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Industry Insight: Q&A with Beth Wickington (Avon Books Open Submission Process)

Liz Robinson

By Liz Robinson on 4th September 2020

We have a real affinity for Avon’s books at LoveReading, they are just as readable as can be. We were having a chat in the office and wondered how they chose the books that they publish and then we read all about Avon's submission process and just had to find out more! We spoke to Beth Wickington from Avon about their open submissions process and her particular job role, and it is absolutely fascinating. So, this is a must-read for anyone who thinks, who KNOWS, that they have a book inside them. There are some fabulous tips here, and if you are serious about submitting a book - then do take them on board!

As Editorial Assistant, Beth Wickington works across the entire list, supporting the editors in everything from desk editing and editorial admin to (most importantly) topping up the office’s Percy Pigs supply. She says that she is a sucker for weepy historical fiction and loves fierce heroines who defy the odds. A passionate advocate for Avon’s Open Submissions, she’s excited to work with the new voices just waiting to be discovered. Welcome Beth, and over to you:

Tell us about Avon Books:

Avon is a commercial fiction division of HarperCollins and home to many Sunday Times and Kindle #1 bestsellers. We were recently named Imprint of the Year at the British Book Awards 2020 – a brilliant achievement and one that the whole team and our brilliant authors are really proud of. 

How did Avon’s open submission process come about?

One of Avon’s core values is being open to writers from all backgrounds, and when we had a big celebration for our tenth birthday in 2017 we looked back at all the wonderful things we had done as a division and planned ahead for the next ten years. Launching our Open Submissions felt like the perfect next step – opening our doors to everyone and ensuring that writers could submit to us even if they didn’t have access to an agent. Since then we have gone from strength to strength and have a host of Open Submissions success stories.

What genres do you accept?

We are currently open to crime, thriller, romcom, historical fiction, women’s fiction, time-slip fiction and saga. We’re keen to read stories with a really commercial hook that can be pitched in one line. Can you picture your book on a supermarket shelf? Then it just might be the right fit for Avon!

What is your advice for someone about to submit their novel to you?

Before you submit, I would suggest getting a really good feel for where your book sits in the market. Who is your writing similar to? If someone enjoyed your book, what else would they enjoy? Read widely around your genre to get a feel for the part of the market you want to break into. Also think about how you would succinctly pitch your book. Sometimes called the elevator pitch, this is the one or two lines that you would use to reel someone into your story and make them want to pick it up. So much of publishing is about nailing this pitch and if you have a clear idea of what your book is then this helps our editors get a feel for the novel. Plus, an author’s passion is really infectious!

In terms of sending your submission, I cannot stress enough how helpful it is to follow the guidance in our submission form. We receive lots of submissions each day and if you submit with accurate, full information this makes our job much easier and it will make your submission stand out. 

What is the process from receiving a submission through to publication, and how long does it take?

The process is a really exciting one. I have recently acquired two authors through our Open Submissions, Clare Marchant whose debut The Secrets of Saffron Hall published in August and N V Peacock whose upcoming thriller Little Bones publishes in ebook on Halloween. For both, I was immediately drawn in by their smart, researched pitches (see advice above!) and started reading straight away. After I was confident that the book would be right at home with Avon and with my head buzzing with ideas, I then brought the proposal to the team for wider discussion. Avon is a small but mighty team and we always get behind every book with team spirit so it’s important that we’re all on board. Once the editor has the green light from the immediate team, we then need to speak to other departments for their input so that we can bring the book to an Acquisitions meeting. This is where the editor pitches the book to a panel of key people within the division and after everyone is fully behind the vision for the book, you get to send that email or make that call to change someone’s life and tell them they’re going to be a published author. It is the most wonderful feeling and the start of an exciting new partnership! 

In terms of time scales, this can vary a lot. Publishing is a notoriously slow business and sometimes there can be a couple of years between acquisition and publication. However, at Avon we tend to publish the titles we acquire within a year (but not always). As we publish commercial fiction, we keep an eye on trends in the market and when we find a book that we know will fit what readers are looking for we want to get this to them as quickly as we can – after we’ve spent time working with the author on the manuscript, designing a knockout cover, formulating a marketing plan and devising our publication strategy, of course. If things seem slow, that’s because there is so much going on behind the scenes to give each of our authors and their brilliant books the best launch possible. 

What piece of advice would you give an author on hearing their submission has been accepted?

This is a great question. I hope that receiving an offer of publication is a really happy moment for any author but I would say that though you may want to say yes on the phone right then and there, try and give yourself a little bit of time to let the news sink in and think through any questions you might have. Make sure that this is the right editor and the right publisher for you. A number of publishing houses now offer open submissions, which is a brilliant opportunity and is opening up publishing to a wider pool of people, but each publisher will offer different things. What do you want from your publishing career – do you want your book to sell lots of ebooks or would you like to see it in the supermarket? Are you on board with the editor’s vision? At Avon, we are always open to discussions with our authors and want them to have the best publishing experience possible, so it’s great if you can have an open discussion with your editor about any questions or concerns you might have. A strong author-editor partnership is key!

What is the biggest challenge for you using this process?

It’s of course never a nice experience having to turn down a manuscript. We don’t enjoy doing it and we so appreciate the hard work that has gone into every book we receive. Sometimes we are the first people to read it, even before the author’s partner or family, and this is something really special that we don’t lose sight of. But sadly we can’t buy all the books we love – sometimes we have something else really similar on our list and we wouldn’t be able to devote fair attention to both, sometimes the writing is really brilliant but after discussion with our marketing and sales teams we just can’t work out a way to package and sell it, sometimes the editor is totally in love with the book but the wider team aren’t so sure. There are so many reasons why we might have to pass on a manuscript but this doesn’t mean that it’s not brilliant.

When it comes to your particular role, what makes your heart beat faster?

Acquiring my first two books from Open Submissions has been such a fantastic experience. My authors, Clare and Nic, are so brilliant to work with and I completely believe in their books and their careers. I celebrate every success milestone that we hit together – whether it’s watching the 5 star reviews flood in or feeling that buzz in the room when the brilliant final cover is revealed to the team, I am always championing them. I can’t wait to find the next submission to make me feel the same way!

Is there a fictional or historical character you would be thrilled to have a submission from, why is that, and what type of book do you think it would be?

This is probably the least commercial answer from a commercial publisher but as Classics student I am convinced that Catullus would be able to deliver the romcom of the year, no doubt about it. 

What one sentence book pitch would you like to read?

Oh, that’s really putting me on the spot! Our authors are the ones with the brilliant ideas. Generally, I would love to see a thriller with a hook I’ve never seen before, a romcom set in an unusual location or with an unusual dynamic between the central couple, or a historical fiction that uncovers an unknown part of history.

Since you have worked in the book world, what has been the biggest change you’ve seen?

In the last year or so there’s been a tangible shift towards championing underrepresented and diverse voices. This is something that Avon is really passionate about working on and we are excited to see the industry begin to openly discuss the importance of publishing books that represent our readers and acknowledge where we have more work to do. We are open to submissions from writers of all backgrounds and we would love to see commercial books from diverse voices. 

What would be your desert island book and why have you chosen it?

My favourite book of all time is Shadow of the Wind by the late great Carlos Ruiz Zafón. I’ve read everything he’s written and this book is just too wonderful to do justice in only a few sentences. It’s got everything I love – a historical foreign setting, a cast of fascinating characters and interweaving storylines, mystery upon mystery and a sprinkle of magic. It’s absolutely divine and I could happily read it over and over forever. 

Avon Open Submissions: https://www.avonbooks.co.uk/submissions/

At Avon we publish some of the leading names in commercial fiction, including Sunday Times bestsellers C.L. Taylor, Scott Mariani and Sue Moorcroft, and digital chart toppers Phillipa Ashley, Lorna Cook, Mel Sherratt and Mandy Robotham. If you have a commercial novel you think might be of interest to us, we’d love to see it. Please note that we can only consider full-length manuscripts and are unable to consider partial submissions.

If your enjoyed this, check out our other Industry Insight blog pieces.

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