'Read, read and read. Readers make the best writers. Become a good writer first, join a writers’ centre, attend writers’ festivals, and perhaps find an agent.'
Interview with Hachette's joint MD Louise Sherwin-Stark
How did you start working in books?
After completing a science degree at The University of Queensland, I packed a bag and flew to London to discover the world and landed a job as a PA in the book department of a part-works company. After I figured out how to turn on a computer and send a fax (yes, it was a long time ago), I remember one of my key responsibilities was allocating International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) to the books. I had to hand write the title in a ring-binder of ISBNs kept in a storage cupboard. Exciting stuff.
Can you talk about the different roles that led you to where you are?
After that, I spent about five years with a start-up illustrated publisher called Ryland, Peters & Small. I joined them just before they published their first books and because it was such a small team I was able to gain experience in several areas including sales, export, rights and marketing. The lure of fiction took me to Faber and I remember selling Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang to ASDA (a British supermarket chain). It was the first Faber book to find itself on a supermarket shelf, and I clearly remember cold calling the buyer and asking if he would like to stock a Booker winner. Hodder & Stoughton took me on as a Key Account Manager and I enjoyed negotiating with large UK booksellers to promote our books. On returning home to Australia, I was able to continue my work for Hodder as their Sales & Marketing Director, followed by a stint at Google Play and Bloomsbury before returning to Hachette.
How do you encourage a love of reading in your own children?
My eight-year-old daughter and I read together every night. I listen to her reading (she is loving Marge in Charge at the moment), and then I read to her, and will do so until she asks me not to. We are currently reading Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend, and I am not sure who is enjoying it more. I really must cut down on the different voices for characters however, because I tend to forget which voice goes to which character!
As Joint MD of Hachette Australia, can you share what you’re excited about in terms of the company’s direction?
Without a doubt, it is our renewed focus and investment in Australian books and authors. I believe that it is incredibly important for Australians to have their lives and experiences reflected back to them in literature.
What’s a book you've read recently that you’ve raved to everyone about?
There have been so many great books recently. Hachette have been delighted to publish The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Tin Man by Sarah Winman, I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell and Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan. Sticking with an Australian theme, I’d have to say that in terms of the Australian book that has had the most impact on me in the last year or so, it would have to be The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke.
What other Australian books do you recommend?
The Miles Franklin winner is always a good place to start, and Josephine Wilson is this year’s winner for Extinctions. From our stable of books this year, I would recommend See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt, Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman, Wimmera by Mark Brandi and The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Bookclub by Sophie Green – just for starters!
Speaking generally, what kinds of books is Hachette looking to publish?
We have enjoyed great success in diverse literary fiction recently, but we are looking to publish books that Australians read for pleasure. Crime, thrillers, women’s fiction, memoir, history and illustrated lifestyle titles. Under the Lothian imprint, we publish a great range of picture books, junior fiction and YA.
Are you actively looking for first time writers? How can a new writer get noticed by Hachette?
Absolutely! We are open to submissions and will be publishing a great new book next year we received through this open submission process. I’d suggest that writers make sure their book is as good as it can possibly be before submitting, and attending courses and events at your local writers centre can be helpful. In fact, Hachette runs a manuscript development program with the Queensland Writers Centre and we have discovered some amazing writers through this program, including Favel Parrett and Inga Simpson.
The Richell Prize and black&write! are wonderful initiatives, can you tell our readers about them?
The Richell Prize was established to assist emerging writers and was set up in the memory of our friend and colleague Matt Richell. It is an annual prize and we would encourage unpublished writers to submit. More information can be found here, and, I am delighted to report, we have already published two books from the Richell Prize, and it has only be running for a couple of years.
Hachette supports the State Library of Queensland’s black&write! Program, which offers fellowships for indigenous writers and editors. We have just published Terra Nullius by Clare G. Coleman, winner of the 2016 Fellowship.
Any advice on getting published more generally?
Read, read and read. Readers make the best writers. Become a good writer first, join a writers’ centre, attend writers’ festivals, and perhaps find an agent.
Is it useful / important for writers to develop an online presence and help market themselves?
An online presence is certainly helpful, particularly when we are publishing a celebrity cookbook, but any online presence has to be authentic. If social media is not something you enjoy, do not do it. If you do, great, it is a fantastic way to connect with your readers.
What are you finding innovative in publishing currently? How do you think new technologies can enhance publishing?
eBook sales have stabilised and print books have remained remarkably resilient. The printing press is remarkably old technology, albeit constantly updated, and delivers a great reading experience. New technologies will be developed to continually improve the digital reading experience. A lot of innovation right now is focused on connecting authors and readers, which is particularly exciting in the digital space.
How do you think the book industry will change in the future?
On the immediate horizon, speed to market will improve markedly. Readers will be able to get the books they want quickly.
You’re active in Australia’s book community and an inspiring force for the industry, what are the main challenges the industry is facing?
Why thank you. I think one of the biggest challenges is encouraging Australians to make time for reading. With streaming services and social media competing for our leisure hours, as an industry we need to be talking about the benefits of reading for pleasure, and these benefits are proven to be substantial.