On being a Literary and Digital Consultant: Philippa Donovan interview

Literary and Digital Consultant

Philippa Donovan is an experienced Literary and Digital Consultant, who has been running Smart Quill Editorial for over 4 years. Here Norah Myers interviews Philipppa about how she works with author, and in particular how she works with Unbound.

1. Please introduce yourself and give us an overview of your work as an editorial consultant.

My name is Philippa, and my consultancy is called Smart Quill. I set it up in 2011 so I could have closer conversations with authors about what they needed from the publishing process. Different stories take different forms, especially in the digital age, and I wanted to support this. I offer “bespoke author services” – structural edits, copyediting, agent recommendation, writing tips and books reviews via my YouTube channel. I have just moved to LA to enable screenplay review with hollywood experts, and am aiming to connect up UK and Australian writers with tv and film executives here – there is a huge demand for original IP, so I’m helping to widen the net!

2. You work with authors who wish to publish traditionally and self-publish. How do you help an author discern which route to take?

I am always led by the individual. When I first started Smart Quill the balance was about 90% of clients seeking traditional and 10% wanting to self-publish. Now it is more like 60%/40% which shows the shift in focus. The decision is very much genre-led: thrillers and crime and sci-fi lend themselves to immediate release, with ready markets and less need for collaboration. Literary fiction, narrative non-fiction and historical still suit hard copy, demanding the support of art and publicity departments, amongst others. And of course, it depends where the author wants to “see” their work. I’m thrilled to work in a publishing era where so many options are available.

3. How do you help an author develop, manage, and use an Unbound crowdfunding campaign to publish a book (with editorial support)?

Once I have completed an edit, and feel a book is ready, I recommend to Unbound in the way that I would recommend to literary agents. Unbound is very strong on accessible, eccentric and unique non-fiction, and those authors who have an existing profile, or a personal angle or access point to their writing. If something comes my way that is a bit different and does not fit traditional publishing grooves, I would always send it to Unbound. For example, I recently sent them the biggest book I ever edited – 250,000 words. This sort of length would prove problematic for publishers, purely because a book that large is so expensive to print. It is also vast in scope – think Game of Thrones for Sleeping Beauty/Cinderella – with loads of opportunities for spin off and additional material. It is exactly the kind of outlier Unbound could make into a success.

4. How do you use Unbound in different ways to suit a traditionally published author who is now self-publishing and a debut author who is using Unbound rather than publishing traditionally?

For me, there is no distinction between established and debut authors; if they come to me for editorial help I will provide it. And if I think a writing and authorial style will suit Unbound’s publishing model, I will submit to them. Sometimes my clients now request an approach to Unbound, based on their leverage of bestsellers like Letters of Note. My role is to facilitate whatever the author wants for their work.

5. How has using Unbound helped you as a consultant and editor, and how would you advise other editors who wish to use it as part of their services?

I always love listening to John Mitchinson and Dan Kieran and Isobel Frankish speak about Unbound – how the idea originated, why it works; they are extremely passionate about providing a platform to authors who might otherwise not be discovered by readers. Their passion for making authors the centre of publishing – making the authors the property rather than the books – is rather contagious, so I think this has helped me support authors in my capacity as an editor. Awareness of options like Unbound for books that might lie beyond traditional reach is essential for anyone working in the industry.

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