Q&A with Anna Steadman

By   Jantien Abma 3 min read

Anna Steadman is Assistant Editor at Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Random House that publishes fiction, nonfiction and some illustrated cookery titles. Before joining Penguin, she worked at literary agency Lutyens & Rubinstein.

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1. Tell us a bit about your role at Fig Tree.
I’m an Assistant Editor, which means that I work with Publishing Director Juliet Annan on all of our titles, both fiction and nonfiction, and some projects of my own. Editorial roles in publishing are broader than you might expect: you spend time editing (of course) and reading (a lot), but on a day-to-day basis there’s a lot of ‘project management’ involved too. This means liaising closely with all of the departments here at Penguin, from publicity and marketing to production, art, design and sales, to make sure that everything is happening according to schedule during every stage of a book’s life.
2. You’ve worked on a number of beautiful recipe and food-related books. Tell us about some of the challenges in creating such titles.
It’s a different kind of editing; with these kinds of illustrated books you are thinking in terms of double-page spreads, with an image on one side and text on the other, so the recipes have to be a certain length to fit onto the page. Cutting copy to fit, usually only by a line or two, without losing any of the meaning or method, is a fiddly and delicate art, but one that I secretly rather enjoy. The timeframes for illustrated books are also much longer; with a standard black and white book (“mono” in publishing lingo), a finished copy can land on your desk a week after it has been sent to print, while illustrated titles print mostly in the Far East, and so the lead time is a lot longer (think months rather than weeks). The biggest challenge, though, is keeping your hunger at bay while checking page proofs full of delicious recipes and photos at your desk. Morning or afternoon, it always makes me starving!
3. With such complicated illustrated projects, we assume there’s an element of bringing in certain required external skills and specialisms as and when you need them for each individual project. Can you shed some light on how freelancers complement the internal PRH trade publishing machine?
We work with freelancers a lot more when it comes to illustrated titles. Photographers, of course, but also sometimes book designers and ghost writers. Each illustrated book requires something different, and if there isn’t the right person for the project in-house, either because they are tied up with other projects, or something more specialist is required, freelancers are a huge help.
4. What defines the best creative project managers for these kinds of books? And how do you manage to keep a tight grip on costs when so many elements are involved?
We set budgets right at the beginning of a book, and meet regularly to track costs all along the way. Organisation, I think, is the key to project managing illustrated titles, with an inevitable element of flexibility and creative problem-solving along the way.
5. Which of your cookery books should we be looking out for later this year?
We’ve got some fantastic cookbooks coming out this year. In April we’re publishing Gather Cook Feast, the first cookbook from Jessica Seaton, founder of the lifestyle brand TOAST, and it’s full of seasonal British recipes that feel like “a place on a plate”. Then in the summer we have two more cookbooks, Sabor, an exciting Spanish cookbook from Nieves Barragan, who was until very recently the head chef of the Michelin-starred Barrafina (and who has an exciting new project coming soon), and Baking School: The Bread Ahead Cookbook from Matthew Jones, Justin Gellatly and Louise Gellatly – the superstar team behind Bread Ahead Bakery in Borough Market. They run these brilliant baking courses, both at their main bakery in Borough Market and in their Chelsea branch, and this book teaches you everything that you would learn on one of the courses, with chapters on everything from baking by country (French, Italian, Nordic and so on) to sourdough, doughnuts and even gluten-free baking.