Judging my book

Judging my book

What is it about a book that makes it catch the eye? That instant before you have processed the words, when you are reacting visually to the overall look of the cover…

It’s a question that has occupied psychologists, publishers and writers since before Penguin placed that small, iconic bird on its first cover. What works? Which colours, layouts, fonts? Should a writer, or a genre, have an instantly identifiable style?

Think of John Irving. In my head, I see the block lettering  and simple imagery of the 1990s editions.

Penguin Classics: do you see the orange version, with the old typeface? The Grapes of Wrath. Pygmalion. The Great Gatsby. Or do you picture the black ones, with classical paintings on the covers? The Odyssey. Animal Farm. Pride and Prejudice.


According to psychologists, the feeling of recognition is vital. Well known authors – those with a strong brand identity – are marketed with covers that give prominence to their name. Once the font size and layout is agreed, it is used consistently across all their books. This helps the reader recognise a favourite author even before they have fully processed the words. If you see a familiar pattern of colour, text and layout, your hand is already reaching for the book.

So what of us new writers? We have no name recognition, no ‘brand identity’. How do we ensure, among the hundreds and thousands of books that are on offer, that our book is seen?

One way is to get a publishing deal with a major publisher. This offers the reader certain guarantees. The expert reader (and we are all experts in our favourite genres and writers) knows what they are looking for. They know which publishers they can rely on to offer books that are likely to match their interests.

My book is a love story, set in Regency England, and I am lucky to have been offered a contract with the  world’s leading publisher of romance fiction, Mills & Boon. Mills & Boon is a subsidiary of Harlequin Enterprises Ltd,  and operates as a division of HarperCollins. This means they are good at what they do. They have been doing it successfully all around the word for a long, long time. It also means that I, as an unknown writer, get a leg up at the very start of my career.

My book fits perfectly with their Regency series, which has its own unique look, logo, colour scheme, cover style. They use real models, wearing historically accurate clothing in appropriate settings, for the covers.

Recently I was asked to complete a Fact Sheet for the art & design team, who would be working on my cover. I had to choose a key scene and describe the people, the place, and the time. Of course I went for the Waltzing scene. It is pivotal in the story – a moment of bliss for my hero and heroine. I linked to my pinned pictures of ballrooms, gowns and knee-breeches, and included my description of her gown, the ballroom and, of course, the physical description of both Adam and Charlotte.

I’m delighted with the result. Charlotte is just as beautiful as I’d imagined her, but it is a quiet sort of beauty. Adam is tall, handsome and lean, which is spot-on. The background is right too – just as grand as I imagined the ballroom at Chadcombe. The only problem is that, in the original scene, they waltzed at night-time, in candlelight, but this may have been too much for a cover shoot!

The publisher has also written a blurb for the back cover. It does, I think, give a good sense of the central conflict – Adam needs to marry for money, and Henrietta is wealthier than Charlotte. It is not quite accurate to describe poor Charlotte as ‘penniless’, but it gets the point across, I suppose.

As to how it all unfolds – How does Adam start to look beyond the flirtatious Henrietta to her quiet cousin? How does Charlotte’s opinion of him change over time? What impact does their first kiss have on the course of events? Well, perhaps you’ll read the book to find out.

I hope that you, at least, enjoy the cover! Oh, and there may be another version along in a while – this is the North American cover.


Cover images copyright © 2017 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Cover Art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited
® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.

A Warm Welcome at HQ HQ


Yesterday I travelled to Harlequin’s UK head office in London, to meet my editor, Julia Williams, and colleagues. It was a big day for me – though I assumed it would be a fairly routine thing for them – so I wore my favourite blue dress.


Finding the place was trickier than I’d anticipated – even with google maps. I walked the long way round after coming out of the Tube – if you’re ever going there, it’s right next to the Shard – don’t even bother with maps! [That’s it on the left, with the columns]


The lobby was really impressive/fairly intimidating, depending on how you’re feeling. I felt both. A huge space, serious security, and lots of Words on the wall. Julia came down to meet me, and we went for a coffee first. That was lovely, as we had the chance for a wee chat before going upstairs.

I say ‘upstairs’ but I mean ‘up-lift’. Harper Collins, of which Harlequin is a part, holds the 15th and 16th floors. The lifts are in the centre, with the whole team working round the bright, glass-walled sides. There are meeting rooms and kitchens dotted about, and everywhere, books and quotes from books. If you can tear your eyes away, then – oh my goodness, what a view!


Julia brought me to the Harlequin Mills & Boon area, where I met lots of smiling, friendly, warm women. Not only that, they were waiting for me! Apparently, meeting a new author for the first time is a proper Thing!

I had an interview with Bronagh McDermott, from Dublin, who does the social media work for Harlequin, then went through for my Reception. A Reception!!

The lovely Sarah had done this –


There was prosecco, and a lovely welcoming speech from Jo Grant, the Senior Executive Editor at Harlequin UK. Then Julia and Linda Fildew, the Senior Editor for Historical Romance, both said lovely things about my book. Finally I talked a bit about me, and how delighted I was, and the importance of Storytelling in the human psyche! I hope I didn’t go on too long Grinning face with smiling eyes !

We then had a nice chat which included, among other things, Rupert Murdoch, Nigel Slater, and Flo Nicoll’s Christmas email.

Nothing further will be said on these subjects 😉

Finally, the photos –

board seana julia

jo linda julia

Me, Jo, Linda and Julia


The Historicals team, led by Linda


The whole team! Aren’t they lovely!


Getting the Call

One of the biggest moments in the life of a writer is getting the Call. No, not ‘Calling’ (though writing is, in a way, a vocation). No, this is an actual telephone call, from a real editor, saying they want to publish your work. It happened to me a week ago.

Rewind: I’ve been writing for many, many years. For me, for fun, for pleasure. The process itself is (mostly) enjoyable. Yet I never felt confident enough in my work to share it with an agent or publisher. It was partly self-doubt, and partly an honest assessment of the quality of what I’d written. I was an apprentice.

That changed in 2014. I completed a full-length novel – a ‘sweet’ Regency romance which flowed, and grew, and took on a momentum of its own. I knew it felt right. After revising and editing, I posted some of it on a writers’ website, where I got encouragement (and a few corrections) from other writers.

My confidence building, I shared the full manuscript with my husband, and a close friend. Another friend read most of it. Although they were biased (!), it was encouraging that they all loved it. I took a deep breath and decided to send it to publishers.

Next, the research phase. Consult the Yearbook, search online, look at different publishers’ approaches, specialisms and reach. Ensure you send what they want – format, word count, synopsis.

Then, a result – this email arrived from an editor at Harlequin Mills & Boon.

Harlequin reply

It’s hard to tell yourself not to be too hopeful when you’re flooded with hope. I sent the full manuscript, and crossed my fingers. In the end, time helped. It was many months before I heard back. A phone call from the lovely Julia, saying they were still interested, and would I be open to making some revisions?

Of course I was. I completed two sets of revisions in 2015, taking my book from Heyeresque to more Harlequinesque, which is what was needed to make it suitable for what their readers want. I ruthlessly cut some minor, comic characters, increased the tension a notch at key moments, and added more overt insights about my hero and heroine’s emotional journey.

I resubmitted in November, and waited again. I knew that Julia was consulting with the head of Harlequin Historicals, and that they both had to be happy with the manuscript. Julia indicated that more revisions might be needed, but there was no point asking me for them when her colleague hadn’t yet read the latest draft.

Finally, an email asking when would suit me for a phone call. We arranged a time. I had no clue that there would be an offer. I hoped that they would suggest more revisions, and that the manuscript was getting closer to what Harlequin readers love. There was always the possibility of rejection.

I had the afternoon off work as I was attending my daughter’s Leavers’ Day celebrations in school. Afterwards I went upstairs, got my notebook out and waited for Julia’s call.

The news was immediate: ‘We both love Waltzing with the Earl and we’d like to offer you a two-book contract.’

Well! There were shrieks, lots of ‘Oh my goodness!’ and quite a bit of babbling gibberish. I could hear Julia chuckling on the other end of the phone. My daughter and husband came running to hear, and exclaim, and hug. Eventually I calmed down enough to listen to some of the details. Luckily, Julia sent them in an email immediately afterwards.

congrats email

It still seems a little unlikely. Me, published? Two-book deal? Really?

A few days later, more excitement. The official tweets were posted.


Turns out, I am Julia’s first ever Call. It’s lovely to know it was a special moment for her too!

M&B tweet

Lots of other authors have been sending congratulations and good wishes – they truly know just how hard it is to actually get published.

I also posted on my personal facebook page, and got 157 likes/loves/wows, as well as 98 comments – most people didn’t know that this was in the pipeline.

What a week! Whew! 🙂














New beginnings

When I set out to write Waltzing with the Earl, I had no idea where it would take me. It started, as these things often do, with a ‘What if…?’

What if a young woman lost her place in the social hierarchy of Regency England?

What if, rather like Cinderella, she lived with relatives who treated her badly?

What if she’d already met a man… would he stand by her? Even if it was difficult?

Aristocratic women in 19th century England had few choices and limited control over certain aspects of their lives. Men controlled property, wealth and hard power. Many women had soft power – influence – within their homes and families, and used it to benefit themselves and those they loved.

Writers are cruel. We manipulate our heroes and heroines, give them challenges, heartbreak and despair. We hurt them, and sometimes kill those they love, so that they are tested.

Yet we care about them, too. We cry with them, feel their pain, hope that they will emerge victorious…

As I wrote Waltzing with the Earl, I walked my heroine’s journey beside her, with her. In a way, I became her. For me, the same thing happens on reading a good book. So I hope that, when Waltzing with the Earl is published, you will walk with her, and enjoy her story.