Jennifer Barclay: if I think something has promise I will advise an author at an early stage

Jennifer Barclay is commissioning editor here at Summersdale, and a travel book author in her own right.  Recently she agreed to answer some questions about book publishing for The Itinerant Writer blog. Here is a short snippet from the blog, full post here.

Do you expect manuscripts to be finished, or do you ever commission people by seeing their work in progress?

Successful travel writing needs an extraordinary story, and it’s hard to be sure that a book has a satisfying shape (beginning, middle and end), that it’s a really great read, if it’s incomplete. So although a very detailed outline can help, we prefer finished manuscripts. There is always a risk for both publisher and author that the final manuscript won’t be exactly what was proposed and that can cause problems, so a travel writing proposal has to have an extraordinary premise for us to take it on unfinished. But we very often start working with authors when their manuscripts still need revision – if I think something has promise I will advise an author at an early stage. Then I also get a sense of what kind of working relationship I could have with the author. If something I’ve read has promise, it seems a waste not to pass along my impressions.

Do you ever look for authors or do they always come to you?

We do look for authors. Social media (Twitter and Facebook groups), websites and so on have revolutionised the way we find and connect with authors – it’s really useful being able to get a sense of an author so instantaneously if they have an online presence. I have found a few authors by going to travel/adventure-related speaking events too, or through travel-related newsletters. If we read in the news about something that might make a good travel book, we’ll send out an email. What I’m doing now, connecting with you, is a way of looking for authors by getting the message out about what we publish.

How important are photos to a travel story?

We rarely include photographs in a book of travel writing, because they add to the production costs and possibility of printing errors, and also they can detract from the reading experience (the writing should conjure up the pictures). Sometimes we can include them in the inside covers. But they are often essential for the promotion of your book – a magazine or newspaper will often lose interest in running an excerpt if good quality photos are not easily available.