Getting published

New writers talk about being published for the first time

So - you write a book, get an agent, earn your first publishing deal - now what? We spoke to 10 brilliant debut authors about their publishing journey so far, as well as finding out from their editors about why you need to read these books in 2019.

Leah Hazard, Gytha Lodge

Isabella Hammad

Isabella Hammad was born in London. She won the 2018 Plimpton Prize for Fiction for her story Mr. Can’aan. Her writing has appeared in Conjunctions and The Paris Review. The Parisian is her first novel.

Isabella Hammad

'The publishing experience so far has been a total gear change. Writing the novel was sort of a five-year-long fever-dream, and although I probably should have, I didn’t give much thought to what publishing might be like.

I actually didn’t know anything about the publishing world at all. So it’s been quite a steep learning curve, working out how to talk coherently about something you've lived inside of for a long time and are already half-forgetting.

What’s wonderful, though, is that it does feel like a team effort. You don’t feel like the book is going out there alone.'

Why you need to read this book  

'Isabella Hammad's extraordinary story about a Palestinian man in a hostile Western world in the first half of the twentieth century is revelatory in its exploration of being the outsider - and what it means to return home. It reads like the best of the classics and the most moving of love stories, and we could not be more proud to be publishing this phenomenal new voice.'

- Michal Shavit, Publishing Director, Jonathan Cape 

Olivia Potts

Olivia Potts is an award-winning food writer and chef. She read English at the University of Cambridge and practised as a criminal barrister for five years before deciding to leave the bar for a career in food. In 2017, she graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and was awarded the Young British Foodies Fresh Voices in Food Writing Award. Now Olivia is the cookery columnist for The Spectator, and also writes for the New Statesman, the Guardian and the Telegraph, among others. A Half Baked Idea is her first book.

Olivia Potts

'It has been such a joy to work with Juliet, Assallah and the whole Penguin team. Coming into the process with no real idea of what to expect, I feel incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by such brilliant women – meticulous, patient and enthusiastic – who have helped me to shape the book into something I'm really proud of.'

Why you need to read this book

'This is a wonderful debut, a memoir that combines my two favourite things: laughing and crying, sometimes at the same time.  Think Julie & Julia meets Heartburn meets H is for Hawk.  It’s a memoir by a young barrister who after her mother died, chucked her career at the bar and retrained to become a baker and patissière.  It’s her emotional intelligence and ability to laugh at herself that makes this a really inspiring read, and there is an incredibly satisfying and happy ending, because this is also a love story.  Each chapter of her journey ends with a recipe – and the recipes are great (I have already eaten several, and made the banana cake with Rollos in the middle, so I know what I am talking about; now I want to make the raspberry soufflé with peanut butter custard).'

- Juliet Annan, Publishing Director, Fig Tree

Lara Palmer-Prior

Lara Prior-Palmer made headlines in 2013 when she became the first Briton - and the youngest-ever competitor overall - to win the Mongol Derby, considered to be the world's toughest horse race. Rough Magic is her first book.

Lara Palmer-Prior, credit Richard Dunwoody

'It has taken two years for Rough Magic to alchemise from Microsoft Word doc into 3-D book, and the process has been delightful and less lonely than it might've been thanks to the brilliant Robyn Drury (as well as Jonathan Lee at Catapult in New York) and lately, Sarah Bennie and her team, who have given so much to Rough Magic's natal life that I feel she (the book) would be adequately nourished to launch tomorrow.

I didn't know it would be such a broad experience — from discussing the shade of green in the cover with Robyn, to preparing to speak of the book to interviewers as though I know what it's about. I've loved the sheer length of the journey, the number of discoveries within it, and the support of generous people, even and especially those I have only met on email. My favourite moments have been trips to the Ebury office, where I get a sense of how many, many people are working towards letting these magical books out into the world. I'm very grateful.'

Why you need to read this book

'As an editor, I’m always looking for something unexpected – a quality in the writing to make the reader sit up and take notice. And from the very first page of Lara’s manuscript I was hooked; I just wanted to know more about the wry, playful, enigmatic narrator setting out on what seemed like a very ill-advised quest.

Luckily for me, it turns out that Lara is just as mischievous and magical in person, and working with her has been particularly joyful. The best editorial collaborations feel like setting out on a journey with a friend – much like Lara and her horses in the Mongol Derby – and whilst you know roughly where the finishing line is, the fun is in in working out how you’ll get there together. I hope readers will enjoy the adventure too!'

- Robyn Drury, Commissioning Editor, Ebury Press

Namwali Serpell

Namwali Serpell, author

Namwali Serpell is a Zambian writer who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for women writers in 2011 and was selected for the Africa 39, a 2014 Hay Festival project to identify the best African writers under 40. Her first published story, Muzungu, was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2009 and shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African writing. She won the 2015 Caine Prize for her story The Sack. The Old Drift is her first novel.

'I'd just stepped gingerly out of a mani-pedi salon with Liz when I got the call from my agent. Hogarth had made a preemptive offer from  for my first novel, The Old Drift.

I'd met both of my amazing editors the week before, Poppy in London and Alexis in New York, to talk about the novel, but I'd asked PJ to leave me blissfully ignorant about the business side of things until an offer came in. It was a steaming hot afternoon in the summer of 2015 and I remember bending over with my cell phone, a hand over the other ear to block out the traffic noise, my golden toenails twinkling up at me. We screamed back and forth--the connection was bad--then I hung up and told Liz.

Then we screamed back and forth, dancing our way to a bar to meet Michelle. More screaming ensued, then champagne and pictures and emoji-laden texts and a bitter dude who tried and failed to rain on my parade.

After drinks, we walked a few blocks to meet Mike for Chinese. The sky was sulking into night but the pavement still panted with the day's heat as we stumbled giddily along. I reached out and gripped Michelle's hand. "Don't let me fall and hit my head!" I laughed. I'd been writing the novel off and on for nigh fifteen years and while a third was written- and some of that published - the rest was still in my head. "I need my head!" 

The process of extricating all of The Old Drift from it since then has felt a bit like tugging out a magician's string of knotted handkerchiefs - there's more! And still more!

But with the dauntless efforts of my editors, their assistants, my publicists, my agent, and these friends and others, the motley material has been cut, arranged, and stitched together - I picture a sort of varicolored vorte - -the loose threads snipped or tucked away. And now, like a joker or maybe a mad queen, I shall put it on my unscathed head and walk around beaming foolishly.'

Why you need to read this book

'One of the most exciting first novels I’ve ever read, The Old Drift is an electrifying debut, dazzling in its ambition, reach and brilliance, and the launch of a genuinely breath-taking new talent.  It takes us from 19th-century explorers, chasing their fortunes in Africa, through the 20th century and well into the next, tracing the lives of three generations of three families as they collide and converge in the new nation of Zambia.  

Expect the unexpected; expect to be blown away.  Namwali Serpell gives us a novel that is audacious, playful, intricate, all-consuming, full of wonderful story-telling and lyrical prose – and pure pleasure to read.'

- Poppy Hampson, Editorial Director, Hogarth

Søren Sveistrup

Søren Sveistrup is an internationally acclaimed scriptwriter of the Danish television phenomenon The Killing which won various international awards and sold in more than a hundred countries. More recently, Sveistrup wrote the screenplay for Jo Nesbø's The Snowman. Sveistrup obtained a Master in Literature and in History from the University of Copenhagen and studied at the Danish Film School. He has won countless prizes, including an Emmy for Nikolaj and Julie and a BAFTA for The Killing.

Soren Sveistrup

'The Chestnut Man is my first novel and I have barely gotten over the thrill that goes with the book being published last summer in Denmark, before I learn that it will soon be published in twenty languages.

I’m absolutely delighted and honored to be offered this opportunity by Michael Joseph and to be working with such talented publishers all over the world.'

Why you need to read this book

'The Killing held millions of us transfixed every Saturday evening, revolutionising TV in the UK in the process. The Chestnut Man casts just the same spell.

Søren creates a maelstrom of emotions and takes us into the heart of a family as well as a murder investigation. He is so brilliant at creating characters who stay with you at the same time as storylines which converge and never let up in terms of tension and intrigue.

In his detectives Thulin and Hess, as well as grieving mother and politician Rosa Hartlund, he has conjured up characters who are every bit as memorable as Sarah Lund and co. Søren makes the transition from screen to page with effortless ease and we are beyond thrilled to be his proud UK publisher.'

- Maxine Hitchcock, Publishing Director, Fiction, Michael Joseph

Sara Collins

Sara Collins is of Jamaican descent and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years in Cayman, before admitting that what she really wanted to do was write novels. She studied Creative Writing at Cambridge University, winning the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize, and began to write a book inspired by the idea of 'writing a Gothic novel where the heroine looked like me'. This turned into her first novel, The Confessions of Frannie Langton.

Sara Collins, credit Justine Stoddart

'Katy and the team took Frannie from ragged manuscript to polished novel with the ease and style that comes from a wealth of experience. I've been honoured and humbled by their enthusiasm for Frannie, by the care and attention that has gone into publishing her -- and whenever I catch a glimpse of that iconic Penguin on the cover of my book!'

Why you need to read this book

'I knew the second The Confessions of Frannie Langton arrived on my desk that it was a future Penguin Classic. I was enthralled, shocked and overawed by this debut author’s revisionist Gothic novel; much like contemporary reviewers said of Jane Eyre, its black protagonist Frannie Langton is most decidedly 'a woman, not a pattern'.'

- Katy Loftus, Commissioning Editor, Viking

Leah Hazard

Leah Hazard is a serving NHS midwife. Having studied at Harvard, she left a career in television to pursue her lifelong interest in women’s health after the birth of her first daughter. She soon began working as a doula, supporting women in pregnancy and attending numerous births in homes and hospitals across the country. The birth of Leah’s second daughter prompted Leah to make the leap into midwifery. Since qualifying, she has worked in a variety of clinical areas within the NHS maternity services, including antenatal clinics, triage units and labour wards.

Leah Hazard

'So far, being published has been a wonderful, surreal, humbling adventure.

My ‘day job’ is far from glamorous, involving twelve-hour shifts, bodily fluids and feats of largely thankless endurance. In contrast, having the opportunity to share the highs and lows of my profession with the wider world - and having the support of Penguin Random House at my back - has been a dream come true.

I’m so fortunate to have this platform to spread love for my fellow midwives, and for the women in our care.'

Why you need to read this book

'At the point we think we can’t go on, midwives persuade us that we can. When we have no idea what our bodies or our babies are doing, they take us by the hand and show us the way. In a few short pages, Leah Hazard’s proposal for a memoir of her life as a midwife made me grimace in recognition (‘Go again!’), cry deep tears and smile so frequently at the pure, perfect joy in its pages that I knew Hutchinson just had to publish this moving, compassionate and intensely candid book.

It’s been a huge joy to work with Leah as she reveals the extremes of life on the NHS maternity frontline and tells the stories of the amazing women she has cared for in this system at breaking point. I’m totally in awe of her energy and dedication and how she – and the rest of the country’s midwives – navigate this bloody and beautiful world every single day.

Hard Pushed is a love letter to Leah’s patients, our NHS and to her fellow midwives: there for us at some of the most challenging, empowering and defining moments of our lives. It will have you cheering at the immense power of women – new mothers and midwives alike.'

- Sarah Rigby, Senior Editor, Hutchinson

Sam Copeland

Sam Copeland is a literary agent and Director at Rogers, Coleridge and White. He has worked in publishing for fifteen years and was a bookseller for three years before that. He’s from Manchester but lives in London and has three children. Charlie Changes into a Chicken is his first book. He has threatened to write more.

Sam Copeland, credit Charlotte Knee

'Being published by Penguin Random House has been the most extraordinary whirlwind. If you’d have told me that my book would not only be published by Puffin, but they would also sell it on over 20 other territories, I’d have thought you were bonkers.

Since publication, I’ve had amazing reviews in the papers, met thousands of kids on a school tour, and generally made my mum very proud. It’s been a dream.'

Why you need to read this book

'I was immediately drawn to Sam's manuscript because it worked on so many levels – it's genuinely hilarious, first and foremost, with a totally distinctive voice, but then underpinning the comedy is this absolutely heartfelt and heart-warming message about how kids face and deal with anxiety.

The way he weaves those two threads together is so clever, and really elevates the book above the norm.'

- Ben Horslen, Publisher, Puffin


Gytha Lodge

Gytha Lodge is a writer and multi-award-winning playwright who lives in Cambridge. After studying creative writing at UEA, she was shortlisted for the Yeovil Literary Prize and the Arts' Council England fiction awards, and developed a large online following for her young adult and children's writing, with over five million reads accrued on platform Wattpad. She Lies in Wait is her debut novel.

Gytha Lodge

'I’m hugely excited to be working with Michael Joseph. I couldn't think of a more perfect home for the series.

It's a dream come true to have such a fantastic team to work with, and I am so grateful to Felicity and the Curtis Brown team for bringing us all together.'

Why you need to read this book

'I’ve been waiting for a crime novel like this for ages – Gytha Lodge is a major new talent, and She Lies in Wait combines an irresistible premise worthy of Ruth Ware with the outstanding writing of Susie Steiner. Jonah Sheens is a fantastic character, and I can’t wait to see where Gytha takes him next.'

- Joel Richardson, Publisher, Michael Joseph


Emma Morgan

Emma Morgan, author

Emma Morgan was born in Guernsey and lives in Liverpool. She studied history at Liverpool University and Theatre at Essex University before deciding to move to Spain, where she taught English for five years. She has also worked as a support worker and for BBC local radio. A Love Story for Bewildered Girls is her first novel.

'Being published has made me feel included which is not something I have felt in a long time. I am no longer on the outside looking in. I am a writer now, inside a world of books, surrounded by people who love them as much as I do. I feel at home here, like I belong.'

Why you need to read this book

'I fell in love with Emma Morgan’s writing – it’s beautifully observed, heartfelt, moving and exquisitely funny. A Love Story for Bewildered Girls is perfect for readers looking for an unconventional love story; a novel that celebrates female friendship, and first love in all its guises.'

- Isabel Wall, Editor, Viking

Charlene Allcott

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