Robert Peett

I’d like to introduce you to the owner of Holland House Books publishing company, Robert Peett.

Hi, Robert! Welcome to Susan Finlay Writes blog site. You are the founder of Holland House Publishing, a U.K. company, and you are also the editor for all of the company’s titles. Can you tell us more about your background and how you became a publisher?

I have done a fairly wide variety if things, and for a long time worked in the art world, dealing in works on paper; amongst other things, I researched and produced catalogues. I worked with authors and academics too, and did some freelance writing and publishing work for individuals and companies. This current venture had been in my mind for a long time and then it grew from a friendship with Sammy Smith.

Holland House Books publishes literary novels. What do you look for in literary submissions?

I suppose seriousness of purpose – even in comedies – care and commitment and, of course, some clear talent and skill in using words.

Can you tell us about Holland House Books’ imprint, Grey Cells Press?

Over the years I have read a great deal of genre fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and so on, but my greatest love is mysteries, from Christie to Chandler. I love working on these books, and think it is an underdeveloped area; lots of small presses dealing in fantasy and sci-fi spring up, but I know of very few publishing crime.

What do you look for when considering mystery/crime submissions?

Clever plots, good writing, generally an understanding of the genre and the canon; either the novel must add something and be a little different, or at the very least be an excellent example of a classic style.

What’s next for Holland House Books?

I have recently worked with some fine authors: Marlene Lee, Cass McMain, Bustles Lloyd, John Bayliss, Ewan Gault, and all the Kristell Ink authors – and we have more excellent work coming soon (including yours, of course Susan!) But we are always looking for more, and now also have a historical fiction imprint (Caerus Press) and a speculative fiction imprint (Lost World Press).

You must get a lot of manuscript submissions. Does it ever get overwhelming? How long does it usually take for you to review a manuscript and make a decision?

It is taking longer than I would like at the moment; I am having to think in terms of a three-four weeks at the moment, but it should be quicker than that. I always read all of a sample, and never decide within the first few pages.

When rejecting a manuscript, do you send out a form letter, or do you give a fuller explanation of why it isn’t right for your company?

I used to give full feedback, but now I ask if the author would like feedback.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that writers make? What will cause a fast rejection?

No particular ‘mistake’ will affect me that way. I would rather people didn’t work too hard with their covering note, and want synopses to be complete, not teasers, but even then I will still read and look for what is good.

Can you tell us a bit about the author/editor relationship? What do you like best about editing other authors’ work?

Author and editor have to work together, and the focus is the novel – not ego. I am fairly strong in my views and opinions and I want the author to be strong too. We are working together for a common goal and this is best when we reach a situation in which the novel exists independently of either of us, it matters, not our vanity; where we are almost (or actually) saying ‘we need to do this…). It can become exciting, with ideas emerging, and new layers being revealed. It can be very Socratic – you know, like being a midwife!

Then, once the editing is done, I cease to matter.

I met Maggie Gee recently, and she was telling me how her publisher had once given her an editor who clearly wanted to write their own book through hers; I try always to ghet inside the author’s book and, if I can, help to bring out the best book they have in them.

How do you feel about the “rules” of contemporary writing: no adverbs, limited dialogue tags, show don’t tell, no head-hopping, etc.? In your opinion, how important are they to writing? Are there any that you particularly adhere to?

It is pretty much all nonsense. All the ‘laws’ are hypotheticals, not absolutes. It is reasonable to say that too many adverbs can overload a piece, slow (and even halt) action, and so on – ‘too many’ being the key phrase. One must do what is right for each novel, each chapter, each paragraph, each sentence, and so it becomes important to have an understanding of effects. First Quiller-Crouch, then Faulkner, and now Stephen King argue against adverbs, with King being ridiculous and claiming they are only for timid writers; it is childish posturing.

Rembrandt used techniques that Cezanne would never use – and vice-versa; indeed, the ways Rembrandt and Jan Lievens worked were very different. They had different aims and so used different techniques. What I keep coming across is people who have been told these rules and who follow them slavishly and yet don’t even understand them properly.

I recently had a conversation at a literary function with several established authors (including a past President of the Royal Society of Literature) and I mentioned these rules; there was a silence and they all stared at me. Then one said ‘what on earth are you talking about?’

What is your favorite or least favorite part of writing or editing or publishing?

Rejecting submissions is my least favourite; publishing someone’s work is very satisfying.

Publishing has introduced me to some very good people; and revealed some very unpleasant people who would thrive at the seedier end of the art world.

You studied Philosophy, and then did post-graduate work in Politics at University. Since then, you’ve written for journals in Australia and the UK, researched and wrote a book on Aviation History, and you ghostwrote a book. Now that you are an editor and publisher, do you have any time for your own writing?

Not enough… But I have been able recently to do some very solid work, both fiction and academic.

You have taught at various levels and subjects, and you’ve mentored at the BA and PhD level. You seem to enjoy helping students. How do students find you, and what is about academic papers that interests you?

People come to me via word of mouth, and I am trying not to do any at the moment. It does interest me – and I always learn more – but it is draining at times.

What books or authors have most influenced you in your own writing?

Too many to name, really; but a few would be Dostoyevsky, Graham Greene, Robertson Davies, Camus, Wodehouse… Ah, I am about to carry on for a page or so.

Please list any websites or social media links for yourself or your book. Thanks!