Publishing Day Interview: Commissioning Editor Maisie Lawrence

In the coming weeks, we will be interviewing the panel from this year’s Publishing Day on 11th May 2019: Literary Agent Katharine Sands, Literary Agent Greg Messina, and Author Victoria Brownlee. If you missed Urbane Publications Director Matthew Smith, you can read his interview online now.

Maisie Lawrence is a fiction editor and poet. Maisie commissions a variety of commercial fiction at digital publisher Bookouture where her authors include cosy mystery writer Betty Rowlands, crime author J.M. Hewitt and reading group novelist Beth Miller. She has previously worked on bestselling authors including women’s fiction writers Paige Toon, and Rachel Hore, as well as crime novelists Lisa Cutts and RJ Bailey. She is a co-founder of Pride in Publishing, a networking group for LGBTQ+ people who work with books in the UK.
Maisie is a member of writer’s collective Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, founded by Malika Booker. She has performed at Strokestown International Festival and in 2019 she received Developing Your Creative Practice funding from Arts Council England to develop her first poetry collection.

What makes independent publishing (and indeed Bookouture) attractive to you?

I’d been impressed by Bookouture for several years before I started working here: books always in the top 100, cracking covers and authors saying on Twitter how much they liked the being published by Bookouture. When a position came up, I immediately applied and I’m so glad that I did!

I am lucky to work alongside colleagues who are experienced, innovative and collaborative. It is the best team I’ve ever worked with and I feel privileged to be a part of the company. And our authors feel similarly about each other. Many of them communicate daily and have got to know each other and share their experiences of being writers together. We talk about the ‘Bookouture family’ – it is this supportive group of people who all love writing and books.

One of the things I love about Bookouture is that we’re always looking to add value to authors. Whether you’re a debut, established, self-published or backlist author, we are always looking for ways to add value and increase your sales. Every single book is treated like a bestseller, which as an editor makes me very happy.

On the author’s page of the website, there is a majority of Female authors. Was that an intentional choice or purely random?

Our submissions come to us through a combination of agented submissions, direct approaches and we also accept year-round direct submissions from authors. Submissions are read by our editorial teams and selected on the basis of their commercial potential. We are always looking to find new talent and welcome submissions from any author writing commercial fiction.

We’ve recently partnered with the Spread the Word to do a specific call-out for writers currently under-represented in publishing as we’re keen to reach a wider spectrum of authors. I’m a co-founder of Pride in Publishing, the first network in the UK for LGBTQ+ people who work with books, so this is an initiative which means a lot to me. We are also interested in diversifying the genres we publish into – this year we have published several fantasy titles, our first cosy crime series and also several bookclub novels.

We’re unusual in always being open to direct submissions. It’s a very democratic way of working, and allows us to find talent early and help to shape projects at a young stage. It’s great to get that opportunity as many traditional publishers only accept agented submissions, so editors tend to see books at a later stage. I really enjoy working on early concepts with authors and would say to anyone who has a novel (or two) in a bottom drawer – send it to us!

What are some of the advantages of being a digital publisher (as opposed to a traditional publisher)?

In a traditional house, timelines are dictated by print deadlines, but at Bookouture we can move very fast to get your books to market, and earning royalties swiftly. And a quicker publication pattern helps to build up your profile and sales. Add in our top-notch digital marketing campaigns, and data-driven approach to sales, and you’ve got a winning combination.

We offer 45% eBook royalties, a print-on-demand paperback edition and simultaneous UK/US publication for all our titles. We publish directly into all English language markets, and our authors enjoy a rapidly-growing audience around the world.

Bookouture have been part of the Hachette since 2017, and we’ve maintained our boutique, small-publisher feel, whilst gaining a great relationship with Sphere, who are now publishing a select number of our paperbacks for the mass market. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the company, and this year we’re expanding with the growth of a US-focused team.

What differences if any do you see between the US and UK market?

The US now accounts for more than half of our revenue so it’s a very important, and growing market for us. This year we’re starting a US-focused editorial team to find more US bestsellers, which is very exciting. We’ve had some fabulous US successes already – Lisa Regan’s Josie Quinn series goes from strength to strength and we’ve had top-10 US bestsellers across the commercial genres with Angela Marsons, Jill Childs, Jenny Hale, Natalie Meg Evans and Holly Martin.

What’s important to us is finding books that work well in both markets, so we can give our authors the best possible opportunity to find and grow their readership. We’re seeing historical fiction, family dramas and bookclub reads do very well in the US and for me personally, those are all genres that I’m keen to publish into.

What are some pieces of advice you would give to someone wanting to go into the publishing industry?

I would say to anyone wanting to get into publishing – read lots and try to meet people in the industry and quiz them about what they do, how they got there, and what you should expect to be paid. I know the ‘ways in’ can be a bit opaque and understanding what you’d actually do as an editor/marketer/publicist isn’t always that clear so talking to people can really help. Working in a commercial fiction eBook imprint is going to be very different to working for a children’s publisher or an academic publisher, so figuring out where your passion lies is key.

I found Twitter really helpful when I was starting out for finding people in the industry and events about publishing. We’re a very chatty bunch, so starting to engage with some of the conversations is a great place to start.

In the UK, there are now more schemes and open days to help – the Society of Young Publishers and The Bookseller are always good places to start for information. But in short, if you’re totally sure you want to join us bunch of book nerds, you will, and I look forward to meeting you!


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