Business profile: Francesca Main

Business profile: Francesca Main

Francesca Main became Picador’s editorial director two years ago, moving from Simon & Schuster.

When she started she “took on two or three authors already published by Picador, but really it was a chance to acquire new authors and build up a list of my own that fits in with Picador—so naturally that has involved acquiring a lot of début authors”.

At Picador, Main aims to acquire six to eight titles a year (out of the 40 to 50 submissions she receives each month), with her eye on books that sit in the sweet spot between commercial and literary. Main admits that she gets frustrated by the debates of one versus the other: “I don’t find them mutually exclusive.” The first book she bought was Emma Chapman’s How to Be a Good Wife, which has just been longlisted for the 2013 Dylan Thomas Prize.

“What I’m trying to do, while my list is growing and I have more time and energy to put into each book, is make sure that each one gets as much individual attention as possible, not just editorially, but me doing whatever I can do to get the book into people’s hands.  

“For Emma Chapman we did our Indie Book Crawl—‘40 whisky miniatures, 36 copies of How to Be a Good Wife, 24 independent bookshops, 10 hours, three wheelie suitcases and one #indiebookcrawl’ [which was her agent Jamie Coleman’s idea]—I thought we’d get to 10 shops at most but actually we went to 24 with a copy of the book—just to say thanks really.”

She adds: “I try and do something like that for each of my books. It is not enough to just champion your books in-house, you have to champion them out of house as well. That is why I started using Twitter and interacting more directly with bookshops: I think authors are expected to self-promote more than ever, so I think it is only fair that editors join them in that.”

Having worked at both Hamish Hamilton and S&S before joining Picador, Main has experience across the literary and commercial publishing spectrum, and she explains that this is: “a bit like my ‘Goldilocks’ job. Hamish Hamilton was fabulously literary, so it was really interesting to work somewhere that had a bespoke aesthetic and its own identity. Simon & Schuster transformed a huge amount when I was there, it was a time of great growth, and commercially they really excel, so it is good to have had both of those experiences.”

Kiss Me First

Last year Picador won an 11-publisher auction for Lottie Moggach’s début Kiss Me First, and Main recently saw off competition from 11 other publishers to win another six-figure deal, acquiring UK and Commonwealth rights for historical fiction début The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

Is going out on a limb and entering into the big auctions for an untested author the scariest part of her job? “You don’t quite know what you’re up against until you offer for the first time, but with those two books I loved them both so much. I was probably the third or fourth person to offer, so I went in already smitten. I would have gone into those auctions no matter what, but you can’t help it affecting the way you view the book; because it concentrates the mind—do you love it enough to fight for it in that way and battle it out amongst all those publishers, which will inevitably drive the price up?”

Main adds: “Although people complain about editors losing their autonomy and the loss of the good old days, and having to make collaborative decisions about acquisitions—which can be time-consuming—in the long-term it is so much better, because it’s everybody around the table saying to an author: ‘This is what we can do.’ In those big auctions you become very appreciative for that collaborative process.”


Despite Picador’s recent auction success, Main says she “worries that in the general world of publishing the books that inevitably make those important super-lead slots are often the books that have had huge advances. Although all publishers are trying to avoid anything that can be deemed midlist, there really need to be books that are acquired for more realistic advances and still get a good marketing spot and the attention they deserve.

“I don’t think that the advance should entirely dominate commercial potential, because if it could be predicted like that from the start we would all be acing publishing. There would be no room to be surprised. For Sarah Butler’s Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, she had a modest world rights deal from us and then a massive US advance and rights sold in 13 countries—there needs to be room for that sort of success story, too.”