We sat down with Elizabeth Neep, a commissioning editor and publisher at SPCK books, who has recently published her first book series More> which is all about making space for God in our lives and putting the bible in to a context that’s easy to understand. We wanted to find out a bit more about Elizabeth and how she’s got to where she is today.
First things first, what do you actually do?
My job is a bit weird and wonderful. I’m part time commissioning editor and part time publicist. Commissioning editor is the person who looks for new book ideas. I don’t do any grammar or spelling, that’s actually someone called a copy editor. The commissioning editor is the big picture person; is this a good idea? does it have a market? And then on the publicity side it’s taking all of our lovely books, and trying to find the right market (audience) and know how they’ll hear about it. If they’re young and using Instagram it’s coming up with something like sending loads of books to people who will post about it on Instagram, its just matching the book to its market.
So to be able to do this job what did you study at university?
I did law, but basically I was studying English and arts at A Level, and when it came to going to uni I was like I don’t really wanna do 3 years of something I’ve been doing a lot of, I was getting quite good grades so I was like I’m gunna do law. I never wanted to be a lawyer I just wanted to do that degree, but then after 4 years of being on this treadmill of this is how you get a legal contract, this is how you get paid £100,000 I kind of started to think I did want to be a lawyer. But in my final year of uni I came back to faith and started going to church again and I felt like God said, in the clearest way I’ve ever heard him speak to me, ‘you were born to tell stories.’ And so I was like oh okay and just stepped in to that and followed that, it was quite amazing.
Wow, that’s pretty cool. Have you always liked writing from a young age?
I used to write stories allll the time. I wrote my first book about a sheepdog when I was 10. And then I did loads of drawing, I was always drawing Pocahontas – I was a very creative child.
That’s great you followed Gods path for your life. A lot of us struggle with hearing God’s voice – for you how do you know it’s God speaking?
I think it’s changed a lot. Around that time I was so passionate and knew in my faith that it felt undeniable. I kept praying about it and He kept giving me peace about the same decisions. But I think in the years that have happened later I’ve learnt a lot more about the fact that god doesn’t mind which direction we take and actually we can get really caught up in what is God and what is the right decision, but some of the time it’s putting one foot in front of the other. I would say now sometimes I’m still none the wiser when God is speaking and that’s okay. Because He’s so patient, when you look in the bible you see He tells people again and again and again, if your heart is right He will push you in the right direction.
Let’s talk a bit about the More> book series. What made you decide you wanted to publish something like this?
I was having loads of conversations with young Christians who are really passionate about worship, prayer and seeking the Holy Spirit; we are desperate to hear Gods voice, but we rarely read the bible and most of the time God doesn’t speak through burning bushes and big signs, He’s written an awful lot of His heart and plans for us down on paper already. So the series is about trying to make the bible less scary so people can engage with it, and learn to hear Gods voice through reading the bible
There are 4 so far, with more to come, and one of them is called More> Real. This one is about learning to take off the masks that we wear throughout life. We are always trying to present the best version of ourselves whether that be online, in relationships, or elsewhere. How easy do you think it is to take off these masks?
I definitely find it challenging, more so to be my whole self in all environments. There is too often a tendency to be one version of yourself in church and one version outside of church. I can sing God’s praises and be one way in church but then when I’m chatting to my friends down in the pub who don’t know Jesus I’ll be like ‘oh yeah this just happened what a coincidence.’ And it’s almost the same story told in 2 different ways. It’s a challenge to bring your whole self to those environments but the church needs our honesty and the world needs to hear about the goodness of God.
What is your hope for those who read the More> books?
My hope is that the books themselves wouldn’t replace the bible but it will help them see that they can break down some of the scriptures and they do still speak to their lives today, so I almost hope they act as a gateway to more regular patterns of reading the bible every day.
You’re 28 years old and you’ve already had such an exciting career so far – what’s the big dream for your life?
I’ve recently started writing novels and I guess I’d be lying if I didn’t say the dream was to get a book deal and share these stories with a wider audience. I’m constantly laying down my dreams to God because He can always do more than we imagine. It’s really hard when you’re creative, ambitious and a dreamer, to not just try and take it all in to your own hands and be like ‘I’m gonna make this work!’ We are taught as Christians to not let go of dreams, but to trust them to God and He will give them back to you with even more on top of what you’ve thought of.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
My advice would be the same to myself now, which is: Don’t worry so much! The things I worries about at 15 are not the worries I have now, and I’m sure the worries I have today will not be there when I’m 35. I think a little portion of our brains learns to worry, but you can unlearn worry. I was arguing with my youth leader in church when I was younger about how you can’t control your thoughts and you can’t help what thoughts pop in to your mind, and she said “you can’t stop a bird from landing on your head but you can stop it from nesting there.” You can’t help when a worry comes in to your mind but you can see it, give it to God and move on with your day, or you can chew on it make yourself sick worrying over it and talking to all your friends about it!
Just before we go, for all the young authors-to-be, what makes a good book pitch?
A good one would definitely have an understanding of who its for and why they need to read the book. You’ll have lots of writers (and I’m probably one of these!) who writes something and they think it’s the most brilliant thing. They’ve written it for themselves, they’ve written it as a kind of cathartic ‘Day in the Life of Elizabeth’, but actually it’s not really for anyone else. The best book proposals really have an idea of who they’re trying to reach and what they’re trying to say.
And finally, what are your 3 favourite books ever?
Apart from the bible, because you have to say that, I used to loved Fiesta by Kate Cann when I was younger. And then, This Is All I Have To Say by Swapan Seth – I found this little book in a bookshop in India and every word is fantastic! And finally, Fearfully Made by Carlos Darby with Hillsong Youth.
Photography: Corina Straub