Monday, July 30, 2012

Interview with Jenny Haddon/Sophie Weston

I’m delighted to welcome long established writer and RNA member Jenny Haddon to the blog today. Jenny says she comes from a long line of agricultural labourers and con men. She’s not sure where the con men came from, but that's the trouble with con men. She was encouraged to love books by her parents. Her mother introduced her to Jane Austen and 'Gone With the Wind'. Her father to Dickens. She found Shakespeare for herself. The local library was just five minutes walk away and by the time she was ten, she was a twelve book a week girl. Given a following wind and the electricity bills paid, she still is.

What was the first thing you ever got published and did it help to launch your career? 

The first thing I got published and paid for was my first Mills & Boon, To Marry the Huntsman.

As Sophie Weston you have been published in 26 languages with Harlequin. What would you say is the magic ingredient of your books which makes them so successful?

I don't know about magic. I think I've been very lucky. The readers who write to me say they like the characters and the sense of a real world, often one they don't otherwise know about. And usually there's a funny bit in there somewhere.

I believe you have recently published under a new name. Why the change, and what inspired you to write this book? 

Last year Random House asked me whether I fancied writing a book set round the wedding of an imaginary British royal prince and imaginary ordinary girl. As soon as I started to create an alternate reality royal family (descended from the Prince Regent's daughter, Princess Charlotte) I was hooked. TO MARRY A PRINCE by Sophie Page was the result.

Which author has most influenced your work, and why? 

Shakespeare, Jane Austen, P G Wodehouse – I think because they write this gorgeous limpid prose, where you can hear the voices, not just read the ideas.

You seem to be very versatile in your writing, moving from romance to short stories, and also a guide on punctuation. How did the latter come about?

It was really my collaborator Elizabeth Hawksley's idea. She taught adults, all of whom struggled with punctuation. One young woman told her she thought you scattered commas around a piece of prose for decoration, like pepper on pizza. Then I had a young friend who asked me to explain all the different sorts of pause indicators. His passion was cars. So the Learner Driver's Guide to punctuation was born and the Haddon Hawksley collaboration was up and running.

It can’t all be kisses, so how important is it for a writer to understand how people tick in order to be a good writer?

I don't think you need a degree in psychology but I do think a writer needs to relish the fact that people can think and feel mutually exclusive things at the same time and yet still tend to be pretty consistent in their behaviour.

You have been a long-standing member of the RNA, serving on the committee for a number of years. What would you say is its continuing appeal in this digital age as the publishing industry goes through a revolutionary change?

Actually, I think I have only kept up as well as I have with the digital age because of the RNA. First of all we had applications for membership from people published by e-publishers, and we had to work out a reasonable way to differentiate real publishers from the scammers and lunatics. I did a lot of research into that. Then, there was your own talk, Freda, at Caerleon about bringing your own books to e-book publication. It's entirely because of you that I hope, very soon, to be bringing out e-book versions of novels which have previously only had very small circulation in the past. I think the RNA's appeal is all that shared knowledge across a huge spectrum of interests, not just literary ones. And the support of people who have gone through the same writing ghastlies as you have. And the parties.

Happy to help as we're all in this game together. What’s the worst mistake you ever made as a newbie writer, and so wish you hadn’t?

Sold the copyright of a novella to a publisher. I wasn't even that much of a newbie, either. I still jump and swear if the memory sneaks up on me unawares.

If you could have the best seats to any event for free, which would you choose?

Jonas Kauffman singing Don Giovanni anywhere in the world.

And finally, do you still have an unfulfilled ambition?

I want to publish the sequel to TO MARRY A PRINCE, which I should be able to do. And GODS OF LOVE AND WAR, the book of my heart, which I just might. And sing properly, which I never will.

Thank you for finding time to talk to us today. We wish you every success with your books. 
Perhaps helped by your personal assistant presumably writing Kitten on the Keys.
Kind regards,

You can find out more about Jenny here: 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Interview with Kate Harrison

A warm welcome today to, Brighton based author, Kate Harrison, who writes for both adults and teens. Before becoming an author, Kate worked as a TV reporter and director on various programmes including Panorama. She is the author of the brilliant Secret Shopper series - which was shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Comedy Romance Award - and the Soul Beach thriller trilogy.

Tell us about your journey as a writer. How long was it before you were published?

I always wrote as a child but I didn’t know anyone who did it for a living, so I did the next best thing and became a journalist, working for the BBC as an education correspondent and on programmes like Newsround and Panorama. It was a really exciting career, but I still dreamed of writing fiction, so did a few writing courses over the years but my work was all-consuming so all I managed was a few short stories. In 2001, Friends Reunited was all the rage – and had an idea about a girl who organises a reunion because she thinks she was the most popular girl in the school. What she doesn’t realise is that most of her ‘mates’ don’t remember her that fondly and are out for revenge.
I finished the book incredibly fast – three months – and had a few rejections, saying that ‘chick lit’ was dead. Which surprised me because I didn’t think a story about a downtrodden thirtysomething mum counted as chick lit. But when I won a competition and that netted me an agent and a publishing deal for my first novel, Old School Ties, which came out in September 2003. The Boot Camp, out in August, is my tenth novel – I write women’s fiction and now a thriller trilogy called Soul Beach.

Doing the plank at boot camp

Talk us through your typical writing day.

I am incredibly easily distracted so I set myself strict goals in terms of word count, plus I use all sorts of apps and tricks to keep myself focused. I start the day catching up with emails and social media stuff, then get down to writing over my second Nespresso of the day (I’m addicted: I keep hoping George Clooney will pop round to deliver a box as recognition of my coffee habit, but it hasn’t happened yet). If I’m writing a first draft, I tend to do between 1,000-2,000 words a day and I don’t edit as I go along – I write lots of virtual sticky notes to myself in the margin saying things like ‘this is BORING’ or ‘research sports cars later.’ I believe that most of writing is in the re-writing – and that a first draft should be written as fast as I can, while the excitement is still there. Then I get very vicious in the second draft and kill as many of my darlings as I can. Once I’ve got my words done for the day, I might think about new projects, or work on promotion.
I also do lots of research – so I became an undercover mystery shopper for the Secret Shopper series, and for The Boot Camp, I went on a week long fitness camp – in November! We exercised for ten hours a day and I lost half a stone – but put double back on again afterwards. I have a very rebellious streak.

What inspires your ideas for your novels?

Conversations with friends, TV programmes, articles (I have piles of cuttings that I go through, with stuff about trends or just a picture of a beautiful room or an even more beautiful man). I do tend to write about ‘zeitgeisty’ topics i.e. stuff that’s happening around us right now, from school reunions, to the brownie guide revival or the horrors of military-style boot camps. I tend to write about all aspects of women’s lives – not just the love story, but also work, family, friends. It’s about the things that matter to me, too: so there’s lots about body image and confidence in Boot Camp.
I had a complete change writing my teen thrillers – the trilogy is all about how social networking can take over your life, with a dash of reality TV, impossible love and the afterlife thrown in. My women’s fiction is all about which characters will fall in or out of love – in Soul Beach, it’s about who will fall to his or her death…

Do you plot your novels in advance or do they unfold before you as you write?

I’ve become much more of a plotter over the years…I think that an author’s job is to be in control of the story and to let the reader know they’re on a journey that will take them to new places. That doesn’t mean I don’t have loads of new ideas along the way, but I tend to work with a grid system which highlights what happens when – especially important when there are returning stories and characters, as in my three Secret Shopper’s Revenge novels, and Soul Beach.

How do you edit your work? What advice would you give other writers about editing?

I go back to all the little notes I’ve left myself during the first draft and separate the minor stuff – making sure a character isn’t pregnant for twelve months, or doesn’t change eye colour – from the major, like pace or character issues. I email myself a first draft on the Kindle to deal with the major stuff. It makes it feel so much more like reading a book and helps me focus on structural stuff. There’s no point writing the perfect paragraph and then realising you’re dumping the entire chapter in the third draft. Then I do a third version where I add in more description or humour or whatever colour I need, before sending to my editor and biting my nails to the quick while I wait for the verdict.
My main advice is that you do what works for you as a writer – the process I use I’ve arrived at by lots of trial and error. Some books are a dream to write and edit, others are harder. And there’s no way of knowing which it might be when you type Chapter One in a brand new Word document.

Do you use social media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging to promote your work? Have you found it useful or time consuming?

I am on Twitter as @KateWritesBooks and Face book too – I also blog my latest news via my website, though I find I blog less now on my own site and more on other people’s sites, to have a dialogue about the themes and ideas and the writing process. I have noticed my attention span has really diminished over the years (!) so I use things like Pomodairo (, which divides the day into short bursts of different activity to help you get more done… but I love social media, too, because it means a writer or anyone working from home no longer feels quite so isolated.

Where do you write? Can you work anywhere?

I write in our spare room which is my office pretty much all the time, except when people come to stay. My desk overlooks rooftops where seagulls nest – I live in lovely Brighton – and where the local cats chase the gulls and vice versa. In fact, it’s so distracting that I’m considering moving my desk to face the wall…
I do sometimes write in cafes or planes – I rather like a bit of background noise after years of working in a newsroom! But I try to save holidays for reading only. It’s one of the issues with being a writer, you can let it take over and never actually take a proper break. 

What genre do you read for your own pleasure?

I don’t tend to stick to one genre – in fact, I love to read a mixture. Now that I have my Kindle, my to be read list includes non-fiction, romantic comedy, thrillers and teen novels. It’s all about the story and the ideas behind it.

How do you relax when you’re not writing?

I love cooking, especially baking, and crafty stuff. I’ve recently learned to use a sewing machine – at school I was useless, but now I’m learning to make my own clothes which is so satisfying. Though I take so long that my latest project, a summer dress, probably won’t be ready much before November… I also love eating out and travelling. 

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?

Make life as hard as you possibly can for your main characters – the more you throw at them, the more their true character will be revealed and the more we’re likely to identify with them as we read.

The Boot Camp
SIX...days of dawn runs, blistered feet and non-stop sit-ups...
FIVE...meals a day - if half an apple or an oatcake counts as a meal...
FOUR... poster beds not included - but sleep won't be a problem after a ten hour workout...
THREE... women with a battalion's worth of baggage between them...
TWO... hardcore ex-forces trainers with testosterone to spare...
ONE GOAL: To feel like a million dollars, for the first time in your life.
Leave your Mars Bars and Marlboros at the door... this is Boot Camp!

Thank you for talking to us, Kate. We wish you every success with The Boot Camp.
Best wishes, Kate.

To find out more about Kate’s work visit her website at
Follow her on Twitter @KateWritesBooks

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Behind the Scenes at Penrith - From a Speaker's Point of View

Today we take a peek behind the scenes at the 2012 RNA conference at Penrith and see it from four speakers’ points of view. A warm welcome to Kate Walker, Jenny Hutton - from Harlequin, Julie Cohen and Maggie Seed - from D.C. Thomson. You made us think about how we write or should write, laugh and even cry in a good way.

Kate Walker

Talk us through the run up to your talk at the RNA conference, how did you prepare for it?

 - Your question made me laugh - the run up to my talk was such total chaos and a lot of panicky rushing about doing so many things, while scribbling notes to myself on things I must remember for the Emotion talk in Penrith. We have had major renovations on the house, and are only just  getting back to normal and organisation and that plus an already late deadline on my latest book haven't left me with much time to spare. I did a talk on Emotional Punch  some years ago and I still had the notes from that, so I pulled them out, and of course I checked through the relevant sections in my 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, but most of all I wanted this to be slightly different.  To quote a Senior Editor at  Harlequin Mills & Boon, "Three things sell most in romantic fiction and they are- emotion emotion, emotion" so I wanted to get people to see how to express that emotion in their writing.  There have been a lot of books - the 'misery memoires'  that detail lots of miserable things happening to people and some of these have become confused with real emotions, the sort that need to be put into writing romantic fiction. I wanted people to look at themselves, to think about how they react to different emotions, the effects these would have on them personally, so they could then use those reactions when creating their characters. Because when creating the emotional punch for a book, it all needs to come from the characters. The note for that bit I actually wrote on my phone when I was out doing my usual morning walk before I started work. It was one rare day when it wasn't pouring down!
Jenny - We had a number of brainstorming meetings where we looked back at what we had spoken about for the last couple of years and then forward at the submissions we’d like to receive and how we see the publishing world changing.

We nailed down the concept when we thought about it from the audience’s POV. If I was an aspiring author what would I like to know? Then it seemed obvious, we felt that we could give an insider’s view on what we were seeing in terms of submissions, the trade, digital, genre patterns and in contrast we could try and dispel some myths about editors and the submission process!

Julie - This was one of those times when the workshop topic actually arose from my everyday life, so I had a lot of the tools to give the workshop already in my head when I pitched it. 

First off, I watched lots and lots of Pixar films, with a notebook and a stopwatch. This was hugely enjoyable, as you can imagine. I had a very fun evening drawing a three-act story structure diagram and putting the story of CARS on it. And I also had fun selecting film clips to show: I wanted them to be short, yet pack a big emotional punch. 

The day before my talk, in the kitchen in our accommodation in Penrith, I showed my film clips to the other writers who were staying in my block. When they cried, I knew I'd made the right choice.

Maggie - What excitement being invited to give a talk – then total panic while I thought about what I would say. My main aim was to not have an Eric Morecambe moment (All the right words, but not necessarily in the right order).
I debated about whether to enact my favourite scene - FYI, it was in a novel by Sally Quilford, where, after discovering that her deceased aunt had been in a relationship That Dare Not Speak Its Name, and our feisty heroine had inherited her Wild West ranch, she was saved from the baddies by our half-Indian hero, (swoon)…
So, back on track, I decided to keep it simple, focus on the benefits to my audience of a clear message, that I am really keen and enthusiastic about reading their work. I was also grateful to organiser Tom for his advice, when I did a quick run-through beforehand, of not crossing my legs when I talked, as it made me look like I had an urgent appointment in the ladies.

Jenny Hutton

What aspects of appearing as a speaker do you find enjoyable?

Kate - I love sharing talking about writing with an enthusiastic audience, people who want to find out as much as they can and learn how to put what they have learned into their writing. I'm always very nervous before I start  - even though I've done lots of  talks  and courses and l know I've prepared well. Then once I get going  I  relax and enjoy myself. I love it when people laugh because they've got the jokes or, as happened this time at Penrith, when I hear someone mutter 'Oh of course - that's so true . . .  ' Then I know that they've 'got it' - whatever I'm trying to teach. I can almost see the 'light bulb' go on over people's heads. I love questions and answers at the end because then I feel that I can really try to give people the information they most want, or to clarify what I've been talking about if they haven't quite understood it fully.  While I am talking one to one, I can hope to make things clear for everyone else.  I also like  teaching writing because it makes me feel as if I'm giving something back. I've been lucky enough to have a long and successful career (nearly  28 years and 60 romance novels) and it's great  to be able to help people who are just starting out on their journey to publication or are at their beginning of their careers.

Jenny -
All of it is enjoyable – meeting new authors and authors meeting us – putting faces to names, sharing information that may help to further someone’s career, when you see a particular point sparking someone’s imagination, and the laughter (at the bits that were meant to be funny)!

Julie - I was a teacher for ten years, and I gave it up to be a full-time writer. I really miss teaching, though, and I get my teaching 'fix' through giving workshops to writers. As an analytical person, I love breaking down topics and figuring out the best way to present them. And to be honest, I'm a bit of a diva and I really like having the attention of everyone in the room.

Maggie - I loved the opportunity to meet writers, and to answer their questions. I was going to say the most enjoyable part of a delivery is when it is all over, and you can lie back and receive gifts of flowers and baby-grows, but at least at the RNA you don’t get your stitches done. There is also more audience participation, whereas delivering a baby is very much a one-woman show.

Julie Cohen
 In your opinion what makes a good audience?

Kate - My talk at Penrith was almost the last thing on the timetable, at 3pm on the Sunday afternoon in the extra part of the conference, so I was lucky to have a good attendance and to have people there who were keen and interested. By that stage of the weekend - and after the Gala Dinner the night before, people can sometimes be wilting and tired and finding it hard to
concentrate. So  it's always good to look out into the audience and see people obviously listening, perhaps nodding agreement, or smiling at the jokes  or making comments as above- and then when I gave them  a brief writing exercise to do to  'dig deep' into the emotions we were  looking at and they ways they could be shown, everyone was scribbling away frantically,
obviously seeing what I was trying to get across and finding ways to express it in words - which is what we were all there for, to write. One of the best things about an audience like that is that the writing prompts I give sparks off their imaginations and creativity so that they write almost without thinking and not worrying about getting it 'right'.

Jenny -
I once had a lecturer who said that the best audiences were the ones who showed their feelings and their interest as he spoke – that he wasn’t just talking to a sea of blank faces. I felt really guilty because I tended to just sit and listen and write notes without really looking up at him or nodding at the bits that I found useful. Ever since then I’ve nodded away as an audience member and as a speaker I now know exactly how he felt. It’s so important to feel that your audience is engaging with you, and it’s our job to make the talk as unique and compelling as possible and when you see that connection on the faces of people in the audience it’s brilliant.

Julie - They should be interested in the topic, willing to engage and to learn, and they should laugh at my jokes. In this case, the Pixar clips had nearly everyone in the room in tears. Now that's a good audience.
Maggie -The interest, friendliness and enthusiasm of an RNA audience was wonderful, I was really pleased the members were so keen and had so many questions. We had fun.

Maggie Seed
How does speaking at an RNA conference compare with other places you've spoken at?

 - The best thing about speaking at RNA is that you have a 'captive audience' really - people who care  about writing . Who want to write, and want to learn how to improve what they rewrite. They are already committed to the subject. And then of course they are all writers who value romantic fiction - you aren't going to get the  carpers who want to know  why you
want to write' that sort of thing' or  will tell you that  romantic fiction is just 'pink and fluffy' and not worth reading - or writing.   You are also talking to an audience who usually have a basic amount of knowledge so you don't have to explain the most basic things, and the people who come to the conference have put in that extra effort, in travel, in paying to be there
and joining in on the whole event. So they are already enthusiastic and involved  as in question 3 above. Looking at it as both a speaker and as a member of the audience as I've been for other sessions, the great thing about the RNA Conference is the variety of different topics and approaches that each speaker  brings to the same broad topic. I may have been in this business  for nearly 30 years but I always go home from each conference having learned something new or been made to think differently or put a new slant on a topic in the same broad field of writing. The enthusiasm of the speakers for their topics and the audiences for what they're learning always spark new ideas and new excitement.
Jenny - All conferences are different but wherever we go - the RNA, RWA, RWAus, literary festivals, library talks etc - the author community is always really welcoming. We love coming to speak at the RNA!

Julie - Speaking at RNA conferences is both easier and more terrifying than speaking at other venues. It's easier because in the RNA, we're all in it together. It's a supportive atmosphere, populated by my friends and colleagues. At the same time, it's frightening because there's bound to be several people in the room who have much, much more experience and knowledge than I do. Thankfully, because this is the RNA, the people who know better than I do are generous with their time and attention and expertise.

Maggie - Although I have never spoken at a conference, I have run slimming classes, where I had to give a talk – and then weigh everyone! So an RNA conference is fabulous in that I only had good news to give out! It was also well organised, but nicely informal too. Thank you very much for inviting me.
Thank you to Kate, Jenny, Julie and Maggie for sharing how your talks came about with us and for being such great speakers at Penrith.
With best wishes, Kate.
To find out more about our Speakers visit their websites:

Detailed guidelines of Maggie's My Weekly Pocket Novels can be obtained from My Weekly at
For more information about Harlequin visit -

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

RNA Conference 2012 Kitchen Report – The Romaniac Kitchen, Penrith

It was the first conference for most of The Romaniacs and with seven out of nine of us attending, we already knew we were going to have one heck of a kitchen party. We had our own karaoke backing track system, lead vocals by Laura  James, plenty of wine, several bottles of champagne and Catherine Miller brought some very special Morello Cherry homemade wine, circa 1975, courtesy of her late Grandad. Celia Anderson made some delicious cakes.  Oh, and in true student style, Lucie Wheeler provided the Super Noodles.

It could only have been better if our lovely Jan Brigden and Liz Crump had been there.

To sum up our kitchen party, we thought we’d share a page from our Visitors’ Book …

Friday, 13 July 2012

Dear Kitchen, Thank you for helping me rediscover the joy singing can bring. And also the pain. Love, Laura.

Nikki Goodman : Ah, how will I ever forget the Romaniacs’ kitchen? There was wine (some of it homemade vintage circa ’75 that threatened toxic shock syndrome), there were snacks and there was singing! Best of all was the laughter.  A kitchen beyond all compare.

What goes on in the kitchen, stays in the kitchen. Except when it’s videoed and put on Facebook and You Tube. (Laura)

They say the kitchen is always the hub of the party, and in this case, it most certainly was! (Lucie)

THIS is what Romantic Novelists look like! (Debbie White)

Jane Holland : Those three glasses of 1975 Morello Cherry homemade wine will stay with me for life.

The Romaniacs needed a good get together and what better way than to do it with friends. That and alcohol which could change the way you see the world. That’s why at the time we were all singing like angels. (Catherine)

Sue Moorcroft : That was a great night! The homemade wine from 1975 scared me a bit but when I offered to buy some ‘real’ wine, the soothing, ‘Oh, we’ve got some of that if you want it,’ made me feel like a lightweight. The Romaniacs were fantastic company, every one of them. I just hope I’m invited to their kitchen parties in the future. Xxx

We may have had a naughty kitchen, but it wasn’t dirty, having been sterilised with alcohol. (Laura)

Ever since joining the RNA, I’ve aspired to the heady heights of having one of the Naughty Kitchens at a conference.  And now, thanks to some wonderful company, a lot of alcohol and loud singing, I think I can say I’ve done it – and got the YouTube evidence to prove it. (Vanessa)

Mandy James : My accommodation was next to the Romaniacs’. How did I know? The raucous caterwauling and shrieks of laughter gave it away.

I left my quieter party and went to investigate … they wouldn’t let me leave, even though I insisted I didn’t want a drink or to sing at the top of my lungs. But eventually I had a small sherry … When in Rome-aniacs … see what I did there?

Two hours later the police came to close us down. Well, OK, a slight exaggeration, there was only one arrest. We had an amazing time and I recommend that the naughty kitchen be free on the NHS!

When I found out we were in student accommodation, I decided that I needed use this opportunity as research (I got that tip from Jane Wenham-Jones) and what better way than to fully immerse myself into student life. What a kitchen party that was. Sadly, any further attempt at emulating a student ended on Sunday - even now I am still trying to recover from the weekend. (Sue)

The kitchen party was to the Romaniacs and their guests what opium was to great authors of the past – inspirational, but painful the next day. (Celia)

A messy kitchen is the sign of a happy kitchen, and ours was delirious. (Debbie)

It was always going to be the Romaniacs’ kitchen. (Laura)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Special Agents

Your novel’s finished. You’ve edited and polished it until it’s as good as you can make it. The next step is to approach agents. But who do you choose? What should you do to give your novel the best possible chance? Five top agents - Broo Doherty, Carole Blake, Caroline Sheldon, Lizzy Kremer and Teresa Chris have generously shared their advice. A very warm welcome to you all.

Broo Doherty
  What are you looking for in a submission from a new writer?

Broo - Over and above good writing, I want to be taken to a place that is either familiar and the author puts a whole new spin on the place, or I want to be transported to a place I have never been but I feel at the end of the book I know intimately. I'm also looking for depth of character, emotional intelligence, and good dialogue.

Carole - I never want to be prescriptive because I always want to have an open mind. I want to fall in love with a voice, and a story, and feel passion for it as well as believing I can sell it.

Caroline - Exciting writing that draws the reader in, tells a story and holds the readers interest in the characters.  It’s very rare that a manuscript comes in and one is hooked on it from the first page but that is what editors and agents are looking for. Of course there are one off brilliances which are great but it can be helpful if the book falls within a recognised genre- crime, suspense thriller, historical novel, rom com, saga, romantic suspense, gothic, funny and now raunchy romance .

Carole Blake
As to presentation of a submission, we receive almost all by email now.  The introductory email is the opportunity for the author to sell themselves.  The more interesting the author sounds and the stronger the synopsis of the book, the more carefully an agent will read.  Include a brief description of the book.  Mention other writers in the genre whose readers might enjoy your work.  Tell a bit about your background and how you came to write the book.  If you have ideas for promotion, including electronic, give a brief outline. I would suggest the email should be presented with paragraphs in an easily readable format and reasonable type size (sounds basic, but lots don’t look good).  And it should be roughly the equivalent of one A4 page in length.  Don’t rush it – type one day – and reconsider the next. 
I would make my submission consist of an introductory email including a paragraph outline of the book (one page for the whole), separate slightly longer synopsis of the book (one page) and then complete text of the book.

Lizzy - I don’t have anything fixed in mind but I always hope to find a spark of personality and originality in what I read, as well as being able to immediately recognise something true and real, whether it is an emotion or a way of seeing the world.

Teresa - Professionalism. I like authors to have done their research about how and to whom to present their material. They should have worked hard on their novel and made sure it is of a publishable standard .

Caroline Sheldon

Why is it important that an author should have an agent?

Broo - I think the agent/author relationship is critical; editors move jobs yet agents should be a constant in an author's life.  An agent should be someone you can talk to regularly, they should be someone you feel is working for your best interests and is talking you up throughout the trade.

Carole - Authors need agents these days even more than before. Authors write the mss, but then they are required to do so much more - interviews, Face book, twitter, guest blogs for reviewers, bookselling chains, supermarkets. It's the agent who monitors the publishers' marketing promises, makes sure they are carried out. The agent who sells the subsidiary rights, the translations rights. The agent who asks why this bookshop or that chain don't seem to have re-ordered once they've run out. 

Caroline - Some of the things an agent should do:
Sell your work,
Advise you on how best to present your writing – title, synopsis and in some cases suggestions of content or genre,
Negotiate financial provisions and contract – and of course contracts are becoming ever more complex,
Help you manage your writing career to achieve the biggest success possible.
If your career flags, find ways to help you back up the greasy pole.

Lizzy - A good agent can make all the difference to an author’s submission before it’s even made, through tweaking the author’s approach to best suit the market and their own aspirations for their work. A good agent can make all the difference between a bad deal and a good one; between being offered one contract and building a career. A good agent will stop opportunities from slipping through an author’s grasp and will be a close friend and collaborator throughout the whole, sometimes lonely and confusing, process.  

Teresa - Publishers certainly pay more attention to submissions from agents whom they respect. The publishing world is so complex today, an author needs an agent to exploit all their rights rather than just hand them over to a publisher. An agent also handles the writing career of an author and is there when things go wrong.

Lizzy Kremer
What makes a good working relationship between an author and agent?

Broo - It is a relationship based on mutual trust and respect - and without that it cannot work.  I also think it relies on regular communication and a belief that you are working together towards a common good, namely promoting the author's books and endeavouring to get them as much exposure as possible and consequently increasing their sales.  

Carole - So many things, but they are all based on trust, and a good understanding from the beginning that they are aiming for the same goals.  Good communication between the 2 is vital.

Caroline - That you like each other; that you have the same belief in and ambitions for the writing; that you can laugh at the end of a long Friday afternoon.

Lizzy - Finding someone you can communicate honestly and effectively with from the start is the key. You should instinctively trust your agent’s judgement, but never be afraid to query it. They should love your work and be available to you.

Teresa  - Trust and respect. I only take on an author if I’m passionate about their work and feel comfortable with them. 
Teresa's dog - Truffle
In your opinion, how is the market from romantic fiction at the moment?

Broo -Like all markets, romantic fiction is tough at the moment, but I firmly believe that good stories, well told will succeed. 

Carole - 'Romantic fiction' is a label that covers such a huge area of fiction, that it is never out of fashion. There has been a lot of ill-informed journalism recently about falling sales numbers for women's fiction, but it is always a vast part of book sales in this country. There is always going to be a hungry market for well written romantic fiction.  Romance - relationships - are at the heart of so much of our lives, so much of what people want to read about.

Caroline - Quite a tricky one this. Over the last ten years what might broadly be described as the market for women’s fiction has lost out at the expense of categories such as thriller.  The great days of the mega-massive sales of an author such as Rosamund Pilcher are at least temporarily past and in particular the top sales of UK authors in the USA have declined.  But publishers are still publishing chic lit, sagas, historical fiction and other sub genres of romance very successfully.  FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is a complete gamer-changer.  There will be other erotic romances riding on its coattails in the months to come and with sales dwarfing those of all other books it takes “romance” back to the top of the bestseller list.  

Lizzy - I don’t sell any genre romance so I can’t speak about that part of the market. Trade publishers are not really looking for romance, but every book they publish is about love. The trick is to write a love story which isn’t predictable or derivative and which doesn’t speak down to the reader. The best writers are doing well at the moment; less stylish or adventurous idea-driven books are suffering.  

Teresa - Tough. After the dramatic crash of women’s commercial fiction last year, there’s been a shake up and  many authors have been dropped. - there has been a winnowing out.

What one piece of advice would you give to new writers looking for an agent?

Broo - Do your research: think carefully about whether you want to be represented by a large or a small agency, study their client lists and see whether you are a natural fit, if possible chat to some of their other clients but above all believe that the agent you approach is an agent that you want to be working with for the next twenty years. 
Carole - Don't think just any agent will work for you. Do your homework, work out which agents really know about the market, hold out for one you believe in.  Meet them before you accept an offer of representation. Be persistent. Believe in yourself.  Have patience: getting the right agent may take time, but it's worth investing time to get it right.
Caroline - Present yourself as carefully in the material you send as if you were going for a really tough interview for a job you really wanted.  We probably take on something in the region of 1 in 3,000 of the authors who approach us. You need to make sure your writing is noticed.

Lizzy - Just one? Make sure you do it at the right time – when you have the right book, not always the first book; when you have a book you’re proud of; when you have time to pitch your book well. Don’t despair at the first, or tenth, rejection.

Teresa - Do your research about the type of fiction an agent represents. Look at their websites and follow the instructions for submissions. Be professional.

Thank you very much to Broo, Carole, Caroline, Lizzy and Teresa for taking the time to share your experience and advice. Best wishes, Kate.

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