Smart Quill Editorial About the Editor

Interview with an Editor

Posted on September 15th, 2012

Super-editor at Corsair, Sarah Castleton, answers a couple of questions for Smart Quill… She commissions literary and commercial fiction, as well as children’s fiction for bijou imprint Much-in-Little. This marvellous book – Among Others by Jo Walton – is one of hers; look out for it in March 2013!

Why did you decide to be an editor?

I can’t say it was a conscious decision. It was more like a natural progression. I’d never really been encouraged to think of a time beyond academia until the day I finished my last exam at University. I remember sitting in my room, blinking at the future, and the only question it made sense to ask myself was, What do I love? I looked around at the walls, the floors, the surfaces, the nooks and crannies, and the answer came: Books. I wrote a letter to Penguin, received a reply the following week offering a summer internship at Hamish Hamilton, one thing led to another thing led to an interview and a job working for two literary agents. After a number of years at the agency, I realised (and was encouraged to realise by my dear bosses at the time) that my strengths tended towards the editorial.

Which book are you most proud of commissioning?
But I love them all the same! Commissioning is a leap of faith. It’s deeply personal and really, really, really stressful. When you offer for a book, you promise to love and cherish a story and its author for a very long time, and you put a financial onus on that investment. I’m shirking this question, I know. Without wishing to sound too hokey about it all, I think you have to start with what makes your heart go boom, and move out from there. I think that in large part, that’s where the sense of pride comes from.

What advice would you give to people who want to get published?
Write hard. Don’t mistake style for substance. Don’t be too proud to respond to feedback, but equally don’t lose track of your own voice. And whatever you do, don’t revere the ‘world of publishing’: it’s a strange and very difficult time for books, but the people making them like what happens when words on a page (yes, okay, even words on a screen) feel like they make the world a better place. (Also, invest in really good coffee.)