Those of you who have visited my blog before may already know that I was offered two weeks work experience with Penguin Random House in London. The introductory post for that can be found here: I’m going on an adventure: Work Experience @ Penguin in Editorial!
I worked with Penguin’s Vintage branch for two weeks from the 13th-24th March. As part of the Author Toolbox Blog Hop, hosted by Raimey Gallant here:
I decided to summarise what I learned about the editorial process.
I hope that my experiences will provide a useful insight into how one of the big five publishers works. Last time, I covered submissions and the use of proofs. This time, I will cover literary agents and cover design, with a special multi-tasking tip at the end!
Part two: Agents and Cover design
Agents: Not to be confused with these guys: They won’t help you publish your book!
I only had a vague idea of what an agent does before my work experience. I don’t have one, and I hadn’t considered it. When I donned my reporters hat and asked questions, I learned a lot!
If you want to be published by any of the big five publishing houses, an agent is essential. Penguin do not accept unsolicited submissions (unless you know someone on the inside!) This is because, even with agented submissions, they are inundated with manuscripts.
Publishing truly is a competitive industry.
In smaller publishing houses, an agent may not be essential. Usually it will state on a publishers website whether or not they accept unsolicited submissions. An agent will, however, help you get noticed more easily. Publishing houses deal with agents all the time. They come to trust their judgement, a lot more than they would an unsolicited submission from an unknown author.
An agent will help to make your manuscript industry ready and get it to the right people in a publishers business. A business as large as Penguin has a lot of branches, and it is essential that your manuscript is submitted to the right person. An agent will have the contacts to do this.
Agents also help to negotiate contracts. Publishing contracts are long and complex. If this isn’t something you’re confident with, that’s okay: Agents deal with contracts all the time!
Like all good things, an agent comes at a cost.
Penguin said that You should never, ever pay an agent upfront.
If an agent likes your manuscript, they will represent you and pitch it to publishers. When a publisher buys a manuscript, the agent is paid. According to Penguin, an agents gets 15-20% of any upfront fee the author is paid, plus commission on royalties. (More on money next time!)
Even with an agent, the industry is tough. It is recommended to enter short story competitions, so that your agent can mention any wins that you have when they pitch your manuscript to a publisher. This will help you stand out to the editor who receives your submission.
The traditional publishing industry, especially in the case of Penguin books, is set to get even more competitive in the future. They are likely to accept even less authors, so that they can focus on making those authors really successful.
Will I get an agent? If I go for traditional publishing, it is something that I will look into. I will have to choose carefully though: some agents have different contacts in different types of publishing, and it would be no good getting an agent who specialises in crime fiction when I write fantasy!
I love to design things. I love to draw. I love… well I tolerate Photoshop: Let’s not go too far! I probably want to design my own covers. Below is something that I mocked up for Camp NaNoWriMo, for my current project, ‘Tales from Dragonspire.’:
This, like my book, is still a work in progress! A few excerpts/outtakes can be found here: Dragonspire excerpts, and a website page is coming soon!
Anyway, in traditional publishing the author does not get much, if any, input on cover design. The process of cover design at Penguin is as follows:
The editor develops a design brief to give to a designer.
The designer develops a number of different cover designs.
The editor picks the best two or three designs to present at a jacket meeting.
At the jacket meeting, staff from across the business discuss which cover design is best. If none stand out, they agree to go back to the designer to find something else.
Once a cover design is agreed upon, the author is asked to approve the final design.
If the author doesn’t like the cover, they are either persuaded to accept it by the editor, or the publisher has to try something else based on suggestions from the author.
The main points that are focused on during cover design are text styles, visibility, layout, colour, images, and positioning of endorsements about the book from key individuals or the media.
The title must stand out. The cover must be eye catching. The images used must appeal to potential readers and reflect the content of the book.
Sometimes, if the author has ideas about the cover, the editor will work with the author to draw up a brief, but it is more common that the author only sees the cover at the end of the process.
The verdict? If control over the cover of your book is important, self-publishing, or a smaller publisher, is probably the way to go.
Useful tip: Alt-Tab
I felt pretty useful during my work experience because I taught the employees something too. My supervisor commented on how quickly I switched between a word document and google chrome without touching the mouse. I showed him Alt-Tab on the keyboard:
If you hold down ‘Alt’ and then press the tab key, you can cycle between open applications on your computer without reaching for your mouse. This is super awesome for multi-tasking!
I hope that my insights into publishing proved useful. If any one is interested in doing work experience, Penguin are now offering paid work experience, at least in the UK. When I took part it was subsidised, but I did end up out of pocket, so this is great news for future applicants!
Do you have an agent? If you have been published traditionally, did you have much input in the design of the cover? Do you use Alt-Tab? It would be great to hear from you in the comments.