Thursday, 9 November 2017

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Matthew Smith

Welcome to my latest MY PUBLISHING LIFE feature, an interview with a literary agent, publisher, publicist or editor about their publishing career to date. Some serious questions, and some just for fun!



Today I'm delighted to welcome 

MATTHEW SMITH

Publisher Director
at
Urbane Publications



What and when was your first job in publishing?
I actually started as a Waterstones bookseller in 1991, but my first ‘proper’ publishing role was as an editorial assistant at Routledge in 1993. Based in the glamour of New Fetter Lane (the building is gone now and replaced with a ‘shiny’ vision of the future) I supported two editors in the heady and glamorous world of academic publishing – I even had preferential use of the floor’s only fax machine. Happy days. I genuinely learnt a great deal about the publishing world in that first role, as well as earning big bucks (a whopping £9250 a year no less!). 

How long have you been working in your current job/role?
I walked away from a director role at a publishing house and set up Urbane in early 2014. I don’t think I’ve had a complete day off since! It’s been a constant positive challenge, and despite 25 years of publishing I’m learning every single day. There are occasionally huge frustrations (don’t get me started) but they are always outweighed by the simple wonder of publishing new books. 

Which books have you worked on recently/are you working on?
I’m just about to publish a brilliant crime debut – Dead Lands – a thrilling 70s set police procedural. Lloyd is definitely a writer to watch and I’m over the moon to bring his work to the world. I’m also very excited about Javelin by Roger Pearce. Roger was an established thriller writer with Hodder but decided to publish his third book with Urbane – it’s a huge boost for everyone involved with the company that an author has shifted from one of the big five to publish with an independent. We’re actually in the process of presenting our Spring 2018 titles as well – keep your eyes peeled for HellCorp by Jonathan Whitelaw, Trouble Boys by E.R.Fallon and The Kindness of Strangers, Julie Newman’s second novel after this year’s gripping debut, Beware the Cuckoo. Excited? You bet I am! 

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
On a practical level many publishing jobs still demand a degree, so that helped get a foot in the door, but it’s a total nonsense. Because much of publishing is about people, whether you’re dealing with authors or trying to predict reader interests. I spend most of every day either talking to people or responding to messages. I once compiled a list of skills for a typical commissioning editor, and they ranged from social worker and psychiatrist to accountant and operations manager. Whatever role you have in publishing it will always be varied and change day-to-day – it’s never dull! And three things you must have in huge doses are commitment, persistence and patience (particularly when dealing with authors. Only joking. Honest!). 
It also helps if you can read! 😉 

How do you relax after a busy working day?
I find it very hard to switch off from the business as there is ALWAYS something else that needs doing, but I do try and read as much as possible (and not just scripts that get sent to me – see next question), and spend as much time with my children as I can (much to their annoyance!) 😊 I also have a motorbike and that is a great stress-buster. Though only at legal speeds officer. 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I try to read two to three books a week that are not directly related to Urbane and I have very eclectic tastes. I buy from bookshops, but also support the local library as much as possible. Current books on the reading pile are May Day (a novella by F.Scott Fitzgerald), He by John Connolly, and Stephen King’s latest blockbuster Sleeping Beauties. 

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Believer in dreams. 

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far
Far too many to list! Seeing two authors make the WHSmith Fresh Talent list was very special (Adrian Harvey and Tom Hocknell), and I’m always delighted when an author gets positive coverage of any kind. But the genuine highlight comes with every new book and the sheer thrill and excitement that inspires not just in me but the author and readers. I f I ever lose that feeling it’s time to give up.
Though there was that night I went drinking with Steven Berkoff…. 

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
I’ve given up the dream of starring in Baywatch so I’d have to go with motorcycle mechanic. I have no skill in that area whatsoever but would love to learn - and there’s something very appealing about fixing up broken bikes and making them work again. 

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?
Extraordinary tales from an ordinary life

Thanks so much for taking part, Matthew!


Look out for more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features coming soon.

Click here to read more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features.

If any literary agents, publishers, publicists or editors would like to take part, please contact me through my blog or Twitter for the full list of questions.

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