Friday, 5 June 2015

Interview with womag (and pocket novel) writer Sally Quilford.

Sally Quilford is my guest today and she has lots of information about pocket novels.

What exactly are pocket novels, Sally? And what got you started on writing them?
Pocket novels are 42k-50k novels sold in small magazine format. They’re published by DC Thomson, and there are My Weekly Pocket Novels (they’re 50k) and People’s Friend Pocket Novels (they’re 42k). I got into writing them when I heard a friend talking about how she wrote for them. At the time they were only 30k, and I’d been stuck on writing short stories (with some success, I should add) but wanted to stretch my writing muscles, so to speak, in order to try something longer. I was amazed when I sold the first one I ever wrote!

Are they generally romances, or do your PNs cover a range of genres? 
They are generally romances, and with a male/female romance at the centre of every story. But you can include lots of sub-genres in that. I’ve written Regency romances, Victorian romances, Wartime romances, western modern romances, family sagas, murder mysteries and romantic intrigue (though it’s fair to say that most of my novels contain an element of intrigue).

Most recently, editor Maggie Swinburne (nee Seed) has been looking for series of books about the same characters. I have just completed my third novel about 1960s police woman Bobbie Blandford, called Big Girls Don’t Cry (the first two are called The Last Dance and Runaway) and am just about to start writing the fourth novel. The important thing to bear in mind about series romances is that they still have to be stand-alone stories, so that the new reader coming to them doesn’t have to have read the previous books. That can be quite a challenge, and I find myself repeating a lot of information in books, but that’s necessary for the new reader to catch up with the story.

My next pocket novel, due out around 30th July 2015 is a Gothic romance called The Dark Marshes.

Are there any rules or guidelines to follow?
The stories are mostly sweet romances, with no explicit sex, though it is possible to get reasonably steamy as long as it’s tasteful. The novels must be 42k for The People’s Friend and 50k for My Weekly Pocket Novels. There must be a central romance, even if the novel steps over into other genres. And there must be a happy ending. The stories themselves, even if there’s a murder mystery, must not get too dark and dreary. The full guidelines are available from DC Thomson.

Do you pitch the idea first, or present the finished PN?
In the first instance, if it’s your first novel for them, it’s best to send 3 chapters and a synopsis. Then they can advise you if you’re on the right track. Once you’ve had a novel accepted, you can send full novels. I prefer to do that as I don’t always know if an idea is going to work unless I write it all. If you have an idea you’re not sure about, you can always email either Maggie (My Weekly Pocket Novels) or Tracey Steel (People’s Friend Pocket Novels) to see if they like the idea. But you need to be able to deliver it once you’ve pitched it and not keep them waiting too long.

The pay for these isn't huge - are there other benefits to writing PNs?
No the pay isn’t huge, but once you’ve had a novel accepted, you can then send it to Ulverscroft for Large Print Publication. They pay a bit more, and you also get Public Lending Rights when it goes into a library. You can also put your work on Amazon Kindle yourself. I don’t do too badly out of my old pocket novels.

You've re-released some of your PNs for kindle. Can you tell us about that?
I’ve released all my previous PNs on Kindle. It’s very easy to do. All you need is a Word file, then convert it to web page, filtered and load it up to Amazon. There are sites, such as, where you can buy royalty free covers, then Amazon have their own cover image software where you can perfect it with a choice of fonts and colour schemes. I sell mine very cheaply at 99p each, but I feel that’s fair enough. I also make money if people borrow them through the Kindle Lending Library. In fact I make more from lending than from selling! (You can buy all Sally's books here)

Are you a disciplined writer who works every day, or do you wait until you're in the mood?
I have to be in the mood, and then I’m very disciplined. I can only write if I have a solid idea, but once I have an idea, it eats away at me and my keyboard until I’ve completed it. That’s why it’s worth me writing the pocket novels, despite the low pay. I can write one within a month (not that I always do!)

The right writing snacks are very important - what's your fuel of choice?
I’ve just finished eating a packet of Cheesy Wotsits, actually. But shortbread biscuits are also a big favourite.

What has been your happiest or proudest writing moment so far?
It’s hard to say. Obviously the first time I had a pocket novel published was a tremendous boost. But I think my proudest moment was when my family saga, The Steps of the Priory, was published by Ulverscroft. It was the first time I’d seen it in print and the cover was wonderful!

Do you have any advice for people who may be considering writing a pocket novel?
Enjoy yourself! If you enjoy what you’re writing it will come across to the editor. You may need to tone down any darker urges. And that can be hard, even for someone as upbeat as me. I used to joke that pocket novels were like Heartbeat and The Darling Buds of May but with all the sex and violence removed. That might be an exaggeration, but they do present a rose coloured world where the good are rewarded and the bad get their comeuppance, and whilst there may be thrills and spills, nothing really awful ever happens. That’s why the readers love them. They know they’re going to get a good read that leaves them feeling that all is right with the world.


Jeannie B said...

Sally, you've got a really impressive record with pocket novels, and I'm sure writers new to the medium should find this very helpful.

Have you any thoughts about whether short stories can be expanded to PNs, or PNs expanded to longer novels, or do stories just lend themselves to a specific format? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Quillers said...

Thanks for your comments, Jeannie. I've certainly extended short story ideas to pocket novel length, and I think it would be easy enough to extend a pocket novel to a longer length, with a few more sub-plots and extra characters.

But it's fair to say that one does become used to writing to the 50k limit, and I can usually manage a first draft within 5k of that nowadays (under, not over), with the rewrites and editing adding the last 5k.

suzy doodling said...

Great interview, Sally and Patsy. I adore your stories, Sally and would love to be a pocket novelist.

Quillers said...

Thank you, Suzy! Have a go! Maggie is always interested in new authors, and she will always advise if she likes your idea, but wants some changes. x

Rena George said...

Excellent advice as always from you, Sally, for wannabe Pocket Novel writers. Not sure about the Cheesy Wotsits though.

Quillers said...

They are deliciously cheesy though, Rena. ;-)

Kate said...

This is a market I expect lots of writers don't know about, so it's great to read the low-down from someone with such a lot of experience in the field. Great post, Sally!

Julie Day said...

Thank you for this. Am now thinking of writing for this market. The novel I am currently revising for the RNA's New Writer's Scheme is a Pocket Novel. One of my goals this year was to write for them, but changed my mind when I started my new author service. This is changing my mind again.

Carolb said...

I'm looking forward to reading your next pocket novel, Sally. :-)

Angela Barton said...

Thank you for arranging such an interesting interview, Patsy.
Sally, you are an inspiration. To write successfully in so many genres is truly a talent. Congratulations!

Patsy said...

Niddy Reece has been having trouble commenting on blogger, but she enjoyed your interview, Sally and wanted to ask ... " Is it acceptable to do every other chapter from the point of view of the two main characters. I havw read a lo of PN and the POV does swap over but only within the same chapter. The one I am working on at the moment his from the female POV but I think it would work better from both."

Quillers said...

Patsy, tell Niddy, yes that's absolutely fine. I've done the same myself, and it's actually best if each point of view is in a different chapter. Too much head-hopping within the same chapter can be dizzying for the reader.

Julie, the NWS is a brilliant scheme and I'm sure it will help you loads.

Angela, Carol, thank you! x