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 coming weeks, we will be 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 welcome not just one but two industry professionals: Abigail Fenton and Leodora Darlington from Bookouture! So, over to you, Abigail and Leodora.
1. Please could you start by telling us what your current role is and what it involves?
AF: I’m one of Bookouture’s Commissioning Editors, looking after a list of authors across women’s fiction, historical, crime and psychological suspense. I work with authors at all stages of their manuscript – from initial concept stage through to structural and line edits – as well as writing descriptive copy and commissioning covers. And I’m always on the look out for new authors to bring to Bookouture!
LD: I joined Bookouture a year ago as a Publishing Assistant and have enjoyed the opportunity tosupporttitles including romantic comedies, women’s fiction novels, psychological thrillers and domestic noir books. I’ve loved being able to do editorial work on some of our big bestsellers, and also work with our commercial manager to secure our books great promotional slots. I love being able to watch a title skyrocket to the top of the charts!
2. What type of submissions are you personally looking for at the moment?
AF: I am always looking for summer rom coms, particularly those with series potential, as well as saga. I would love to find some romance and a female-led crime series. And I can never resist a really twisty psychological thriller!
LD: I love commercial fiction that stays with me, whether it’s a thriller that leaves me gasping at the ending, or a romance that truly pulls on the heart strings. If you have a rom com that will truly make me laugh out loud, even better! I have a big appetite for fiction featuring or written by diverse voices across the spectrum of diversity (including working class writers, LGBT+ voices, and fiction by or about people with a disability).
3. Is there anything you or your publishing house wouldn’t accept right now?
AF: Bookouture publish across all areas of commercial fiction, so as long as a manuscript has strong writing and a really compelling hook, there’s likely to be an editor here who’s interested in reading! Personally though, I am not looking for YA or fantasy, and I would be unlikely to be the right editor for anything with supernatural elements. Apart from that, I’m open to most things!
LD: As Abi has said, we’re an open house! The most important thing is that a book has to have commercial appeal; anything very literary or lacking plot is not for us. I love fiction that can be honest and gritty, but am not a fan of stories that are gratuitous in their handling of sex or violence.
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?
AF: Make sure your first chapter is as polished as it can be, and gets across the hook of your story – do we get a sense of the characters, the setting, and the overall theme of the book, right from the first page? I like to be thrown straight into the action, so avoid making your first chapter all description without any dialogue or interaction.
LD: That first chapter is so important. Hook me in as quickly as possible. Show me some conflict (remember, this doesn’t mean a fight, it could be as simple as a character wanting something they can’t have). If you can hook me in at the first sentence – even better! Make me care about your character(s) and their desires.
You’ll have worked really hard to polish your first chapter – remember to do this for your synopsis, too! It’s always difficult to lay out the plot in a concise manner, but try to balance keeping your synopsis succinct with not making it dull. If your plot is good, it will do most of the work in making the writing engaging. When you’re submitting such a short piece of writing, it’s important to remember that your synopsis is a vital tool in selling your book! Proofread it and check it as you would your chapters.
5. And what about the synopsis? Do you have any tips for writing a really good one?
AF: Keep it short (not an easy task!) but make sure you cover everything. You don’t need to include lots of description, but I do want to know the major plot points and how the book ends. A page or two is plenty, and it doesn’t need to be your most flowery, beautiful language – the first chapter will give me a flavour of your writing style, the synopsis will let me know if you can craft a narrative arc for your characters!
LD: Looks like I’ve jumped the gun and answered this already! I’d agree that a page or two is plenty. Keep it as short and sweet as possible, while remembering that this isn’t a blurb. Please don’t hide the twist or important plot details.
6. What are you most looking forward to doing over the conference weekend aside from your one-to-one sessions?
AF: I’m looking forward to meeting lots of authors and publishers and chatting books (i.e. gossiping).
LD: It’s my first RNA conference (gasp) so I’m excited about everything. I’ve had a look at the schedule and there are lots of industry voices whose talks it’ll be great to hear. Beyond that, I’m very much looking forward to mingling with authors and other publishing professionals, hopefully over a glass of wine!
7. Can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?
AF: I recently read Libby Page’s The Lido and loved it – it’s such an uplifting and warming book about community and how important places can be in our lives. The perfect antidote to the often miserable news these days!
LD: Just one! Oh dear, that’s going to be difficult. If I’m allowed to pick a Bookouture title, I’d definitely say The Ex-Wife by Jess Ryder. It’s a psych thriller, but at its heart it’s about family, how much we really know those closest to us, and how people handle heartbreak. It’s also SO GODDAMN TWISTY! I was gobsmacked by the clever writing.
If I’m picking a non-Bookouture title, I’d probably throw a curveball and say Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, which is a fantasy novel. The heroine is just so completely badass while also being incredibly complex and flawed. Oh yeah, and SO BADASS. Did I say that already?
Thanks so much, Abigail and Leodora, for taking the time to answer these questions for us. Enjoy the conference!