What Editors Want!

“Editors are often thought of as gatekeepers, holding back the masses from Mount Olympus.” Caroline Wintersgill, editor for thirty years told the members and guests gathered for the December meeting of the Hampshire Writers’ Society.

Caroline Wintersgill

An editor, specialising in non-fiction, for publishers large and small, corporate and independent, including Bloomsbury, Cassell, Routledge and now Biteback, Caroline sees herself more as a curator. A “snapper up of unconsidered titles”. One of the first books she snapped up, the uninteresting sounding ALMANAC OF BRITISH POLITICS was given an illustrator whose caricatures bordered on rude, along with scurrilous, unheard excerpts from the Alan Clark diaries. The Almanac became fun to work with. “We worked on the knowledge that MPs rarely sue”, Caroline smiles, “they look too silly.”

Publishing a book is a process, a honing of skills, developing of a craft and it will pass through many hands before it comes to publication day. The editor’s appraisal will be based, using their experience of similar works, on the authors’ use of their artistic craft.

Publishers tend to problematise taste, turning it into a literary issue. It is the story that counts. Like all other readers, an editor desires an emotional sometimes visceral response to the proposed book. This is where the author needs to start. “When the book makes them shake,” Caroline laughs, “then the editor wants to work with it.”

With a non-fiction book, the chance of publicity is higher. Non-fiction books are much more likely to be included in the review sections of magazines and newspapers.

Perhaps for some nature, art, music, current events or cookery books, Caroline points out, it is necessary for the author to have an agent. But, in general it is possible for non-fiction authors to settle a good publishing deal without an agent. The life of a non-fiction book being longer than that of a fiction, the author may only write one or two books; this may not be the length of career that an agent is looking for.

For a non-fiction author, media platform is important. Your platform may start small, but it will expand. “Consider the CHEESE MONGER’S HISTORY OF THE BRITISH ISLES; the author had little more than his being a cheese monger that ran tasting events to go on. When published, the book outsold the popular fiction titles.

The author should know their audience, where to reach them and what they are looking for. Taking a risk, Caroline used previously unrecognised language in THE PRECARIAT, this catapulted the book into the limelight. Then, recognising that the book’s audience was not likely to buy it, she took a leap of faith and made chapters freely available to read on the internet. The book became a best seller rocketing the author to two four-figure deals with Bloomsbury.

Non-fiction authors do not need to wait until the manuscript is finished to submit it. A proposal of the work will do; an editor will be looking for a chance to shape the book for the correct market. Also included must be your title; it must be clear and memorable and the contents page which needs an outline of each section. The author still needs to be able to write, so also include a chapter or two. “It is difficult,” Caroline agrees, the sample chapters should show your distinctive voice but also the book’s similarity to the editor’s list.

Site your book, know the editor’s list, motivate them too. With the growth and ease of on-line shopping, readers can buy any or every book on earth; so why should they choose yours? Think of the best-known person in your field; this is your competitor.

Often working against a deadline, time constraints on the editor are tighter. The non-fiction publishing process is “old fashioned” with salespeople touring the booksellers roughly twelve months in advance. Remember, that salesperson will have only thirty seconds to sell your book to busy booksellers.

Create a buzz! If there’s a society that appreciates your subject, then you should join it. Do this prior to publication. “Have a go,” Caroline urges; write your blurb and an elevator sales pitch, gain a clear insight into the selling of your book and go some way to showing you what the editor is looking for.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

September is a New Year

September! For Hampshire Writers’ Society, September is the start of a whole new year. The programme for our forthcoming season is now shining brighter than a diamond on the website.

E. M Davey

We’re starting the year off with Thriller writer E. M Davey. Ed spent eight years with the BBC, going undercover for Panorama, presenting the BBC World Service, and working on investigations for Newsnight, File on 4, and News at Six. He has visited more than sixty countries and next Tuesday Winchester where he will recount to HWS how adventure, travel, history, and investigative journalism have inspired his thrillers.
PG Wells Proprietor and HWS Treasurer, Crispin Drummond is our special guest. Crispin will spill the beans on how book shops choose the books that they stock and sell and where those books come from. His talk will be a must for writers planning on self-publishing.

Claire Dyer

In October, our speaker is Claire Dyer. Claire is a novelist and poet who likes love stories and cheese! However, she is “allergic to mussels, oysters and the like.” Still, Claire is proud to announce that she has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London which, when added to her BA in English & History from the University of Birmingham, and her MA in Victorian Literature & Culture from the University of Reading she has “three degrees so all she needs is to be able to sing in tune and wear sequins without looking foolish!” You must join us for Claire’s talk; it promises to be a giggle. Writer and poet Hilary Hares joins Claire as special guest.

Laura Williams

Literary Agent, Laura Williams in November is going to bring us all back down to earth with some myth-busting about the publications industry. November special guest is to be novelist of history and the supernatural, Emma Nichol-Lewis.

Caroline Wintersgill

Editor, Caroline Wintersgill in December is going to let us in on a secret – What Editors Want. Our own wonderful historical novelist, David Eadsforth is our Christmassy special guest.
Before you get excited about Christmas, HWS has four excellent speakers worth a listen even if their writing isn’t your thing. All genres, types, makes or brands of writing go into making a novelist and our speakers are eager to pass on that tip-bit that will click all your everythings together.

Check the programme on the website for monthly competitions and the remainder of the 2019-2020 programme.

Post by Lisa Nightingale