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Hannah Smith, Editorial Director at Head of Zeus

We speak to Hannah about publishing People Like Us by Louise Fein and her role at Head of Zeus.

I am currently editorial director at Head of Zeus, where I primarily look after Aria and Aries our digital-focused, commercial fiction imprints, but I also acquire a boutique number of titles for the main Head of Zeus list - such as People Like Us, Patience and The Key to Fear

How did you get into publishing?

As a big reader, I'd always known I wanted to do something around books, so when I discovered the publishing industry I had my sights set on working in editorial. I studied English and Creative Writing at university, and throughout my time there I interned at several of the Big Five publishers, before securing my first job as an editorial assistant at HarperCollins. I then moved to Head of Zeus in 2018.  

Has your role in publishing widened your reading taste, and how has it changed your attitude to different genres of books?

It has certainly opened my eyes to how much I love different genres. Originally I only wanted to work in YA or SFF, but those roles are very rare and often incorporate wider children's fiction (on the YA side). So I began to read more widely and discovered my love for commercial and reading group fiction. The joy of my current role is that I get to work on a multitude of genres, from historical to suspense. 

What reading formats do you prefer? Do you prefer hardbacks, paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks, library books, or a mixture?

For work I couldn't be without my Kindle, it's what I read all of my manuscripts and submissions on. It's so much easier than carrying around piles and piles of paper (not to mention environmentally friendly) and it fits nicely into a bag or pocket (handy for hopping on the tube with). As I tend to be in 'edit mode' when I read on my Kindle I've started to read more hardbacks for pleasure, to ensure I'm out of thinking like an editor. Though I still read quite a lot on Kindle outside of work - like I said, it's just so easy to carry around. 

Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?

In August I published People Like Us which is a breathtaking historical fiction debut. It's absolutely the type of book I entered publishing to publish. It's set in Germany in the build-up to WW2 and follows a young German girl as she falls in love with a Jewish boy. Suddenly everything she's been taught is called into question and she begins to realise the country she calls home isn't the great nation she believed it to be. It's part love story, part call to arms, and really highlights the importance of speaking up against those who are wrong. 

What is your most-read genre? Do you have niche sub-genres that you are often attracted to?

I'm a big historical fiction reader, though as I said my tastes are incredibly varied and I definitely continue to read incredibly widely. But I'm always drawn into a dual-timeline or historical novel set in a foreign country. I binged the Lucinda Riley Seven Sisters series last year, and they immediately became some of my favourite books. I also loved Jenny Ashcroft's Meet Me in Bombay and Dinah Jefferies Before the Rain. But, I also love dark and twisty tales, My Dark Vanessa and The Roanoak Girls are also some of my favourite books. 

Where do you buy or access your books?

I'm incredibly lucky to get sent a lot of books from other publishers, which is always exciting and a real treat. But I mainly buy my physical copies from Waterstones and wherever I can indies, and my eBooks are from Amazon.

What childhood books have you kept on your shelves?

So many. The bookshelves at my parents are still full of my old books - I really struggle to part with any. From the Alex Rider series (who didn't want to be a teenage super spy?) to Noughts and Crosses (Callum will always be my first love). Eva Ibbotson is the author I cherish the most as she truly let me fall in love with historical fiction. 

What surprises you about your shelves? Is there a book you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?

Again, I think it's what a good mix of genres they contain. When I was younger I never thought I'd read everything from Tom Clancey to Lindsey Kelk. It almost feels like a bit of a bookshop with a wonderful selection of books to choose from. 

What are your favourite books of 2020 so far?

I managed to read quite a lot of books during lockdown, but my favourite of the year has to be Pretending by Holly Bourne. I don't think I've ever read a book that related to me more, I laughed, cried and really felt myself being swept away with the central character. It was completely brilliant and I devoured it in a couple of hours.

What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of 2020?

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton is firmly in my calendar and I am counting down the days until I can get my hands on a copy.

What book should everyone read?

The Vanishing Half and Everything I Know About Love 

Where can readers find you online? 

On Twitter I'm @HannahKateSmith


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