An Interview With… Miranda Jewess

Hi everyone, and today on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Miranda Jewess. Miranda works as a Senior Commissioning Editor for Viper Books. She very kindly answered my questions on what her job role entails – and what attracts her to a good book.

Over to you, Miranda…

1) How did you first become involved in the industry? Was it something you always wanted to do?

By accident, really. After university I was applying for jobs (I nearly became an accountant) and my mum, who is a historian, had just written a book. She asked me to proof it for her, and it made me think it was something I could do professionally. And it seemed a lot more fun than accounting! So I got a graduate traineeship at a small history press. I’d always been surrounded by books, but my degree was very science-based, so it had never occurred to me before.

2) For anyone who doesn’t know what your job role entails, can you briefly describe what you do?

I run the Viper crime and thriller list, an imprint of Serpent’s Tail. Agents send me submissions, and I read them and try to buy the rights to the ones I love. Choosing the books isn’t just about whether they’re good, but also about whether they fit on the list. We want the books to all be distinct, but also fitting into the crime sub-genres that we publish – procedurals, gothic, psychological thrillers, high-concept. I also edit the books, brief covers, write copy, manage the metadata, pitch our books at sales conferences and book fairs, and generally shout about them.

3) How has your job been affected by lockdown? Have there been any limitations to your role?

I’ve been working at home since March, only going into the office a couple of times. I have a two-year-old, so before her nursery re-opened in June, it was basically impossible to do a normal day’s work. I had to just fit it in where I could. One of the biggest changes I’ve found is that I used to spend my commute and lunch hour reading submissions, and I no longer have those three hours earmarked, so I have to make a conscious effort to put my laptop down and pick up my Kindle. And it’s been very sad not to have crime festivals to go to, which is where I discover new authors and make new contacts.

4) What is your reading style like? What kind of reader are you, both professionally and personally?

I read submissions pretty quickly because many crime lovers are reading books on the go – standing on a bus or crammed into a train. And because we’re often racing through the book to get to the solution. If a submission doesn’t hold together unless it’s read very carefully (except if it’s intentionally literary or high-concept) then it may not be working. Personally I still read pretty quickly, but I try to pace myself, especially with non-fiction.

5) How are you hooked into a story – are you hooked by the character first or the plot, or is it the pace?

I think it really depends on the book. Obviously if the first chapter is a character just sitting around making a cup of tea, then that character better be really intriguing! I probably get hooked by a good setup in the first couple of chapters, then am happy for things to slow down so I can get to know the characters. But I have no preference, it’s all about the book itself, what it chooses to emphasise, and how successfully it does it.

6) At what point do you know that you have come across something special? When do you realise that you can’t stop reading?

I read submissions on a Kindle, so I can be quite specific – I’d say I know whether the book is special by the 15% mark, because that’s when I either immediately carry on, or put it down to do something else. If it’s great it still may not be right for the list, but I’ll end up finishing it anyway, because I want to see how it ends.

7) Away from your job, do you have any particular genre of book that you read for pleasure? Through lockdown however, have you found that your reading habits have changed?

I read a lot of historical and scientific non-fiction, literary science fiction, and piles of crime. I think I’ve been reading more books for pleasure during lockdown, partly because my evenings are longer without my commute, and also because I’ve been on Twitter more and keep on seeing people talking about new books that I end up buying.

8) In lockdown, what are you currently watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

I’ve been religiously re-watching The West Wing (currently on season 6). It contrasts so much with what’s currently happening in the US, where most of my family live! Also The Plot Against America, I Will Destroy You and a bit of Glee.

9) On a Friday evening when you leave your desk, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

I go pick up my daughter from nursery and make her dinner. Once she’s in bed we have our own dinner and watch The West Wing! At the weekends it’s all about her. I spend a lot of time running after her in parks. She’s ridiculously fast on her scooter.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie Mercury every time. There’s a song for every mood and my god, that voice.

Thank you for your time today, Miranda, to stop by the blog. It was a real pleasure to interview you.

Bio: Miranda Jewess grew up in Oxfordshire and studied Biological Anthropology at Cambridge University. Her first publishing job was at The History Press, on the Spellmount military history list. She moved to Titan Books in 2012, where she worked on crime, fantasy, horror and science fiction titles, becoming Acquisitions and Managing Editor in 2017. In 2019 she was hired as the new Senior Commissioning Editor at Serpent’s Tail, and launched the Viper imprint, a list devoted to crime, thriller and gothic fiction. She lives in London.

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