This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
To start off we have an amazing interview from the lovely Isobel Akenhead, who is a Women’s Fiction editor at top publishing house Hodder and Stoughton. She looks after a number of authors including Alexandra Potter, Belinda Jones and Melissa Hill.
Enjoy, my writerly friends…
1. Can you tell us a bit about your role as an editor ?
Apart from the non-stop champagne and parties…? Oh, ok. That doesn’t really happen – we wish! But it is a brilliant job. I get to work with some lovely, super-talented authors, and to read (and actually have an impact on!) lots of wonderful novels.
Furthermore, contrary to what many people might think, the job is much more about project management than it is about actual editing. And though I really enjoy the creativeness involved with the latter, I can honestly say I absolutely love the organisational side of things on each project too. Not least because when you see a book you’ve worked on in bookstores, just knowing how much went into it from everyone involved – and that you as editor were at the hub of that – really gives you an incomparable sense of pride.
- What does your average working day involve?
It is a bit of a cliché to say it, but there is really no such thing as an average day for a book editor. I currently look after 18 authors, all of whom have books at totally different stages of production, so anything can happen! A day’s work might include briefing what I want a book jacket to look like, writing cover copy and sales materials, checking page proofs, and also liaising with the authors, their agents, and all the other departments here at Hodder. We also have to constantly keep an eye on sales figures, checking how our authors – and their competition – are doing. Not to mention reading submissions from agents to try and find more new authors.
- What was your journey into getting this job?
After a brief (awful!) stint working for a management consultancy, I began doing work experience in publishing because a friend suggested I might enjoy it. I discovered that I did indeed enjoy it – in fact I felt like I’d found my vocation – and after six weeks of unpaid work experience, finally got my first publishing job as an editorial assistant at Hamlyn. I then worked on their illustrated non-fiction list (cookery books, etc.) for approximately 18 months, but I always knew my heart was in fiction, specifically the kind of books I loved reading – i.e. women’s commercial fiction. So when an editorial job became available at Hodder doing just that, I leapt at the chance!
- What do you think the chick lit market is like at the moment, and where do you see it heading in the future (i.e. is there anything in particular that publishers are interested in)?
There is no question that women’s fiction isn’t as easy as it once was. This is partly because supermarkets – who are now the major retailers for commercial fiction – are taking fewer risks, especially with debut authors. That said, authors who are genuinely funny, warm, witty, and/or escapist will always find a way to break onto the market. Debut novels that have a very strong USP (unique selling point) will also stand a stronger chance.
- What do you think of celebrities writing fiction (or being ghost-written)? Do you think it helps or hinders the chances of wannabe writers?
I am in two minds about this. On one hand, I think that it’s a shame because it often means better novels (and, I’m afraid, particularly debuts) don’t get into big retailers’ promotions, because of so much shelf-space being given to these celebrity novels. On the other hand, if it gets more people reading fiction, and the books are well-written and fun, then who am I to judge?
- What do you look for in a debut chick lit author/book?
Regardless of whether it is by a debut or an established author, I personally always find myself looking for the ‘best friend’ factor in the novels I read. I want to feel like the main characters are people I’d get on with (or at least love to hate!) and to laugh with them, cry with them, and spend more time with them than I really ought to… so if I can’t put it down and/or wish it could go on forever, it’s usually a good sign
- What top five tips would you give to a chick lit writer wanting to get published?
1. Write the book you want to read. This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many authors think they can just ‘bash out’ chick-lit. But the fact is you absolutely have to write a book that you’d actually enjoy yourself, or your book will have no depth, humour or truth about it. Which, as every chick-lit reader knows, actually matters. Imagine Marian Keyes without the heart, Jilly Cooper without the humour, Adele Parks without the sharp wit? They just wouldn’t be the same.
2. Be determined but realistic. Believing in yourself is vital to getting yourself noticed. But don’t ignore criticism. Many authors write several drafts (or indeed totally different novels) before they write the one that gets them that coveted publishing deal.
3. Ask your first readers to be honest. Before you send the manuscript out, do get your friends to read it – but only if you 100% trust them to tell you what they really think. If they’re too nice (!), maybe think about joining a writers’ group for some constructive criticism. Because often outsiders can spot things you didn’t notice were a problem – such as holes in the plot, or places where characterisation needs to be beefed up.
4. Find the perfect agent for you and your book. Agents can really help: editorially, supportively and, most importantly, to help you find that deal. Plus there are some brilliant ones out there. Why not look in the acknowledgements of your favourite authors’ novels and see who their agent is? Or try the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for a comprehensive list of literary agencies.
5. Be a professional from the outset. This sounds like a really minor point, but it really makes a difference. So, at the start, if a publisher says they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, or an agent says they only want the first three chapters (in Times New Roman, font size 12, double spaced with large margins, etc.!) do take their advice. A crazy font doesn’t make your book more likely to be noticed. What does is a strong covering letter and a really good book. And if you’re professional, they are more likely to respond in kind.
6. Do not lose heart – sorry Novelicious, I know you said 5 points, but this is really important too, and hopefully pretty self-explanatory! Because the path to being published might feel impossible but real talent does have a way making it along that path, so please – new writers – don’t give up
- Do you actually ever read unsolicited manuscripts?!
I wish I could say I have time, but no, I’m afraid I don’t. Like most publishing houses nowadays, Hodder has a policy of not accepting unsolicited manuscripts, and we get so many submissions in from agents that our time is entirely taken up by that.
- What is your favourite chick lit book?
There are so many! But, excluding all of the novels I have ever worked on (which are obviously my very favourites), I would say that the book I love the most in the world is Polo by Jilly Cooper. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve read it and each time I do, I never cease to be amazed by how witty, well-written, and characterful it is. Furthermore, I’ve got to say it… I think I am actually in love with Jilly’s ongoing hero Rupert Campbell-Black. No, really – hands off, ladies. He’s mine…