Top publisher shares her take on the industry

(Appeared in March Hearts Talk) By Tracey Rosen – Conference Marketing Co-ordinator

The Gold Coast 2021 Conference team would like to introduce you to our international guest from Hodder & Stoughton in London, Kimberley Atkins.

Unfortunalely, Kimberley is not taking pitches at our 2021 conference. This blog is a repeat of a Hearts Talk article before some circumstances changed.

Kimberley Atkins

Kimberley has worked with a range of best selling authors including Jojo Moyes and Liane Moriarty, and she is currently the publisher for Women’s Fiction. Not to mention that she has also self published a novel herself on behalf of her mother which led to her going on to publish another eight novels (look up Dani Atkins).

We asked Kimberley what she would be looking for at our conference and maybe a little sneak peak at her workshop also.

Kimberley, you’ve worked in a lot of different places in the world, including Australia. What would you say is the biggest benefit to working in the publishing landscape in London?

I feel very lucky to have had an international publishing career and cannot stress enough how much I loved my time working at Penguin Random House in Sydney, where I got to discover new Australian voices for their local publishing list. There was genuinely a day where I worked from the beach, reading a manuscript and sending off editorial notes to an author, and it was probably my favourite work day EVER. So the bar was set very high when I returned to the UK in 2018! 

The biggest change I noticed when I returned to the UK again was the volume of submissions I was receiving – there are so many more literary agents in the UK than in Australia, and I was suddenly tasked with dealing with a lot more reading! In the UK, I also see a lot of submissions from rights teams or agents in the US – whereas, in Australia I saw a lot less from that market. (The reason for that is that UK publishers often buy UK and British Commonwealth rights, which includes Australia and New Zealand, so there are less opportunities for the US to sell rights directly to those territories). This means that the pace in the UK feels a lot more hectic – but that’s also what makes it exciting. There is no better feeling than reading a submission overnight, falling in love with a book and championing it to my colleagues the next day. I’ve been lucky enough to get sign some incredible novels for Hodder & Stoughton, where I work as Publisher for women’s fiction.

I’m also incredibly fortunate to work for a big publisher with brilliant international ties – and that’s meant I’ve been able to travel to New York with work to meet publishers and agents there, as well as coming back to Sydney and getting to spend a week in the Hachette Australia office. For me, forging those connections with colleagues around the world is a huge perk to the job. 

I’ve also loved having the chance to reconnect with authors and agents back in the UK with lots of meetings over coffee or lunch. I’d forgotten how easy it is to see people in England as opposed to Australia, where you can genuinely be time zones apart from colleagues or authors! Having the opportunity to meet up face-to-face is a really valuable part of the job, and something I know we’ve all been missing in 2020.

With all of the changes we have seen in the world this year, what is the thing you think will be the biggest change in the stories that are published in the future? We’ve all seen the memes about COVID romances, but do readers really want that sort of reality in their romance?

I’ve talked to a lot of my authors about whether or not they should acknowledge the events of 2020 in their fiction. Personally, I’m not convinced that this is a time that we will necessarily want to be reminded of in fiction, and unless there’s a specific reason to include detail about Covid-19 or lockdowns in a novel I’m inclined to dissuade people from including it! Obviously it depends completely on the book, and in the UK we’ve already seen a few titles that have come to market (or that are coming very soon) which focus on people falling in love or crimes being committed (depending on the genre) against the backdrop of 2020. But for most novels, I don’t think that we need to explicitly try and shoe-horn social distancing or curfews into fiction – at best it’s a sad reminder of the challenges of this year, and at worst it’s clunky, off-putting or genuinely upsetting.  

In terms of how 2020 has affected market trends, it was so interesting to see that early on in the year there was a moment of people genuinely seeking out dystopian novels, almost looking for answers to questions about how to confront this new situation. Throughout the year it’s been great to see book sales being more robust than I think a lot of people feared, and I think that there will increasingly be people looking for reading to escape into different stories and worlds. I expect that uplifting fiction will be popular and that people will be looking for love stories that they can get lost in. 

You’ve lived in Australia, so what are you most looking forward to when you return that you can’t get or do in London?

I am desperate to come back to Australia for a visit as soon as I can – beyond a day trip to France, I’ve not left the UK all year and can’t wait to get on that 24 hour flight again! There’s so much I miss about Australia – and of course, what I miss the most are my brilliant friends who live there and who I’ve not seen in so long. Other than them, of course I miss the sunshine and the gorgeous beaches, the good coffee and the breakfast spots on the coast where you can watch people surf while eating smashed avo on toast! I miss Anzac biscuits which we used to bulk buy and which we made at the weekend in an effort to recreate the Australian experience. What I DON’T miss at all is the insects – I never got used to cockroaches in the street or giant huntsman spiders lurking by the car (you can keep those Australia!) 

What sort of stories will you be looking for at the Gold Coast Conference in 2021?

I’m so looking forward to the conference next year and getting to meet RWA members and aspiring writers. I’m always looking for new voices and ideas – I’m most excited by a story if it has a pitch you can sum up in one line that sets it apart from the pack. I love books with genuine heart and now more than ever am looking for stories that transport me through place and time and make me feel something new. I’m particularly drawn to voice-driven narratives with unforgettable female characters and love stories that break your heart. Equally anything with an unexpected ending or a clever structure (think One Day or The Time Traveler’s Wife).

And with your variety of experience, of course we want to know what you will be including in your workshop? 

I’m hoping my workshop can shed a little light on the industry from a publisher’s perspective – I’d love to talk about market trends and what has been working in the market (and what publishers are looking for!) I’ll also explore what really sets a submission apart for me, and how I know that I want to publish a book when I first read it. I’ll touch on what the acquisition process is like in my experience and will talk about ways to think about framing submissions or pitches to grab the reader right away.

Finally, for a bit of fun, which three authors living or dead would you like to have dinner with?

Oooh such a tough question! I think it has to be Jane Austen, Marian Keyes and Kazuo Ishiguro. All brilliant writers who are particularly gifted at creating characters – I think the conversation would be fascinating! 

Thank you Kimberley for sparing your time to give us some insight into you and we look forward to seeing you on the Gold Coast in August 2021.

PLEASE NOTE: Due to most overseas guest not being able to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions, Kimberley will be holding a virtual workshop 10 Tips when Submitting to a Publisher at 11:00am on Saturday 14 August. Her pitches will also be virtual.