Essex Book Festival: Birth of the Book Live Blog! Francesca Main

Join us as we liveblog the ‘Birth of the Book’ event at Essex Book Festival featuring critically acclaimed author Kerry Hudson, Literary Agent Jo Unwin and Picador Editor Francesca Main. We move on to Picador Editor Francesca Main.

Scroll down below for the live updates!

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Just getting settled back in the room…

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Kate is welcoming everyone back into the room. Now it’s the turn of Francesca Main.

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Worked in publishing since 2003. Worked at literary agency, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and now Picador.

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Picador is a literary imprint. Well curated and independent but supported by a larger company.

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Picador’s identity is important as have to consider what Picador represents and will a book fit this.

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Have to think about what makes a Picador book. Covers both fiction & non-fiction. Many great writers are published by them.

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List is broad but still quite focussed. Can cover literary but still commercial. Described as ‘a publisher of voices’.

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Looking for a voice that is strong and distinctive. Books that will reach a broad audience and reach as many people as possible.

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When started a Picador, essentially starting a list from scratch. Now have around 20 authors. Most of them debut novelists. Some are now starting their second novels.

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When get sent a book have to make sure colleagues will like it as well. Own taste is v important though as helps carve out an identity. Agents need to know what books to send to who.

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List is not dictated by own taste but loves and would recommend any book on the list.

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Publishes almost entirely fiction.

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Receives 5-20 novels a week. Will take on about 6-10 writers a year.

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The passion element is the easy part. Want to tell people about the book.

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‘Do I love it?’ is the easy bit. ‘Can we sell it?’ is harder.

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Some of the questions that may be discussed is: is it right for Picador? Is it strong enough commercially? Then it may be turned down and hope it doesn’t end up on a prize longlist!

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If it is taken on it is then a collaborative process. It will have the backing of someone in each department – sales, marketing, digital etc. Made a pledge to stand up for the book.

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Editors can be ambassadors for the books – championing the writing and starting the word of mouth discussions.

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Have to envisage the whole publication of the book before you can buy it. How would you jacket it? What other books is it like? Have to think strategically to make sure nothing new crosses over with another book on the list. Will it find a home in a bookshop etc. Would ASDA stock it? What prizes to submit for? Would book clubs like it?

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Does it have a broad enough appeal for readers? And how do we target them?

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Weekly editorial meetings are like a book club where they discuss the books they love and then the business side with sales etc. Discuss the literary and commercial sides of it.

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Followed by an acquisition meeting – how much to offer for the book? Editor will discuss with the agent. May have a pitch meeting with the author.

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Once the book is bought then the editor works with the author to edit the book. Steer the book through the publishing process.

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V passionate & hands on about the editing process. Not sure how other editors work. Can be v private between the editor and author.

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Editing is favourite part of the job. Most satisfying and rewarding part to form a close bond with the author. Best book club ever!

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Best editorial work is invisible. On the page the edits should be invisible.

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Your job is to help shape and release what is already in the manuscript. Not create something new.

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Having an editor is a good thing – for a writer it can be hard to be objective about your own work.

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How do you know as a writer if your characters comes across well or that surprise is as carefully crafted as you think?

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First thing to do is to have a long chat with the author. Understand the author’s aims.

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You already love the book even if it needs more work. Already have empathy for the book and author.

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Have to read it at the pace of a normal reader and as a normal reader would. Then look at it more closely. Trying to be on the writer’s side but also a harsh critic. But critique with the language of a close friend.

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Will do a structural edit first, then a line edit.

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Deal with the big stuff then the smaller details. Not thinking of polishing the prose – instead what is this novel trying to be? How do I best serve the writer’s intentions?

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Each writer is different and you learn to work with different people’s styles and attitudes.

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Will discuss plot, structure, characters and how they change and develop. Look at the novel’s themes – how to develop them. Look at the writer’s voice and style for the story.

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As an editor you become less and less objective with every draft. Become more aligned with the reader as it goes on.

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Reach a mutual point where you realise you have done as much as you can.

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At each point, you are reminding the author that this is just your opinion. Can be entirely subjective but not necessarily true for every reader.

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Edits are suggestions not instructions. Writers can take it on board and deal with it in the best way. A lot of editing is about asking really good questions. Sometimes the solution is obvious.

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Often it is about paving the way for the writer to revise. Great when writer has fixed a problem but in ways you’d never envisaged.

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Good practice for writers – helps to choose a point of view and stick to it. Have it consistent throughout. Or it might be multi-voiced told in different voices or third person. If the book chops and changes it will be inconsistent. That might be queried.

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Can buy a book with flaws. Sometimes the issues with a book are quite clear and know what to ask the writer what needs to be done.

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You and the writer need to see the book the same way.

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Easier to acquire a book that needs little work instead of saying to colleagues that this book needs a redraft.

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Also need to think about other books from that writer. Do they have more ideas and will they develop?

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If a book doesn’t sell  to readers we try to analyse why that happened. Unexpected things can happen – e.g. a lost Harper Lee is found and can overshadow other books. May look at is the jacket wrong, did we not spend enough on marketing etc. Did the book not find the right people?

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Time for the Q&A!

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