Category: Interviews

Interview with WriteNow mentor Lydia Yadi

WriteNow, Penguin Random House UK’s programme to find, mentor and publish new writers currently under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves, is back for 2017. The world’s number-one publisher is looking for new writers from a socio-economically marginalised background, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) and BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) writers, or writers with a disability, to make books and publishing more representative of the society we live in. Find out more and apply at Applications close on 16 July 2017. Join the conversation using #WriteNowLive @PenguinRHUK. 

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On being a Rising Star and Literary Agent: Ariella Feiner interview

Ariella Feiner started working at PFD in 2006 before moving to United Agents and is now nurturing her own client list which includes many bestselling, critically acclaimed and award winning authors across fiction and non-fiction, including a million-copy selling author and ground-breaking non-fiction. In 2017, The Bookseller named her as a Rising Star. Here, Norah Myers interviews her about being included in that list.

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Don’t Hold My Head Down: Interview with Lucy-Anne Holmes

Lucy-Anne Holmes is a writer and campaigner. Her last novel Just a Girl Standing In Front of a Boy won the Romantic Novelists Association ‘Rom Com of the Year 2015’ and she founded the successful No More Page 3 campaign. She is currently raising funds for her book Don’t Hold My Head Down with Unbound here.

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Interview with Windham-Campbell Prize winner Ashleigh Young

The Windham-Campbell Prizes were recently awarded to lucky novelists, playwrights, and poets. Norah Myers interviews one winner, Ashleigh Young, here.

1) Huge congratulations on winning a Windham-Campbell Prize. What does it mean to you?

Thank you very much, and it’s hard to sum up what this means for me, because truly, it means everything. I always knew I would write, because that’s when I felt most like myself, but I knew I would need to do it on the sidelines. My mother had this phrase she’d often shout to get my brothers and me off to school in the mornings: ‘Time is marching on!’ I always got morose when I heard it, because it meant there would never be enough time for the things I really wanted to do. And now, suddenly, I can pause for a moment. I can write out in the open, while time marches on all around me, and it will be OK. Nothing will be lost. That permission is pretty extraordinary.

2) How will this help your writing?

Mostly, the permission to write will help me to focus, because my concentration will not be splintered by all of the things I should be doing instead. It will remind me: this is the right thing; this is something you can do with your full self.

I think also this prize will help me to be a little more ambitious in the subjects I choose to write about. If I ever decide to write about those huge terrifying robot dogs or about the giant w?t? that live in caves in New Zealand (w?t? have been described as ‘like crickets, but steampunk’), I can take the time to do some research so that I can write about them.

3) Money aside, how is this prize different from others you could win?

It celebrates writers without bringing along all the usual baggage of prizes – the longlisting and shortlisting, the sleepless nights, the teeth-grinding. The prize circumnavigates all of that and leaps straight into the moment of celebration. There’s a scene in The Simpsons where Lisa wakes up to find a pony sleeping in the bed beside her, and she lets out a huge scream but then embraces the pony. It’s a bit like that. It genuinely changes the lives of writers. I think also it must be the only literary prize that recipients regularly confuse for phishing or spam – but, I mean, it’s understandable.

4) What do you look forward to most when writing your next books?

Mostly, the pure fun of it. I look forward to that moment when you know you have found the right thread of the story and you feel sure that you’ve managed to articulate or evoke something that you just couldn’t before now. It’s that feeling of optimism that you’ll reach your reader. I’m working on a poetry collection right now, and another essay collection will follow after that, and I’m really excited about both.

5) What advice would you give your younger self when you were just starting out as an author?

Don’t try to be certain about anything yet. Be uncertain for just a bit longer. Don’t be afraid of having questions about everything, especially about things you’re supposed to already know. The longer you can ask questions, the more interesting the answers might be later.

Also, stop sending your stories to real writers and asking for their advice. They’re busy.

Born and raised in Te Kuiti, New Zealand, Ashleigh Young is the author of the critically acclaimed book of poetry Magnificent Moon (2012), as well as the essay collection Can You Tolerate This? (2016), which is a finalist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. An editor at Victoria University Press, Young is also a creative writing tutor at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.

Curtis Brown Creative: An award-winning author’s perspective

Curtis Brown Creative offers in-person courses and online courses for students interested in writing fiction and nonfiction. Norah Myers wanted to know more from a student who successfully completed an online course. Here, she interviews author Jane Harper.

1) What motivated you to sign up for an online writing course with Curtis Brown Creative?

I wanted to take a writing course because I felt I needed some external motivation to focus seriously on writing a novel. I was attracted to the Curtis Brown Creative online course because it offered good opportunity for feedback and discussion, and a Q&A day with the agents. I was also able to take part in the online course while continuing to work full-time.

2) You wrote your first full draft of your novel in just three months. How did the course help that happen?

I’ve always worked best to deadlines, and being on the course encouraged me to concentrate on writing and made me realise that I actually could finish the first draft of a novel if I focused. I found the group feedback very useful, and the discussions with course tutor Lisa O’Donnell and the other students motivated me to continue writing and to try to improve.

3) What advice would you give anyone who wishes to take a Curtis Brown online course?

Come prepared to take your writing seriously and be willing to take the feedback on board. I learned so much from the group and one-on-one discussions, but it is only valuable if you are willing to act on it and make changes and do rewrites as necessary. It takes work to improve but it is worth it if you end up with a novel you are proud of. The online course is also a lot of fun and I really enjoyed getting to know other writers from around the world and seeing the work they produced.

4) How did you land your agent?

My debut novel The Dry won the Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in May 2015 before I had submitted it to any agents. I very quickly had discussions with Curtis Brown as the Australian company approached me upon winning the prize, and I’d had that contact with the agency during the course.

I am now lucky enough to be represented by lead agent Clare Forster from Curtis Brown Australia, Alice Lutyens from Curtis Brown in London, along with Kate Cooper and Eva Papastratis managing foreign rights. With feedback from my agent, I worked up another, longer draft of the manuscript, and this was the one we submitted to publishers worldwide, selling first in Australia, then around the world.

5) What are your plans for your second book?

My next book is another mystery set in isolated regional Australia. It will be out in October 2017 in Australia and early in 2018 in the UK and US. It’s not a direct sequel to The Dry, but the main character, Aaron Falk, returns — a little bruised but a little wiser. The novel is similar to The Dry in tone and feel, with a few twists and turns along the way!

Jane Harper studied the Curtis Brown Creative three-month online novel writing course in October 2014. During the course she wrote her first novel, The Dry, an atmospheric thriller set in a drought-stricken Australian community.

The Dry won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2015. Rights have since been sold in more than 20 territories and been optioned for a film by Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea’s production company, Pacific Standard. Jane lives in Melbourne and worked as a print journalist for 13 years on newspapers in the UK and Australia. 

Feature image credit: Nicholas Purcell

Write to the End of Your Novel: Interview with Anna Davis

Norah Myers recently interviewed Curtis Brown Creative’s Rufus Purdy about Curtis Brown Creative, the writing school led by the team at Curtis Brown. Here, she follows that by interviewing Curtis Brown’s managing director, Anna Davis, about a new course from Curtis Brown Creative: Write to the End of Your Novel.

1) How does Write To The End Of Your Novel build on Starting To Write Your Novel?

Write to the End of Your Novel is the second in a series of three short online courses which aim to help new writers get all the way from an initial idea for a novel to having a complete, polished novel ready to pitch to agents/publishers. This second course follows on from the first – so we expect that participants will already have their idea and their opening and will be trying to write their way through to the end of the first draft.

In a series of six modules (which we open up week by week) I try to say everything I can think of that could be useful – including my advice on pacing, building suspense, what to do when you’re stuck in the middle, how to write a good ending – and much more. The course makes use of teaching videos (from me), notes and tasks. Students will be able to share their work in a secure forum on our purpose-built learning platform.

We’ll be following on with a third course later in the Autumn called Edit and Pitch Your Novel. Students who come on each of these courses get continued access to all the materials so that they’ll have a set of resources they can make use of long after the course ends.

2) Why do you feel it was important to add this course to your offerings?

What I wanted to do – with the three short courses I’m talking about above, including Write to the End of Your Novel – was to offer great content at a much cheaper price than our ‘main’ 3 and 6-month courses (the selective courses we run for groups of 15 students in London and online). I wanted to provide something for people who can’t afford our main courses but who nonetheless want to study with us and get help with their novels. I also wanted to offer courses which would allow people to just pay-and-enrol (rather than go through the selective process we have for our main courses) so that they could have a go – it’s a chance to try your hand at novel-writing without making the bigger financial commitment that’s needed for our main courses.

These 6-week online courses can act as ‘tasters’ for our high end courses – our hope is that people who get a lot out of the 6-week courses might then feel they want to join a course where they will get intensive individual tuition and workshopping with a small group of students who’ve been selected on the basis of ability, in order to really make their novel as good as it can possibly be. Obviously not everyone who takes the 6-week courses will succeed in getting a place on our main courses (the places are quite heavily competed over) but we already have quite a few students on the longer novel-writing courses who came to us through studying on Starting to Write Your Novel.

However I also wanted the 6-week courses to cover the complete journey of writing and pitching a novel: Not everyone needs a longer course and individual tuition – for many people writing a novel, it’s useful just to have good, constructive advice, a group of other writers to share work with and a metaphorical shot in the arm. That’s what we’re offering.

3) Tell us about an applicant you recently turned down. What could aspiring applicants learn from an unsuccessful submission?

So – yes – for our ‘main’ 3 and 6 month novel-writing courses, in London or online, we do operate a selection process. We ask people to fill in a form on our website and to send us the one-page synopsis and opening 3000 words of the novel they want to work on with us. Rather than talk about one individual applicant (because I think it wouldn’t be fair to do so), I’ll tell you about some of the features we frequently see in unsuccessful applications. Here goes:

  • Don’t open your book with someone waking up in the morning and looking out of the window at the sun/rain etc. This is THE most common way to start a novel and so we’re very bored of seeing it. We’re also not keen on openings which feature characters staggering around with a hangover, treading in pizza boxes etc – or visceral scenes of vomiting and other bodily fluids (I don’t want to be fighting revulsion when I start to read a novel!) – or indeed long descriptions of the weather.
  • Get your story going from the off. We want to see STUFF HAPPENING long before the end of that first 3000 words – it doesn’t need to be explosive or shouty – but we do want story to be happening. Writers often think they need to spend a long time ‘setting up’ characters before they get them into action – that’s really not necessary.
  • Give us scenes which are dramatized – ie enter right into the moment of your story, showing us your characters in action and making use of dialogue. If I flick through an application and don’t see any dialogue, I know I’m unlikely to end up offering the writer a place. Invariably these novel-openings will be endless ‘telling’ (explanatory material) which leave the reader feeling like they’re skating across the surface of a story without getting properly into it.

4) What do you teach students about foreign rights?

Our team of literary agents at Curtis Brown and C&W contribute very generously to our 3-and-6 month courses. On the London courses, the agents come in as guest speakers, partnering with publishers and/or with authors they represent. On the 3-and-month online courses the agents take part in special ‘Q&A days’ where they answer all the students’ questions online. Our agents will talk about foreign rights – and indeed other rights such as film and TV rights – when they speak to the students about how they work with their clients to make the work available in all possible forms and formats and to maximise all avenues of income for the client.

Foreign rights are a very big part of what we do at Curtis Brown and C&W, and many of our authors have their work available many languages across the world. Having said all that, the most important way we work with our students is in helping them to write their novels as well as they possibly can. Foreign rights won’t feature in their lives at all unless they write a really great novel – and it’s our mission to help them to do that.

5) What do literary agents look for in a client, especially ones writing their first books?

Agents want to find great novels – it’s as simple as that. We have a big team of agents here, all of whom have different interests and tastes – but I think they’d all agree that they want to find great stories and writing that really leaps off the page. Obviously it’s great if a writer also has a professional attitude, is open to working editorially on their novel to get it as good as it can possibly be, and is intending to go on to write more compelling novels (not just one). And yes, the agent/author relationship is a close and potentially long-lived one so it’s important that each likes and respects the other. But really the most important thing is the book.

6) What do you look forward to most as the course progresses?

I love getting to know the students (and their work) individually and collectively, and seeing how the groups of 15 shape up and bond with each other. Even as I’m typing this, now, I can hear laughter coming from the board room – it’s our current 6-Month London-based course, with tutor Louise Wener. They’re getting toward the end of their course now so they all know each other and each other’s writing really well. I’m certain that all or most of them will go on meeting up and giving each other support with their novels long after the course has finished. This camaraderie happens in our 3 and 6 month online courses too – and even on the 6-week Starting to Write Your Novel courses we’re seeing writers bonding and forming little groups and keeping in touch. Yes, I do think that’s what I like best. Writing is something you do alone, but it doesn’t need to be lonely.

Check out Curtis Brown Creative’s site for more information on all of their courses.

Anna is the founder and Director of the Curtis Brown Creative writing school. She is the author of five novels, published around the world in 20 languages: The Dinner, Melting, Cheet, The Shoe Queen and, most recently, The Jewel Box. She is currently working on her sixth. Anna has worked for Curtis Brown for more than a decade as a literary agent and has served on the management committee of the Association of Authors’ Agents. Previously she was a lecturer on Manchester University’s MA in Novel-Writing, and has also led many other writing workshops for organisations such as the Cheltenham Literary Festival and Ty Newydd. A former Guardian columnist, Anna has been the recipient of the Arts Council of England’s Clarissa Luard Award (2001) and an h.Club 100 award – presented to the most influential, innovative and interesting people in the creative and media industries.

Curtis Brown Creative writing school: Interview with Rufus Purdy

Curtis Brown Creative is the only writing school to be run by a literary agency, and offers selective novel-writing courses in London and online. Here, its editor, Rufus Purdy, tells Norah Myers what sets CBC apart, and how 27 of its former students have gone on to get book deals.

1) What was the inspiration behind starting Curtis Brown Creative?

My colleague Anna Davis – then a literary agent at Curtis Brown, as well as a novelist – launched Curtis Brown Creative in 2011 when she realised a lot of people were looking for novel-writing courses as an alternative to expensive Masters Degrees. She felt we were in the unusual position of having both a good understanding of the market and the expertise to help authors write and edit their work to give it the best possible opportunity of attracting an agent then a publisher.

2) What makes Curtis Brown Creative different from other writing courses?

We’re industry-focused. We’re the only creative-writing school to be run by a literary agency – and the agents at Curtis Brown and our sister agency C&W are closely involved with our novel-writing courses. So, unlike any other writing course out there, Curtis Brown Creative gives writers expert tuition and the opportunity to forge links with industry ‘gatekeepers’. We’re also selective. For each course, we’ll offer places to the 15 strongest applicants – as we believe it’s essential that the standard of peer feedback is set as high as possible.

3) What’s been the most challenging part of running the course?

Managing the expansion! Curtis Brown Creative is a very different company to the one I joined in 2012, when we ran just two three-month novel-writing courses in our office each year. Now, each year, we run four three-month courses, two six-month courses and a summer school – and that’s just in our London office.

We also run six online novel-writing courses, four online Writing for Children courses, and two new, six-week short courses, which are open to everyone – Starting to Write Your Novel and Write to the End of Your Novel. And, until last September, Curtis Brown Creative was just Anna and I. Thankfully our staff level has now grown to an impressive three.

4) Does the publishing knowledge that students gain in the course help their writing?

Absolutely. Though Curtis Brown Creative isn’t prescriptive about writing, we do feel that our unique position in the book industry means we’re aware of what will and won’t work in the market.

A talented student pouring their efforts into an experimental novella based on the life of a famously litigious celebrity, for example, would be encouraged to put their energy into something that the book-buying public might want to read. And we think it’s essential aspiring authors understand the industry they want to be a part of. They may be brilliant writers, but how are they going to make their work stand out in a hugely crowded market?

5) Have any of your graduates been published?

Twenty-seven of our former students have gone on to get book deals after doing our courses – most notably Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist and The Muse), Jane Harper (The Dry), Nicholas Searle (The Good Liar) and Lisa Williamson (The Art of Being Normal and All About Mia). We’re very proud of them all.

6) What advice would you give anyone who would like to gain a place with Curtis Brown Creative?

The main things we look for in a candidate are writing talent and a good story, so if you’ve got those, we’d love to hear from you! We tend to avoid people who clearly feel they’ve ‘completed’ their novel, and just want to do the course to meet our literary agents – we’re dedicated to helping writers improve their work, and there’s nothing more offputting than someone who already thinks they’re the finished article.

And if I have to read another submission involving a young man waking up with an erection, and musing about what he drunkenly did last night, I’ll personally track down the author and batter them around the head with their laptop.

For more information on CBC and the courses they have open at the moment, please visit:

The Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes: Interview with Michael Kelleher

Many writers work other jobs in order to afford to write. The Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes are designed to give writers of all kinds the financial freedom to focus on the writing that matters the most to them. Michael Kelleher is a poet and the founding director of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale University. Norah Myers interviews Michael to find out more.

1) The Windham Campbell prize is in its fifth year. How has the prize helped its recipients?

I think the prize can help the prize recipients in several significant ways. First, obviously, there is the money. $165,000 can buy a writer a lot of time — even in London or New York. There is nothing more precious to a writer than time to write. All of the writers have told me that they feel free to write what they want with the money, rather than what is expected of them.

Second, it calls attention to the writer and to the work. In some instances, it might shine a spotlight on a writer who deserves a wider audience. In others, it might be the cause a subtle shift in the way the critics receive their work. Readers often need a reason to pick up a literary work, and sometimes the recognition of a prize like the Windham-Campbell Prize will be the difference in selecting one book over another.

2) Why is it important for the prize to recognize playwrights?

Well, playwrights are writers, too. Plays are a significant part of our literature. So that is one reason. Another is that Donald Windham was himself a sometime playwright (who once co-authored a play with his close friend, Tennessee Williams), while Sandy Campbell was an actor. It was they who made the decision to award playwrights, based on their mutual love of theater.

3) What’s the most exciting part of the prize’s accompanying festival?

The festival is a chance to bring a group of great writers together and to hear them speak about themselves, about their writing, about the various things they like to think about. And we, the audience, are given the opportunity to think along with them in a warm public setting. I am especially fond of the group reading on the final night, when everyone gets ten minutes to show off their writing to the crowd. These have been some of the best moments of the festival. Of course, the prize ceremony is also fantastic. Each year we invite someone to give a lecture on why they write. This year it was Patti Smith. Next year it will be Karl Ove Knausgaard. All of them are different, all of them profound.

4) How have publishers benefited from their authors winning the prize?

Judging by the fact that many publishers have started writing “Winner of the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize” across the covers of their books, I would say that they see an opportunity to promote their authors by calling attention to the prize.

5) How do you see the prize evolving in the next few years?

Two major changes are occurring with the March 1 announcement. We are adding poets for the first time, and we are increasing the prize value from $150,000 to $165,000. We are very excited to include poets among the winners. Over the next five years, we plan to keep developing our public programming to include literary festivals and other events that will help make audience engagement and interest in the prize a a year-round affair.

What’s it like to be an Unbound author?

What’s it like to be an Unbound author? Norah Myers interviews Jennifer Pierce to find out. 

1) What appealed to you most about working with Unbound?

I like the idea of giving readers a say in what gets published.

When I first heard about Unbound, I thought that this method of publishing had a lot of potential for YA audiences. The YA marketing segment is largely made up of a generation that is even more connected than ever. They’re connecting with publishers, authors, and other readers to have conversations about books and publishing in social media spaces. Many of these readers run successful blogs and YouTube channels about books. These platforms give them an opportunity to share their thoughts about what they’re reading and what they want to read. There are so many new ways that readers can engage with literature, and this is a way of engaging with the publishing process itself.

I think it’s great that Unbound is using that engaging nature of social media to be more inclusive and allow anyone to become involved in the process, from selecting which books they want to see published, to gaining access to author updates, and receiving exclusive content or rewards for investing in projects. Additionally, Unbound functions as a traditional publisher once the crowdfunding phase is over–having marketing and editorial support from experienced industry professionals is a huge advantage as a debut author.

2) What’s been the most challenging part of the crowdfunding process?

This is my first experience with crowdfunding–it is much more of a roller coaster than I expected!  Although being your own promoter is time-consuming and sometimes frustrating, the amount of support and encouragement I’ve had from family, friends, other Unbound authors, and even strangers has been incredible.

3) You hold an MA in Publishing. How has your knowledge of publishing helped you as an author?

My MA provided me with an overview of all aspects of the publishing process so I know what to expect going in as an author.  My marketing class and work experience have been useful throughout the crowdfunding stage.

4) What advice would you give an American who would like to work with Unbound?

Go for it!  Although Unbound and most of their authors are UK-based, don’t let geography limit you.  Unbound has been doing amazing things lately as they grow their list and it’s a really exciting time to be an Unbound author.

Jennifer Pierce is a graduate of Oxford Brookes University’s Publishing MA and currently works as an Editorial Project Manager at Elsevier.  Her debut Young Adult novel, Slow Motion is now crowdfunding with Unbound

Interview with literary agent Juliet Mushens

Juliet Mushens founded Caskie Mushens Ltd in 2017 with Robert Caskie, after stints at PFD, The Agency Group (where she headed the UK literary division), and UTA. She has been shortlisted for literary agent of the year for the last three years running. Here, Norah Myers interviews her about her new venture.

1) Why was it important for you to start your own agency?

I’ve always wanted to start my own agency – it’s very exciting to have the freedom to make decisions as to how to shape a company. I’m thrilled to do this with Robert Caskie, who has always been a mentor of mine.

2) What do you look forward to most in your new position?

Starting a new agency gives me a renewed opportunity to consider my career so far: where have I had success, but also, where is there room for improvement. It means I can really be strategic about the projects I’m taking on, but I’m also hoping to add to my list proactively this year.

3) What do you look for in a client when signing them?

The book is the most important thing, of course. But I also want someone who is willing to put editorial work into the manuscript, and someone who is pleasant to work with. It’s a long-lasting relationship so you want to get on well!

4) What makes you most passionate about being an agent?

Nothing beats the excitement of finding a new manuscript and realising it has a lot of potential. I find editorial work really satisfying as well (like doing a puzzle!) and the buzz of running a big auction is great fun.

5) Where would you like the agency to be in five years’ time?

I’d love us to have a reputation for finding and nurturing new talent. We’ve kicked 2017 off with three Sunday Times bestsellers within a month, which bodes well!

Interview with genre fiction crowdfunder Simon Spanton

Unbound recently hired Simon Spanton to help develop their genre fiction list. Norah Myers interviews Simon to find out why genre fiction is a good fit for Unbound’s crowdfunding model.

After four years as a bookseller, twenty five years working in editorial for two different publishers and a year as a freelance editor and book reviewer, Simon Spanton joined Unbound in January 2017 to set up a genre list for the publisher. He’s based in Edinburgh. When not reading he’s generally walking, cycling, listening to music or watching films. Some of these things can be done at the same time as reading, some can’t. Apparently.

1) What appeals the most to you about publishing genre fiction?

I love the scope and variety of the genres within the category. Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror encompass so many times, spaces and moods. But also so many literary approaches – from adventure fiction to romance, to literary experiment. Sometimes in the same book. It’s like being able to publish all fiction.

There’s something about genre authors too – I think because they have so often had their books dismissed by some critics as not being “proper writing”, they have a boundless enthusiasm and fight for what they do.

But I also love how engaged and enthusiastic the readers are, the relationship they build with those favourite writers. You can’t bluff genre fans – they generally know more than you about their favourite genre. There’s so much enthusiasm in all quarters of genre publishing that it’s had not to love working in it.

2) What was the best book you read recently that could be classified as genre fiction? What made it special?

That’s a really hard question to answer. My idea of what the best book I’ve read lately tends to shift around a lot. A book that has stayed with me from last year though is The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley. It’s a slim novel that starts off as a beautifully observed love story that plays out between a young woman and a teacher in an English village after the first world war. The language is subtle and wonderfully controlled, the descriptions of landscape and nature wonderfully done. But as you are reading a weirdness in the events begins to insinuate itself until you find yourself in the middle of an extraordinary SF story about time and history.

I think it’s special because the writing is so beautiful, because it champions the importance of one person’s (and in the context of the time, importantly, one woman’s) actions in vast events and because it allows for huge ideas without ever overwhelming a very human story.

It’s so economic too – genre has tended to fall victim to commercial demands for massive books and series to carry massive stories – Aliya’s book shows you can also tell a story with huge ramifications in dozens of pages, not hundreds.

3) What makes genre fiction a good fit for Unbound’s model?

First and foremost I think it’s the genre community. There’s such a strong link between readers and authors (via conventions and social media), such a sense that they are in the business of genre together that I think there’s a fantastic opportunity to tap into that for crowdfunding – to give readers even more of a chance to be part of a book’s success story, to allow them to get their hands on the books they really want, that the authors really love without, perhaps, some of the very necessary restrictions of the standard publishing model getting in the way.

Because the genre is so varied, because the authors are so creative I think there are sometimes ideas and books that struggle to find a place and these are often the books that are very personal to the authors and therefore have a chance to be very personal for readers too – crowdfunding is a lovely way to make the personal work. A

lso because of how it has been used in other genre media crowdfunding is a familiar model for lots of fans and one which can readily translate to books for them.

4) What do you most look forward to in your new role?

Talking to authors and readers, discovering what new favourite books there might be out there that haven’t been able to find the light of day. I know all too well from my years in publishing that there can be many reasons for a book not to have found a readership and I understand that often those reasons are valid and proper within the traditional model.

Having the chance to explore a different model with authors old and new seems to me to have endless opportunities. Having just moved to Scotland I’m also looking forward to learning more about authors (both inside the genre and out) in this part of the world and establishing links between them and Unbound.

5) What advice could you give fiction authors who currently struggle with crowdfunding?

Well I think we need to take into consideration that working with crowdfunding is a new thing for me as well. But what I have learned already is that I think it’s helpful for authors to remember how valuable favourite books are to them, how caught up they were in the excitement of a book, how close they felt to the author over it. Publishing is a tough business working inside tight margins and with huge risks and it’s easy for that sense of value to come under pressure.

Crowdfunding seems to me to be about emphasising the value – sometimes in unexpected ways. It’s about remembering how special a book can be for an individual reader and being motivated by that. I think you could be surprised by how involved some readers want to be and also by how excited they can be about the story around the book and how being a part of that can be important to them.

If the author can convey their excitement about their book to the reader (one-to-one contact works best for that) that’s the thing that will make a crowd funder work. A crowdfunded book is the best possible illustration of the fact that there is a market that shares your excitement.

And finally if the whole notion looks daunting I’ve sat down with our team of advisors who help authors with their crowdfunding and really had my eyes opened to how much there is you can do as an author to fire up that excitement. There are so many possibilities and Unbound are there to help.

Interview with Rebecca Lewis-Oakes, winner of last year’s Kim Scott Walwyn Prize

Rebecca Lewis-Oakes is the 2015 winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. She is currently Managing Editor for Fiction at Egmont UK and has been a commissioning editor at Puffin, Faber & Faber and Scholastic, working across all ages and ranges of children’s books, from fiction and non-fiction to picture books, gift and novelty. Her successes include editing the multi-award-winning Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, commissioning the YouTuber hit Sprinkle of Glitter Diary and developing the first app for the Eric Hill Spot brand.

1) Congratulations on winning the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize in 2016. What an achievement. How has the win helped you professionally?

Thank you very much! It was an honour to win, especially with such a strong shortlist. The shortlist announcement timing was fantastic for me professionally – it came during London Book Fair which is obviously prime networking time, but also on the second day of my then-new job at Puffin. So the prize raised my profile within the industry and also at Penguin Random House, where, being such a big corporate, personal profile is hugely important. Winning the prize gave me a big confidence boost and sense of validation, since the judges recognised the importance of the behind-the-scenes nature of my accomplishments. While it’s often not the glamorous or headline-grabbing side of being an editor, it encouraged me to continue to see the broader picture in my career.

2) Please tell us about a few women working in publishing whose work and careers you really admire. What makes them stand out?

There are so many! Aside from the obvious trailblazers like Dame Gail Rebuck and Ursula Mackenzie, and current heads of houses like Francesca Dow and Hilary Murray Hill, I could perhaps highlight three women at different stages of their careers.

Philippa Milnes-Smith is always impressive, having headed up Puffin spectacularly, then becoming a top agent whose finger is always on the pulse and who is particularly great to work with.

Zosia Knopp is not only a Guinness world record-holding Rights Director, but she is really good at and committed to developing talent in-house. She is very inspiring to see in action, and is extremely generous with her knowledge and time.

Finally, Juliet Mushens (a KSW shortlistee, I believe) through sheer force of personality, hard work and great taste, has had phenomenal success early on in her career as an agent, which is clearly going to continue.

3) You approached Louise Pentland, a YouTube star, before it was popular to commission books from vloggers. What potential did you see in YouTube talent that you felt would fit naturally with book publishing?

Yes, we were only the second publisher to approach Gleam for any of their social talent. Louise in particular seemed a perfect fit for book publishing, since we went to her with the idea of a branded diary because she loves stationery and her followers love it too. It felt like a great project to do in print form, as the YouTube format is perfect for her content such as makeup tips, but this was a brilliant way to extend the interactive relationship between Louise and her audience on the page.

It was that combination of innovative creator and devoted audience that just made sense to us – and has been proven with all the social talent topping the book charts since then.

4) Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I’d like to have progressed and expanded my current role. Beyond that, it’s hard to say: five years ago I couldn’t have imagined being where I am now, especially with the digital projects I’ve worked on. I never thought I would launch an app for Spot the dog, or help develop an xhtml-based typesetting programme! So I hope in five years I’ll still be open to new opportunities, helping my company run more smoothly and achieve more in whatever format that might take.

5) Why should women in trade publishing apply for the prize (or let others nominate them?)

The very process of applying for the KSW prize is empowering. The judges have designed a rigorous application process which will help women think critically about themselves and their careers. I found that in itself really positive. Being shortlisted and winning was a bonus and a huge boost for me. It’s so important to identify and own your achievements in your career, not just when applying for a new job, but think actively critically about your career in an ongoing way. So I say go for it!

Even though publishing is a pretty female-friendly industry, more can be done towards equality. Every choice that individual women take towards confidence makes a positive change.

6) What’s the most rewarding thing about working in children’s publishing?

Helping children to love reading. The mission statement at my first company, Scholastic, is about helping children to achieve their true potential on society through reading and – while lofty – that has always stayed with me. And it’s only possible because of the brilliant people I work with – across the board, I find everyone in children’s publishing is talented, committed and driven to produce great books for children to enjoy.

The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize recognises excellence and future potential in women in their first seven years of a publishing career. The deadline for applications is Friday 10th February and details can be found here:

Interview with Literary Agent Diana Beaumont

Diana Beaumont joined Marjacq in 2017; she started agenting with Rupert Heath Literary Agency in 2011 before moving to UTA. Before that she was senior commissioning editor at Transworld. Diana was chosen as one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars of 2012. Here Norah Myers interviews her.

1) What do you most look forward to in your new role?

I am looking forward to taking on new clients, developing my existing list and working with the friendly, dynamic team at Marjacq which has been expanding in recent years. I am also keen to explore the local area as our office is right in the heart of London with so much fascinating history as well as great places to eat.

2) Why is it important to you to find voices that are under-represented?

There has been a lot of talk about diversity (or lack thereof) in the publishing world so it’s important to put our money where our mouth is.  We need strong storytellers and writers who reflect our richly diverse society more than ever. And I want people to feel welcome to submit their work whatever their background.

3) You were an editor before you became an agent. How has that influenced your work as an agent?

I always loved working closely with authors on their manuscripts and it’s an increasingly important part of the role of an agent. Manuscripts have to be as polished as possible before you send them out. One of the things I love about being an agent is being involved in a project from its inception. It’s also useful to have an insight into how a publishing company works  – it can be helpful to authors to understand what happens once you send their book out.

4) What advice would you give your younger self?

I think I would advise my younger self to spend less time worrying about things and just get on with it. What’s the worst that could happen? Really?

5) What advice would you give other agents who would like to find under-represented voices?

I’m not sure that other agents need my advice but social media is useful – putting your intentions out there. I am also approaching people who strike me as having something interest or pertinent to say. But I would say that we could all do with reaching out more.

Interview with Literary Agent Harry Illingworth

Harry Illingworth is a literary agent at DHH Literary Agency, where he specialises in genre fiction and is actively building his list. He is also Marketing & Communications Manager at Goldsboro Books, an independent bookshop in Central London. Before that he gained experience in different departments of the publishing industry at Michael O’Mara Books, HarperCollins and Pan Macmillan. We interviewed him here.

1) How has your work in marketing and publicity informed your work as an agent?

It has helped hugely, allowing me to see what is selling in the industry, and what works for readers. I try and put all this to practice when I’m considering taking on a client as it allows me to compare and contrast with what is already out there. It means I’m also good at making a lot of noise about my authors’ books!

2) What do you look forward to most as your career progresses? 

I can’t wait to see the development of the authors I already represent and see what they come up with next, but also I just want to keep on discovering new talent as there’s such a thrill to reading a new and exciting manuscript for the first time.

3) What drew you to the crime/thriller and sci fi/fantasy genres?

They are what I like to read the most, so it made absolute sense to begin looking in these areas. I love being able to really escape into another world when I’m reading and these genres allow me to do just that. I only represent what I’m passionate about and these are the genres that really speak to me.

4) What’s the most common mistake you see in a pitch? How can it be avoided? 

I find that the most common mistakes are the most easily avoided ones. Submissions that say ‘Dear Agent’ or ‘To Whom it May Concern’ just mean that you immediately think the author hasn’t taken much care over the submission. Likewise, when you see 30 other recipients of the submission or there are spelling mistakes. It doesn’t take long to check these things and they are the kind of mistakes that cost you dearly.

5) What do you wish authors knew about the author-agent relationship before they establish one? 

That it’s a very close relationship, and you should really handpick which agents you think you’d like to represent. Make sure you’re sending your book to someone with the right interests, and remember that if an agent takes you on, they’re investing in your whole career. Getting an agent is only the beginning…

6) What would be your dream project to work on?

Right now I’d love to find a big genre-bending thriller that works in multiple markets, something with a really strong voice and original concept. And as ever, I’m also very keen to find a new epic fantasy project. I’ve just taken on a YA fantasy novel so, to be honest, you never know exactly what you’re looking for until you get it, but you can find more information on what I like on my bio page on the DHH website as I’d love to hear from you if you think your book is right for me.

Getting to the top of your profession: Interview with Sam Humphreys

Sam Humphreys is Associate Publisher at Mantle, an imprint of Pan Macmillan. She has previously worked at Picador, Profile Books and Penguin, and before that, was a primary school teacher. Norah Myers interviews her here.

1) How did you personally know when you were ready to progress to your next role?

I’m not sure I did, actually. I suppose for many people, it’s about feeling ready for new challenges – but for me, it’s never been completely clear cut. Jobs don’t always come up when or where you want them, and I certainly wasn’t looking to move when I was offered my current job. However, I knew I would want a different, more challenging role at some point in the future, and figured I could – hopefully – grow into the role over time. Being an Associate Publisher is very good in that respect, because there’s room for negotiation and flexibility: you’re not the Publisher, so you don’t have overall responsibility, and you have time to learn the ropes as you go along. (That’s my theory, anyway.) Sometimes, I think it’s about just taking the plunge.

2) Which qualities do you think help certain people to get to the top of their profession?

I think people who aren’t afraid to speak up/out generally do well. (Obviously it helps if what you’re saying is sensible and rooted in reality, experience or observation, however.) I also think decision-makers – even if they don’t always make what you think are the ‘right’ decisions – tend to do better than people who endlessly prevaricate. I suspect the two are linked – and that both in turn are connected to a combination of confidence and knowledge: if you have one or other, that’s great; if you have both, then so much the better.

People who are interested – not just in what they’re doing, but what others (and that might be other editors, other agents, other authors, other publishing houses, other lists, other books) are up to – also, I feel, tend to fare well. Publishing is a small and sometimes gossipy world – and to succeed, I suspect you need to know (or at least want to know) about more than your own little corner of it.

Finally, I’d like to say that people skills are also important, but I’m not always sure that’s true. (I’ve certainly had some great bosses – and some less so – and I imagine that’s true for most people and, indeed, most industries.)

3) What has been the most challenging element of a senior position?

For me, the most obvious challenge has been getting my head around the financial aspect. Like many editors, I see myself as a words rather than a numbers person – and interpreting a sheet of numbers doesn’t come easily or automatically to me. Print margins, advance write-offs, P&Ls: these terrify me slightly, and I’ve had to work hard to overcome my instinctive fear of such things. Linked to this, though, I think it’s also been quite a challenge/revelation to realise that I can – and should – ask if I’m not sure. Even if people think you’re stupid for asking (and in my experience, they never actually do), that’s better than pretending you understand something when you’ve got no idea.

I do think it gets harder to start a new job the higher up you go. Like most editors, my first job was editorial assistant, and there’s something about starting at that level that makes it relatively easy to get the hang of things. For a start, there are likely to be other assistants who can show you what you need to do and where you need to be at any given time. As you move up through the ranks, though, you don’t necessarily have many peers – and quite often you’re expected to make decisions (especially when you’re managing people and/or budgets) from day one. That can be extremely daunting, and I also think it takes longer to really feel you’ve got to grips with things. As a general rule of thumb, I’d say at least a year – so you’ve done everything once – but probably two to start to feel properly comfortable. I’m not sure you ever want to feel too comfortable though – and perhaps if you do, that’s the point you should think about moving…

4) Where would you like to be in 5 years?

In all honesty, where I am now. I was in my first job (at Pan Macmillan) for nearly ten years, but then moved three times in relatively quick succession. I still feel as though I’ve a lot to learn in my current role – particularly regarding the financial side of things, as I’ve mentioned – and I’d like to feel I’d really mastered that before moving on.

5) What advice would you give your younger self?

Oh, that’s tricky! Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand or to speak up if you have an opinion. (But, equally, be happy to shut up if you don’t: there’s no point in speaking just to make a noise.) And, finally, listen to and learn from others but trust your instinct.

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