Kate Allan

The online diary of Kate Allan, author

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Passion and large print

I can't believe I haven't posted here for nearly a week! Well, the day job has been mad so not much has been happening writing wise, except that I received the contract for Perfidy & Perfection which I need to sign and return, and also an offer for the large print rights for The Lady Soldier by Jennifer Lindsay. It's great a large print edition will be available. Indeed only yesterday a friend asked me if it was going to be available in large print because a relative of hers is partially sighted.

I'm really looking forward to the discussion we'll be having on bookgrouponline about The Lady Soldier kicking off in a couple of weeks, so read it now so you can join in! The second edition is now available so there should be no trouble getting copies from bookshops or ask your local library. If you'd like a signed bookplate, please email.

I've been reading Passion by Jude Morgan. It's really, really good. Why aren't more people writing books like this?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Lazy Sunday and a teaser

I'm tired today after the burning the candle a bit over the last couple of days but I did promise I'd post a bit more today about how Perfidy and Perfection came to be written and sold.

I wrote it last year as a 'big' mainstream historical romance for the US market and got quite excited when I got some personal feedback from HQN and Avon and a couple of US agents, despite no publication offers. However, it seemed last summer that slots for historicals , especially for Regency-set stories, were in short supply over on the other side of the pond so I gave up querying it.

Then this year it occured to me that it could be revised and possibly suitable for Robert Hale and the UK market. This involved toning down the sensuality, upping the emotional sophistication and quirkiness of the humour. I wanted to lift the book from being mainstream US romance to being a Regency-set romantic comedy.

I'm delighted that Hale are going to publish it. And I'm already wondering what the cover might be like!

The story developed out of some online conversations with Anna Lucia about the lack of real rakes as romantic heros. A challenge to myself - could I write a rake as a convincing romantic hero? Here is a man who should be the antithesis of a hero, yet what if the rakishness is simply his armour to keep the hurts of the world at bay? What kind of woman could show him enough about himself for him to grow into the kind of man he should really be?

These were my questions and I decided she needed to challenge him and she would best do this by being a bluestocking. He's a man of action, she's a thinker. And, best of all, he challenges her world-view.

Here are the opening lines:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young lady of no fortune must be in want of one. Sophia Grantchester was one such young lady. She sought to end the painful worries about how all the tradesmen would be paid not by finding a husband, rather by being a lady novelist - like Mrs Radcliffe or Miss Edgeworth.
A shameful secret, of course, known to no one but herself. This was why, standing on the dark oak floorboards of Mr Pointer’s general shop, her first instinct was to turn, and run.

Sophy chided herself and forced her feet to remain exactly where they were. Yet she could not stop the thoughts running through her mind - what if someone borrowed the volumes, and somehow found out that Miss Sophia Grantchester, daughter of the Reverend Grantchester, rector of Middleton parish in Wiltshire, was a novelist?

And here is her opening encounter with the hero:

Two pairs of rather dashing black boots caught her eye, and Sophy looked up to see two fashionably dressed blades, both in immaculate black jackets, their chins held up by stiff, white cravats. One she did not recognise had greying brown hair and was starting at her rudely through his quizzing glass. However, that was nothing to the vexation she felt towards the other - her wayward, rakish cousin, Lord Hart.

She reminded herself that every cloud has a silver lining and pushed a false smile into her cheeks. She could take Lord Hart to task much more effectively in person than via letter.
‘Good afternoon, Miss Grantchester.’ Lord Hart lifted his black hat. The breeze tousled his hair. The winter sunshine highlighted chestnut flecks.
‘Good afternoon, Lord Hart,’ Sophy replied. Unfortunately, all that all that glitters is not gold. Lord Hart was handsome, certainly. He had a regularity of features that was arresting, yet nothing too sharp or angular. But he was feckless, and a rake. She kept her fingers on Mr Camberley’s arm.

‘May I introduce, Mr Camberley,’ she said. ‘Mr Camberley, this is Lord Hart.’ She could have informed Lord Hart that Mr Camberley was her father’s curate. She would not. He could find out once he took an interest in the affairs of Middleton parish for which he was supposed to be responsible.

Both extracts (c) K Allan, from Perfidy and Perfection. May not be reproduced without prior permission.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Guess who...

... just sold her first full-length solus-written novel, probably entitled PERFIDY & PERFECTION?

'An extremely readable and dramatic story' according to the letter.

This... after a day in London when the fear really returned, and I had a four hour journey home.

The truth is stranger than fiction

If anyone has a fiver or tenner spare... please consider these crazy guys.

The challenge: To travel ¼ of the way around the earth, from London to Mongolia in any crap car that has an engine with no more than 1 ltr of power.

The good causes: To be honest if one is going to do something as nutty as
drive from London to Mongolia in an old Citroen 2CV with an engine
weighing in at 602 cc then one one should only do it for a bloody good cause. We are thrilled to be raising money for such good causes as
Send a Cow, Save the Children Mongolia and The Burnaby Blue Foundation.

Only 8 days to go, so if you would like to help:

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Slush pile mountaineers

I had an e-mail today from someone in Canada asking whether I had any advice about pitching to editors and agents and... yes I do. I have my workshop notes from my workshop called 'Strategy and Tactics for Slush Pile Mountaineers' which is about how to sell yourself and your work to editors and agents. Unfortunately for my Canadian enquiry it mostly relates to my experience of the UK market, but it did remind me I did bother to put these notes together for this workshop I've given to writing groups and I should share it!

Here is my general advice about submissions:

Submission is terrifying because you are casting your work into the world and it is going to be judged and you will get rejected.

o Keep track of queries. File your rejection letters (you may need them for tax purposes).
o You can query more than one publisher or agent at a time. If your manuscript is requested by more than one, it is considered good manners to inform parties of this fact. (In fact it may stimulate their interest) Note that some publishers won’t consider a manuscript currently under consideration elsewhere, so check. If an agent asks for an exclusive period to consider your work, set a time limit on this. A month is reasonable.
o Treat any advice you are given as to why your ms was rejected like gold dust. And act on it to strengthen your manuscript before you send it out again.
o Remember that every published author has a huge file of rejections and that rejection may not mean your work is unpublishable. It means it was not suitable for that publisher lists at that time.
o If, even after time, you cannot see how your manuscript needs improvement, consider getting it critiqued professionally (ask for recommendations of bona fide critiquing agencies) or working with a critique partner or group.

If you'd like a copy of the full notes please don't hestitate to e-mail me.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Pond Lane and Paris

I very much enjoyed Pond Lane and Paris by Susie Vereker last week. The heroine, Laura, has endured the illness and death of her husband - a man she married young - and also one, as it becomes clear as the story unfolds - who was rather selfish and feckless, leaving Laura to do the work of supporting them.
The story opens as Laura discovers that she can no longer afford to upkeep her home - Pond Cottage - and takes the opportunity to try out a job in upscale Paris... Her new surroundings provide the catalyst for her to begin to rediscover herself. The beauty of this story is not only in it's romance - and the romance that is in there is very real and touching - but in the cast of differing characters, all with their own problems, and how they interact and move towards solving them. We all know people like the people in Pond Lane and Paris. Laced with gentle humour, and unfolding situations kept the pages turning and I was disappointed to reach the end seemingly too quickly.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The wip is dead, long live the wip!

If you don't write novels you may not know what a wip is. It stands for work-in-progress. And when you've done with it, and it's ready to leave the safety of your hard drive and go out into the wide world, it suddenly transforms into a manuscript.

What with all that's been going on recently, I haven't done a great deal of writing but I have finished the edits on my Regency caper, and since I've posted it off to Hale last week I can reveal the title I settled on in the end: PERFIDY AND PERFECTION

Fingers crossed please.

Now I have to forget all about it and concentrate on creating a story where the characters notice what's in the gutter rather than the clear, night sky. An agent has suggested I write 'a fat, serious, period novel' and I'm inclined to think it's worth a stab.
This morning I managed to tap out 300 words. Working title is MRS RANDALL and I really only have some very vague ideas what it's going to be about yet. I promised myself the summer off writing so I'm not setting myself any deadlines. My aim is to write three chapters and see how that goes first before deciding whether I think I can pull off the whole thing.

How exciting is it when someone you know starts a blog? Pretty exciting! So I was happy to see that the energetic Stephan Bowden has been catalysted into blogging in response to a suggestion in the Daily Telegraph that he was a 'ringer' in the RNA's University Challenge team who beat a team from Wisdens in the first round which was on TV this week.

Another potentially interesting new blog has just been started by a US editor-turned-agent Agent 007.

Friday, July 15, 2005

London - 2

Today I thought I had to go home via Kings Cross. Since I changed my route after the events of last Thursday I've avoided it.

It's only 45 minutes walk from my office. Pleasant enough in the early evening as the heat of the day had cooled a little. Some of working London were starting the weekend on pavements outside pubs, some were walking like me - to homes, to meet friends, to tubes and buses.

Euston Road was busy - just as you would expect, with traffic and people. Not until I found I was already walking past St Pancras did I feel a slight flicker of apprehension. And then, Kings Cross.

I walked past the pictures of missing persons. How sad, I thought, but these papers look forlorn. Their flimsiness was apparent in the breeze. These faces know they aren't coming home.

Past the short queue for the book of condolence was the corner where the flowers were. A tringle of space about twenty meters squared piled with mutlicoloured flowers in their multicoloured wrappings. You could go inside but I paused at the railings and watched the people looking thoughtfully at the tributes. Then I moved a few steps along to find a little space of my own at the railings and in the sunshine I closed my eyes and said a short prayer.

Just as I finished I felt a wonderful heavy warm floral scent hit my nose. I wondered for a moment if I imaged it but I opened my eyes and there they were - a thousand flowers, piled up and baking on the pavement, blocking out the smell of the city and giving the air a fragrance which suggested hope, and peace.

I tried to hold the smell of the flowers with me for as long as I could as I turned and walked towards the station.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

RNA Conference 2005 - 2

One of the nice things about leaving it a few days to report back on the RNA Conference is the sense of perspective it brings. I'm not going to do a session-by-session report. Nor divulge the information we were told in rooms with closed doors after Chatham House Rules had been evoked. Nor account the trauma of actually getting to the conference which kicked off coincident to the terrible events in London last Thursday.

Attending conferences is partly about networking, partly about learning, though I think for me the most powerful effect was the one that made me feel that being a romantic novelist was entirely sane. I was surrounded by successful, not so successful and aspiring romantic novels from across all types of genres, age and experience. People from all kinds of experiences and life backgrounds, but with a common belief in love, and it's importance in storytelling.

It's not all wine and chatter - what were my key take-outs from the RNA 2005?

- some very useful things about accounting for tax purposes
- that historical romance might, just might make a comeback*
- that writing humour isn't as easy as it's cracked up to be**
- that I could, just about, sit through having my first kiss scene from my first novel read out to an entire lecture theatre***

* After all, I did call for this in my first column for Solander magazine! And I notice that Piatkus has just purchased US historical romance author Gaelen Foley for the UK...
** Thank you Katie Fforde
*** Thank you Biddy

RNA gala dinner (L-R): Fellow members of the London/SE chapter Catriona Robb, Giselle Green, Pia Tapper Fenton and Henriette Gyland
(c) K Allan

RNA: well there was some wine drunk ;-)
(c) K Allan

RNA gala dinner (L-R): authorblogger Nell Dixon who just sold her first book this month, Alison Littlehales and US H/S author Laurie Campbell
(c) K Allan

RNA: Me with fellow Hale author Amanda Grange. Photo (C) Amanda Grange
(c) K Allan

Hale historical authors at the RNA (L-R): Me, Amanda Grange, Elizabeth Hawksley, Melinda Hammond. Photo (C) Amanda Grange
(c) K Allan

Pudding at the RNA gala dinner ;-)
(c) K Allan

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

21st century book marketing

Online book marketing pioneer M J Rose has just launched her latest experiment. A two week charity donation based viral campaign to get website owners and bloggers to link to the vidlit of her new book The Halo Effect.

Well, there I've linked to it, so that's 5 US dollars going to a reading charity, and one less link M J Rose needs to get to reach her target of 500.

It reminds me of one of my mantras - that innovation in marketing can bring spectacular returns. If you can innovate, rather than simply follow the crowd, you'll get that attention. As word of mouth is a key cornerstone of book marketing, I'm now wondering why we've not seen more viral type online campaigns. I think after M J Rose shows it can be done, we will.

Meanwhile, reading offline UK magazine Marketing today, I see that Borders are rearranging their store formats to make stores appear as if they stock a greater breath of range. So promotions, currently front of store, are moving back. The new format is currently being tested in their Swindon and Oxford stores. Borders say they want to compete better with online booksellers.

Interesting. Perhaps this might mean a move to stocking a greater range of books, not just appearing to do so. I'm also wondering if sales volumes from promotions are falling. This would mean that the lower profit margins deep-cut promotions bring are less attractive, making this retailer think they need to be upselling to their customers the non-discounted (i.e. more profitable) stuff.

Marketing's an interesting thing for me because I work in it so I live and breathe it most of the day. I see it as a way of thinking, and I'm sure most authors can do it, and be good at it, once they understand the principles, because they are creative people. A while ago I set up a closed e-mail list, for bona-fide book published authors only, to discuss marketing here and most authors who have joined the group seem to be getting something out of it I think.

RNA Conference stuff tomorrow, promise.

PS Romance Junkies have given The Lady Soldier the top 5 ribbon rating! Read the review.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


I'm supposed to be posting more about the RNA Conference, but I'm interupting and want to talk briefly instead about London where I travel to work every day. I've been kind of shielded from seeing and feeling stuff because I was off work at the end of last week to attend the RNA Conference - a kind of unreality.

There are reports that London is not giving in to terror, and that London is back to normal. Well, this is the reality of London, how I feel it, today:

There are more people on the streets than yesterday, certainly more tourists, but perhaps this is because they aren't on the tubes. I would normally travel into work via Kings Cross. I haven't been able to face travelling via there yet although I must go, perhaps tomorrow.

So I'm taking a roundabout route which means the daily commute now involves about a mile and a half of walking and an hour of trains and tubes each day. There are sniffer dogs and Police at the tube gates. Walking the final section into work Police were searching cars. There are Police on every street. Sirens all day. An ambulance screams past our window at lunchtime and nobody is able not to think the worst. Everyone at work is trying to be brave and normal but it's not. The nervousness shows on their faces when they forget to be jokey and smiling. It's really hard to concentrate on work. I can't wait until it's time to head homewards...

Leaving work this evening, my plan to grab a can of lemonade from Tesco was foiled as Police cordoned the street next to my office off. I'll soon be in Hertfordshire, safe, I think. Away from all this.

Battling to come home this evening on a train which waited in every station ten minutes before moving on because Luton station is closed. Bomb scare, someone mutters. Bomb scare? Outside London? Near me. I hope it's not true.

When we at last reach St Albans we are hearded off the train. I walk past the lines of Police trying to marshall hot and tired people into queues for the various buses as the trains aren't going any further North. They just want to go home like me, I think, consoled by the thought my own home is only a few minutes away now. I don't have to wait, and then take a bus. They've closed off a road near the station to cope with the buses. They are handing out bottled water. This is serious, I think. You don't just close Luton station and all this for nothing.

At home I check the news. So it's possible the suspects took a train into London on the same line I use.

Monday, July 11, 2005

RNA Conference 2005 - 1

Well, the good news is that there appears to be some light at the end of the tunnel for historical writers... maybe the market could do with a few more historicals, say three leading London agents and, so I was told, independent publisher Piatkus, at the RNA Conference where I was hanging out this weekend.

So guess what I'm writing next. No, actually another agent has suggested that I write a 'fat, serious period novel' and so that is what I'm going to do... as soon as these edits are done and dusted. :)

So what is this RNA Conference?
(n.) A annual gathering of around 120 generally chic and generally slightly bohemian writers of romantic fiction, generally female with the odd elegant male. The 2005 conference was held in the historic surroundings of Royal Holloway college in Egham, Surrey and began with an 'Industry Day' on Friday, which included keynote speakers Martin Neild, MD of Hodder Headline and Mark Le Fanu of the Society of Authors, and ran through until Sunday lunchtime. The highlight for me was the Hale Author Panel on the Saturday, organised by Amanda Grange, and featuring fellow Hale authors Elizabeth Hawksley, Melinda Hammond and Mary De Laszlo. Photos to come...

More tomorrow...

Photo below was one of the very few I managed to take at the gala dinner before my camera battery died, but I've a couple of people promising to send me photos so hopefully they will let me publish them here. Anyone else like to send me photos to post, please do so! You can e-mail me here.

Me at the RNA Conference with Pia Tapper Fenton (left)
(c) K Allan

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Drive-by posting

I returned yesterday from a short holiday to Tuscany in Italy. The weather was fabulous, and so were the surroundings, the food and the wine. Below is a photo of a butterfly - hundreds fluttered all day over the lavender in the gardens of the villa in which I was staying.

Today I'm off to the RNA Conference in Egham, Surrey to spend a long weekend in the great company of other authors and industry professionals. On Saturday I'm appearing on a 'Hale Authors Panel' organised by Amanda Grange, saying a few words in Nicola Cornick's New Writers Scheme session, and later, in a seperate session to celebrate newly published novelists, Biddy Coady is reading an excerpt from A Notorious Deception. Scary as I have no idea which excerpt she is going to choose!

There is housework and washing waiting before I go, and don't even ask how the edits are going...

Butterfly in Italy
(c) K Allan