Meet the Picador team: Ansa Khan Khattak
Describe your job in two lines.
I assist three of our wonderful editors: Kate Harvey, Ravi Mirchandani and Sophie Jonathan. This includes reading manuscripts and giving feedback on submissions; making sure our system is up to date with publication info, reviews and blurbs; answering author’s queries and working with Production to help keep books on-schedule.
How did you get into publishing?
After working in a book shop and studying literature at university, I gravitated towards publishing. After a couple of stints of work experience and an internship at Oxford University Press, I worked in the Rights team at Penguin before moving to Editorial here at Picador.
What do you love about it?
I love the process of reading a new submission, or a book that’s just delivered and working out what’s working and what’s not. Trying to see the architecture behind what the author has done, whether the plot holds up and how the language feels is definitely the highlight of my job; it makes you realize the amount of work that goes into making brilliant prose seem effortless.
What was the book that got you hooked on reading?
When I was younger I read anything my sister left within my reach, from Judy Blume to Louise Bagshawe (whose novels I read at what might have been an inappropriately young age). There was also a fair bit of Stephen King from my gran. After that there were certain books that fell into my hands at exactly the right time:The Virgin Suicides and The Catcher in the Rye – they made me realize just how much you can love a book. (N.B. It’s worth remembering that at sixteen you are not, repeat not, Holden Caulfield, however much you might think you are.)
Why is publishing important?
There are brilliant writers producing work that needs to find its way to the reading public. Publishers engage with authors to help them shape and perfect the work that they have been living with for years, to produce and package it in a way that means that it will find its audience. Publishers and literary agents do an enormous amount, and bring with them an overview of the market as a whole.
What is the future of publishing?
I wouldn’t like to speculate, I’d only be wrong.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in publishing?
Go for it – it’s brilliant! Maybe take some time to find out what it actually involves first, what you’ll be doing all day when you sit down in front of your computer. Like most professions, there is a fair amount of administration to be done, but there is also lots of reading and talking about books with other people who love them. The possibility of free books should also be mentioned.
Favourite place to read?
Sitting on my bed.
Desert island book?
The Oxford English Dictionary (the whole multi-volume thing). You’d get bored with any single book you’d take and imagine the fun you could have / time you could kill memorizing all the words and their meanings!
Favourite Shakespeare play?
Macbeth occupies a special place in my heart: it was the first one I read at school and from which I learnt to reproduce random lines (largely devoid of context), having been made to act out much of it in English. The play that I saw that amazed me as an adult, however, was Richard II. ‘For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of kings’ – the kind of lines you want to underline and read out loud to anyone who’ll listen.
‘Because I liked you better’ by A. E. Housman.
I could spend a long time in Foyles on the Charing Cross Road: books, cake and abundant natural daylight.
Elevator pitch for the most recent book you worked on.
Kate Clanchy’s collection of short stories The Not-Dead and The Saved is remarkable. There are stories that will make you howl with laughter (as an entire room full of people did at a recent reading) and those so suffused with grief, they stay in your thoughts long after you’ve put the book down. There’s nothing excessive or spare: Clanchy’s prose is so perfectly tuned, it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever read.
At least ten people work on each book that Picador publishes, all helping to get the author’s words into the hands of readers: there’s contracts and rights, editorial and publicity, production and design, sales and marketing... Find out what all those jobs entail and see what makes the Picador team tick when it comes to books, reading and publishing.
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