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Interview with editor Bill Swainson

Quickfire questions with Bill Swainson, a commissioning editor.

Writers & Artists: What’s on your list?

Bill Swainson: History, ideas and current affairs, some illustrated books, plus fiction in English and fiction from other languages. In short, I’m an old-fashioned general publisher.

W&A: How do you find new writing talent?

Bill: Above all, a conversation is worth ten times the most persuasive pitch – things come up unexpectedly. You spot things out of the corner of your eye that you wouldn’t see if you were actually looking for them.

W&A: How can an author impress you?

Bill: With his or her writing.

W&A: What advice would you give an aspiring author?

Bill: Read! Read as widely as you possibly can – and then throw away the crutches and write.

W&A: How do you nurture your relationship with authors?

Bill: Almost always by being a professional who is also a trustworthy friend – the kind of friend who can tell you what you may not want to hear, but who is always reliable.

W&A: What are the attributes of a good commissioning editor?

Bill: People say, a good eye, a good nose, flair, awareness of context and Zeitgeist. I wouldn’t disagree, but a commissioning editor needs also to be passionate about his or her books.

W&A: What market trends are emerging?

Bill: I have no idea. I can’t edit that way round.

W&A: How will digital media transform the world of book publishing?

Bill: I think e-books will become simply another platform. And no, unless we all take collective leave of our senses, content won’t be free because authors, agents and even publishers have to live.

W&A: What do you read for pleasure?

Bill: The last two novels were Saša Stanišić’s How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone and Roberto Bolaño’s magnificent 2666.