ending all the more thrilling! Also I don’t like swearing, or violence in real time.
What do you hate getting from potential writers?
A lengthy email explaining why my criticism was wrong, and if I would only read to the last chapter, I would see how the story worked out. In actual fact, what I want is a story which grips and enthrals the reader, not a marathon endurance test where they have to keep reading while waiting for the story to get interesting. Poor reader – have pity on them.
What do you love to get from potential writers?
A nice email saying they see what I am saying, and attaching the revised story with all the necessary changes and additions, and if I have been extra cheeky, the revisions marked in red so I don’t have to read the whole story again.
How long can writers expect to wait for a response to their submissions? This includes acknowledgements or acceptances/rejections.
I wish I would acknowledge receipt of a novel as soon as I get it, but sometimes I forget. So please do not worry about sending me an email to ask if I have got a novel if you haven’t heard. I have a printing schedule to fill, so I generally try to buy enough novels at a time for three to four months ahead, so I read my novels until this has happened. So there can then be a lull until the next blitz. It
does make acceptances rather sporadic – either a famine or a feast. If someone has a novel for a specific time, such as next Christmas, please do say in your covering letter, because I really like to have nice romantic Christmas stories. With a Cinderella theme. As my regular writers know!
Do you read romance (in your leisure time)?
Yes, I do! In fact I love re-reading my favourite author, who is DE Stevenson, and if anyone out there reads her novels, please do get in touch, because I hardly ever meet someone who likes her books.
How do you see the future for writers of romance and the romance publishing industry in general?
I think the whole industry will continue to thrive because as we all know, it is love that makes the world go round.
Do you attend RNA events? (So that our readers might have the chance to meet you)
Yes, I like to go to the parties and events, and love to chat with writers. I am always fascinated by people who have a compulsion to write!
Thank you, Maggie!
My Weekly Pocket Novel Guidelines are available from email@example.com
About Sally Quilford
Sally has been writing for DC Thomson since 2008/9. Her latest two novels, Big Girls Don’t Cry (the third in the Bobbie Blandford series) and Eye of the Storm, will be published in the New Year. Sally
has also presented several successful online workshops in the writing of pocket novels. You can find tips and tricks, on all things romance, on her blog.
A great start to the series, Sally. We look forward to next month’s instalment!
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