Hannah Sheppard is one of the well-deserving winners of The Unsung Heroes of Publishing 2018. We asked her a few questions about her work as an editor and agent, and what she looks for when evaluating manuscripts. For a complete list of #UHoP18 winners please see more here.
You’ve worked as both an editor and an agent. How do the respective roles compare in their relationship with writers?
Working directly with authors to help develop their ideas and shape their novels was my favourite part of being an in-house editor so I’m very hands-on as an agent. If anything, I now get to be involved from a much earlier stage (when authors enjoy that process, it doesn’t work for everyone) and some of my favourite days are ones where I get to brainstorm with authors and bounce ideas back and forth. It is sometimes harder as an agent though — as an editor, your relationship with the author is somewhat protected by the agent when it comes to delivering difficult news. Telling an author an editor has passed on their manuscript is never fun, but being the person who gets to tell an author that their hard work has paid off and they’re going to be published is incredible.
Can you tell us a little bit about what your role encompasses on a day-to-day basis?
There isn’t really a day-to-day — and plans are often derailed by the unexpected. There’s always reading and editorial work to be done but mostly that has to wait for evenings and weekends. Aside from that I’ll be liaising with publishers about existing deals, negotiating new contracts, answering emails from clients, meeting with editors, scouts or authors, discussing business with the other agents I work with and dealing with any problems that may arise.
What are you primarily looking for when you are evaluating manuscripts as an agent?
Primarily — a personal connection. I have to love a book to know that I want to work on it. Whether that’s the voice, or the story, or just the writing — there has to be something that speaks to me. And then I start trying to figure out if I can see the commercial potential…
What are you reading at the moment and what’s next on your ‘to-read’ list?
I’ve just got back from the US where I visited some brilliant bookshops (The Bindery in San Francisco was a real highlight). While I was there, unusually for me, I picked up a lot of short story collections which I was drawn to because of their fantastic titles — Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories (by Kelly Barnhill) is first on the list… but first I need to finish Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, which is an incredible read.
You can find Hannah Sheppard on Twitter.