We are very lucky to have a huge number of industry professionals attending the RNA conference in Leeds this year – agents, publishers and editors – and over the past few weeks, we have been hearing from them about what they do and what they are looking for from their one-to-one sessions with RNA members over the weekend of the conference in July.
Today, we meet Maggie Swinburne. Welcome Maggie.
1. Please could you start by telling us what your current role is and what it involves?
I am Features Editor on My Weekly and part of this role is reading and buying the Pocket Novels. I send out guidelines so that writers know what I am looking for, then when the manuscript comes in (by email only) I am always excited to read each new one, because I am always hoping for a great story for my readers.
2. What type of submissions are you personally looking for at the moment?
Romance, adventure, thrills, escapism, lovely leading characters, lots of fun, drama, angst, sometimes a cosy crime or a genteel murder… just the usual cacophony of the human experience distilled into 50,000 words.
3. Is there anything you or your publishing house wouldn’t accept right now?
I never want explicit scenes of violence or bad language. Our romance scenes are very much foot on the floor/open bedroom door.
4. RNA members are sending you only their first chapter and a synopsis. Can you give them any tips on how to grab your attention in such a short submission?
Getting a novel started without resorting to obvious clichés is so difficult. I really love the ones where I am nearly finished the first chapter before I realise what is happening.
5. And what about the synopsis? Do you have any tips for writing a really good one?
I like a short and sweet synopsis – if there is a villain then I like to know who it is, rather than having to work it out as I am reading, but in general as long as crucial plot twists are mentioned and the gist is we will get our happy ever after ending then I am happy. I feel a synopsis can constrain the writer as sometimes a character/plot changes as the story develops. So no more than 600 words for me!
6. What are you most looking forward to doing over the conference weekend aside from your one-to-one sessions?
I love meeting writers and finding out what makes them tick. I am so envious of people who can make things happen in a novel.
7. Can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?
How To Be Happy by Eva Woods. A really clever and emotionally engaging read, it made me think, brought a tear to my eye and was very touching and lovely.
In general, as well as the novel opening in an arresting manner, I like to have punchy chapter endings to encourage the reader to read on. By the way, I really hate heroines meeting heroes when it is raining and they are soaked and either shipwrecked or their car has broken down. I think we get enough rain in the UK without having it in my Pocket Novels. Present weather excepted, of course
I do not like being told by writers that if I had read to page 100 or so, then my concerns about the plot/setting/characters would be addressed. It is not meant to be an endurance test and as I get a lot of submissions I can’t read a novel right to the end in the hope it will get better.
(As well as being the Pocket Novel Editor, I am also the Cookery Editor of the weekly magazine, and the Editor of the Specials (out four-weekly) so my time on the novels is rationed. There is also a Production Team of subs who prepare the novels for publication, so I am not doing this all alone. There is always a novel in the office being worked on and getting a lot of attention.)
And finally, what I love is romance, intriguing plot lines, realistic dialogue and the feeling that the novel is going somewhere, and we are enjoying a thrilling and entertaining adventure. I can’t wait to read yours, dear reader!
Thank you so much for answering our questions, Maggie. Enjoy the conference!