Interview with Francesca Main, Publishing Director at Picador

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Francesca Main is Publishing Director at Picador, where her authors include Jessie Burton, Cathy Rentzenbrink, Emma Flint, Mark Watson and Adam Kay. She was named Editor of the Year at the Bookseller Industry Awards in 2015. Previously, she worked at Simon & Schuster, Hamish Hamilton and Penguin and has also taught creative writing and editing for the Arvon Foundation.

1) How did you personally know when you were ready to progress to your next role?

Instinct as much as anything, I think. I started out as a rights assistant at Penguin before moving across to become editorial assistant and then assistant editor to the wonderful Simon Prosser at Hamish Hamilton, from whom I learned a huge amount. I loved working on Simon’s incredible list but eventually seized the opportunity to become a commissioning editor and acquire authors of my own by moving to Simon & Schuster, where I spent four happy years before joining Picador as Editorial Director in 2011.

I was promoted to Publishing Director earlier this year. Each time I’ve moved jobs there’s been the promise of a new challenge and opportunities that might not have arisen by staying put.

What I’ve loved about my job at Picador — aside from my lovely colleagues and the chance to build a list at one of my favourite imprints — has been the way it’s kept evolving. I still feel like I’m learning new things all the time.

2) Which qualities do you think help certain people to get to the top of their profession?

Passion, persistence, curiosity, creativity, confidence … And so much of it is about mentoring and relationships. No one becomes a success on their own.

I think sincerity and integrity are important, and learning how to play to your own strengths, but you do also have to be prepared to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I’m an introvert at heart so have had to work at the more outgoing aspects of an editor’s role. I hate going to parties if I think I won’t know anyone and I still get a wobbly teenage boy voice when I have to speak in front of an audience, but having made myself say yes to panel discussions and event chairing and even parties where I’ll only know the host, I’ve learnt to enjoy the more convivial aspects of the job almost as much as holing up with a good book.

3) What has been the most challenging element of a senior position?

Being a words person who has to deal with numbers. Finding enough hours in the day, and particularly finding time to focus on the bigger picture rather than scrabbling around trying to clear a To Do list. And learning to say no. In order to get started it helps to say yes to as many opportunities as you can, but at a later stage you have to become more protective of your time and more selective about what you take on.

4) Where would you like to be in 5 years?

Still publishing books and authors that make me look forward to coming to work, still happy and still learning.

5) What advice would you give your younger self?

Sometimes you learn as much from the books you don’t publish as those you do. Always have a book that’s nothing to do with work on the go. And don’t rip open US jiffy bags too eagerly: it’s like emptying the contents of a hoover into your lap.

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