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Comment from the book world in January 2018


'All reading is good reading'

8 October 2018

‘I have always loved reading, but when I was at school, especially in primary school, I didn't realise that I did. The reason for this was that what seemed to count as ‘reading' was, in fact, something much more specific: reading meant fiction, and it meant chapter books. To read a book also meant to start at the beginning, and to finish at the end. When I was at school it was true that I didn't particularly enjoy reading fiction, and I found it hard to sit with a book for a long period of time, working my way through it in a linear fashion. But looking back, it is most definitely not true to say that I didn't like reading. I loved, and continue to love, factual books and anything to do with geography and history. I loved comics and newspapers. I loved dipping into a book with no pressure to read it from cover to cover. I was, and am, a reader, and when I visit schools I do my best to help pupils see that reading does not necessarily mean just one thing. All reading is good reading.' Joshua Seigal, author of I Don't Like Poetry and two other children's poetry collections.

'Editors are readers first and foremost'

1 October 2018

‘One of the great joys of being an editor is sharing your enthusiasm with colleagues and seeing others really get behind a project, so I suppose that's a strength - feeling that I'm able to gather a team around a book so that it might be published in the best possible way.

Editors are readers first and foremost, and when I love a book my first instinct is always to approach its acquisition and publication with that readerly passion. But of course that's not always enough. I've had to really reign that in sometimes and remind myself to always consider the market.

My favorite part of my job is editing - it always feels like the most extraordinary privilege, so I certainly hope I'll still be acquiring exciting new voices and working closely with authors to make sure their book is the best version of itself it can be.

The other thing that drives me is helping build writers' careers. In a few years' time, I hope I'll be able to look across my list and see some of the authors whose debuts I've acquired continuing to succeed on their second, third, fourth books.'

Sophie Jonathan, Pan MacmillanOne of largest fiction and non-fiction book publishers in UK; includes imprints of Pan, Picador and Macmillan Children’s Books/Picador senior commissioning editor, interviewed by Porter Anderson in Publishing Perspectives


Writer's block

24 September 2018

'I am never completely cold. I don't have writer's block, really. I do have times when I can't get the lead and that is the only part of the story that I have serious trouble with. I don't write a word of the article until I have the lead. It just sets the whole tone-the whole point of view. I know exactly where I am going as soon as I have the lead. That can take me three or four days and sometimes a week. But as for being cold-as a newspaper reporter you learn that no one tolerates you if you are cold; it's one thing you are not allowed to be. It's not professional. You have to turn the story in. There is no room for the artist.

And so trouble with the lead is as close as I get to being cold, and yes, I do go away from it for a while and go buy a pair of shoes or have dinner. And I know that maybe if I can talk to someone at dinner I'll find the thing I am looking for...'

Nora Ephron, journalist, film director and author of screenplays such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle in an interview with Michael S. Lasky

'The richness of the novel'

17 September 2018

‘The mature, serious novel is the best art form for explaining our complicated lives. It gets all the little shades of meaning and the nuance of the human condition. D H Lawrence called the novel the ‘bright book of life', and it's the art form that has evolved to explain this bizarre adventure we are all on. The richness of the novel and its vast generosity as a form seems to me to be explaining our lives to us.'

William Boyd, author of 15 novels, including Love is Blind, A Good Man in Africa, An Ice Cream War and Any Human Heart, in the Sunday Times magazine.

Waterstones acquires Foyles

10 September 2018

‘Given that some very big and powerful companies dominate the UK books business, it is logical for other businesses to join together to shore up their profitability and influence in the market. I hope that these two well-loved booksellers find renewed strength and creative energy together. When big companies get bigger, it also leaves the door open for independent businesses to prove the potential benefits of risk-taking and difference and I hope that all independent booksellers see opportunities in offering the market something individualised and original...

As an agent, my concern in a books industry dominated by big companies is that - as well as needing a healthy and profitable bookselling and publishing business - we also need to ensure that authors' economic needs are met. Authors can't club together into bigger more powerful entities to protect their profitability in the way other parts of the business are. It clarifies the reality that one of our roles as agents is to continue to use the strength of our client lists to protect and promote every individual author's income in a market shaped by more powerful entities.'

Lizzy Kremer of David Higham AssociatesAgents for the negotiation of all rights in fiction, general non-fiction, children's fiction and picture books, plays, film and TV scripts (home 15%, USA/translation 20%, scripts 10%). Represented in all foreign markets. Preliminary letter and return postage. All adult submissions should be typed with double line spacing on one side only of A4 paper and pages should be numbered. Be sure to include a covering letter; a full plot synopsis of the proposed book; the first two or three chapters of the book; a CV and a stamped addressed envelope. Founded 1935, currently president of the Association of Authors Agents, commenting on the Waterstones acquisition of long-established bookseller Foyles in the Bookseller

'Writing today is a funny business'

3 September 2018

‘The only way I can work is to keep a proper schedule. I try to be at my desk by 6am and work for two hours before breakfast and then I work again till 4pm. I spend half the day thinking and half the day writing. I don't know how writers who don't have a routine get anything done...

When I wrote A Woman of Substance I didn't sit down and think, I'm going to write about a woman warrior who conquers the world and smashes the glass ceiling, but I did want to write about women in a positive way. At the time there were a lot of very sexy books out there but the women didn't come out of them very well...

Writing today is a funny business. You do wonder how long we're going to have books. I still tell young people with the imagination to go for it. Just be sure that if it doesn't work out, you have something else you can try.'

Barbara Taylor Bradford, author of A Woman of Substance, Secrets of Cavendon and 33 other titles, in the Observer magazine.


‘Writing is such a private thing'

27 August 2018

‘Writing is such a private thing, especially with the research I was doing, it was quite solitary and nerdy. I mean, no one is that interested in what you found out about the 18th century today. So to go from that, to having loads of people (at the publishing houses) read it and be so enthusiastic about it - I just didn't know what to do at all...

She remembers ‘sitting at the dining room table in the house share I was in at the time, and doing the thing I did - sitting there with my laptop and writing - and realising that I was doing the exact same thing one year ago. Materially nothing had changed, I still have an unfinished novel, it's got 80,000 more words on it but still feels like the ending is as far away as it ever was...

She concluded that ‘I could pour myself into getting a career or a proper income or I could pour that same amount of myself into the book. I just knew I would be sadder if I didn't choose the book.'

Imogen Hermes Gowar, author of debut The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, described by The Times as 'A cracking historical novel - with a twinge of the surreal - about passion and obsession' in the Bookseller.


Third time Hugo Award winner

20 August 2018

‘This is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers: every single mediocre, insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me cannot possibly have earned such an honor, and that when they win it's meritocracy, but when we win it's identity politics. I get to smile at those people and lift a massive shining rocket-shaped finger in their direction...

I know that I am here on this stage accepting this award for pretty much the same reason as every previous best novel winner, because I worked my ass off.'

N K Jemisin, in her acceptance speech after winning the Hugo Award for the third year in a row for The Stone Sky, the last in her Broken Earth fantasy trilogy

Television 'hungry for writers' content'

13 August 2018

‘Television is suddenly hungry for writers' content because long-form television is much closer to novels than anything else. A lot of people invested in short stories, things you can read on your phone, all very interesting but putting the technology first. Actually what we've seen is authors like Hanya Yanagihara and Donna Tartt - very long novels (being successful). So something is going on in reading which is much more analogous to long-form television - immersive reading and immersive watching. So there's this hunger for writerly content and story writing skills, which is great for an agency like us who don't do anything but writers...

Personality matters in agenting... I think the personality of the agent informs the way they do the job in a way that can't possibly be true any more in publishing, in the way it was when it was Carmen Callil, Tom Maschler, George Weidenfeld were active - now publishers are part of a corporate entity.'

Clare Alexander of the London literary agency Aitken Alexander AssociatesAccepts fiction and non-fiction. No plays or scripts. in the Bookseller

Switching off the adult editor

6 August 2018

‘I can't stop writing. It's not something I physically enjoy, but I can't switch off the head. There was something else, something I'd lived with all my life - the fear that I wouldn't live to finish a given piece. Having finished Boneland at the age of 77, with no idea in front of me whatever, I thought - that's it. Now, given that it takes me between five and nine years to write a novel, the joke runs a bit sour when you're in your early eighties...

No book of mine has ever had so many drafts. What I had to do was remove myself as an observer and let the voice of me at that age genuinely establish itself. The trouble was that I didn't want to be arch or twee or laced through with dramatic irony. I like technical challenges. I just let it settle and listened, I didn't try to impose anything on that voice as it emerged. It couldn't be infantile, it must be simple. It expresses the complex thought of a child of that age...

There was no research. To a fault, I love the research and it puts off the writing. But with this, I simply had to not interfere. It's not mystical, it was just allowing myself to switch off the adult editor until the words were there.'

Alan Garner, author of just-published Where Shall We Run to? (a wartime childhood memoir), The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Stone Book Quartet and many other books for children and adults in the Observer.


The editor’s role

30 July 2018

‘Publishing is all about taste. You have other things, but at the centre of everything you do is your taste - and your trust in your taste and your judgement...

It's such a difficult job - you need to have the big picture and the detail. An editor who is just an editor thinks only about the text and creating a marvellous book and handing it over - whereas one who is also a publisher has a 360 degree view on a book and they are the engine that drives a book and they get involved in all aspects, particularly publicity. So you have to have skills in every bit of a book's life and be there for the author as well.

You have to be prepared to watch and listen and read and get involved and learn. You have to be very patient because it takes a long time to learn it all. The tortoises rather than the hares of the world make the best editors.

I sometimes feel that too much is expected of younger people too quickly and that is why you get some of them burn out. Commissioning editors carry a great load. It induces neuroses in the sanest people because you feel the responsibility for whether a book works or doesn't. Yes, there is a collective responsibility with the company, but in the end it's you as the editor who has said: ‘I love this book and I want to publish it, I want us to publish it.'

Alexandra Pringle, editor-in-chief, Bloomsbury Publishing, in Bookbrunch


Advice to Aspiring Writers

16 July 2018

‘You must dedicate yourself to keeping a journal. When I look into my own journals, what fascinates me most about what was going on in my life 30 years ago are the things that we would consider the most mundane. What was I reading, who was I talking to, what were the main subjects of conversation.

Where you're living, what's on your desk, who do you love, even what you had for breakfast, it doesn't matter. The banalities actually begin to shine after many years have passed. You don't have to write in it every day. Once a week would be fine. 500 words a week doesn't sound much, but it really mounts up. That's 25,000 words a year.

The terrible thing about life is that most of it is forgotten. A lot of it is rich. And a lot of that richness can be retained for future use by an occasional excursion into a notebook.

Ian McEwan, author of 22 books including The Child in Time, Amsterdam and Atonement in an interview in Signature Ian McEwan Offers 3 Pieces of Advice to Aspiring Writers