Francesca Main is Editorial Director at Picador. She graduated from the University of Warwick in 2002 and began her publishing career with an internship at Blake Friedmann Literary Agency before working at Penguin and then at Simon & Schuster. She joined Picador in 2011 and publishes literary fiction with a broad appeal. Her authors include Lottie Moggach, Emma Chapman, Naomi Wood, Ellen Feldman and Mark Watson.
What sort of novels do you love?
I love a huge range of novels, but however different they are from one another they all have a distinctive voice and provoke a strong emotional response. I love books that make me think, but if a book can make me feel something – whether that’s joy, sadness, fear, suspense, nostalgia – I know it’s one that will stay with me, and one I’ll want to talk about.
I look for novels that combine great writing and great storytelling, and whilst I love a bold or ingenious premise, I also love extraordinary stories about ordinary lives. I love writers who can create characters that are so vivid you feel you’ve met them (which is not to say they must be characters you’d want to meet…!). And although I love to be transported to another time or another place, most of all I love books that enable us to see the world, or the people we know, or ourselves, in new ways.
Picador publishes some of the world’s greatest living writers, but it’s also a very accessible list, beloved of book groups as well as prize juries. It’s a joy to be part of an imprint with these twin values – one that seeks to publish the very best writing for the widest possible readership.
Have you ever opened a new manuscript, read a single page, and thought ‘I’m going to end up making an offer on this’?
Yes. I can’t think of a novel I’ve acquired where I didn’t have a tingly feeling of anticipation early on, or that sense of being in good hands with a writer. (Except once, when I fell in love with a submission on the first page and then hated it eight chapters in. And of course I’m not going to tell you which book that was).
Many things can provoke that feeling. With Emma Chapman’s How To Be a Good Wife it was the unsettling voice of her narrator and a particular sentence with such perfect rhythm you could set a metronome to it. With Lottie Moggach’s Kiss Me First it was the situation – two women talking; one watching the other on camera; one scared, one calm; and knowing it would be the last time they ever speak. With Jenny Lawson’s Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, it was simply the fact that she made me laugh out loud.
Do you need good personal chemistry with your authors?
I don’t know that it’s essential but it’s certainly desirable, and I’m lucky to have that with the authors I publish. It makes the job even more fulfilling and more fun. What’s really vital is for an author and editor to have a shared vision for the book, which is why I’d always prefer to meet or speak to an author before signing them up. Trust is important, too, not just when it comes to working on the manuscript together but the whole way to publication and beyond.
If you had one bit of advice to give to new writers, what would it be?
Read as much as you can and when you read something you love, read it again more closely to see how the writer did it. I really do think that the best way to learn about writing is by reading and am often surprised to meet writers who desperately want to be published but have read very little recently-released fiction.
Have you enjoyed reading more since becoming an editor? Or are there times it feels like a chore?
The amount of reading the job entails is sometimes overwhelming, especially given the volume of submissions – I tend to receive between 25 and 50 novels from agents per month. That’s not including new manuscripts, or subsequent drafts, from writers I already publish. But I love reading submissions because you never know when you’re next going to discover one that really dazzles; and I love reading the work of my authors because I’m passionate about their writing. Becoming an editor has made me an even more avid reader, and I hope a more thoughtful one. And all this makes reading a novel published by someone else feel more of a treat than ever.
Francesca is one of the publishers appearing at this year’s Festival of Writing. Each year we invite important industry players who are hungry for new talent and who look after some of the best authors in the business. Don’t miss your chance to book a one-to-one session with an publisher or agent of your choice.