Meet Our Editorial Director – Lizzy Goudsmit Kay.Aug 01, 2021
You’re likely all familiar with the ‘getting ready the night before’ routine that takes place ahead of a big day. You pack a lunch, and hang your outfit on the back of the bedroom door, and you squeeze your new notebook into a bag (alongside my laptop perhaps, a myriad of coloured pens and - of course - a mask!).
I am doing all of these things right now because tomorrow will be my very first day in a new job. I will become, officially and after weeks of waiting, your Editorial Director at The Novelry.
I know that you’ve all been here a while, writing brilliant books and sharing your stories, and I hope you won’t mind squidging up and creating a little space on the bench. I know that there will be plenty for me to learn from you over the coming months and years, and I hope that you’ll learn something from me too.
I have worked - and still work! - as both a writer and an editor, and I hope you won’t mind me taking this opportunity to briefly introduce myself and to explain in a little more detail how the editorial team will work going forwards.
So, in order:
I started writing as a child, and my love of books and stories was cemented when, aged eight, I won a short story competition judged by my childhood hero Jacqueline Wilson. I’ve had that itch ever since, that need to build worlds and characters and to find things to say about them. This ebbed briefly in my teenage years and in my early twenties, and then returned with a vengeance. I worked for a year on a (not very good) novel, and then found another story that felt incredibly special. I spent three years tightening it and rewriting it and trying to find its heart.
It would have been wonderful if that had been my happy-ever-after novel but - as some of you may well know - it isn’t always so straightforward. I liked my characters and thought that some of the chapters were well-written, but I never managed to make it a book that people would want to keep reading. It always felt forgettable. I expect that some of you have felt that profound sense of disappointment when a book just won’t work. There are those that can be fixed and - inevitably - there are those that can’t. (I will come to the new editorial team shortly, but just so say here that we are going to be on hand to help you shape and structure the former - the fixables - and to find a path through the forgettables to new stories and new ideas!)
I eventually found the courage to open another blank document and started writing a story that would eventually become my first published novel, Seven Lies. I sent it out to several agents and I cannot tell you how wild my excitement was when I received a long, enthusiastic email from one of them - a brilliant agent with a phenomenal reputation who marries both creativity and commercial smarts, both of which are essential in the publishing world. We worked together for several months and then she sent it out to editors. It was acquired by publishers in thirty countries in the most surreal and unexpected few weeks of my life. It went on to secure incredible endorsements from generous writers and journalists, and hit the bestsellers lists internationally.
I was fortunate enough to be offered a two-book deal, which has shaped my writing over the last two years. I am no longer writing for me, but for editors, and the knowledge that they are owed a finished manuscript is - while a privilege - quite unnerving. I am currently partway through this second book and it hasn’t been without its challenges. I am enjoying it though, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that key ingredient. We will have the chance to talk writing/doubt/dithering in the coming months, and I would be delighted to hear your tips and tricks and to share mine with you!
I have always written at weekends, and I have spent the weekdays of the last eight years as an editor at Transworld Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House UK. I joined as a Personal Assistant and left as a Senior Commissioning Editor. I couldn’t imagine a more rewarding company in which to begin my career, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to use the skills and knowledge acquired to help all of you at the beginning of your writing careers.
I was lucky enough - from the very beginning - to have plenty of flexibility and I could choose to work on the books that captured my heart, rather than a specific genre. Over the years, my list has spanned the commercial and the literary, fiction and non-fiction, text and illustrated titles. I was responsible for acquiring, editing and publishing them. I realise that three words sound like they might mean the same thing, but they are, in fact, very different, requiring different skills, and shaping my understanding of the wider publishing world in very different ways.
I have been fortunate enough to acquire the rights to plenty of brilliant books by wonderful authors and so I know what it takes to convince a publisher to take a chance on a new project. I understand how important the perfect pitch can be and the wonderful surge of enthusiasm that pours through a company when a very special submission is being read and loved by the entire team. I also know that sometimes a project needs a little more thought and finessing: perhaps it’s about finding the perfect comparison titles to demonstrate where the book will sit in the market, or reworking the one-line pitch to ensure that the publicity team will feel confident sharing it with journalists and the sales team with retailers, or it might be talking to the author in advance to ensure that the editorial visions match. This is the part of the role that is all about finding talent and championing it from the very beginning!
I was always keen to acquire books that made me look at the world in a different way, whatever the genre. It might have been a fast-paced and commercial thriller that offered a fresh and interesting moral dilemma, or a character who made unexpected choices, or a significant theme that challenged me to rethink my presumptions. I found reading brilliant submissions - those that ticked this box - quite stressful! I would often feel a growing sense of panic when reading a submission like this, knowing that it would be perfect for me and worrying that other editors might be feeling similarly.
I have never enjoyed going to an auction for a book because it is devastating when you aren’t successful. And I can only assume that other editors feel similarly because the last year or two have seen a dramatic increase in pre-emptive offers, which are designed to tempt an author and agent into accepting quickly before other editors have read and shared the material. Still, the joy of taking on a new author, particularly when you’ve had to fight for them, is immense. It represents the beginning of an important relationship, one that will involve not only the words on the page, but the broader publishing vision: the marketing, the publicity and the eventual sales - all of which are key to building a long-term career.
When the book has been acquired, and before it is published, an editor is responsible for, well, editing! I often found this the most rewarding part of the role. I enjoyed thinking about the structure and the plot: what do we need to know and when do we need to know it? And I am always drawn to interesting characters: who are these people and what matters most to them? It is always important to identify the part of the story that delivers momentum. What, in these pages, will compel readers to turn the pages and then, ultimately, to laugh and cry and share this story with their friends?
I also love playing with words and sentences, finding voices for characters and moments, picking at language to find new ways to convey old ideas. It has been a real joy to work with writers, and to learn from them, and to help them to shape their stories. I love making a suggestion - for a character or a plotline - only for the writer to take that idea and transform it into something even smarter. It’s a collaboration!
We, as an editorial team, will be doing all of this and more for your manuscripts: thinking about the big and small pictures, the main and secondary characters, the language used in each sentence. We will work with you to shape your stories and to make them the very best that they can be.
Finally, I have been lucky not only to acquire and edit but also to publish books that have received huge praise, and sold in countries all around the world, that have found their way into readers’ hearts. There is no magic formula to make a book successful but a strong pitch and an outstanding manuscript are always the right places to start. And, from then, it becomes about buzz and noise and excitement: finding early readers, early endorsers, champions who will shout loudly and often, that gradual and steady build-up of good news. It is such a thrill to share this part of the journey with a new author, and I hope that many of you will find yourself on that happy road in the years ahead. There are many things that we cannot control - Will a book be selected for a specific promotion? Will it be widely reviewed? But it’s the quiet, everyday work of a team, the conversations over email, the brainstorms in meeting rooms or on screens, that can really shape a publication.
It is the ability to think strategically, and to launch books with real thought, that makes a publishing team successful. There is always an element of luck, but there are plenty of things that can be done to give a book and its author the very best chance of success.
We, as your new editorial team, will be doing everything in our power to create success for you - whether that’s in helping to shape and structure your brilliant ideas, guiding you to complete a stand-out manuscript, or pitching your book to literary agents. It is a privilege to work creatively on things that matter to you, and to do so as part of a collective makes it all the more exciting.
Over the next few months, you will hear from me regularly - on writing, on pitching, on editing. You will also be hearing from my wonderful colleagues. I am delighted to be joining The Novelry alongside a crack team of editors - Tash Barsby, commercial fiction editor extraordinaire, and Lily Lindon, editor, author, podcaster, and all-round powerhouse.
We will work tirelessly to help you write the book that you want to write, whether or not that’s with publication in mind. We will pull apart plot strands, ask questions of your characters, and challenge you to interrogate your stories in fresh and exciting ways. We will also be behind the scenes on every course, working to ensure that you receive the very finest care and attention throughout your writing career with us.
It’s getting late now and so, with my sandwiches wrapped in foil, my clothes ironed, and my bag by the front door, it’s time for me to wrap things up. I hope you all have a lovely day - and perhaps manage to get a few good words on the page - and I will see you all in the morning!
Happy writing, everyone,
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