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RNA Conference 2015: Day Two

A photograph of HarperCollins editors, Kate Bradley, Helen Huthwaite, Martha Ashby, and Kimberley Young

Friday I woke up tired but a shower fixed that. I rushed off to breakfast, made it in time, and got my half-full English. I met Jenny Harper (People We Love) more ‘officially’ – she was staying in the same flat – and then went to prepare for the panel I would be on later that day.

This, the first day of the conference, I sat in on the Harper editors panel, composed of Kate Bradley, Helen Huthwaite, Martha Ashby, and Kimberley Young. Bradley was quick to state that editors are looking for something on a deeper level, not just a manuscript that dots an I and crosses a T. She said editors remember books and names they see, even those they reject. She told us the story of the time she was at a party and met an author she’d rejected. They discussed the manuscript, the author went away and changed it accordingly, and got signed. It was agreed by all the editors on the panel that coming to the conference and joining the RNA was a good thing for new writers.

“For us [at Avon], it’s all about pitch and package… in 30 seconds tell us what your book is about.” Huthwaite began to introduce us to the work she does and how she wants to sign writers working on commercial fiction – fiction she can sell to supermarkets. Crafting that 30 second ‘elevator’ pitch was emphasised throughout the session.

Digital was included. Bradley pointed out that digital can allow for more creativity, that authors can use it to do something different. In a similar vein, Huthwaite told us not to let anyone tell us we can’t write in a different genre than their usual.

On the question posed by a member of the audience about changing viewpoints book to book, Bradley had this to say: she has an author who writes in the first person who she would like to see writing in third person to broaden their scope. In other words, if that’s how you’re seeing your book, in a different person, do it.

A photograph of the book stall

Their top tips for approaching editors? Be ready, said Bradley, the biggest mistake is not being prepared. Know how to describe your work. Huthwaite repeated that the elevator pitch is where it’s at – take the time to think about it. Show you know what’s working in the market, compare your books to those that sell well so the editor will see what the potential is. Ashby recommended reading as widely as possible, across all genres. Find out what’s working in that market and why. Young suggested simply talking books with editors, books being your common ground. She told us she’d had a conversation with an author about books; next day there was an email about the author’s own book – it was natural. Know what the editor has published, said Bradley, show an interest in them, in their work. “If you ask me to read your book, I’ll read it,” she said. Simple as that. It’s not a game. Find the right editor for you, said Ashby. Look for the editor in the acknowledgement pages of books you like. Everyone agreed: send the entire manuscript.

The session ended on the following notes: buy the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors; find your own writing rhythm, your own schedule; find your voice by reading things out loud – you’ll hear if it’s not in your voice.

I spent lunch, a rather nice buffet, with Evonne Wareham, Tanya Russel (yet to be published) and an author whose name I’ve forgotten (let me know if that’s you). Wareham had much to say about Cardiff Castle which, not surprisingly, I was happy to hear.

After lunch I attended Sarah Broadhurst’s discussion of her life in the industry. Passionate about paperbacks, she began her career working for Kingsford & Campbell (founders of World Book Night and Everyman’s Classics respectively) reading their slush pile. She had previously sold books in Brighton. She then moved to Hatchard’s in London before becoming a freelancer.

Broadhurst talked about the way paperbacks started off small (mass market), moving to the A and then B format. She showed us flipbooks – a little-used idea wherein the text is (or rather, was) printed the other way round (90 degrees) on Bible paper. They were tiny. She told us about the owner of Dillons who would scribble on book covers so they could be sold at half price as the publishers wouldn’t take back damaged stock.

A photograph of Queen Mary University of London

Our reviewer’s panel consisted of myself, another blogger who hasn’t noted it yet (I’m not going to steal their thunder), Peter Crawshaw of Love Reading, Elaine Everest of the RNA blog, and, chairing (I’m making that a verb), Anna James of The Bookseller and We Love This Book. We spoke about blogs, online magazines, Amazon reviews, search engine optimisation, and our own personal tastes and ways of choosing what we read. As a member of this panel I couldn’t really take notes. I couldn’t believe how many people signed up to listen, it was quite something, and there were a fair few questions which was great. Through the panel I met Karen Aldous (The Riviera) and Rhoda Baxter (Doctor January).

Dinner was spent talking about the panel, writing, and Baxter introduced me to her style of chick-lit – romance in which the female characters are in academia. April Munday (The Winter Love) and I found a common connection and we spent the evening talking. She has written a series of posts on Jane Austen’s connections to Southampton and is looking forward to her next study.

An earlier night than the previous ensued; the staff were looking to pack up the bar.



July 15, 2015, 3:05 am

This is a fab recap — esp helpful to me as I begin my 7 week sabbatical to work on 2nd draft of my novel.

Laurie C

July 15, 2015, 12:18 pm

Sounds like a great conference! How exciting to be on a panel, too!

April Munday

July 15, 2015, 12:51 pm

Thank you for the mention, Charlie, and the reminder of a lovely evening, despite a fruitless search for a bottle opener.

I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s memories and notes from the sessions. I think I could publish a ‘how to’ book from mine.

Rhoda Baxter

July 16, 2015, 11:00 am

It was lovely to meet you Charlie! I wasn’t able to make it for the early sessions on Friday. I found the reviewer session very interesting. It’s an angle we don’t often get to see.

Lindsay Healy

July 17, 2015, 12:28 pm

Hi Charlie, it was really nice to meet you at the conference, and to be on the panel together. Thanks for visiting my blog. Your write-ups are really interesting and I wish I had seen more.


July 19, 2015, 7:06 pm

Another lovely day! I’m really enjoying reading your experience. I wish I could have seen your panel.

Literary Feline

July 20, 2015, 1:32 am

Sounds like a lot of good information came out of the panels!


July 20, 2015, 3:44 pm

Audra: Yes – good luck! And I hoped it would be useful. It was great to listen to and so many more could benefit from it.

Laurie: It was and it was!

April: True! Yes, there was so much information to take in. I think Jenny and Jan did a great job, the sessions and speakers were excellent.

Rhoda: Likewise! Thanks, and I’m glad you found it interesting.

Lindsay: It was good, wasn’t it? Thanks!

Alice: There’s a photo about somewhere.

Literary Feline: Indeed it did!



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