Thursday, 17 July 2014

The RNA Conference, Mills & Boon, Square Pegs and Round Holes

As my post about romantic intrigue said, I spent last weekend at the RNA conference in Shropshire. It was a wonderful, but exhausting weekend. The exhaustion not helped by the fact I have since found out I have Achilles Tendonitis - that explains much of the hobbling anyway - it wasn't the wine after all!


The conference is a very buzzy time, with so many people to talk to. I liken it to speed dating where you get roughly three minutes with everyone. And even then I didn't get to talk to all the people I would have liked to talk to. But I'm a person who needs some alone time, so I made sure I left space in the itinerary to go back to my room and just be quiet for at least an hour. If you haven't been to an RNA conference or similar and are thinking of attending one, this is the best advice I can give you: Make space in the itinerary for some peace and quiet. People aren't offended if you disappear for a while - or if they are offended then they're not worth knowing. Not that anyone gave me the impression at the RNA conference that my occasional absence offended them.


The conference was at the Harper Adams University in Newport Shropshire. The accommodation was very comfortable and the food truly amazing! It's an agricultural university so much of the food is grown/reared on site. It did mean we got a few farmyard smells, but it was a small price to pay for the fillet steak we were served at the gala dinner. I am hoping that the RNA will return there one day. 


As well as giving my own talk, I attended talks by Pamela Hartshorne and Kate Long.  Both were very interesting, with Kate in particular giving some great advice on creating characters.


But I spent most of the time chatting to other writers, and this is where you can really learn stuff at conferences like this. You learn what editors are looking for, what publishers are up to, and who to avoid.


I also had a one-to-one with the lovely Laura McAllan from Mills & Boon. I'd picked Laura because she has worked across all the series at M&B and I thought she might know the best fit for my time slip novel. Laura was really nice about my writing, and I don't think it was all flannel. I asked her at the end if she had anything negative to say about it ("Give it to me straight, Doc, I can take it.") and she said not. But the novel, as I'd suspected, wasn't right for any of the series. She did, however, suggest I finish it and send it to Carina. She also suggested I try writing for M&B historical or intrigue.


Though my novel wasn't snapped up at that moment (I doubt many are at such events - unless anyone knows different), I came out feeling very positive and exclaiming 'I will write for Mills and Boon one day'.


It's been my dream for as long as I've been writing. But since the weekend, I've had a shift in opinion, and am beginning to wonder, after a rejection just before I attended the conference and the news that my book wasn't right for any of the series, whether it's time to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Maybe, M&B are just not the right fit for me.


I began to question why I wanted to be published by them. Well, they pay well. That's one perfectly valid reason for someone who has to pay the bills. They also seem to employ really lovely people. I've never met an M&B editor or author that I didn't like. They're all so vibrant. It's natural that I would love to be a part of that buzzy community.


But I also looked at my own track record. I'm doing okay as a writer. I'm not making a fortune. In fact my earnings just about cover my conference attendances and other writing related activities. Basically it pays for itself. But I have been published extensively. I've got a great working relationship with Maggie Seed at DC Thompson, and also with Sarah Quirke at Ulverscroft, and I love what I write. So do I need to prove anything to myself by being published by Mills & Boon?


It's a question I can't really answer. For me, getting a contract with M&B would feel like the next step up the career ladder. But it also might mean I don't have time to write anything else, and neither would I have the autonomy I have now to write about what I want, set in whatever era I want. What doesn't fit with DC Thompson, Ulverscroft or the other publishers I've been connected with goes straight up onto Kindle nowadays.


If I had never been published, then all the rejections from M&B might start getting to me. As it is, I can be philosophical about them, knowing that someone out there likes my work and that the problem isn't with my writing, but with my inability to fit the M&B series.


I may try the time slip novel with Carina, but then again I may complete it and send it straight to one of my regular publishers where I know it has a pretty good chance of actually being accepted.


All I know is that my compulsion to be published by M&B is fading. But I'm a capricious soul, and next week I may feel differently again. As long as I keep on writing, it doesn't really matter, does it?

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