Smart Quill Editorial About the Editor


Posted on March 15th, 2016



April is going to be a busy month! The Bologna and London Book Fairs have been placed right next to one another in the first two weeks. Normally rights people, publishers, agents, editors and everyone else have a at least a week to turn work around between the two. This year will be a marathon of physical stamina and vocal skills (almost everyone loses their voice).

Plus, I am one of four judges in Operation Thriller, a writing competition for Authors.Me (an extremely clever acquisitions platform) in conjunction with Reedsy (a freelance digital marketplace). It is an open call for writers of thriller fiction in both the US and the UK, with a minimum of 30 pages, and no registration fee! Increasingly competitions will run with an admin fee and I think this is a bit of a ruse. So I am absolutely delighted to be part of this talent scouting initiative, which requires nothing of entrants other than just that – talent. And the prize clocks up to about $3000, including some cash.

Thoughts on a Fair

Posted on October 25th, 2014

Frankfurt Book Fair is amazing, exhausting, vast in scale, familiar in routine; year after year publishers, agents, scouts, packagers, distributors and anyone who has anything to do with paper bound with covers, or even just words in a sequence, descends upon this German city. The  beer is cold, the sausages are ever so slightly less cold, but the atmosphere buzzes with the excitement of books undiscovered and old friends reacquainted.

As an editorial consultant, working mainly with authors at the start of the process, there is never much cause for me to visit book fairs where deals on the end products are done. It is great for meeting people, but as a trade fair debut writers are not easily found. So this year I was extremely lucky to be invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair by the Bookseller. I packed my little bag, and a copy of Gone Girl, and off I flew.

I had lots of digital revelations there (see my piece for Future Book for full musings on the subject). I met new agents looking for new things, which is always encouraging. I saw Paulo Coelho and David Nicholls in conversation. And I  was invited to launch of the Taipei Book Fair. So it looks like Taiwan, 2015, here I come…

Landmark Books

Posted on September 27th, 2014

Forget ice bucket challenges and no make-up selfies. This is my kind of enforced facebook fun… I was asked to name my top ten landmark books – not necessarily favourites, but those books that heralded a certain time in my life, and have therefore stayed with me very strongly. It’s an odd exercise, casting yourself back to being little, not so little, a bit troublesome, and then picking up books as a career. In retrospect I have missed lots of important ones – but here is the original list, for all it’s quirks and omissions.

1. The Babysitters Club by Ann M Martin
2. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
3. Middlemarch by George Eliot
4. A Room with a View by E M Forster
5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
6. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
7. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail
8. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
10. They Were Counted by Miklos Banffy

Rising Stars 2014

Posted on June 14th, 2014

Well, this is exciting! Smart Quill has been nominated as a publishing Rising Star for 2014! It was announced by In their own words, this is the annual run-down of the best and brightest young (and some not so young) guns in the industry. There was a particular focus this year on the evolution of job specs in the modern book trade. That is absolutely the mandate for Smart Quill, and it is particularly gratifying that so many others are thinking of news ways to connect up the industry. Amongst other Rising Stars there was the Managing Editor from Unbound (I love what they do), the founder from WoMentoring, and the next big threat to Amazon – Wordery.

I was asked to muse upon what I intended to achieve in the year ahead, and here is what I said: “Continuing to discover new and talented writers, and helping them to navigate the evolution of publishing platforms. Nothing beats the thrill of finding the perfect agent for submissions that show great promise.” True.

PS: Four Rising Stars won an award to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October – and Smart Quill is one of them! I’ve been asked to do a piece for FutureBook there, so do look out for it.

Big Books

Posted on September 27th, 2013

I have long been a fan of the literary tome… the doorstopper, the epic, the definitively over 100,000 words novel. Though it may fall on your face as you read in bed, or make your hand ache from holding it up, nothing beats a big book. Agents and publishers will often baulk at word length, but the reality is this is more about coherence; quality not quantity. And everyone needs an editor, in my opinion (though of course I would say that).

So, here are my top five big books…

1. Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – they both are so unutterably good that I cannot pick between them.  In fact, they have prompted my next series of video posts (to be revealed before the end of the year!).

2. Game of Thrones by George R R Martin – “Winter is coming…” I am ashamed it has taken me so long to read this series, but now I have started I will not be able to stop. The first book has made me massively antisocial.

3. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke –  an older, darker tale of faeries. Rich and sinister. It needed a punchier ending, I thought, but still one in which to lose yourself.

4. The Magus by John Fowles – possibly my favourite book…? It just turns you around and around. I have never felt so controlled by a writer, it is incredible the unreliability John Fowles creates and sustains.

5. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth – not just a big book, but one of the biggest, weighing in at around 600,000 words. Its narrative is vast, a huge number of characters, each with profound and intense stories; all perfectly balanced. Genius.

Interview with a Scout

Posted on May 5th, 2013

Literary scouts perform a very important function in publishing. They are often responsible for the discovery of mega-trends in publishing and for bringing bestsellers to a wider market. They work for a selection of international publishers and film/tv production houses and have vast, fascinating networks. They are basically cool book spies.

To that end, Daniela Schlingmann has answered some quick questions for us this month. She is the scout for Weltbild, Hoffmann und Campe, Cadeau, Luitingh-Sijthoff, Atlas Contact, Verlagsgruppe Oetinger, Univers Poche, Hr. Ferdinand and Bestseller to Boxoffice.

How would you explain the role of a literary scout?
We are the extended arm of our clients editorial departments in London.

What main criteria do you use when reading for your clients?
Having a sure sense of what their tastes are and if a book will suit their taste. What is a book trying to do or trying to be, and does it succeed?

Did you notice any fiction or non-fiction trends around London Book Fair?
Exciting political non-fiction, new thinkers, surprising and fresh new upmarket voices in fiction. Good storytelling will remain a key staple.

Finally, we asked Daniela what her favourite book was…

A book that still makes me cry is The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren. I have a copy on my shelf – and it did travel quite a lot with me. It’s probably the first dystopian YA novel that I ever read. Also, Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, which created a whole new genre and led me to study German medieval culture and literature at university.

Wizards from Oz

Posted on April 8th, 2013

After a jolly couple of months under the Antipodean sun, I am finally back in the UK. As well as missing obvious things like heterogeneous cafes and saltwater, it strikes me as an opportune moment to summarise what I learnt of the Australian publishing industry.

First. there are some seriously talented writers out there. I have always been a fan of Australian fiction; writers like Richard Flanagan, Murray Bail and Peter Carey. The creative writing scene is vibrant and there is a vast array of writing associations at state and at national levels.

I visited most of the main publishing houses in Sydney: Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Allen & Unwin. There was a noticeable “local pride” in Australian writing which chimes with the profound literary talent.

There are not as many Australian literary agents as in the UK, though this is changing. The agents I saw had eclectic lists, with a strong handle on independent publishing emerging through Amazon. They were big on adaptability and multi-tasking.

Though the book market is tough – several bookstore chains have disappeared, and the independents are struggling – there is no doubt Australia is a nation of readers. So I guess it all comes down to format; maybe Australia will be the first properly digital reading landscape? I noticed even the characters on Neighbours are brandishing iPads.

SQ Favourites: YA

Posted on February 20th, 2013

YA (Young Adult) fiction is still, rather wonderfully, booming. It’s true that much of it comes from the US, but the UK scene is increasingly vibrant, and Australia is pretty punchy too. There are some amazing bloggers and reviewers who keep it all rolling (the good ones are on twitter if you want to find and follow them). And then there are the writers… Here are a few available gems, debut or otherwise, that I love love love.*

  1. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver – A masterclass on characterisation. Seriously. If you want to write characters for YA, this is where to start.
  2. Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne – “Gritty psychological thriller” so said the Guardian, and that is true. It’s just basically really classy writing. And it sucks you in.
  3. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler – OK, hand on heart I have a vested interest here because I worked on it. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to like it. But this book, this book – it goes beyond any preconceptions of Snicket. Daniel Handler OWNS Min’s female narrative, makes it his, makes it funny, makes it real, makes it beyond heartbreaking. And Maira’s illustrations are heaven. It’s just genius.
  4. Penelope by Rebecca Harrington – The one that got away. Though not strictly speaking YA, this is a campus novel, hilarious, sardonic, and so winning.
  5. The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda  – I literally could not put it down. Sort of vampires and apocalypse and gladatorial survival, all in one, combined with utter unrelenting pace. All the best bits of current YA trends given a new treatment.
  6. Starters by Lissa Price – It’s a killer concept; as life extends, the bodies of the young will have a premium. And where there is a premium, there is a market… The cover is totally awesome too.
  7. How to Keep a Boy as a Pet by Diane Messidoro – Again I am declaring my personal interest here. I totally fell in love with this book following Circe’s awkward journey to love and self-confidence. I still often think what sort of party I would be, if I were a party… Snortingly funny and surprisingly moving.
  8. Butterfly by Sonya Hartnett – Actually anything by Sonya Hartnett. She is the queen of Australian YA, and her books defy age categorisation.
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Ending with two classics. This incredible novel hs been loved for generations and is still as relevant and poignant as when it was first published.
  10. Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger – Gives new meaning and depth to teenage angst. Perilous and confronting, not an easy read, but an eminently rewarding one.

*Not including ubiquitous YA phenomenons like The Hunger Games and Twilight.

From Bologna to London

Posted on April 29th, 2012

Thank god the Spring book fairs are done for another year. The big children’s fair in is Bologna, and then barely a week later we move straight to London for a bigger fair on fiction and non-fiction generally.

Pre-fair, editors are awash with submissions. Pretty much every major agent goes out with their “book of the fair” and it is up to editors whether they jump to pre-empt. I bought not one but two books in the run-up this year, which was all rather thrilling. Both are extremely different in terms of narrative and provenance; one is by a US author and one by a UK author.

Though the choice at this point in the year is rich, there is always a degree of repetition. It fascinates me the way that publishing trends come in unconscious waves, where disparate authors write the same thing at the same time. And the result is that you get a sort of groundswell movement of popularity for a certain theme. Editors can most definitely take the hint when it happens.

So this season there were references on the kids/YA side to talking animals, ninjas, selkies, old-school mythology and young crime. For adults there was an emphasis on the 1920s, book club fiction, pop non-fiction and the whoppingly successful fifty-shades-of-grey ebook. Kindle and their direct publishing programme is starting to have real impact.

Happily Ever After

Posted on November 11th, 2011

The last couple of months has seen the emergence of a marked new trend: Fairytale Retellings. These retellings tend to be aimed at older readers, i.e. YA level, with lyrical sophisticated language, and a propensity to revel in the detail of fairy lore (Seelie and Unseelie, Royal Courts, Feuds, Changelings, Glamours, and sacred Thirteenth Children).

Sleeping Beauty, The Woodcutter’s Daughter, The Twelve Dancing Princesses and A Midsummer Night’s Dream have all landed on my desk in some fresh capacity. As an editor, I have found these retellings very exciting; the idea of bringing something new to the old, revising traditional tales in such a way as to recommend them to a wider audience. There is such a wealth of heritage in fairy tales… So if you are suffering writer’s block, now might be a good time to familiarise yourself with The Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Andersen.