I’ve worked with writers all my professional life. I started out in literary agencies, first as an assistant and then as an agent, where I learned how to dig for the potential in story ideas, hone manuscripts into saleable shape and support authors through all the ups and downs of a commercial writing career.
After an intense decade in London publishing I moved to Scotland, where I did a lot of freelance work, including talking about books on the radio, reviewing for the national press, editing for independent publishers and mentoring for the Scottish Book Trust New Writers’ scheme. In 2008 I was hired, along with former 2000AD editor David Bishop, to design a new Creative Writing MA for Edinburgh Napier University.
The MA we launched was pretty unusual: we put genre fiction at the heart of the course, replaced the usual peer-critique workshops with individual mentoring, and learned how to invent new teaching methods. Described by The Times as ‘a radical departure in creative writing’ and by students as ‘a life changing experience’ the MA now has an international reputation, recruiting aspiring novelists from all over the world. I also collaborated with the wonderful Nicole Peeler at Seton Hill University near Pittsburgh, on a new transatlantic postgraduate programme in Writing Popular Fiction, the first of its kind.
I loved teaching — but after nine years of full-time academia, I was ready to do things differently. I launched this consultancy in the summer of 2017, and currently have over a hundred individual writers on my books, along with commercial publishers such as Amazon’s Little A, Lake Union and 47North imprints, Audible Originals, the brilliant crowdfunding publisher Unbound and independent publishers including Head of Zeus and September.
I spend about half my working life doing structural editing, development editing and copyediting for publishers, specialising in science fiction, fantasy, crime/thrillers, literary fiction and memoir. For the rest of the time, I have the freedom to work directly with individual writers wherever they are and whatever their circumstances; to stick with them for as little or long a time as it takes to get to where they need to be, and to focus wholly on their work and on the unique development journey of each potential book.
I live with my partner and a multi-talented canine assistant in Blackford in the south of Edinburgh, which is a perfect spot for rambling around on breaks between manuscripts. When I’m not there, I’m usually in my little campervan, en route to a client.
There are some testimonials and examples below to give you a flavour of the range of work I do, but if you want to find out more, I’d love to hear from you! If you’d like to talk about your writing and see if I can help, contact me and I’ll be in touch as soon as I can.
In July and August 2021, the reaction within sections of the writing and publishing community to legitimate critiques of author Kate Clanchy’s non-fiction work has highlighted the danger of sustaining, within the industry, a complacent, entitled, unaware and inward-facing editorial culture.
I’m not making this point in order to add to the condemnation of one single writer, but to state my personal commitment to ensuring that the work I do is on the side of change. Because a publishing culture that can produce the kind of backlash suffered by Monisha Rajesh, Chimene Suleyman and Prof. Sunny Singh, amongst others, is not a good place for anyone to be.
I was proud to be among employers, colleagues and clients as a signatory to the Bad Form Review Open Letter , and fully support the statement issued by the CIEP Council and Anti-Racism Working Group.
Comments / Questions / Chat?
If you’re interested in the ideas here, I’d love to hear from you.
I am eternally grateful to Sam Boyce, for her inspired developmental editing. Sam is a brutally witty, inventive and intuitive editor, especially with regard to genre, pacing and character development. She understood me from first page to last — Alice McVeigh
Writing as Spaulding Taylor, Alice is author of the Kirkus-starred SF adventure Last Star Standing
I’d like to thank specifically Sam Boyce, for editing with such empathy, wisdom and her light touch — Helen Garlick
Helen’s beautiful and courageous debut memoir No Place To Lie gained widespread media coverage and 5 stars on Amazon.
Not only whipped myself and my manuscript into shape, but made the whole editing process an absolute joy! — Jen McIntosh
Author of Blood of Ravens, a rich, ambitious high fantasy novel, and the first in a planned series. Jen is also a double Olympian who writes a brilliant blog on the transition from competitive sport to novel-writing.
Honestly, this woman is worth her weight in gold. Could not recommend more. If you’re a writer working alone and have been looking for a knife-sharp mentor / editor / big-hearted sister all rolled into one, she does exist — Nada Holland
Nada is a former culture critic and reporter, of Dutch and Indonesian descent. Her extraordinary literary debut, Motherborn, is published by Lendal Press.
I heartily recommend Sam Boyce who helped me get my historical crime thriller City of Vengeance submission ready. That led to an agent, a two-book deal with Pan Macmillan and the same novel being shortlisted for the 2021 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize — D. V. Bishop
D. V. Bishop is an award-winning screenwriter and TV dramatist, and an expert in giving recommendations which also provide all the information you need about his book!
Working with Sam was fantastic. She is an absolute joy as well as making my manuscript infinitely better! Sam seemed to understand exactly what I was wanting to convey, teasing it out of me whilst at the same time keeping me to deadlines and moving the whole project forward. She has helped turn my story into a manuscript that I am incredibly proud of. Sam is worth her weight in gold! — Mary Turner Thomson
Mary is the author of the #1 bestselling memoir The Bigamist and its sequel The Psychopath.
My favourite hired gun/goon — Luke Smitherd
My favourite Audible Book of the Year-shortlisted, Amazon #1 bestselling writer of SF thrillers and high-concept horror. Luke’s the author of the Stone Man series, amongst many other things.
Working with Sam took me from ‘I’m a dancer and I write on the side’ to ‘I’m a writer with an agent and about to sign a contract for my first book’ in the space of a couple of months.
I can’t guarantee it will happen this fast for everyone, but Sam’s extensive knowledge of the business and contacts made the entire process easier and far less intimidating than I initially expected. Like many writers I’ve had the ‘how do I ever get an agent to look at this’ dread, and the ‘how do I even write a proposal? What IS a proposal?’ panic – however Sam’s mentorship and guidance made the entire thing painless.
Initially I sent a few different samples of my work alongside a full-length manuscript to give Sam a feel of my writing. She gave me extensive and constructive feedback over e-mail that already elevated my work considerably. We had a Skype session to talk through the feedback, which made me feel even more comfortable as Sam is probably the friendliest person I’ve ever encountered. Her genuine love for books motivates you beyond belief and makes you feel like you’ve already made it.
We both focused in on my manuscript – a memoir – and already Sam was thinking of potential agents for it. Over the next few weeks I made the suggested edits and we pinged my work back and forth.
We then met in person a month later and had a detailed, informative meeting about the potential of my work, the publishing process, potential agents and the industry as a whole. I wasn’t sold any dreams, which I appreciated – instead I was given a realistic and experienced account of what the next steps were and how to achieve the best start to my writing career.
Immediately she sent my work out into the world and within days I had an invitation to submit work to an agent. Sam explained each part of the proposal so thoroughly that my initial panic was almost laughable. She looked over the proposal and polished it up and then it was sent. I received my first feedback from Sam in January 2019, met up with her in March and signed with my agent in May. I couldn’t have had an easier experience and working with Sam Boyce is without a doubt the best thing I could have done for my career.
Eliška Sinti, now represented by Jo Swainson at Hardman & Swainson; debut memoir under contract with Mirror Books.
The manuscript review I had with Sam was of huge benefit. Sam was able to locate and give guidance on core structural issues with the novel that have cleared a path for me to resolve them. Based on this advice, I am confident of being able to undertake a rewrite that will deliver on my intentions and ambition for the novel. In essence, an hour spent with Sam can save months of work writing material that will not make the final cut because the core structure and plot is underdeveloped. I hold my hand up to that crime, and I’m grateful to have seen the light. These sessions are not only transformative for the current novel I’m working on, but the expertise gained will be used in future novels.
Stuart Tanner, manuscript assessment client
Sam had the ability to see a novel in its entirety, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses and then asking precise questions to enable me to make it as good as it could be. She was highly motivating and stretched me as a writer. I would recommend working with Sam to any writer who is serious about improving their work.
Sam’s editorial advice is in a different league and she should charge twice as much as she does (don’t tell her I said that) because her input is gold standard stuff. I’ve been writing for well over a decade, and have received extremely helpful feedback from various sources but, in terms of technical feedback, no one is close to Sam’s understanding and expertise.
Her appraisal of the mechanics of a piece; where it’s working and where it isn’t working, is precise and incisive. I know my strengths, and Sam knows my weaknesses. Her laser eye is exactly what my short fiction needed in 2018-19.
In submitting short stories to journals in 2016-17, the most common response was a personalised reply saying, “we loved your writing but could you send us something else?” In 2018, I engaged Sam to help me rework a story. She proved to be the missing ingredient to succeeding with these pieces. Within nine months, three stories we’d reworked had been accepted to literary journals.
She usually sets out two or three steps to get from A to B, and if the written advice needs a bit more explanation she offers that by phone. But 99% of the time the advice makes sense once I get down to applying it. And I can make it my own, too; I take the key she’s handed me to unlock the problem and I go about the solution in my own way.
Revisions aren’t easy work, but they’re worth it. Sam shines a torch on structural/formal issues – hurdles that I couldn’t jump alone because I couldn’t see them. She forces me to up my game, she’s not gentle, she has standards and she presents intelligent, tailored questions and choices. That suits me and I wouldn’t want anything less. However, I’m convinced that whatever your aim, Sam would adapt her advice accordingly. I’ve already recommended Sam to a couple of writers I know.
She’s also particularly attuned to how ‘the industry’ would respond to the work and can steer your choices along those lines if that’s a factor in the project.
Sam came along at an unforeseen juncture where my professional writing life was calling loudly but my personal situation was allowing very little time to write. Thus working with Sam ensured that the available time I had was used most efficiently and effectively. For me, in terms of professional development, Sam’s input is affordable, especially by taking it one story at a time.
Kate Tough, novelist, poet and short story writer.
Sam Boyce has absolutely changed my writing life with her enthusiasm, kindness and invaluable expertise.
While attending one of her one-day courses in 2017, Sam created a very safe, encouraging and creative space for us all to explore our own material. I later approached her to review my memoir manuscript and I truly felt that she was the only person I was ready to share it with. Her professional feedback and constant encouragement was everything I needed.
Sam took time to really listen and understand what I wanted my book to be. I gained focus and excitement through making key improvements which she suggested, and I finally discovered how I could improve my own personal writing journey. Since then, I have accepted an offer of representation from an agent in London and my confidence in my writing has hugely increased.
I will never be able to thank Sam enough for her generosity and support in getting my memoir to where it is now. (But I will continue to buy her cake whenever she’ll let me!)
Clare J Cavanagh, now represented by Natalie Galustian at DHH.
I can help all writers, from tentative beginners, to professionals looking for a mid-career boost, and anyone in between.
My specialism is working on full-length narrative, across all aspects of idea development, technical decision making, artistic expression and professional polish. Over the last three decades I’ve worked with every kind of author there is — when it comes to telling a good story, my curiosity and enthusiasm are pretty universal! But here are a few types of project I particularly love:
Be my guest! Email the Agony Column, and I’ll see what I can do. Keep an eye on the Events & Resources page too — I haven’t organised any events since the beginning of lockdown, but when I do, they’re always free.
More questions? Get in touch, and I’ll be happy to answer them!