Thursday, May 27, 2010
Mills and Boon - Then and Now with Paula Martin!
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 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.
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.
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.
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 http://heroineswithhearts.blogspot.com/ or at her website: http://paulamartinromances.webs.com/