Kate Allan

The online diary of Kate Allan, author

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sara Craven / MBA Agency / Simon & Schuster

Yesterday I went down to London to the RNA meeting. The panel consisted of Harlequin Mills & Boon author Sara Craven, agent Laura Longrigg from the MBA agency and Kate Lyall Grant, editor at Simon & Schuster UK.

A lot of authors are today at the London Book Fair and/or nursing hangovers but I came home late last night after deciding it would be better to use today to catch up on some writing.

Rushing into the room late, past Nicola Cornick on the door, I found a seat at the back next to Wendy Wootton, who I've seen at RNA events before but never properly met. 'I read your blog,' I said. 'You must be exicted about meeting your new publishers tomorrow at the London Book Fair?'
Wendy looked a little shocked. 'I keep forgetting 200 odd people a day read my online journal!'
'Well, I'm one of them!'

Speaking first from the panel was Sara Craven, who has been a Mills & Boon author for 30 years (she started as a child). She quoted Karin Stoecker, Editorial Director at Harlequin Mills & Boon, who was actually in the room seated close to the front among a small coterie of M&B authors.
What is Mills & Boon about? 'Character, character and character', Karin Stoecker had replied.
'It's no different from any fiction,' Sara Craven explained. 'You have to care. A Mills & Boon reader can pick up insincerity at one hundred paces.'
Sara said that it was vital to love what you were writing, and that authors must have a willingless to listen to editorial direction.

Kate Lyall Grant then spoke and explained that Simon & Schuster were the smallest of the big publishers with around 350 fiction titles a year, of which 60% come from the US. They publish 3-4 women's commercial fiction titles a month, and would be looking only to take on titles they were convinced could sell 30,000 copies. They certainly want British authors for their lists.
They set up a regional saga list in the autumn of 2003 and are 'seeing how it goes'.
Kate cited recent trends in women's commercial fiction to have been upmarket family sagas and comedies of manners, e.g. The Jane Austen Book Club.
They expect to take on 2-3 new novelists a year, but have unfortunately had to stop looking at unagented submissions after an unagented author tried to sue them for losing his manuscript.

Finally, Laura Longrigg, a literary agent from the MBA agency spoke. She described the role of the agent as being one who, in the early stages of an author's career at least, will do a lot of editing 'because there is no pouint submitting a manuscript to a publisher that is not as perfect as it cane be.' Agents are also there to nag publishers behind the scenes and find the best deal for their authors, not just financially, but finding the best editor with whom the author can work with.
She said that agents find their clients from, for example, organisations like the RNA, and from writing competitions and courses. Often a superb short story writer will have a novel behind them. Laura explained that the key thing to grab her attention in a query was to have a wonderful letter. She'd once asked to be sent glittery and sparkly letters, and had received literally this! 'If you can write a novel,' she explained, 'you should be able to write a great letter.'

A Q&A session followed which prompted a discussion of the differences between UK and North American fiction. It was generally agreed that in the UK openings can build, whereas in the US the first two chapters must take the reader into the action at breakneck speed. It was also concluded that US readers have a rose-tinted view of England - something like Four Weddings and a Funeral - which explained why some very popular UK crime writers hadn't made it big in the US.

After the meeting was over, there was tea, coffee and chatter, and then a number of us went to the pub, including authorbloggers Anna Lucia and Julie Cohen (who nipped out to 'phone US author Kathy Love with the exciting news that she'd just seen her books in a London bookshop that morning), Jan Jones, whose first novel is out in July, and Gill Sanderson, M&B Medical Romance's only male author.

I was not sure whether I was actually invited and had been dithering slightly because of other possible supper plans I had in London that evening but after being told sternly to 'go with the flow' I found myself in a lovely smart Italian in Chelsea for supper with, among others, Sara Craven, Sophie Weston, Catherine Jones and Julie Cohen.


  • At 1:40 pm, Blogger Tess said…

    Kate - sounds like a cool day! Loved your notes from the speakers. Especially the bit from S&S re being threatened with a lawsuit.

    And it's most definitely true that many North Americans have rather romanitic and rosy view of the UK. Castles and mist, etc. Then again, a lot of people think Canada is all igloos and polar bears!!!

  • At 4:29 pm, Anonymous Kate Hardy said…

    Kate,sounds as if you had a lovely day! (I'm horribly envious because I *know* all the people you're talking about and I would have liked to see them, too! ... Still, there's the RNA conference in July. I hope you're going?) Interesting about the differences between NA and UK fiction: I prefer fast openings, but am a fan of Brit crime/suspense - Val McDermid, Susan Moody, Lindsey Davis. Agreed about the sincerity bit for M&B - I'd add there that the conflict has to be strong enough to last the whole of the book, and mustn't be something that can be easily sorted just by talking.

  • At 4:36 pm, Blogger Kate Allan said…

    Tess - I am probably guilty of thinking that Canada is all mountains and mounties...

    Kate - Yes, well I'm envious of you living near to Wells-Next-The-Sea! I'll be at the RNA conference. I suspect I may be addicted to them now as last year was such fun!

  • At 9:01 pm, Blogger Nell Dixon said…

    Sounded like you had a good day! Lots of interesting info!
    love Nell

  • At 11:55 pm, Anonymous Olga said…

    Kate, that seemed to be one great day! I feel a bit envious, too, in a good way. And thank you for adding my link!

  • At 4:25 am, Blogger JulieA said…


    Sounds as though it was very exciting. I enjoyed reading your notes of the conference.

  • At 3:07 pm, Blogger Tess said…

    Kate - LOL - you'd most definitely be wrong about the mountains. The prairies are pretty flat and even here in Ontario we only have bumps, not real mountains! My dh grew up in the shadow of the Coast mountains of BC - he was pretty shocked by how flat everything in Ontario is when he first arrived out here 21 years ago.

    But there ARE mounties pretty much everywhere. Though they don't generally where the red serge - except those in tourist areas.


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