As I almost forgot about writing this blog post this week (sorry!) I put a call out to folks asking what they would like me to write about. It’s turned into a bit of an Ask Sally special, so I will endeavour to answer all the questions here, and I hope that my fellow pocketeers will join in with their own answers. (Those of you who read my column in Writers Forum or visit my writing calendar blog will know about my Ask Sally feature).
Q: (In relation to the new Easy Reads) Could you give us some indication of what sort of stuff which would have been taboo under the old guidelines has now been accepted?
A: This is not the easiest question to answer at the moment, as things are in a state of flux as even the editors get to grips with the new imprint. No Easy Reads have been published yet (My novella Remember Remember will be the first - Note: since writing this, I've seen that Easy Reads are going to be numbered differently, such as Liaison 1, Liaison 2 etc, so mine won't be the actual first, but it may be the first in either the intrigue or suspense lines. I'll know more when it's on the shelves) so we can’t do the usual research that all good writers should do for a market.
There are various bits of information dotted around the Internet, which may be of help. The new guidelines can be found on my blog here (It’s a pdf download, so you need Adobe Acrobat in order to open it.)
There’s a great report of an interview by Douglas McPherson with Easy Read editor Maggie Seed on Womagwriters blog here
And Maggie clarified some of my own questions about the new imprint here:
So hopefully they’ll be of some help. There are also all sorts of links on my main pocket novel page on my blog, including links to a report of Maggie Seed’s appearance at the RNA conference.
There’s also some very good information in the blog post and comments section on this blog on Margaret's post about Stretching The Writing Muscle.
I can tell you from my own experience that the books are going to be very different from the old pocket novels. Naturally I don’t want to give my story away here, so I have to be a bit vague. But I can tell you that I was able to tell the story in the third person (alternating the hero and heroine’s points of view), but I also put, at the beginning of each chapter, a first person section from the point of view of the killer. So that’s very different (and very chilling if I may say so myself).
I blatantly allowed my hero and heroine to sleep together without them making any declarations of love or other commitment. As I was still not sure of the rules on explicit sex of the new imprint at the time of writing that, I did keep the bedroom door closed. My heroine had also had an affair (prior to meeting the hero) with a married man.
I can tell you that at least one of the characters dies a very nasty death, and whilst I didn’t go into all the blood and gore, it’s quite chilling. There’s also another quite progressive (for pocket novels) element to the story, which I’m afraid if I told you I would have to kill you. Seriously, it’s a major plot point and would give the story away. But I have to say that I would never have believed that such a plot point would be allowed in pocket novels.
On the other hand, we’re still not talking Trainspotting and the Reservoir Dogs here. In terms of language, I got away with a couple of ‘bloodys’ and ‘buggers’ (assuming they make the final edit) but I don’t think they’ll be wanting any Ana Steele style ‘Holy f***s’ anytime soon.
Nor, despite jokes, are DC Thomson going the Fifty Shades of Grey route. Sex scenes should be sensual and not pornographic. So no bodily fluids!
Maggie told me that for the intrigue line she liked the idea of stories such as those written by Sophie Hannah. I would imagine, admittedly based only on my one acceptance, that murder mysteries would be along the lines of Inspector Morse, Agatha Raisin and other similar style mysteries. But don’t quote me on that. What Maggie has said is not to write as if you were writing for pocket novels. Don’t be afraid to be a bit bolder, and there’s no need for the action to be all from the heroine’s (or hero and heroine’s) point of view anymore.
However, Maggie is keen that even the murder mysteries and intrigues have some relationship at the centre of them, because the books are still going to be sold next to the women’s magazines.
I can tell you that Maggie still likes the things she’s always liked. She likes a hunky, tortured hero, an appealing heroine who may have faults but is still sympathetic, and feisty older people. She also likes a really twisted murderer! But I don’t think we’re talking Hannibal Lecter here. I’d save the cannabalism for another day. What I mean is psychologically twisted. The murderer in my story has a very skewed view of the world.
I read it somewhere that some people think the pocket novels will be dumbing down. I’d like to address that here and say ‘certainly not’. If anything mine is more complex than any I’ve ever written (at least in pocket novel terms), and I certainly didn’t write for a less intelligent reader.
What I will say here is that the only way you’ll really know if Maggie likes your novel is to pitch it to her. Send her three chapters and a synopsis. I’ll talk about process in a bit in response to another question, but if she likes the idea she will advise you how to write it to current requirements. She’s lovely like that.
My first Easy Read novella Remember Remember should be on the shelves very soon. It’s a Bonfire Night theme so it’ll either be the end of October or the beginning of November. As soon as it’s gone off sale, I’ll be putting it on Kindle so if you don’t manage to get a paper copy, you should be able to read it on your Kindle or laptop. I think that once we see a few more on the shelves it will be much easier to know what Maggie is looking for and how far we can take things.
And I’m sure my fellow Pocketeers have even more advice to offer regarding their own recent submissions.
Q: I'm reading a Pocket Novel at the moment, POV seems to switch quite a lot, 3 times on one particular page - is this normal as I prefer to write from one POV.
A: With the new Easy Reads, you can write from one point of view or several (and with The People’s Friend actually). It’s up to you. I generally advise the participants on my workshops not to switch points of view mid-paragraph, and that it’s best to have a line break between points of view. Too much head-hopping can be confusing for the reader. But I’ve read a lot of novels lately where points of view can change between paragraphs. I know People’s Friend don’t mind that so much and a lot of their more established writers do it, and I’ve seen it in a few Mills and Boon novels. What matters is that the writer clearly knows what they’re doing and that point of view changes don’t just come across as a sign that the writer does not have a good grasp of the technique.
Q: Can you explain the process when a full manuscript has been submitted? How long should you wait for a reply and when is the right time to send it elsewhere?
A: Waiting for a response to the first three chapters and synopsis can take up to six months. But once a full MS has been submitted, the editors of both People’s Friend and Easy Reads are usually fairly quick to get back to you. I’ve had an acceptance the day after submitting a full MS. Sometimes I’ve had to wait a week or two. I think the most I had to wait was two months. But it’s really ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Bear in mind that they are reading hundreds of submissions a month and have to read them all. I’d say that if you don’t hear anything for six months after sending the partial, chase it up. If you don’t hear anything after three months of being asked for full MS, then chase that up, particularly if it’s seasonal work. They don’t mind at all. Both Maggie and Tracey are very approachable. But I would suggest waiting to hear back from them before submitting elsewhere. If you don’t hear back within a reasonable time after chasing up your full MS, then by all means submit elsewhere.
Are the pocket novels worth doing?
Do you mean in terms of what they pay? Or experience? It’s true that writing pocket novels does not pay a lot and I’ve seen some heated arguments about it. Both Easy Reads and The People’s Friend pay £300 a book, though Easy Reads are adding £20 to that figure, for each additional book they buy from a writer. After it’s published, you can sell it onto Ulverscroft for Large Print. They pay around £450. You can then claim Public Lending Rights from Libraries, and those payments last for as long as your books are in the library and being borrowed by readers. I know it’s been argued that you could still earn that extra if DC Thomson paid more, or if you wrote short stories and sold them. I concede the first point, but as for earning more from selling short stories, that’s all very well if you can sell them.
Also, it’s very hard to re-sell a short story that’s already been published in a British magazine, so once you’ve earned from it, that’s all you’ll ever earn. The Australian mag That’s Life Fast Fiction buy some reprints, but it’s not a given. You may be able to earn a bit of ALCS money from stories, but it’s not as long lasting as Public Lending Rights. And personally speaking, I’ve been far more successful at writing and selling pocket novels than I ever was at writing short stories. Admittedly I’m quite quick at writing the pocket novels, and can easily write between anything 3 and 5 a year, so they may not be for everyone in terms of the output needed to earn from them.
In terms of doing the pocket novels for experience, I think it’s a great way to learn how to create a novel that has good characters, pace, structure and which is, most importantly, entertaining. If the editor likes your story but think it needs work, she will work with you on it and guide you to writing the right sort of novel for a DC Thomson publication. So you get the chance to work with someone who is at the top of her profession and who knows what the market and readers want. I’ve learned so much about what works from the pocket novel editors.
The most important thing is that those of us who write pocket novels love doing it, and sometimes that’s more important than what you earn from it. Only you can decide if it’s right for you.
If you sell a Pocket Novel, what rights do they purchase?
The Easy Reads and The People’s Friend usually purchase First Cheap Paper Rights, which is pretty much the same as First British Serial Rights. This means that they have first rights to publish the work first in their given format and that it can’t be published in that same format or any other by another publisher whilst the book is on the shelves. All other rights for Pocket Novels, including Large Print and ebook rights, remain with you. But it’s common courtesy to let them publish the novella and for it to be off the shelves before you put it on Kindle and/or sell it on for Large Print. As Large Print publishers need an actual printed copy, you’d have to do this anyway. But as they can take a couple of months to get back to you, it won’t hurt you to send off a copy of your pocket novel to the Large Print publishers as soon as you get it even if the novel is still on the shelves at that time.
I’ll be appearing (all too briefly) at the Festival of Romance in Bedford this year on Saturday 17th November 2012 where I’ll be answering these questions and more about Pocket Novels at a Pocket Novel/Category Romance workshop. Tickets for the event (which I think are £19 each) are available from the FoR site. I have it on good authority there are plenty of spaces left. On the day I’ll be holding a free raffle for all those who attend the workshop, and there’ll be some book bundles up for grabs in that raffle. They’ll consist of some of my previously published pocket novels (some in Large Print). I also hope to include my first Easy Read amongst the bundles.