Penguin Random House Tour - What Do They Do There?
SCBWI members gained an insight into the publishing industry on a recent visit to Penguin Random House Children's. Here, Terri Trimble shares what she learnt from editors Carmen McCullough and Naomi Colthurst about the publishing process, publicity, sales, diversity and more.
PRH has a threefold publishing strategy, which includes keeping their big brands fresh for a new audience, reinventing the classics – for example by asking contemporary authors to write new versions of traditional stories – and publishing debuts with the potential to become tomorrow's big brands. They work to keep classic titles relevant with new covers and content, for example, reissues of Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series with new covers to appeal to a younger audience.
Carmen and Naomi only take agented submissions and have friendly relationships with agents who have a good idea of each editor's likes and dislikes. They do all their own reading while commuting and at home and aim to give everything a fair chance. They will always try to read at least the first 50 pages, and if a manuscript isn't for them, will pass it on to a colleague for a second look.
If editors like a submission, the next step will be meetings with the sales, marketing, publicity and rights teams. Whether an author is "promotable" is key at the acquisitions stage and it's important to be willing to engage with readers. Rights and contracts teams negotiate a deal, and if the author and agent accept, the book is on and editing begins.
Negotiations Meeting Room. Photo Credit: Kate Peridot
The journey to publication
Where the editors sit. Books everywhere. Photo Credit: Kate Peridot
A book can go through as many as 4 or 5 structural edits involving significant changes. The editor might say, "The beginning and end are brilliant but you need to work on the middle." Editorial notes are intended to be helpful and act as a springboard for new ideas. Although editors may suggest a solution to a problem, often the author will come up with a better one. After structural editing is complete the book goes to the copy editor. This stage is a lot of work – often almost another rewrite. Delivery dates will be written into the contract but are open to negotiation, and it's essential that authors are honest about whether they can meet the agreed deadlines.
Design is key to marketing and editors have an idea of comparable titles and cover designs when they acquire a book. Authors are very much involved in this process. They see the rough cover design and their comments are taken on board.
Publication day – AKA your book birthday! – is an exciting moment for everyone involved. An ongoing strategy keeps the momentum going after publication and every book that PRH buys will have a focused campaign behind it.
During the Q&A session, Naomi and Carmen were asked to what degree they have to set aside their personal preferences in response to market trends. They feel confident about their own taste, but they also have to say how a book will fit into the market. Publishing and promotion is a collaborative effort and there needs to be in-house excitement about a book and a consensus that it will sell. Everything is bought with a purpose and PRH want all their books to be successful.
Mr. Penguin himself, lurking behind editors desks. Photo Credit: Kate Peridot
Diversity and the WriteNow scheme
A discussion on diversity covered topics such as whether writing outside your own culture or background is problematic. Carmen and Naomi feel that it's not an issue so long as authors have done their research and told the story respectfully. They want all children to see themselves in a book without it necessarily being an "issues" book.
They spoke about WriteNow, an outreach and mentoring programme for unpublished authors which PRH launched in 2016. Out of 2000 applications, 153 went to the next stage and were invited to workshops in London, Manchester and Birmingham. Twelve authors were selected, including 3 children's authors, to to be mentored by an editor for a year with the goal of becoming published. The scheme will continue next year and the aim is to promote diversity in the biggest, broadest sense, such as more writers from a working class background and from areas outside London. Applicants are asked to explain in their own words why they are underrepresented.
Free Books for SCBWI’s. Thank you! Photo Credit: Kate Peridot
The evening wrapped up with a tour of the Penguin Random House offices, where we saw cover designs, promotional posters and merchandise displays. Thanks to Naomi and Carmen's generosity with their time, this was a very useful and informative event providing an invaluable insight into the world of publishing.
A lovely view from the offices. Photo Credit: Kate Peridot
___________________________________________________A M Dassu is a member of the Words & Pictures editorial team, she manages the Events team and SCBWI BI events coverage.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org