Ask An Industry Expert: Charlotte Ellis
25 September 2020
Today I’m delighted to welcome Charlotte Ellis, Associate Editor with Mills & Boon, where she is part of the Modern Romance team, but also edits authors across all the series.
Hello and welcome, Charlotte. It seems a long time since you and your colleague Victoria delivered that interesting and stimulating workshop at the 2019 RNA Conference, when we had a lot of fun trying to identify categories of romance. I was astonished in preparing for this interview to see that Mills & Boon has now been around for well over a century. To what do you attribute the label’s enduring popularity?
I’d definitely have to say ‘love’! Mills & Boon sells love. And that’s something that never goes out of style. It’s all around us in one form or another, and in a series romance it’s bottled up and concentrated, making it the perfect escape and antidote to any problem. For me, that’s why readers come back again and again and again – to experience the rush of falling in love. And because it’s an experience that reflects and flexes with the changing social times. M&B is always looking to stay current for readers.
It’s also great that you encourage and take on new writers. I believe you had some good news on that front recently.
Yes! One of my authors, Melissa Oliver, has just won the RNA’s 2020 Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers, with her debut historical romance, The Rebel Heiress and the Knight. It’s a romantic tale of secrets and adventure packed with emotion and passion that you won’t want to put down! The author is completely thrilled and so am I!
I’ll look forward to reading it. Like many readers during lock-down, I’ve been visiting my county library’s website to download ebooks to read. In so doing I came across several medical romances written for M&B by the late Betty Neels and now republished as ebooks. A little research told me that she started writing aged 60 and only stopped with her death aged 91 in 2001 by which time she’d completed 134 titles! Recalling your workshop on ‘hooks’, most were Cinderella type and quite similar in story line. How do you answer those who consider that a criticism?
There are many, many examples in popular culture of storylines that on the surface of things are exactly the same. Indeed, classic stories are retold over and over again with small twists. But it’s those twists that make all the difference. Giving a story a unique point of view. That and even more importantly the fact that it’s the characters at the heart of a story that truly influence how a story plays out. Being true to those characters means a story could go in any number of directions. It’s not about where you start and end-up, it’s about the journey to getting there!
Well put. What has changed, if anything, in what the loyal M&B reader wants to find when they open the book?
There are always going to be things that change. The world is ever-changing, both materially and in its beliefs and ideologies and our readers want to see aspects of their own contemporary world reflected in the books that they read. Evolution in that respect is necessary and we pride ourselves on adapting, in not only our editorial content and packaging, but how we reach our readers. However, our loyal readers also know each Mills & Boon series inside out, front to back, side to side, and they have high expectations of what they want and expect in a M&B romance. Not least of getting that all-important happy-ever-after. Things like that have always been at the heart of a Mills & Boon romance.
Are you seeking fresh submissions at present and can you advise our membership how to go about making one?
I’m always on the look out for new submissions! Across all of our UK acquired series: Modern, Medical, True Love and Historical. Aspiring authors can submit to Mills & Boon through our online submission platform at https://harlequin.submittable.com/submit. And my advice is, firstly, know which series you want to target. Do plenty of reading and decide which series is right for you before you put ‘pen to paper’. Secondly, when putting together your synopsis remember to tell us everything that happens in your story. We want to know exactly how your hero and heroine get their HEA. And, lastly, think about your own USP, what it is that you can bring to the series you want to write for. How can you put a fresh twist on a storyline that we’ve never seen before!
When a new submission lands on your desk (or in your inbox), what makes you sit up and take notice?
The connection between the hero and heroine. I wanted to be wowed from the very first page, drawn into the story immediately by the energy your character share. So much so that I don’t want to stop reading. (And if one of those characters happens to be a deliciously hunky doctor or billionaire, I certainly have no problem with that!)
Is there a particular type of love story you’d like to receive at the moment?
I’ve always been a sucker for a reunion romance. Two people finally getting their HEA even though it may have been a few more bumps in the road. Who could say no to that? And I think, at the moment, with life being so uncertain and deviating from the ‘normal’ there’s something rather comforting in finding out that what you really needed had been in your life all along. That and any story including an idyllic, far-flung location – if I can imagine myself there, soaking up the sun and drinking a cocktail or going on an exciting new adventure, then that’s a story location for me!
Diversity and inclusion are high on the agenda for the RNA, as for many other organisations. I wonder how M&B’s selection of books and authors reflects these principles?
Absolutely! Diversity and inclusion are at the top of our agenda too. We are continually working to diversify our author-base and have our books feature characters that truly reflect the world around us. Romance is for everyone. We’ve certainly come a long way recently, but there’s much further to go. We are actively looking to acquire romances from authors whose voices reflect the broad range of romance readers, including own voices and authors in underrepresented communities, so if you are one of those authors or know someone is and is just waiting for the perfect opportunity to submit their story, then please send it the way of me and Mills & Boon!
Is there anything in the way of romantic fiction that M&B wouldn’t accept right now?
We’re looking to acquire romances that fit the parameters of our 12 series – see here for more information on them: https://harlequin.submittable.com/submit. However, we have strong links with our colleagues over at Carina Press (Harlequin’s digital first imprint) and the M&B trade programme, so if we spot a story that is totally fantastic but not right for us, we are able to redirect it.
Do you look for anything in an author apart from a brilliant book? (such as social media presence)
While a social media presence can certainly help authors promote themselves and their books, all we really want are their wonderful romances. And for our authors to love the books as much as we do!
What is your typical working day like? (though realise the C-19 answer will be different!)
Nowadays a typical working day involves video calls in my pyjamas and raiding the cupboards for whatever I can find to accompany my afternoon cuppa (the office has much better snacks, normally in the form of cake or M&S biscuits…). Needless to say, completely different from a typical day in the office. But still just as varied – one moment I might be speaking to an author about their book, the next I could be looking at covers for our next months’ books. No one day is ever the same, which is what can be so exciting about this job.
Can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?
Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho. It’s set in Singapore, already a tick from me as it’s a location I’ve been longing to visit for some time (although I might be waiting a while yet). It’s Crazy Rich Asians meet Bridget Jones and I was so drawn in by the glamour, relatability and humour of the world and characters that the author built that I struggled to put it down.
Any thoughts of becoming an author yourself?
Not at the moment, I’m going to leave that to the experts! But I’m sure everyone says that, and you can never say never…
Thank you so much for finding the time to talk with us in these challenging times. You can follow Charlotte at:
Twitter @cellisharlequin, I’m always thrilled to have new followers!
Charlotte was talking with Susan Leona Fisher: (Website: http://www.SLFisherAuthor.co.uk)