What Editors Want
13 Jan 2011
Thirty four editors have kindly explained what they are looking for this year giving a fascinating insight into the commissioning mind.
Richard Atkinson, Senior Commissioning Editor, Bloomsbury,
I’m always on the lookout for books about the slightly geeky stuff that you didn’t know you needed to know about – maths ( Alex’s Adventures in Numberland) and clouds (The Cloudspotter’s Guide) have done well for me in the past. I was quietly devastated when Simon Garfield’s Just My Type came out from Profile last autumn – I’ve aspired to publish a popular book about typography for years. I’m also on the hunt for idiosyncratic food writing with an original ‘angle’ – toothsome recipes and a sense of humour are always a bonus. Recently, The Flavour Thesaurus has been a complete joy to publish. I love the whole creative side of packaging books, and am helplessly drawn to proposals that demand an unusual layout/format/paper/finish.
Laura Barber, Editorial Director, Portobello Books
I’m looking for good stories, whether real or imagined - stories that take the reader to a different time or place or perspective. On the non-fiction front, these stories might be told as travelogue, as memoir, or as investigation, and the themes might be anything from the deadly serious (I am currently working with the award-winning Guardian journalist Ian Cobain on his book about Britain’s history of torture) to the diverting (this autumn we will publish Kapka Kassabova’s account of her ten-year love affair with tango). The fiction that appeals to me is carefully crafted and character-led, with sentences that dazzle. Because Portobello is still a young imprint, I tend to publish a lot of debut novelists and really enjoy working with writers who are just beginning to find their literary feet, such as Amy Sackville, whose debut last year, The Still Point, was a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime and long-listed for the Orange Prize before winning the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Roughly a third of our list comprises works in translation and includes international authors such as Herta Müller, Jenny Erpenbeck and, one of my highlights of 2010, David Trueba, the Spanish film director whose novel Learning to Lose won the Spanish Critics Award and sold around the world. But then again, my list is quite eclectic and I’m always willing to be surprised: one of the books that I fell for most heavily last year was a memoir about organic farming in upstate New York, which probably wouldn’t have featured on any of my commissioning wish lists.
Eleanor Birne, Publishing Director, John Murray
I am looking to acquire compelling, well-written fiction that transports the reader in some way – either to another place or to another period of history and also fiction with a really strong, unique voice that carries you through. I am very much looking for new writers to help build. In terms of non-fiction, I love reading about other people’s lives, and enjoy original memoir, social history of women’s lives, historical true crime, brilliantly informative non-fiction books (such as The Language Wars by Henry Hitchings) and I also publish a very small number of entertaining reference books (such as Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me by Lucia van der Post).
Mark Booth, Publisher, Coronet
I work on the commercial side of the business so I always want to know what is going to happen next. I look for that thought no-one has ever thought before, to give a voice to people who have never been given a voice before, for an inventive new use of language that fizzes and crackles on the page, or for new refinements of suspense technique that make you really want to know what happens next. Because I am a commercial publisher I also need clarity. An idea might be new and inherently hard, but it needs to be expressed as clearly and simply as it can be expressed. Examples from Coronet’s first full year in its new incarnation include Irish mystic, Lorna Byrne, who shows in Stairways to Heaven that she has a completely alternative mode of perception to the rest of us – as does ‘Mr Loophole’. Nick Freeman is Britain’s most famous and successful criminal defence lawyer because he has an alternative way of looking at things, as he reveals in his first book. FAM by Chyna gives voice for the first time to a girl in a London girl gang – right at the heart of the culture that is the source of the new use of language that powers all our pop culture. In The Lost Key bestselling co-author of The Hiram Key Robert Lomas describes his own ascent through Freemasonic initiations to discover its best kept secrets, in the area where ancient esoteric knowledge meets the latest cutting edge physics. Renowned scientist Rupert Sheldrake, is writing The Science Delusion to show the limitations of the militant materialism championed by some of his peers, and to promote free-er, more open-ended ways of thinking. Chris Ryan is the king of Coronet, always at the forefront of new developments in suspense technique – and publishing’s new technologies too, as he has shown in Chris Ryan Extreme, his new series of short, fast, violent thrillers written exclusively as e- and I-books.
Hannah Boursnell, Editor, Sphere Non-fiction
I’m looking for engaging and original titles for the female market and am particularly interested in uplifting and heart-warming memoirs with a charming voice and, hopefully, a happy ending. I’m also keen to find inspirational true stories, particularly those with a nostalgic or a regional flavour. A fantastic example of this is a wonderful memoir I acquired last year, Bedpans and Bobby Socks – the true story five British nurses on an American road trip in the late 1950s. It really is the perfect comfort read.
Andreas Campomar, Editorial Director, Constable
This may well be the year in which the UK industry changes for ever. Last Christmas Random House US posted a 300% increase in e-book sales. Where the US goes, the UK must surely follow. Publishers will have to be highly innovative, in that their actions will set the tone for digital (and traditional) publishing in the medium term. Therefore, I am looking for a truly digital non-fiction project that may have a life as a traditional book, rather than vice versa. The credit crunch has renewed readers’ interest in questioning the status quo, so I’m in the market for spirited popular science and ideas-based books with exacting theses. On a lighter note, well-written humour, in whichever form, will certainly grab my attention. I am also interested in international fiction that transcends borders and cannot be ghettoised. Moreover, I am searching for that gem – as was the case with last year’s surprise hit Alone in Berlin (Hans Fallada) – which will reinforce publishers’ faith in the book-buying public.
Phoebe Clapham, Editor, Politics, Economics and Current Affairs, Yale University Press
At Yale, we’re looking for really authoritative, engaging books in the broad fields of history, current affairs and economics. Big ideas are always welcome and a strong central argument is crucial. Our authors tend to be academics who can really communicate with a wider readership or journalists/analysts who know their subject inside out. We’ve recently had successes with Barry Cunliffe’s Europe Between the Oceans, Martin Gilbert’s In Ishmael’s House : A History of Jews in Muslim Lands and Stephen D. King’s Losing Control: The Emerging Threats to Western Prosperity and are always looking to sign up more books of this calibre.
Ingrid Connell. Editorial Director, Pan Macmillan
I’m looking for celebrity autobiographies, having had success recently with our number 1 bestselling authors Coleen Nolan and Denise Welch, and our big Christmas hit, What You See Is What You Get by Alan Sugar. I also love music autobiographies, and we have a strong track record in this area. Narrative true crime, such as our perennially popular Marching Power and the forthcoming gritty cop memoir Alphaville, is another favourite area. And I’m looking for the kind of commercial non fiction that appeals to women, whether it’s nostalgia titles such as our forthcoming Below Stairs by Margaret Powell, which takes the reader into the world of a 1920s kitchen maid, inspirational life stories, or books about much-loved pets!
Carly Cook, Publisher, Non-Fiction, Headline
I am looking to publish books that work right across the narrative genre. This will encompass finding new voices across a wide-range of memoir subject areas, including: nostalgia, pet, mind body spirit, celebrity, inspirational real-life stories, dating, lifestyle and media tie-ins. These books will be strong front-list performers and also have a lasting back-list life – they will be good stories well-told – and will have a firm hook and a great word-of-mouth vibe to them. Examples of some of the books I am publishing include: Matron Knows Best by Joan Woodcock; The Men Files by Humfrey Hunter; Living with Evil by Cynthia Owen; Banged Up and Knifer by Ronnie Thompson; Until Tuesday by Luis Carlos Montalvan ;21 Day Kickstart Diet by Dr Neal Barnard; Puppy Tales by Joanne Hull; All Teachers Great and Small by Andy Seed; Mary Quant Autobiography; Bumpalicious by Denise Van Outen. My list is fairly varied and I am always open to new ideas and approaches.
Graham Coster, Publisher, Aurum Press
We did really well last year with The Secret Life of Bletchley Park, which confirmed to me that, while there is still a market for books about the war, the trick is now to tell the story from a non-military perspective. Since the success of Stalingrad every single military campaign has been done, but telling the history of the last war from a civilian perspective, or at least from outside the killing and the industrial-scale combat, enfranchises so many more readers than merely military buffs, both because it shows how everyone in society played their part, and because it shows how the demands of total war wrought radical social changes even as the war progressed. I’d also like to see the history genre tackle subjects that we’re only just realising have now become history: how, for example, from the perspective of more than thirty years on, did the moon landings change the world that came after?
Elise Dillsworth, Commissioning Editor, Little, Brown
I am a commissioning editor specialising in memoir and autobiography, primarily for Virago but occasionally publishing into Abacus. I am looking for exceptional stories with strong personal narratives. Acquisitions include Lopsided by Meredith Norton, War Child by Emmanuel Jal and Me and Mine by Anna May Mangan. I publish some literary fiction and am always keen to find new voices. Two exciting debut titles that I have acquired are Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan and Bitter Leaf by Chioma Okereke.
Trevor Dolby, Publisher of Preface, Random House
I am looking for big history (Peter Caddick Adams, Montgomery and Rommel, Michael Williams, History of the Railway during World War II, Alan Williams Operation Crossbow), nostalgic history (Hugh Thompson’s The Old Roads into the Trees), biography (Diane Atkinson, The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton), stories of people and place (Tessa Hainsworth, Seagulls in the Attic), popular culture well told though an interesting and left field lens by skilful and commercial writers (Hellraisers author Robert Sellers, Don’t Let The Bastards Grind You Down, Bruce Dessau, No Laughing Matter). I’m looking to pair the right writer with the right popular subject (William Cook is writing for me a definitive account of the relationship between Peter Cook and Dudley Moore called One Leg Too Few). Good quality humour (Lyttelton’s Britain, Jem Robert’s authorised history of I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, John Fisher on Tommy Cooper). Cookery books(Hawksmoor at Home)… yes, cookery books, I’ve gone back to my roots on this one as in the past I’ve published everyone from Marguerite Patten to Michel Guérard and Fay Maschler. Celebrities with stories (Sunday Times bestselling account of Fiona Phillips parent’s Alzheimer’s, Before I Forget). I’d like some big science on the list and missed out on Brian Cox and Ben Miller last year. In the end I’m open to most things including this March a book on how magic can change your life (The Secret Ursula James).
Ed Faulkner, Publishing Director, Virgin Books
Over the last few years we’ve been working hard at Virgin Books to re-invigorate our publishing and deliver high-quality and commercial non-fiction titles that appeal to a wide range of readers. We have a really strong Entertainment and Lifestyle brand, reflected by recent bestsellers such as Decoded by Jay-Z and Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim. So we’d like to seek out new music and develop our TV tie-in publishing in particular. The future is exciting and we believe that in today’s market the definition of popular culture – which has always been Virgin’s heartland – is changing. For us, popular culture is not just about TV, film and music, but also encompasses technology and business books too. We have enjoyed great success with Googled and The Facebook Effect, two titles about the impact of technology on the wider culture. This is a fascinating and growing area and one we would like to build on in future. In business, we have a very strong portfolio of titles by Sir Richard Branson, the Economic Naturalist Robert H Frank and others, and we are excited about developing this list of internationally accessible business titles under the Virgin imprint. We also have some exciting developments in areas such as Popular History, Current Affairs and Popular Science titles aimed at general readers. Building on the success we have enjoyed with titles such as Risk by Dan Gardner, Dambusters by Max Arthur, Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, Decision Points by George W Bush and Massive by Ian Sample, we are looking for provocative books that explore new ideas and thinking, and also standout works of history and politics, which we can present in an accessible way to readers.
Simon Flynn, Managing Director, Icon Books
We publish only non-fiction and like to think of ourselves as an ‘independent’ publisher in every sense of the word. When that comes to the books we publish, that hopefully means titles that are thought-provoking, provocative and irreverent – in short, the book themselves come from independent thinking. This can still be within what might be perceived as traditional subjects such as popular science and history. Some recent examples of this have been Delusions of Gender, God’s Philosophers and Jilted Generation. We try to keep an open mind and don’t necessarily seek out particular types of book as this can be restrictive. One advantage of being a smaller publisher is a greater degree of flexibility and, because of this, what we really look for are books that are original.
Louise Haines, Head of Non-Fiction 4th Estate
In a challenging sales climate, just the very, very best writing and original non-fiction across a wide range of subject areas. For the food list I am trying to find a new talent to bring on, even though food books are so polarised. I am also looking actively for non-fiction that will appeal to women. And for books that reinvent the serious biography or history book and that would work for 4th Estate.
Becky Hardie, Editorial Director, Chatto & Windus
This year, I’m looking for a big literary novel – big in theme and intent but always readable and compelling. I also love novels which read like the very best commercial fiction but which deal with substantial ideas, themes and issues. On the non-fiction front, we have a long history at Chatto of publishing important books about feminism and female experience and I’m itching for the next big feminist book – like The Beauty Myth, which burst defiantly out of its genre and became essential reading for women all over the world. We’ve done brilliantly this year with books like The Hare with Amber Eyes and How to Live, which are redefining traditional non-fiction publishing, and we’ll definitely be after more of the same. I’m also keen to find a female 20th-century social historian, ideas books (particularly philosophy, neuroscience, politics/current affairs), beautifully written (but always unique) memoir and irresistible one-offs which don’t fit any of the usual categories.
Sam Harrison, Commissioning Editor, Aurum Press
After two particularly strong years, Aurum are looking, first and foremost, to build on past success in our core categories: entertainment, biography, history, current affairs, humour and sport. Within entertainment, in particular, I’m looking to deepen a list which already includes classic rock biographies, lavish histories of landmark movies, and a strong vein of nostalgia for the golden age of British broadcasting; whilst also broadening it with books on cultish subjects of interest to loyal, committed and often much younger fan bases. So, in 2011, expect to see us acquiring books on great British sitcoms, beloved character actors, spine-tingling horror movies, comics, videogames and seminal pop bands. Above all I want to publish authoritative but accessible writing from authors committed to shedding new light on fascinating and important stories from modern culture and history.
Jenny Heller, Publishing Director, General Non-Fiction, Harper Collins
I publish high-profile non-fiction authors and TV tie-ins in mono and illustrated formats (including luxury editions) and I’m also a committed brand builder. I enjoy spotting early talent and growing authors into long-standing and back-listing commercial successes such as Rachel Allen, who has now sold over a million copies. I am also passionate about Irish publishing, and maintain a thriving list with bestselling authors such as Ryan Tubridy. I am keen to acquire further high-profile titles across many genres, in particular current affairs and popular culture, strong personal narrative (that reads like fiction), original forward-thinking ideas books, popular science, TV tie-ins, lifestyle and even quirky one-offs. My taste casts a wide net but if you tip it for bestsellerdom and feel truly passionate about the project or author, I want to hear about it. Recent acquisitions include Carl Honore’s The Andon Rope, the spectacular debut Orange Blossoms and Other Secrets: A Personal History of Perfume by Denyse Beaulieu and Jacked: The Outlaw Story of Grand Theft Auto by Rolling Stone contributing editor David Kushner. Upcoming publications include National Geographic journalist Peter Miller’s The Smart Swarm in paperback, guitar god Zakk Wylde’s Bringing Metal to the Children and high-spec cookery from Bruce Poole and The Underground Restaurant.
Leo Hollis, Editor, Constable & Robinson
2011 is a year of questions. After an uncertain Christmas that offered a confused picture of an industry in transition, we have to focus on getting the basics of our publishing right without compromising creativity or editorial boldness. Books like The Hare with Amber Eyes and How to Live prove that readership is not dumbing down and it still appreciates innovation and quality writing. I also hope that barriers between non-fiction areas of the bookshop continue to be pushed aside: I massively enjoyed Whoops a book on economics by a literary novelist; as well as Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson, that looked at the science, art and history of innovation. We are starting to see that the best answers to some of the knottiest questions come from unexpected places, and that is hugely exciting. In short, I am looking for engaging and unusual approaches to these big ideas of our times. This spring we have a number of books that do this: So You Think You Know About Britain? by geographer Danny Dorling who looks again at the everyday assumptions we have about life on our small island and shows that on questions such as immigration, population growth, the North-South divide, nothing is as it seems. In Choke, psychologist Sian Beilock looks at the science behind performance, those moments when everything seems to click into place, or not.
Mike Jones, Editorial Director, Simon & Schuster
As ever we are looking for good quality writers, good authors, good stories for S&S’s non-fiction list. Whether sport, music, history, science, current affairs, self-help, memoir, biography and autobiography we need to be looking for books that will make an impact in newspapers, on TV, radio, films, through the internet, wherever, and that will get people talking and reading - in whatever format they want we will make it available for them. In an age of much media competition the real key for non-fiction is to have something unique, original, interesting, gripping or entertaining to say.
Anne Lawrance, Senior Commissioning Editor, Piatkus
I commission a mix of health, self help, popular psychology, parenting and business titles for Piatkus. We have a diverse non-fiction list but to me three things are crucial – books should have a strong practical application, they should be by experts in their field, and they should have strong backlist potential. No surprise given what is happening all around us that change is an ongoing theme in 2011 – we’ll be publishing Change Anything in April. It’s a very strong practical guide to achieving change in any area of your life, backed up with the latest psychological and medical research – the perfect combination. Everyone is talking about mindfulness and we’re thrilled to have Professor Mark Williams’ and Dr Danny Penman’s Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, a book and CD package in May. Cancer survivorship is a topic that is increasingly in the news and we have the first UK book to concentrate on the emotional issues faced by survivors (by Dr Frances Goodhart and Lucy Atkins). At Piatkus can also take chances on books that we know will have smaller but clearly targeted audiences, for example Kate Brian’s Precious Babies – pregnancy, birth and parenting after infertility is a topic that hasn’t been written about in depth before but we feel will have strong backlist appeal. We’re also very interested in ‘inspirational’ memoirs so long as they have a strong health or psychological angle.
Juliet Mabey, Publisher, Oneworld Publications
At Oneworld we are looking for fiction that sits at that rare intersection of the literary and the commercial: novels with strong writing and distinctive voices, and great stories that can move, teach or even change you in the reading. In addition to being beautifully written, we are particularly keen to find fiction titles that introduce the reader to a different culture, an interesting historical period, or an important social, global, philosophical, or psychological issue. Just to give a flavour of what tickles our interest, our first novel, The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, offered a very raw and mesmerizing account of C19th slavery in Jamaica, while Right of Thirst by Frank Huyler explored the responsibility of individuals to help others. We have a number of really stunning novels coming out this year that reflect the range of our interests, among them a wonderful novel set during the partition of India and Pakistan that sensitively addresses the big questions of what unites us (and what keeps us apart) while a blistering debut by Yvvette Edwards set in East London dissects the impact guilt can have on a life, and what it takes to confront the past.
For our non-fiction, we love original narrative accounts that communicate big ideas in an accessible and innovative way, across a broad range of genres from current events and history to philosophy and psychology. We have a very active popular science list that is really carving a place for itself in the bookshops, and we’re keen to develop that further, but we’re also keen to publish more history titles. We don’t publish many biographies, but the few that really caught our eye tend to offer a way into a bigger issue (Victorian treatment of children, a midwife’s challenges in Africa etc). We also love quirky non-fiction for our Autumn list, when shoppers are looking for something a bit different. We had great success last year with How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel and Mary Roach’s hilarious Packing for Mars (popular science) as well as Peter Cave’s Do Llamas Fall in Love (philosophy). Books like these that offer intelligent but highly readable introductions to interesting questions will always find a place on the shelves, and on our list.
Colin Midson, Commissioning Editor, Non Fiction, Simon & Schuster
I’ve got an eclectic list emerging which encompasses history, memoir, travel and humour but am focusing on the more pop-culture, boysy end of the market. I’m a fan of era-defining music books – the sort that avoid the hackneyed autobiography route and really bring a scene to life. We’ve done really well recently with Peter Hook’s The Hacienda - How not to Run a Club and I’m keen to find something that does a similar thing for the 90s indie scene. I’m also interested in the non-fiction spy genre: Christopher Andrew’s Defence of the Realm reads like a primer of stories that might merit a book of their own and I’d love to see some proposals that pick up on the rich material he’s unearthed and that have the novelistic flair of someone like Ben Macintyre.
Richard Millbank, Publishing Director, Non-Fiction, Atlantic Books.
Despite the gloom engendered by the economic downturn and the concomitant difficulties currently afflicting the book trade, I feel strangely upbeat about the prospects for my area of commissioning interest – that being up-market, mainly narrative, non-fiction. There is evidence in the 2010 Christmas sales figures for this category that non-fiction other than celebrity biographies, the offerings of TV chefs or quirkily named recreational reference books can survive and flourish alongside the big and lavishly marketed beasts of the retail jungle. I am thinking of books of the ambition and quality of Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes; Alexandra Harris’s Romantic Moderns; Rachel Hewitt’s Map of a Nation; Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: A Life of Montaigne; or Atlantic’s own Britannia: One Hundred Documents that Shaped a Nation and The Rose by Jennifer Potter. All of these are challenging, well-written and accessible books of true literary and scholarly worth - and all of them are commercially successful (or at the very least beginning to be so). These are my standard-setters for 2011: it is books of this scope, style and ambition that I hope and intend to acquire in the fields of history, biography, language, popular philosophy, popular science and natural history over the course of the next twelve months.
Drummond Moir, Senior Editor, William Heinemann
While I’m involved in the acquisition and editing of fiction, especially new talent from this side of the Atlantic, I’m primarily looking to commission non-fiction that offers a unique voice and perspective. This year I’m particularly on the lookout for narrative non-fiction with prize potential. Genre-wise, I lean towards current affairs (Heather Brooke’s The Silent State being one of last year’s highlights in this area), science & psychology (e.g. Kevin Dutton’s Flipnosis: The Art of Split-Second Persuasion), popular culture (John Szwed’s acclaimed biography of Alan Lomax, The Man Who Recorded the World, for example) and upmarket narrative non-fiction, particularly big-sweep contemporary histories such as Liaquat Ahamed’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Lords of Finance and Doug Saunders’ Arrival City. I’m also partial to memoirs with a real edge to them – a first-hand account of a death row attorney or a cartel assassin, for example – providing the author has a distinctive voice. Lastly, I love anything that offers new insight into human behaviour. Recent acquisitions in this area include explorations of the neuroscience of habits, of creativity, of optimism and of psychopaths, as well as a major new book about the uniqueness of the human mind by the man Richard Dawkins describes as ‘the Marco Polo of neuroscience’, V. S. Ramachandran, titled The Tell-Tale Brain: Unlocking the Mystery of Human Nature. On the fiction side, while William Heinemann boasts a prestigious heritage that includes Harper Lee, Anthony Burgess, JD Salinger and many other giants of twentieth-century literature, one of our strengths is debut fiction – from the sui generis brilliance of Nick Harkaway’s The Gone-Away World and John Niven’s savage, hilarious cult classic Kill Your Friends, to the haunting prose of Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Harding, author of Tinkers, and Johanna Skibsrud, whose The Sentimentalists has just been awarded the Giller Prize. All of this new talent balances the more established names on the list such as Douglas Coupland, Tim Pears and James Ellroy. Going forward, we’re as keen as ever to see literary fiction that really stands out.
George Morley, Editorial Director Non-Fiction, Macmillan
I’m looking for good history, right across the spectrum, to join authors like Peter Ackroyd, Michael Burleigh, Adam Hochschild, Andrew Marr and Robert Service on the list; the right biography, whether of a major figure or someone less well known, is also always welcome, as long as the subject is someone whose story is riveting and whose life offers a lens through which to see our shared past. I’d love to acquire more ‘big ideas’ books, too, like our forthcoming Triumph of the City by urban economist Edward Glaeser, which makes the case for the city at a time when we could all be remotely working in a croft in the Outer Hebrides, but – funnily enough – few of us actually choose to do so. In short, I’d like to see books that tell us something about the world we live in, whether it’s a familiar story from a sharp, new angle or an authoritative account of a particular moment. In any project I take on, I look for authors who have complete command of their subject but who can also – and this is crucial – engage with their readers, telling the story, no matter how complex, with great narrative skill and verve, so that it really comes alive.
Helena Nicholls, Senior Commissioning Editor – Business, Religion, Life Advice, Harper Collins
I think the strongest books for me in 2011 will be those that offer people a new, challenging outlook on their lifestyle, or, alternatively, some brilliantly written escapism… Whether it’s an agenda-setting business book set to shape working lives, the next big life-advice guru looking to divulge a powerful promise, a searching spiritual memoir or a meaty ideas-based book tapping into a topical trend with mass appeal – I’m looking for books by high-profile authors, as well as by those up-and-comings who have real potential to be great.
Sarah Norman, Senior Editor at Atlantic Books
On the non-fiction side, I work with many of the historians and biographers on the Atlantic list, but would really like to add some younger authors to the mix in these areas, authors who are looking to bring a fresh approach to a key event, cultural movement or historical figure, or who have found that rare thing: a truly new and exciting subject. I have a real weakness for histories of cities and their inhabitants, as well as anything to do with language or literature, which makes Judith Flanders’s new book on Charles Dickens’s London – which we’re publishing in 2012 – pretty much the perfect acquisition. I’m also huge fan of some of the beautiful nature writing that’s coming out at the moment, including Robert Macfarlane, Mark Cocker and our own Jim Perrin, and am on the lookout for writers of this kind who are completely immersed in the places and wildlife they write about. Atlantic are publishing our first cookbook this year with David Loftus – the amazing photographer who does all of Jamie Oliver’s books. Cookbooks are some of the most beautifully produced titles in the market at the moment and I’d love to add another one to the list for 2012. In terms of literary fiction and memoir, I tend to go for quite unusual, dark, ambitious writing. Acquiring novels by authors who are trying to do something different and unique – our own Graham Rawle comes to mind – is always so exciting and the editing process becomes such a pleasure. Overall, I suppose what it comes down to is that fluttery feeling you get when you start to read a submission and realise that what you have in front of you could be very special: an extraordinary story, beautifully told.
Roland Philipps, Managing Director, John Murray
In both fiction and non-fiction, I am looking for strong storytelling - be it about a military campaign, a story of exploration, someone’s life story, or a novel. I am looking for fiction that takes the reader to other worlds, that straddle the line between classic story-telling and the best writing (Amitav Ghosh, Neil Jordan and Lloyd Jones are all good examples of this) that can transport the reader. Non-fiction should entertain as well as inform, and be about the big subjects, or subjects that may not at first appear big but can illuminate a larger picture.
Nicky Ross,Editorial Director, Hodder & Stoughton
I am looking for commercial cookery and lifestyle books. They’ll probably be illustrated (but it’s not essential) so will need authors with high profiles or personalities with the potential to bring a readership with them. I’m looking for people with real talent, enthusiasm and experience and this doesn’t necessarily have to be in the area for which they’re most famous. I’m also interested in health, lifestyle and diet books - the next big thing or from authors with an existing profile.
Kerri Sharp | Senior Commissioning Editor, Non-fiction, Simon & Schuster
I’m looking for a broad scope of memoir and human-interest stories, including the genres that enjoy healthy promotions in the supermarkets, such as difficult lives or British nostalgia, through to household name autobiographies and women’s interest. Unusual life stores full of incident, whether military, criminal or professional (but nothing too ‘worthy’) are always worth a look, plus I’m interested in original, zeitgeisty cultural comment or narrative non-fiction, whether from a newspaper columnist or lively academic. I’d like to build on our popular/social history successes, such as Catharine Arnold’s London quartet, and sign up a really juicy, beautifully written historical true crime narrative. I’m also got my eye out for really practical life-changing advice books by people with a profile.
David Shelley, Deputy Publisher, Little, Brown
I acquire fairly sparingly these days (although it is worth saying that if I feel something is not right for me personally, I will always share it with the most suitable publisher or editor here). I publish mainly crime novels and thrillers – Patricia Cornwell, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid, Dennis Lehane, Carl Hiaasen – as well as some authors who are sui generis (Mitch Albom, Christopher Moore). Although I usually tend to only know what I am looking for at the moment it hits my desk, I guess my buys can be characterised by the combination of a very strong central hook, a gripping narrative, and good writing. I’m excited by new subjects that have not been tackled before in fiction and am always on the lookout for something a bit different and out of the ordinary.
Slav Todorov, Commissioning Editor, Non Fiction Quercus
I am looking for popular history, philosophy, science and quirky reference titles, primarily though not exclusively for the illustrated market. In a very crowded marketplace it is especially important for books to have a sharply defined and compelling concept that customers can grasp immediately. Quercus has had particular success with its 50 IDEAS series – popular guides aimed at demystifying difficult subjects such as Maths, Physics, Religion and Literature, written by leading authors such as Peter Stanford and John Sutherland.
Tim Whiting, Publishing Director, Non-Fiction, Little Brown
I am looking for that winning combination: the right author taking on the right subject at the perfect time. I commission in a number of different areas of non-fiction, including history, popular science, business, current affairs, true crime and popular psychology. True pleasure – and success – comes from publishing authors who are the best at what they do, but who know also how to convey the relevance of what they do to a wide audience. These authors write with verve, wit, passion, confidence and flair. They also promote their work well online and in other media outside the book world. They relish the opportunity to communicate with their readers at literary festivals and on social networking sites like Twitter. They understand the importance of storytelling and know when to home in and when to zoom out. The biggest ideas and the best stories defy categorization as literary or commercial: gold-standard reporting (like that of Gillian Tett and Mark Urban, to name just two authors who we’ve published recently) can and does reach the widest of markets. I am always hoping to find new books that are marked by their quality and their ability to make thousands of people feel good – books that educate, elevate and entertain. Most importantly, I am looking to take on books that are a good fit with Little, Brown – i.e. where it feels obvious that our particular skills and experience will help to produce the best possible book for the largest possible readership.