Hannah Sheppard is a Branford Boase Award-nominated editor who has worked in trade publishing for fifteen years. She started her career at Macmillan Children’s books before moving to Headline Publishing Group to run the YA and crossover list, where she published Tanya Byrne’s Heart-Shaped Bruise, Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Julianna Baggott’s Pure trilogy. She is now a literary agent with the D H H Literary Agency, representing authors such as Abi Elphinstone and Keris Stainton.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a literary agent and freelance editor who spent ten years in-house as a commissioning editor at Macmillan Children’s Books and Headline. I love working with writers to help them realise the potential of their ideas – reworking plots and storylines is one of my favourite things.
2. You’ve been both a publisher and an agent. How do the respective roles compare in their relationship with writers?
I’m editorially very hands on as an agent – particularly with new clients when we’re trying to secure a deal (once an editor is involved that changes slightly, but I’m always there for a second opinion) – so in many ways, it’s quite similar for me, but that’s not the case with all agents. Working directly with authors to develop ideas was always the bit of being an in-house editor that I loved most though. As I got more senior, it felt like I was moving away from that into strategic list management, which didn’t give me the same buzz, so I made the decision to move across to agenting, and start doing more freelance editorial.
3. What makes a great YA book?
Voice is probably the number one thing I love in YA – when the character is so vivid and engaging that you can’t help but be sucked into their story.
4. Why do you think this sector of publishing has burgeoned over recent years ?
There are so many reasons for this. Teenagers feel everything much more intensely and are often quite politically motivated, so I think the big trend for dystopia a few years ago was really interesting timing given the economic crash and what’s now happening in politics across the globe. There’s always going to be a core readership of actual teen readers and it’s important we don’t forget them when we’re talking about YA – the big trends are always going to grab the headlines but how much of that is skewed by adult readers?
5. What advice would you give to someone thinking of writing a YA novel?
Read all the YA novels. So many people think they’re writing YA when really what they’re writing is an adult voice looking back. It’s a much harder thing to get right than it seems and reading widely in the area will help. And then, in the current climate when everything needs a strong commercial hook, think about concept and pitch – where does your novel sit in the market; what is going to be the hook that makes a reader pick it up?
6. Tell us about a forthcoming YA book we should all look out for.
The most recent announcement that has really excited me is Floored, coming from Macmillan in 2018, because it sounds like such a unique collaborative project from some of the most talented voices in UK YA at the moment.