Maggie Ritchie’s Paris Kiss

once-upon-a-time

 

Maggie Ritchie was wandering the streets of Paris on her honeymoon when she came across the idea that would lead to her first novel being published. That was in 1999 and she started writing Paris Kiss five years ago. It is now in bookstores across the country and selling online – and that’s down to the successful collaboration between three businesswomen.

Maggie, a journalist and PR, joined forces with literary agent Jenny Brown and publisher Sara Hunt, director of Saraband. Together they made her dream of becoming an author reality. “We have worked extremely well together – and I don’t know if that’s down to the fact that we run our own businesses or because we are women and are good at listening to each other as well as communicating our own ideas,” said Maggie. “I suspect it’s a bit of both.”

Because the three are based in the Central Belt, Maggie and Sara in Glasgow and Jenny in Edinburgh, meetings are frequent. And because they are all businesswomen, lines of communication are open.

“When Maggie or Sara call me they aren’t put through to my assistant but straight through to me, and we meet up regularly,” says Jenny, who started Jenny Brown Associates – now Scotland’s biggest agency and one of the leading agencies in the UK – in 2002. Jenny was shortlisted in 2014 for Agent of the Year Award. “The way we work together speeds up the decision-making process and also means we consult each other regularly about everything from book covers to author appearances,” said Jenny.

Sara Hunt, who won the Saltire Society Scottish Publisher of the Year 2013-14 for her bold and innovative approach to publishing, said: “I like to work closely with my authors and consult them about editing decisions and book covers. Maggie, Jenny and I have worked well together – and that makes my job a lot easier and more pleasant.

“You can’t generalise too much, but I find there is a lot of truth in the notion that women are more keen to approach business collaboratively and that they are more supportive and inclined to work as a team.

“It’s certainly the way I like to work. We all want the book to be the best it can be.”

Jenny added: “It’s been an easy process, between the three of us, because of the collaborative spirit. And I’ve been pleased to be part of a consultative process with each of us listening to the other.

“What has come through very much is that Sara and I are passionate about Maggie’s book; we became really engaged with the novel as soon as we read it. You don’t take on an author unless you feel that passion.” Maggie has been delighted with the input she’s been allowed to have in the publishing of her novel, which is set in the Bohemian art world of 19th century Paris and tells the story of the scandalous affair between the sculptor Rodin and his young protégée Camille Claudel.

“I’m a journalist so my instinct is to meet people face to face and talk everything through, to get clear direction, fast decisions and have open and immediate communication,” she said.

“I’ve been able to do that with Sara and Jenny right from the start. We meet for coffee and also talk a lot on the phone, which is important to me. Writing a novel is a long and sometimes lonely slog and it’s been wonderful to have Jenny and Sara on my side.

“Compared to the rush of meeting deadlines and the daily pell-mell of newspapers, everything takes much longer in the publishing world, and that’s an adjustment I’ve had to make. Sara and Jenny have been very patient with my impatience!

“I’ve been consulted every step of the way and we have all listened to each other and respected each other’s expertise,” she said.

“Jenny gave me honest and detailed feedback after reading the first draft. It’s hard to take when your precious manuscript is being criticised, but I respected her judgement and acted on her advice. She stuck with me while I rewrote the novel a couple of times. The result was a much better book

“The publishing industry has been going through a tough time and very few of the big publishers want to take a punt on a new author. Jenny spent two years trying to sell the book to publishers. We’d nearly given up hope last May.

“We met for coffee in Edinburgh and decided to concentrate on my next book. On the way to the train station I popped into the National Gallery to see Rodin’s The Kiss, which was on loan. By the time I got back to Glasgow, Jenny had two offers from publishers, one of them Saraband. So The Kiss brought me luck!”

With Saraband on board, the three women began to establish their business relationship. All three were involved in choosing a book cover but at the last minute, Sara had a completely different idea and changed tack.

“Sara comes with all her professional trade knowledge and she’d had feedback from the sales team that the first cover wasn’t working, so Maggie and I were happy to go with her decision,” said Jenny. “And she was right – the new cover is wonderful and has attracted a lot of attention.”

Maggie’s background in the media – she is co-director with her husband of PR company Mike Ritchie Media – meant she was able to make a significant contribution to the PR campaign for Paris Kiss with positive coverage to date on BBC Radio Scotland’s Culture Café, STV’s Riverside Show, The Herald, Sunday Herald, Sunday Mail, Sunday Sun and Daily Record, and France Magazine among others.

Social media platforms have also provided healthy coverage. “I suspect that if I’d been with one of the big London publishers they would have done their own PR and I would have been just one author among many in their stable. I feel supported by Sara and Jenny. It’s an alliance that works and we hope to work together on books two and three,” said Maggie.

“My top tip to other writers looking to publish their first book is to keep going until you finish the first draft; it’s a marathon and lots of people give up halfway.

“And keep writing. While Jenny was selling Paris Kiss I got on with book number two, which is set in 1970s post-colonial Africa, and planning book three, which is a return to the 19th century and will be set in Scotland and China.”

Jenny is looking forward to receiving the second draft of Maggie’s second novel, with a view to it being published in 2016. “It’s important for me to see a writer develop and have a career, so we are thinking long term about opportunities,” Jenny said. “Working together on Paris Kiss has been a joy, and we are hoping it’s just the first one in our collaboration.” 

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