Phoebe Morgan speaks to The Publishing Profile about her adoration of Maggie O'Farrell and her work on commercial fiction.
I work at HarperCollins as an editorial director, working across the HarperFiction crime and thriller team, and the Avon imprint. I also write on the side, and my thrillers (The Doll House, The Girl Next Door, and The Babysitter) are published by HQ. I work with a range of Kindle and Sunday Times bestsellers, acquiring books and editing them, then taking them through the publication process. I currently work with about 21 authors and am always on the lookout for exciting new voices.
I started at Octopus Books as a Publishing Assistant, after doing a BA in English at Leeds University. I actually originally trained as a journalist and worked on a local paper before deciding to start applying for publishing roles. I moved from Octopus to HarperCollins, then did a maternity cover at Orion last year before returning to HarperCollins again in 2019.
Has your role in publishing widened your reading taste, and how has it changed your attitude to different genres of books?
I work on very commercial fiction, primarily crime and thriller, which means I read a LOT of suspense fiction. Luckily I love it though! It does mean I have less time to read other genres now, but I do still try to widen my tastes where I can – so I read a bit of literary fiction, short stories, and occasionally poetry too. I think working in publishing has only served to make me love crime and thriller even more – it’s a huge privilege to work with such talented authors and to discover new stories.
What reading formats do you prefer?
I prefer reading eBooks as I love my Kindle! I find it so useful to have the backlight, so I can read in bed at night and take it everywhere with me. I am often reading lots of submissions at once, so a Kindle is pretty essential and I actually find it quite hard to read paperbacks and hardbacks now… I have never been a big audiobook listener, but this is a growing area of the market as so many people love it.
Do you prefer hardbacks, paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks, library books, or a mixture?
eBooks! Though I do own lots of gorgeous hardbacks and paperbacks too – I like having them on my shelves. I grew up getting most of my books from the local library, so I will always want to support libraries too. The current climate is very worrying in this respect, and I think more needs to be done to preserve them as they can be such an amazing resource.
Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
I’m proud of all the books I work on! I suppose Sleep by C.L. Taylor is one for me because it was a real milestone in the author’s career – it was selected for the Richard and Judy promotion and was the first time we had published her in hardback, to great success. So that felt special and really rewarding.
What is your most-read genre? Do you have niche sub-genres that you are often attracted to?
Definitely suspense and psychological thriller, though I do also love short stories by people like Lorrie Moore. I am also always drawn to novels set in London or New York, or in Suffolk as that’s where I grew up. It can be fun to recognise places, and books set in big cities often have a really special kind of energy.
Where do you buy or access your books?
I am lucky in that I get sent quite a lot of books to blurb for (with my author hat on), but I still purchase books online (because I read eBooks I do buy a lot on Amazon, sorry!) But I also try to support local bookshops, especially at the moment – I bought three paperbacks in Waterstones last week when it opened up after the 2020 lockdown.
What childhood books have you kept on your shelves?
So many! I love the Adrian Mole series and I have found it really comforting in lockdown. Similarly, all the Louise Rennison novels. I am fast running out of shelf space, but back at my mum’s house, there are tons more… I used to read a lot of Jacqueline Wilson, Enid Blyton, The Babysitters Club… all sorts!
What is the oldest book on your shelf?
Gosh, I am not sure! I have some very old Harry Potter books, that are a bit torn and tattered now as I’ve read them so many times, as have my brothers. Back at home, we have a lot of the classics, some of which are getting on a bit! But I am not sure which is actually the oldest…
What’s the most beautiful book you own?
I love my copy of Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be The Place, it’s a gorgeous hardback and I just love the jacket. She is one of my favourite writers, too. I’ve also got some really pretty cookery books from when I worked at Octopus – Sabrina Ghayour, for example.
Who is your most read author, and why?
Hmm, there are so many! I love Louise Candlish – I read Our House when it came out and then went back and read her entire backlist – there are quite a few of hers that I hadn’t know about, so it was a delight devouring them all! I immediately buy anything by Maggie O’Farrell and Liz Nugent.
What surprises you about your shelves? Is there a book you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
My absolute favourite books are The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice, and The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank. Interestingly neither of them are crime, but I just fell in love with them both and have read them so many times.
What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far?
I have really loved Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan, How to Disappear by Gillian McAllister, and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. Highly recommend them all.
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of 2020?
I can’t wait to read the new Sabine Durrant, I think it’s called Finders Keepers.
What book should everyone read?
I am publishing a really special and exciting book called Girl A by Abigail Dean in January 2021 with HarperCollins, and I implore everyone to read it when it comes out! It is truly phenomenal.