For those unfamiliar with your role, what does it involve?
My focus is on the author and developing their careers from book to book. My job involves everything from developing manuscripts to briefing covers, getting everyone in-house excited about a book, making sure the sales team have all the information they need to sell in to the retailers, and working closely with the marketing and publicity teams to enable them to work their magic and raise awareness of a book within the market. I am also always on the lookout for new authors and books to build the list.
What do you look for or love to find in a manuscript submitted to you?
I publish commercial fiction and the two things I am really looking for are strong characters and a strong plot. I want characters with whom I can engage and empathise, who are three-dimensional and interesting, and then I also want Things To Happen, to keep me turning the page.
What is the key to a great first chapter for a novel, or what is a first chapter you like and what makes it work so well for you?
A great first chapter launches you right into the story. I don’t want to have to wade through lots of preamble before the action starts. A strong voice also helps to get the reader immediately involved.
What is the key to a great progression of chapters throughout a novel?
Forward momentum. Either through action or emotional development – there need to be questions which I want answered and those are what keep me gripped. You don’t need a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter but each chapter has to move the story onwards.
What is often lacking or weakest in manuscripts submitted to you, and how could a writer avoid or fix it?
The classic trap of telling rather than showing. I want to feel involved in the story, not kept at a distance. Many authors submit before their manuscript is ready – although it can be frustrating, I do think it’s well worth finishing a draft and putting it aside for several weeks before looking at it again with fresher eyes.
Could you share a novel or two that you have personally been involved with and give an overview of what you think made that novel work well?
I’m proud of all the books I’ve worked on … it’s so hard to pick!
Yearn is the third short story collection by Tobsha Learner and once again she has produced a captivating series of tales, loosely linked by themes of obsession, longing and regret. Her stories are little gems – at once erotic and poignant. She also bucks the traditional publishing wisdom that short stories don’t sell.
I’m also hugely excited about Frank Coates’s new novel, Softly Calls the Serengeti, which is coming out next March. He has a way of writing about Africa which makes it feel immediate, accessible and relevant, while still creating fully-fleshed characters for whom you are praying to get a happy ending.
Who are a few of your favourite up-and-coming novelists (with 1-3 novels published) and what makes them stand out for you?
I think Belinda Alexandra is really a talent to watch. She has written four novels, and even though they are set against epic historical backdrops, her stories still manage to feel incredibly intimate. The combination makes for a truly absorbing read.
I am also hugely excited about Kirsten Tranter. Her debut novel, The Legacy, maintains a strong sense of mystery throughout which keeps you reading. Her writing is deceptively simple yet somehow seductive.
What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give for people writing their first novel-length manuscript for National Novel Writing Month in November?
Keep writing! It’s so important to develop the discipline of making time to write. Even if you think you’re producing rubbish, stick with it. It can be far too tempting to spend days endlessly tinkering with one sentence or paragraph. Keep your eye on the big picture.
Anna Valdinger is a Commissioning Publisher with HarperCollins.
The Australian Literature Review