Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mills and Boon - Then and Now with Paula Martin!

We've got a super cool post for you today!  Please welcome Paula Martin to the Pink Heart Society - Paula is sharing her experience with us as she was published with Mills and Boon in the 60's, took a looooong hiatus, and is now dipping her toes in the publishing pool again!  Welcome to the PHS, Paula!

I first submitted a story to Mills and Boon in 1967. It was my first novel (a re-vamp of a story I’d written in my teens) and M and B were the first publishers I decided to send it to. Why M and B? At the time, they produced hard-back ‘library’ romances. I’d read a lot of these and thought my novel was as good as these, and better than some of them (which read more like 30’s novels than 60’s).

I wrote everything in longhand. Masses of crossing out, insertions, extra paragraphs stapled to a page – however did we manage? Then came the laborious job of typing out the MS on an old upright Remington, with carbon paper to make a copy. One mistype and, if the correction paper wouldn’t hide it, the paper was ripped from the typewriter and you had to start the page all over again.

I was a complete innocent when it came to submitting. I didn’t know anything about agents or query letters or synopses. I had no critique partners, just a couple of friends who read my story and liked it. But I parcelled up the MS and put it in the post to M and B. I fully expected it to come winging back within a few days.

Six weeks later, I had a letter signed by Alan Boon himself. He (or the editor who wrote the letter – I’ll never know, since Alan signed everything) liked my story and my writing but there were a couple of chapters about which he had some reservations. He said that if I was prepared to revise, they would consider my story for publication. If I was prepared? Of course I was! I did the revision, typed the whole thing out again and sent it off. After two weeks, I had an acceptance letter, and a contract for two more novels.

First novel, first submission, and I was accepted. How lucky was that? And nothing at all about any promotion or marketing on my part. My first novel was published in May 1968, and my second and third novels were accepted immediately without any revision or editing. I had no input whatsoever into the covers of these, or the blurb on the back, or the summary on the inside cover. All I had to do was proof-read.

In the 60’s, the Mills and Boon strap line was ‘Pleasant Books’. They were ‘sweet’ romances (definitely NO sex or any suggestion of it – a chaste kiss was all that was allowed, no divorce or illegitimacy either) and they were about ‘ordinary’ people. My first hero and heroine were both teachers. All this changed in the 70’s when Harlequin took over. Sheiks, Greek millionaires and Latin Lotharios abounded. All arrogant, brooding, domineering males and wimpy females who finally (and happily! – what?) ‘submitted’ to them. Explicit sex became the order of the day too, almost rape in many cases.

Not my scene at all. I did submit another novel in the early 70’s which was rejected because it no longer fitted the new ‘formula’ – my hero was not dominant enough and there was no sex.

At the same time, my teaching career and young family took precedence in my life, and I abandoned fiction writing. Mills and Boon/Harlequin dominated the ‘romance’ scene in the UK, and my writing no longer suited their format.

I came back to fiction writing about 4 years ago when I re-discovered my muse by writing fan-fiction (stories based on the TV series ‘The West Wing’) which I posted on a West Wing fan group site. They were well-received and then a chance meeting in the States with a Harlequin writer in 2008 persuaded me to try my hand at novels again.

And what a difference there is between writing in the 60’s and writing now.

First of all, computers! How much easier now to write, to change things as you go along, to cut and paste and to edit.

And the internet of course. In the 60’s, I was writing in isolation, I knew no other writers. Now I belong to several yahoo groups and have made many contacts with writers from all over the world. I’ve been lucky enough to find a beta-reader and two critique partners who are honest, constructive and supportive.

How much easier, also, to do the research for a story. Back in the 60’s, I wanted to set one novel in an American college. This meant a visit to the library to find out the names and addresses of some colleges and then some letters to ask for their prospectus which, if I was lucky, arrived about two months later (airmail was FAR too expensive). I never completed that story. Now, of course, it would take only a few minutes to bring up hundreds of websites about American colleges and to download a full prospectus.

So what’s the downside? It seems that it’s now so much ‘easier’ to write a novel so the market is flooded with would-be writers. There’s a lot of advice out there about query letters, blurbs and synopses, all designed to grab an editor’s attention.

Another difference is that you are now expected to promote your own work, a task which can take a lot of time and energy, and which diverts you from actually writing stories.

It also seems that some editors take much longer to respond. Mills and Boon have had the synopsis and first three chapters of one of my stories for nine months now. An email to them in February asking for an update brought a reply which said that I should hear something ‘within the next month’. I’m still waiting. Things have changed since the days of Alan Boon!

But I can end on a positive note. At the beginning of April, I submitted an MS to Whiskey Creek Press. On May 3rd, I received an email from the submissions editor which started ‘Congratulations!’ A contract was attached for my novel ‘His Leading Lady’. I’m over the moon!

You can catch up with Paula at the blog  or at her website:


  1. Paula, what a LOVELY story - thanks for sharing it with us. It's amazing to see how things have changed (and having a letter signed by Alan Boon himself - wow).

    Congratulations on your new contract, and all the very best with your M&B submission!

  2. Thanks, Kate. I actually had a lot of letters signed by Alan Boon, and also received a signed Christmas card from him for years (until he eventually retired, I think).
    I STILL haven't heard anything about my M and B submission, despite another query early this month i.e. 9 months after submission.

  3. Great interview, Paula. I'm soooo excited for you! Congrats again on your sale to WCP. I bet your glad you went back to writing after all these years!!!????

    If you didn't go back to writing, what would you be doing??

  4. Paula - what a lovely read! I found it fascinating esp how things have changed over the past 40-50 years.

    All the best with your sub :)

  5. She'd probably be traveling more, though Paula travels more than most people I know.

    It is a good story. Maybe a memoir is in the future. An historical fiction of sorts. Could be very exciting.

    Congratulations on the new contract Paula. Keep up the great writing.

    Cheers, Cally

  6. Toni, I am SO glad I found my way back to writing fiction again! After retiring from teaching and also from a long-time involvement with Girl Guides, I was looking for a new challenge. Writing 'West Wing' fan fiction and then meeting Linda Lael Miller (a Harlequin writer) in the States in 2008 set me on the course which is the real challnge for me!

    Joanne - it's amazing how things have changed. But I love being able to write into the computer, and then change words and phrases so easily.

    Cally - you know I love travelling. And maybe not a historical fiction, but a story set in Ireland? That would give me another excuse to go over there, as if I needed an excuse!

  7. Paula,
    Your hiatus years yielded a fully developed imagination and a roster of believable characters, none of whom represent anyone in real life. I also assume your grammar has always been perfect.

  8. Hi Paula,

    I can't even imagine having to type an entire manuscript without the help of a computer. Hats off to you, my friend.

    What a grand journey you have had with your writing career. I am so glad you got the "bug" to submit again!

    Congrats on your new contract...I can't wait to read the book!

  9. Hi Paula!

    First time I've visted this blog. Very interesting to hear from somebody who wrote back in the "old" days and also today and to hear the differences. It says a lot good and bad about how sexual mores have changed.

    C. Sanchez-Garcia

  10. Paula, I'm glad I caught your post on the loop and followed it up. I can relate to those typewritten novels and the long submission process as a former Zebra/Kensisngton author. And I lived in England almost two years in 2000-1 so I'd love to know your location there. I was in Kingston-upon-Hull. I am also a new Whiskey Creek author. I'd like to invite you to check out my interview today at The Wild Rose Press Garden. I'll try to put a link here but it may not be possible. And I'm going to visit your web site for more info on your interesting career. (another thing in common, I was a teacher, too.)
    Good luck with your current career. I wish you success.
    Linda Swift

  11. Loved reading your insight into this Paula! Writing in the 60s sounds so much more difficult than writing today. You know I'll be getting a copy of HLL as soon as it comes out. Hope you continue writing!


  12. Very interesting, Paula - and good to see how things have changed. I think perhaps for the better? No more struggling to the post office with the parcel and then anxiously waiting for the postie's return.

    Lots of luck with your latest novel out at WCP.

    Kind regards, Margaret Blake

  13. Thank you all for dropping by and leaving your comments.
    LOL about my grammar, Ana - it was drummed into me in school!
    I can't imagine how we ever managed to complete a story in the 'old' days, Debra - so much writing and crossing out etc! And then all the typing out and, as you say, Margaret, parcelling up and paying a small fortune on postage!
    Linda, just checking out your blog and website, I'll be in touch.

    Thanks everyone - and thanks also to Donna for inviting me to The Pink Heart Society!

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