Florence Writers interview with Penguin Random House Editor Juliet Brooke

In the run-up to the Publishing Day‘s closing date (30th April!), we’ll be interviewing the experts on the panel.  This week we’re chatting to Penguin Random House Editor Juliet Brooke.

In case you missed last week’s interview, we spoke with Literary Agent James Wills.

Juliet Brooke is Senior Editor at Chatto & Windus and Hogarth. She has worked at Penguin Random House for ten years, before which she worked at Headline, part of Hachette. She publishes literary fiction, international voices and debut fiction, and literary non-fiction including biography, history, memoir, psychology and nature writing. Her authors include the New York Times bestseller Meg Wolitzer, Granta Best of Young British Novelist Xiaolu Guo, National Book Awards finalist Karan Mahajan and international writers such as Andrew Solomon, Sandra Newman and Laird Hunt. She also publishes a number of British historians including Ruth Scurr, Peter Moore and Kate Hubbard.

How involved do you get with the works you are editing? Do you prefer a restrained approach, or do you really like to get involved in helping shape a writer’s work?

It’s totally dependent on what the book and the author need. Every book and every new author require a different approach. I think of editing a little like a kind of creative empathetic ventriloquism: an editor’s job is to find the story that the writer wants to tell, and help them communicate that as well as possible. If a book needs it I do very extensive editing – there are many occasions when I’ve done four, five edits on a book, from a first conversation, a set of headline notes, to the more detailed line by line edits of the final stages. I do tend to get very involved. It’s a creative process and, if it’s working well, it can be enormous fun.

What are some characteristics of a writer’s work that you look for when selecting a work to edit?

Afraid there is no clear answer to this question. I get sent hundreds of submissions from agents every year and the thing that makes the few I acquire extra special is very indefinable. In fiction I am particularly drawn to a rich or inventive use of language. This doesn’t by any means have to mean language used in excess or abundance, sometimes the more gorgeous is the most spare. There are very few new stories or new plots, but a new perspective is what I would always look for: from a memoir about neurosurgery, a history of the weather forecast to a historical novel set during the American civil war, what the best books do is show you a new way of looking at the world you know.

Do you have any advice for writers to help them self-edit while they work?

Walk away. You need time to dull the sensitivity of the freshly-written word and get some perspective. Jane Austen used to put her novels in a draw for a year before returning to them. I don’t think a year is necessary, but I do think you need some separation. I think it’s important to demand of yourself what job each paragraph or even each sentence is doing, even if that job is legitimately ‘atmosphere’ or something similarly abstract, you need to know and justify why it’s there.

Are there any things that you often see in works that you would advise writer’s to avoid?

Every writer has their own peculiar ticks and troubles, there’s no one universal problem. I suppose, as above, the best solution to banishing ticks is to make sure that the reasons for inclusion are solid: don’t follow ideas – playful structure, self-conscious narrative etc – unless they feel knit to the content.

Are there any works that you wish you had a hand in working on/editing?

God, millions! I’m a huge Marilynne Robinson fan so anything of hers. I’ve had the good luck to work with Edward St Aubyn on the Hogarth Shakespeare series, but I adore his Melrose novels and I would have loved to work on those. That’s just recent masters, when you start going back I wouldn’t know where to begin: so many!

Find out more about Florence Writers’ Publishing Day.

Interview with thanks to Shelley T Martin. 

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