Interview with Mary Mount, a fiction editor at Viking, part of Penguin Random House UK. Mary has published authors including John le Carré, Hisham Matar, Colm Tóibín, Naomi Alderman and Nina Stibbe.
Q. We’re really excited about the #WriteNow initiative. Why is Penguin Random House reaching out to marginalised writers?
Books and writers are a vital part of our culture. We want to publish the very best writers from many different genres and from the very varied worlds of contemporary Britain. It is absolutely essential that our publishing lists continue to be as dynamic as the society in which we live and work.
Q. We’re curious to know what will happen during an insight day. What can you tell us?
Writers will have the chance to learn about the publishing process from a wide range of people who work in the industry: from authors, literary agents, and Penguin Random House colleagues as part of a ‘Publishing De-mystified’ session.
They will hear from some of our fantastic authors like Kit de Waal, Sufiya Ahmed and Abir Mukherjee about their experiences.
They’ll also get one-to-one feedback on their book from one of our editors.
And there’ll be nibbles and goody bags!
Find out more here: http://www.write-now.live/london-1/
Q. Will there be any follow up opportunities for the 140 writers who attend an insight day but are subsequently not chosen for the mentoring scheme?
All of those 140 writers will go away with, we hope, some meaningful and practical insights into writing and publishing.
They’ll also have the opportunity to talk to editors, agents and authors more informally, as well as take away information about the publishing process which should be useful beyond the day itself.
Most of all, we hope it will encourage them to keep on writing!
Q. If my application for London isn’t successful, can I try for one of the other insight days taking place in Birmingham or Manchester?
Q. What are your top tips for making a good submission?
Make sure it’s the best it can possibly be! Read and reread. Look at the work of writers whom you admire and think about what you like about their work. Also check for mistakes. For example, if you’ve changed a character’s name make sure it’s consistent throughout the work, if you’ve made a cut make sure the new version works.
Q. What are your personal ‘pet hates’ in a submission?
I don’t have a pet hate – the only thing that really puts me off is if I feel the writer hasn’t taken enough care over their work.
Q. Describe your ideal applicant to this scheme. Who are you hoping to meet at an insight day?
The ideal applicant is someone who loves reading and is passionate about writing, someone who cares deeply about their work rather than fame or glory (which are hard to come by in the writing world!).
Q. The idea of pitching your work to an editor can be daunting to most of us. What would your advice be?
Think of an editor as just another interested reader – after all, that’s really what we are.
Q. Recent grassroots efforts have really helped raise awareness of the lack of diversity in publishing. What more do you think could be done to help marginalised writers?
The lack of diversity in publishing and the question of helping marginalised writers are two connected but different questions.
The British media ecosystem in general does not reflect the outlook or experience of many writers and readers. In book publishing there are some very specific obstacles to diversity, including the fact that the bigger publishing offices are based in a very expensive city (London) and that, until fairly recently, the route to recruitment has often been via internships which have been low-paid or unpaid, or via university. There isn’t an immediate solution to the former but Penguin Random House is trying many different things to address the latter. We don’t offer any unpaid internships and you no longer need to have a University degree to work with us in any role.
In terms of writers there are other obstacles – for example the fact that writing is not very well paid compared to other professions and many people would not be able to attend a creative writing course, which is the path for many young writers. The part-time creative writing scholarship at Birkbeck set up by the brilliant novelist, Kit de Waal, is just the kind of initiative to enable individuals to feel they have the time and support to be able to write. More opportunities like this, more access to publishers, a concerted effort by publishers and agents to demystify the submission process – all of these initiatives, and many others too, may, slowly, change the landscape.
Q. What are your top tips for anyone considering applying for this opportunity?
Give it a go! It may not lead to publication but it might help you in your work, clarify the process for you, or simply be an enjoyable and inspiring experience.
Write Now Live is a nationwide campaign to find, mentor and publish new writers with different stories to tell. Applications for Birmingham and Manchester Insight days will open on October 5, 2016.
Catch up with the Twitter Q&A over on storify