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An Interview with Federico Andornino


We got in touch with Federico Andornino, one of the judges of the "light submissions", he conversed with us and shared some bits that all of you will certainly find insightful.

Federico, tell us a bit about yourself. What is your background? What do you do?

I am a commissioning editor for fiction at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of Orion. Before that I was an editor at Two Roads, an imprint of Hodder. Over the past five years I have published a number of projects, including Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things (a Richard & Judy book club pick, a #1 Amazon Kindle bestseller, and a top 10 Sunday Times bestseller), Riad Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future (a ‘best Book of the Year’ for the New York Times, the Guardian and the Observer), and Elena Varvello’s Can You Hear Me? (winner of an English Pen Award).

I am originally from Turin, Italy, and I have a BA degree in Italian Literature from the University of Siena, an MA in Medieval Italian Literature and Dante Studies from the University of Pisa and the Scuola Normale Superiore, and an MA in Publishing from UCL.

What, in your opinion, defines a good piece of writing?

Well this is an incredibly personal question: what I like might be very different from what my colleague sitting next to me might like. For me good writing will have something important, meaningful to say, and will know how to say it well.

If it sounds nebulous it’s because it is: good writing is a rare, ever-changing beast.

Do you think there is such a thing as an innate talent for writing or is it mainly a skill to be honed?

A bit of both. Generally I believe raw talent is crucial: as an editor I can help authors finesse their plot and the structure of their books, but I cannot teach them how to write. However, writing is a like a muscle: the more you use it the stronger it becomes. So I would say: some dose of raw talent plus huge amount of work. Lots and lots and lots of it (and then some).

What is the process you go through when judging whether an author and his or her writing have potential?

Because of the volume of submissions we receive, we can’t read every novel in our inbox in its entirety. I normally read the pitch, then read the first 50 or so pages. While I do that I judge the quality of the writing, and I also keep an eye on plot development: I like a juicy story, and it makes my job easier if I have something I can pitch to my colleagues.

I would say that if the writing is truly exceptional I’ll continue reading even if the plot is not quite there. But if there is a lot of plot and the writing is just not very good, I’ll happily move on and turn the book down. W&N is quite a literary imprint, and the quality of the writing is essential.

Whenever I read a submission I need to find an easy route to success: what will make this book sell? Is it the extraordinary writing? Is it the plot? Is it an original idea at its core? Every book (big or small) needs to find a way to success – and by success I don’t mean the bestseller list: different books have varying levels of success. But all of our books need to be strong enough to justify all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. So the question is: is this book worth my colleagues time and work?

Is there anything you have learned in your line of work that would be worth telling aspiring authors? Any tips?

I always tell aspiring authors that my job is a lot like dating: you have to go through dozens of bad dates to finally find ‘the one’. Editors read hundreds of submissions a year, all in the hope that they will find that one book which will make their heart beat a bit faster, and get them excited all over again for their job.

Finally, do you have a favourite book you would like to share with our readers?

So many but right now two come to mind: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

We would like to thank,Federico once again for his time.

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