2017 in review: Interview with Holly Harley

Holly Harley is a senior editor at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, where she works on literary non-fiction including history, science, memoir and current affairs. She joined W&N in 2012 as an editorial assistant, prior to working for Gwyneth Paltrow’s website goop. Norah Myers interviews her here.

1) What trends have you seen emerge this year that you’ve been excited about?

There seem to have been lots of trends bubbling away this year but I’ve been most excited by the continued expansion of feminist and women-centric non-fiction succeeding across many genres: from Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls being named a book of the year to Testosterone Rex winning the Royal Society Science Books Prize, it’s heartening to see and I hope a signifier of a long-term increase in the visibility of women and their accounts across more traditionally ‘male’ genre areas, particularly history and science. More broadly speaking, both history and science are also exhibiting some interesting new titles that blur or step outside the boundaries of their principle genre – a couple of Weidenfeld examples of what I mean include East West Street by Philippe Sands, which won last year’s Baillie Gifford Prize and fuses history with memoir (and a wonderful dash of legal thriller), and Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, which uses genetic science to illuminate history.

2) What have you learned about yourself as an editor this year?

It will perhaps seem like the basics to more seasoned editors, but this year I have learned that I should never stop asking questions, because it’s the easiest way to learn. I’ve also learned to not be afraid to show passion about a project, because I’m certainly not alone in being one of those editors who worries that she might care a bit too much on some occasions. And I’ve learned that it is highly unlikely that I will ever be able to act in a corporate manner on Twitter.

3) What is the best book you read this year? Why?

A difficult choice! I’ve read a lot of different books this year that I’ve loved for many different reasons, but I’ll put any fence-sitting aside and pick Women & Power by Mary Beard. I am something of a superfan of hers and I recently went to see a talk with her and Sarah Churchwell (it was streamed online and I think it is still available to watch), and I simply love how elegantly Mary applies her expertise in the classical world to relevant subjects today – in this case the gendered nature of power. I also think it’s the most beautiful little book I’ve bought this year.

4) How do you think the industry has reacted to global changes in 2017?

Perhaps it’s because Brexit lurks in the back of my mind, or perhaps I’m too keenly tuned in to what feels like a general sense of uncertainty about global affairs overall, but I think a lot of the global changes that will affect publishing the most are still yet to play out.

5) What will you be doing in 2018 that you didn’t do in 2017?

Next year I will be publishing the first books I’ve principally edited and commissioned respectively:The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman, which is an inspiring, joyful and at points devastatingly honest account of how the author’s love of literature restored her appreciation of food after the misery of anorexia, and Among the Wholesome Children by Sarah Weinman, a gripping account of the true story that inspired Nabokov’s Lolita that has never been fully explored. I’m really excited to be taking on the role of publisher for these books and working with some wonderful authors, and of course there may be a project of two that I unfortunately can’t tell you about yet, but there are lots of exciting news things to look forward to in 2018…

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