Another extremely helpful panel for me at FantasyCon was Ask the Editor: How Publishing Works, moderated by Nicola Budd of Jo Fletcher Books. Speakers were Oliver Johnson of Hodder & Stoughton, Duncan Proudfoot of Constable & Robinson and Simon Spanton and Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz.
The editors began with the question ‘how do you balance your love of a book and its commercial value?’ The basic answer to this was that upon discovering a new manuscript that the editor loves, they can never know its commercial value so their passion for it is all they can really rely on. Sometimes books just fail to sell well without explanation; it is the nature of the industry.
Trends were a popular discussion point during this panel. The editors confirmed that they do not create trends; these come from the writers being simultaneously affected by world events or perhaps even from readers creating demand for particular topics or focuses at the same time. It was also interesting to learn that trends do not necessarily translate from the US industry to the UK.
The discussion did move onto self-publishing and the changes the rise in self-publishing is bringing to the industry. The main point was that the speed of publication is generally increasing. A frequent question being asked is ‘why would authors want to go through traditional publishing routes and wait anything from 1-4 years for publication when they could be published now if they self-published?’ Gillian Redfearn summed this up as the difference between a writer honing their craft, putting out a polished piece of work, and publishing a first draft.
The question and answer session was particularly useful for the aspiring writer in terms of getting those valuable insights that may help your manuscript get that bit closer to selection. This was an opportunity for the audience to ask editors what they look for in a manuscript, what they expect from authors, find out about the author as a brand, how editors use social media and just what the ‘job description’ of an author involves these days. Clearly it is no longer a job for the introverted, hiding-behind-a-keyboard personality type.
The most useful pieces of advice I took from this panel are the main things editors are looking for in an author: that they can take direction and advice, that they have a series or a number of similar ideas for future books already planned, that there is no need to panic about the structure of a novel as this is something the editor will work on with the author, and perhaps most importantly that they have an online presence and in the words of Gillian Redfearn are “not a nutter”. Won’t be forgetting any of that in a hurry.