Write Advice – editorial manager Anna Davidson discusses the publishing process

Anna Davidson
24 September 2019
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Mo Harber-Lamond

Writing your novel is just the first step on your journey as an author, and understanding how publishing houses work will give you an advantage when you reach the time for submission. Here, our Faber Academy alumni speak to Head of Editorial Management at Faber & Faber Anna Davidson about the path to publication and why certain manuscripts are taken on.

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Q – Hi Anna, and thanks for joining us. To start, what’s likely to fill you with a sense of dread when you take your first look at a manuscript?

Anna Davidson –​ Glad to be here! I don’t think I ever have a sense of dread looking at a manuscript at Faber – I hope that doesn’t sound too cheesy! Once a new work has been acquired there are always lots of factors to consider, such as length, setting and timescale to publication, but that’s part of the interest of trying to make the book as good as possible.

And of course, our submissions come via agents, so we don’t tend to see ‘raw’ manuscripts.

Q – Do you only consider manuscripts that come from agents?

AD – Faber does take poetry submissions directly, but all fiction and non-fiction proposals come via an agent, yes.

Q – Do you find that many of your writers are able to make a living from writing alone, or do most of them have other jobs too?

AD – That’s a good question. I think very few writers make a living just from writing novels. Many writers have other sources of income – for example, teaching and other types of writing like journalism.

Q – When taking on a manuscript, do you have to be certain it’s great, or is there an element of ‘I can work with this’?

AD – I’m not one of the acquiring editors, but I know when I see my colleagues pitching to buy a book there’s always something about it that makes them certain it’s for us, even if there’s still work to do in some respects.

Q – How much editing is typically done by the publisher after submission?

AD – That depends on the work in question – editing poetry is very different to editing non-fiction, for example. For a debut novelist it’s not unusual for the acquiring editor to want to do some work, but that would tend to be on the basis that the author too thinks the work would be valuable.

There always has to be a compelling reason to publish something. For example, if there’s already something similar on the market then you’d need to know why the new work is so special it just has to be published.

Anna Davidson

Q – Is there an interest in novels on the topic of mental health in the publishing industry?

AD – We’ve just published Nathan Filer’s The Heartland: Finding and Losing Schizophrenia. I think there is a lot of interest around the topic of mental health at the moment.

Q – How do you write a great synopsis?

AD – There always has to be a compelling reason to publish something. For example, if there’s already something similar on the market then you’d need to know why the new work is so special it just has to be published.

Q – Should writers expect agents to advise them when their work needs polishing before submitting to publishers?

AD – Yes, the agent should definitely work with the author to make it as good as it can be before submitting to a publisher. They should also know who the best editors to submit to are.

We do turn certain titles around fast (e.g. for current affairs), but a lot of the time between editing and publication is taken up with publicising the book and building awareness of it.

Anna Davidson

Q – As head of editorial management, I’m sure you have to have quite a long-term view of where Faber is going and what you want to be known for. What questions do you ask yourselves at meetings with commissioning editors?

AD – Yes, we tend to be working at least a year ahead. So, right now we’re starting to send to press some of the books that we will publish early autumn, and we are commissioning for late 2020 and 2021 (and even further ahead). We do turn certain titles around fast (e.g. for current affairs), but a lot of the time between editing and publication is taken up with publicising the book and building awareness of it.

Faber is a literary publisher and I’d say quality of writing is paramount – but that can take all sorts of forms, of course. So much time, energy and commitment go into publishing a book well it’s important everyone in-house agrees it’s worth the emotional and financial investment!

Q – Are you seeing any emergent trends in the market at the moment, away from the ‘up-lit’ that seems to have taken hold over the past couple of years?

AD – I’m not sure about trends, but I do know that ensuring we publish diverse and fresh voices is important.

I think competition wins will always look good on a writer’s CV. It’s hard for debut writers to get short stories published in book form.

Anna Davidson

Q – For short stories, would you advise entering competitions or sending to an agent?

AD – I think competition wins will always look good on a writer’s CV. It’s hard for debut writers to get short stories published in book form.

Q – Is there any part of the lifecycle to publication (after all the writing and editing) that you think can prove particularly tricky?

AD – One thing we tend to find new authors in particular are not aware of is that if you quote from another work in your book, you as the author are usually responsible for seeking permission from the publisher/author to do that – and paying for the quotes! This is something to bear in mind when writing – song lyrics, for example, can be tricky and/or expensive to clear.

Q – Anna, this has been great. Thank you for your time!

AD – Thank you! Good luck in your writing.

Anna Davidson

Anna Davidson is Head of Editorial Management at Faber & Faber. She has worked in trade publishing for over 20 years, both in house, commissioning and editing, and as a freelance writer and editor.

Anna started her career as editorial assistant at Hodder Children’s Books and since then has worked on children’s and adult books, fiction and non-fiction, including fourteen years editing adult illustrated reference at DK.

At Faber she is responsible for overseeing the publishing process for the adult fiction and non-fiction lists, working closely with editorial colleagues and liaising with every department, from sales and marketing to publicity and production.

Writing a Novel: the first 15,000 online course

Begins: 22 January 2020