From our ‘As A…’ series, Write On! questions editor, publisher and author Alysoun Owen about her different roles in the writing industry.
Alysoun Owen is an experienced publisher and the Editor of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and author of the Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to Getting Published. She runs a publishing consultancy whose clients include Bloomsbury, Faber & Faber, Pearson, Oxford University Press
WO: How would you describe publishing world to someone new to it?
AO: Publishers exist to transform an author’s idea and manuscript into a finished, saleable ‘product’. To get there, a manuscript travels through a set of processes: it is edited, designed, printed or turned into a digital file, promoted and sold. Book publishing is a business, I think authors sometimes forget that publishers need to make a profit to survive. They are always on the look-out for great new writing that will have a market. The industry delivers content in print, ebook, online and increasingly in audio formats. There are other innovative ways that some authors and publishers are exploring too regarding business models and marketing. These include interactive stories, books by tweet or phone, crowdfunding, publishing a novel chapter-by-chapter.
WO How would you describe publishing your within this world – what makes it special to you?:
AO: I started as an editor and worked my way up through editorial roles to manage a list (set of titles for a particular readership) and am currently the Editor of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. I love the collaborative and creative nature of publishing. As an editor you get to work with authors, negotiate with agents, discuss covers, blurbs, promotional materials and in-text design with colleagues in design, marketing and production departments.
I now spend much of my time keeping up with developments in the industry – what’s new, what’s hot and what’s not! I represent the W&A brand at events and spend lots of time networking as well as still being hands-on with new manuscripts I commission.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest project?
AO: I have several projects on the go at once. I’ve recently worked with very experienced author Linda Strachan, who writes for children of all ages. I read and commented on the manuscript of her Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to Writing for Children as she wrote it chapter-by-chapter. It was an intense and enjoyable process. We sometimes didn’t agree on a change, that’s fine too. It was a fulfilling process for me and for Linda too I think.
WO: What inspired you to become an editor/consultant in the first place, and what inspires you now?
AO: I’ve always read and loved books. I was lucky enough to be brought up in a house full of them (my mum was an English teacher) and to have a good local library. Whilst studying I did work experience with a publisher and then did a Diploma in Publishing which really opened my eyes to all aspects of the industry. I met people working in publishing and thought I’d like to work alongside them! So I did.
I remain excited by new ideas and discussing with authors and designers how best to translate those to the page.
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of “Roots on Routes”, can you tell us a bit about your background and your route into publishing?
AO: I‘m a fairly typical publishing type: degree in English, Publishing course and then a job. I needed to be prepared, do plenty of research and be bullish enough to invite myself in to talk to editors! The industry is doing much more to open its doors to a wider variety of recruits, which is a really good thing. Just as we need a whole variety of ‘voices’ to write the books we want to read, so we need more variety in the editors and agents who go looking for such new talent.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
AO: I’m going to cheat here and offer a few pieces:
Read lots. Practice your writing: try and get something down most days if you can. Keep at it.
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects, or if you can’t how about trends or predictions for the industry? A bit of both would be great.
AO: Increasingly publishers are providing not just books, but experiences for readers and are creating communities. There are interacting more with their readers: finding out what they like and want. This includes running events, providing discounts and special offers via reader clubs (e.g. Penguin Random House, Faber) and developing long-term relationships. That’s what we do at Writers’ & Artists’. Knowing that we are providing information and advice that is useful is really important to us. Our community of users (sign up at www.writersandartists.co.uk) help shape our new titles and future events.
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
AO: Mr Tumnus (is that allowed as he is half man and half creature?) from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is a wonderfully kind and loyal character; I would trust him to protect and guide me if I ever got lost in an unfamiliar fantasy forest.
Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to series:
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Publishers exist to transform an author’s idea and manuscript into a finished, saleable ‘product’.