Write On!’s Eithne Cullen speaks to writer, editor and publisher Scott Pack.
Scott spent several years as head of buying for the Waterstones book chain and several more as a publisher, including a long stint at HarperCollins. These days he is a freelance editor, writes books and also writes questions for TV quiz shows. He travels the country giving talks and classes about writing, although recently, these have all been Zoom calls from his desk at home. His latest book is Tips from a Publisher: A Guide to Writing, Editing, Submitting and Publishing Your Book.
EC: How would you describe your work to someone new to it?
SP: I take manuscripts that other people have written and try to make them better.
EC: Can you tell us a bit about your latest project?
SP: I have a few things on the go. As a publisher, I just rush-released a novel by an American author, Elinor Lipman. It’s a Trump satire called Rachel to the Rescue and her US publisher didn’t want to publish it (too scared, perhaps?) so I stepped in. We turned it round in a little over two weeks and it went on sale just in time for the election. Bearing in mind it usually takes six to nine months to get a book into bookshops, this was a real achievement; we definitely had to get our backsides into gear!
I’m also a freelance editor and am currently working on some editorial assessments for clients. This is where I read their book and offer feedback and advice in the form of a report. The sort of books I work on varies widely. At the moment, I have two on the go: a funny sci-fi manuscript and a moving historical novel.
And as a writer, I compose some of the specialist subject questions for the BBC quiz show, Mastermind. They are just about to film the semi-finals so I have been hard at work researching and writing questions for some fascinating subjects.
EC: What inspired you to get involved in publishing and editing in the first place and what inspires you now?
SP: I was already working in bookselling, as head of buying for the Waterstones shops, so it wasn’t a huge step to move into publishing. I started out with a small indie, ho were then bought by HarperCollins so, I ended up there for several years. These days, I’m a freelancer, working with a few independent imprints. I am, of course, old and jaded now but it is always great to see readers loving a book you have helped to publish!
EC: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of ‘Hope’. It’s such a simple word but the feeling behind it can inspire greatness, lift people out of difficult times and act as a beacon for good things to come. How does hope keep you writing, keep you inspired and keep you motivated?
SP: As a realist and a pragmatist I don’t use hope as motivation all that much; but then, I don’t use pessimism or despair either – so I think that balances things out. In general, though, when I look at the world around me, I do feel the next generation have their heads screwed on properly and their hearts in the right place. I’m therefore, hopeful that things will turn out OK for them. I’m actually not all that bothered about me!
EC: Do you have any pet hates about work that aspiring writers send you?
SP: ‘Hate’ is a strong word, but it does do my head in when someone attempts to write a book in a genre they have never read: ‘” I have written a thriller, although I don’t read them myself…”. It happens more often than you might think! You need to show some respect for the craft and for the reader; understanding how storytelling works, especially when it comes to crime, rom-coms, fantasy etc. is crucial.
EC: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
SP: It’s sort of linked to the above: READ. Read as much as you can. Read and learn how other writers do the thing you are trying to do. And then WRITE. The more you write the better you will be. It doesn’t all have to have a purpose, it doesn’t all have to be for publication, just get stuff on paper and discover how the process works best for you.
EC: How would you advise aspiring writers to deal with the publishing world when they are trying to get their work published?
SP: It is important that you understand how it works, so do your research. If you are going to make it as a writer, whether part- or full-time, then it will be like taking on a new job, and you wouldn’t go for a job interview without doing some research first. My new book, Tips from a Publisher, has a whole section that explains how the book world operates; so you could perhaps invest in that, or get a copy from the library.
EC: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
SP: I have been commissioned to co-write a book for the Bodleian Library, so lots of research going on for that. I am also about to re-issue a wonderful novel from the 1930s that has been almost completely forgotten. It is called Appius and Virginia, by G.E. Trevelyan, and is about a woman who tries to raise an orangutan as a human. There are also some more Mastermind questions to write.
EC: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
SP: Something quiet that doesn’t need much looking after. Is there a good fictional tortoise available?
EC: I’m a bit of a quizzer, myself, what about Esio Trot, by Roald Dahl or The Hare and the Tortoise, from the fable, but he might be a bit fast!
You can connect with Scott on Twitter or drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tips from a Publisher is available to buy from http://eye-books.com/books/tips-from-a-publisher and if you use the code PENTOPRINT at checkout you get 30% off and free UK shipping.
The more you write the better you will be. It doesn't all have to have a purpose, it doesn't all have to be for publication, just get stuff on paper and discover how the process works best for you.