Tuesday, December 15, 2015

MEET THE PUBLISHER: Maggie Swinburne of My Weekly Pocket Novels.

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 myweekly@dcthomson.co.uk 

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!

The RNA blog is brought to you by,

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the blog in 2016 please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com

Friday, December 11, 2015


Welcome back to Francesca Burgess with the latest in her Competition Monthly series.

First of all I am delighted to tell you that a couple of weeks ago I was shortlisted for The People's Friend Serial Writing Competition. It was something a little different for me so it just shows that sometimes you should chance writing outside the box. Writer Helen Yendall was the winner and I look forward to reading her story when it's published.

This month I'd like to mention record keeping. I'm certain I'd have got into a right mess with my submissions without my spreadsheets. I used to add the competition entries to the sheet for my magazine subs, but I recently created a new spreadsheet especially for the comps, which I have found much more useful. These are in date order. I also keep a paper system. This is an exercise book set out by story, which allows me to see exactly where each of them has been sent. It's also handy when your laptop crashes and you can't reload your spreadsheets. (Yes, it happened to me!)

There are a couple of unusual competitions this month. One has a writing retreat in Iceland as a prize (I've always longed to go there) and another is about points of view. Good luck!

**Closing soon** Iceland Writers' Retreat Northern Lights Competition
Theme: 'Northern Lights', up to 500 words.
Prize: Writing retreat in Rykjavik worth £1,500, including flights, 13-17 April 2016
Competition deadline: 3 January 2016
Entry: free

Writing Magazine Annual Open Short Story Competition
Theme: Open, 1,500 – 1,700 words
Prize: 1st £200 plus publication in magazine. 2nd £50 plus publication online
Competition deadline: 14 January 2016
Entry: £3 subscribers, £5 others

Grist Point of View Competition
Theme: Writing in one of five points of view: 'I', 'You', 'He', 'She' or 'It'. Maximum 5,000 words or 40 lines of poetry
Prize: 1st £500, 2nd £250, 3rd £125 and publication
Competition deadline: 31 January 2016
Entry: £5

Artificium fiction competitions
Competition for short stories:
Theme: Open, 2,000 – 8,000 words
Prize: 1st £300, prize pot to be shared between 1 – 4 runners up
Competition deadline: 5 February 2016
Entry: £5

 'In Brief' Competition:
Theme: Open, can include flash fiction and poetry, 500 – 1,000 words
Prize: 1st £150, prize pot to be shared between 1 – 4 runners up
Competition deadline: 5 February 2016
Entry: £5

Exeter Writers Short Story Competition
Theme: Open, except children's. 3,000 word maximum.
Prize: 1st £500, 2nd £250, 3rd £100, Prize for Devon writer £100
Competition Deadline: 28 February 2016
Entry: £6

Bath Novel Awards
Theme: Open, any genre including Y/A but not children's.
Prize: 1st £2,000, 2nd Consultancy report from Cornerstones and follow up session
Competition Deadline: 10 April 2016
Entry: £22

About Francesca:

Francesca Burgess has been placed or shortlisted in a number of competitions including Twyford Writers, Winchester Writers' Conference, Chorley and District Writers' Circle, Flash a Famous Phrase, Meridian Writing, People's Friend and those run by Writers' News and Writing Magazine. She's had stories published in magazines worldwide and in three anthologies, including Diamonds and Pearls. She's been a member of the RNA New Writers' Scheme for five years.

Thank you, Francesca!

Don’t forget to let us know about your competition successes plus any comps you are organising.

The RNA blog is brought to you by,

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you’d like to write for the RNA blog please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ask the Industry Expert: Anne Williams

Today Helena Fairfax puts the spotlight on Anne Williams of the Kate Hordern Literary Agency. 

Thanks very much for joining us, Anne.

Please tell us a little about the Kate Hordern Literary Agency, how long you’ve been with the agency, and how you came to join. 

Kate Hordern founded the agency in 1999, after fourteen years selling rights at publisher Victor Gollancz where, as Foreign Rights Director, she worked with authors such as Terry Pratchett and Nick Hornby. Having worked alongside Kate many years before when we were both in our first publishing jobs at Gollancz, I joined KHLA in 2009, after a career break and over fifteen years as a commissioning editor, first at Michael Joseph, then for thirteen years at Headline. I commissioned and edited a number of Headline’s major commercial fiction authors, including the Sunday Times No. 1 bestsellers Sheila O’Flanagan and Lyn Andrews, top 10 bestseller Faye Kellerman and prize-winning crime writers Barbara Nadel, Manda Scott and Caroline Graham (on whose books the TV series Midsomer Murders was based).   Kate is based in Bristol, whilst I am based in North London.

What do enjoy most about your job? And least?

The best thing is the thrill of discovering a new writer whose work I think I can sell. The worst thing is the endless number of rejections I have to hand out to authors looking for agents. The bar for publication is set so high a writer has to be really exceptional and often also have a really exceptional idea behind their writing to stand a chance of making it to publication and I’m aware I’m dashing hopes on a daily basis.   But occasionally I make someone’s day too.

What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk? Are there any specific plots or themes you’d like to see?

I am looking for a voice that makes me want to read on, to stay in their world. Genre fiction is all about having a distinctive voice in a recognisable narrative form – being different within a familiar mould. I am specifically looking for good regional saga authors who need to know how to be genuinely poignant and powerful without being hackneyed. Quite a tall order. I think family relationships are sometimes underexplored in these novels – romance plays an important part of course, but the best novels often feature other kinds of relationships too such as those between sisters or mothers and daughters. I’d also like to find a novel that does what Jo Baker’s wonderful LONGBOURN did – tell a classic story from the point of view of a minor character.  She did this beautifully with the PRIDE AND PREJUDICE plot and characters. I’m keen on working class history and also welcome books that show you another way of looking at the familiar. LONGBOURN satisfied on both those counts.

Where do you find your new authors, and how?

Mainly through direct submission, as per our website instructions, but some are referred to me through industry contacts.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?

Be clear and brief in a cover letter. Let the sample chapters speak for themselves. Make sure your opening is as good as it can be. Find a great title. Suggesting authors you admire and would ideally like to be compared with is helpful. 

What benefits do you feel an agent can offer an author?

As well as the obvious  - giving access to markets an author would struggle to reach themselves, both in the UK and abroad, and improving contract terms, an agent gives an author a context for their journey of publication, helps them to interpret what information the publisher is giving them. They can also shape their work editorially so it is the best it can be before it is handed over to the publisher.

Romance is the biggest-selling genre in publishing, and yet the one taken least seriously by the mainstream. Why do you think this is? And how do you think romance authors can address the negative perception?

The term romance covers a huge remit, and can be both very precise in terms of what is required, or else very loose – 19th-century literary classics are frequently termed romances. I think the ‘writing by numbers’ image attached to some kinds of romantic fiction has something to do with what you are referring to, as does the historical overpublishing of some sub-genres of it, so-called chick-lit being a case in point. In terms of addressing the negative perception, maybe writers of romance should take themselves a little more seriously – women in particular sometimes downplay what they do, overlaying how they describe their writing with a kind of nervous flippancy. Romantic fiction deals with one of the most important things in life, love, as well as many other issues that, even if lightly handled, are the stuff of everyday existence.

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?

Well, I love Nancy Mitford’s THE PURSUIT OF LOVE and LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE. Full of wit, glamour and humour but incredibly poignant too.

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed most in the past twelve months, and why?

I was very impressed by Elena Ferrante’s DAYS OF ABANDONMENT. She writes with a searing directness that is quite disturbing but riveting.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Walk on Hampstead Heath, swim (not on Hampstead Heath).

If you could describe your working-day in just three words, what would they be?

Getting everything done.

Thanks so much for your thoughtful answers, Anne, and for taking the time to introduce yourself and the Kate Hordern Agency to RNA members.

Kate Hordern Literary Agency

I hope you’ve enjoyed Anne’s interview as much as I did. If you have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you!

Helena Fairfax writes contemporary romance. Her latest novel, A Way from Heart to Heart, was published by Accent Press, and is set on the Yorkshire moors, near where she lives. Helena interviews authors and writes about books and writing on her blog at www.helenafairfax.com. You can also find Helena on Twitter, @helenafairfax, and a list of her books on Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/Helena-Fairfax/e/B00DRBYLO0/

Another great interview, Helena, thank you!

The RNA blog is brought to you by,

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

Would you like to write for the RNA blog? Please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com

Friday, December 4, 2015

Jenny Haddon: The Importance of Readers

Today we welcome Jenny Haddon, aka Sophie Weston, who writes about her exciting new venture, Liberta Books.

Every author understands the importance of readers. They nurture our visions, buy our books, keep us creating. You might say, they're our raison d'ĂȘtre. But how much do we know about how or why or even what they do, when they read? Especially when they read fiction.

When I say they, of course I mean we. All authors were readers before we started to write. Most of us stay readers (some, voracious) throughout our lives. Sometimes though, we don't read the way we used to, need to, if we're to fulfil the purist job description. HINT: if you're reading with a pencil in your hand you're not leaving room for what Ursula Le Guin calls 'acts of the spirit'. Dancing on the edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, Harper Perennial, February 1990. Put the pencil down, lie on the floor and get a mug of tea.

Le Guin, if you don't already know her, is a wonderful, award-winning writer of primarily science fiction fantasy, for adults and children. Her stories are thoughtful, strange, evocative, unforgettable and her ideas about writing are both profound and crisply practical. But what I want to concentrate on here is what she says about reading:  'The writer cannot do it alone. The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it alive: a live thing, a story.' loc.cit.

Strange science
The science of it is up there with atomic physics.  A writer, like a spider, weaves a story out her guts, and then throws the golden crafted thing out into the world, not knowing where it will travel.

A reader opens the door to her imagination and says, 'Come in. I embrace you.' This writer and reader will most likely never meet. They may well live in different countries and centuries. And yet their imaginations interact, independent of their intellect, physical presence or even will. Memorable encounters happen in theta space.

Social or Solitary
These days we mostly think of reading as a solitary pursuit. But it has a social aspect – the church bells pealing for 'virtuous Pamela, wed at last'; the man who turned to me on a snow-halted train and raved about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; the international and deliciously Woosterian Wodehouse Appreciation Society all give evidence of this. And some people still receive great pleasure from being read to by means of audio books, radio or even in person. Maybe more of us should try the latter.

All of this was what historical author Joanna Maitland and I had in mind when we set up our new website. We call it a place for writers and readers to meet. It is very new and ideas will develop. But the focus, even when we are trying to help other writers, is on remembering those readers.

Love Letter to a Favourite Novel
Specifically, we have dedicated a page for readers to offer their own Love Letter to a Favourite Novel. This will include authors - as long as they put their pencils down first! We don't want it to feel intimidating, though, so we'll probably invite a few non-writers to kick us off. Some readers think authors know an awful lot more than we do and are in unjustified awe as a result. We're looking for Love Letters that are a spontaneous, heartfelt response to a favourite novel, not a high end critique. And we're hoping for lots of new recommendations. Nothing persuades you to read a book like an enthusiast.

Link to Liberta Books

Good luck with your new venture, Jenny and Joanna, we look forward to reading those love letters.

The RNA blog is brought to you by

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the blog or have a forthcoming book publication please get in touch on elaineeverest@aol.com