Inside The Gatekeeper’s Lair

Secrets to the publishing world are kept behind doors that only the chosen few get to open.

Every one of us longs to be picked, to be the given the key to that door so we can enter the magical land of publishing and see our blood, sweat and tears finally become a reality.

Thankfully, the amazing writer Non Pratt was on hand to help get me a sneak peek inside. On a lovely mild night in London, an intrepid group of travellers were given the opportunity to see inside a gatekeeper’s lair. Egmont publishing opened their doors and welcomed us in with open arms, tea and biscuits.

Greeted by a panel of experts from every department, we all took our seats and watched and listened as the editorial process through to publication was explained to the enthusiastic crowd.

Editorial –

  • The Editorial department within a publishing house is your first point of contact.

  • They are the first people to read your story.

  • They will fight for you and your story when it’s time to share it with their colleagues and they will hold your hand as you make your way through the acquisition process.

  • They are a literary friendly face, if you will, to see you off on your book journey.

On to acquisitions. Perhaps considered the all-seeing oracle that can make or break your book deal, this is where you and your book will advance to the next level or head home with your head held high in the knowledge that your premise was interesting and has potential.

As most of us are aware, not many houses will consider unsolicited submissions. Egmont believes that having an agent is the right path to take. Through their close relationships with publishers and their specialised knowledge of the industry, your MS can reach editors that otherwise might not be open to you. But it’s a personal decision only you can make.

What do Egmont look for in an author?

  • Enthusiasm

  • A person who can talk about their book and who is willing to help them promote it.

  • Once a book is published, the fun really starts – school visits, interviews, blog tours, press-releases etc.

In an average year, an editorial assistant will read 120 books, 20 of them will be of further interest, 4 are made an offer but only 1 is bought. As it was so eloquently put “.. be realistic, we are all salmon swimming up the same river…”

Here’s the editing journey your book will take:

  • First edit – in-depth analysis of character, plot etc.

  • Second edit – possibly completed by the same editor who did the first edit.

  • Line edit – when you get this back, your MS will look horrific. This edit will focus on word choice and will involve a lot of detailed suggestions.

  • Copy edit – just when you think you’ve finally finished your book…sense check, time check, blue eyes instead of green eyes etc.

  • Proof – will normally be sent as a PDF to you and will look like the pages of a book. This will be the last time you see your book in this form. Exciting!

Publishing – Melissa Fairley, Publishing Director

How do Egmont find new picture books?

  • Subs from agents

  • Author/illustrator subs – quite rare and we need to like both aspects rather than using them in-house.

  • Editor pitches own concept

  • Editor inspired

  • Graduation shows – great way of finding new talent

  • Unsolicited – very, very rare. 1 in 10 years!

“…In truth, you’re better with an agent…”

Do your homework!

  • What market is my book for? UK/International/crossover?

  • Where in the world could it go?

  • Rhyming or prose? Can be a challenge to get it translated but if you word your covering letter correctly, you can entice them to consider your story – when submitting, add a statement along the lines of “..I understand prose could be done internationally so I’m happy to send that in too..”

  • Word count – c 500 words.

  • Structure really matters to tell a good story in such few words – PB writers are amazing!

Be realistic, a common theme here, Julia Donaldson has 23.3% of the market share followed by Claire Freedman at 2.2%!

Design – Ben Hughes, Art Director

The green light information sheet is a brief from the editor with details of what the front cover should look like. The design department take an active interest in reading your novel so they can get a better understanding of what you are hoping to achieve. Your book must stand out from the rest so have a look at the competition in Waterstones, WH Smith etc. What makes you pick up one book rather than another? Glossy print? Colours? What catches your eye?

“..we understand this project is your baby so we want to read it too…”

An illustrator is chosen and attends the cover meeting along with everyone else involved in your book’s journey. Once the cover has been decided, prints are given to the sales team so they can take them to shops, warehouses, etc to help promote your novel. It will have a copy of your cover and any editorial blurb on it, possibly in postcard form or poster format.

Production – Laura Grundy, Production Controller

The size of the paper, thickness and weight used all play a part in the cost of each unit. The more copies on a single printing roll, the less it costs to print.

Small changes can be very costly – as much as £25 per page changed once you reach the point of no return.

Soft toys within gift sets are put through a rigorous testing process – will the colours run if it’s washed? Is it going to easily burst into flames? Once all safety tests are completed, a safety sticker goes on the box. Interestingly enough, this needs to be done for flap books as well. Sharp edges…

When sending a text/proof copy to co-editors, if the English text is on a colour layer then it will show through on the translated copies. The heavier the paper the more expensive it is. All text is black until each language format has been decided. As there are more colour rolls used in PB’s, it’s easier and more cost-effective to change one roll than them all.

Picture books can be coated or uncoated. Uncoated pages work better with bright colours as the paper absorbs more of the ink and stops colours leaking. Dark colours are more suited to coated paper.

Egmont try to work with a small number of suppliers – better relationship and more flexibility with complex or quick turn around orders.

Usually takes six weeks for overseas orders to arrive although they can use UK suppliers if they need copies quicker than that.

Marketing & PR – Katy Cattel, PR & Communications Directors

The PR department is involved as soon as you step a successful foot through the door. They are an integral part of the acquisition process and are there for you at all times, not just when the book is ready to sell in the shops, warehouses, etc.

Pre-publication:

  • Acquisition has been confirmed

  • Press release telling the world the good news around 6 months before publication, to gather interest and potential enquiries

  • Social Media – Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest…

  • Bloggers & Vloggers

  • Proof copies/Advance mailings – usually has publishing house on the front with blurb and thumbnail of cover on the back.

  • NetGalley – an on-line hub to sign up and receive a proof copy

  • On-line presentations and packs

  • Sales kit – a treasure trove of info on your book that will help promote it and excite buyers.

SEO (search engine optimisation), the illusive search by a consumer, your book should be on the first page of results that pop up on the screen:

  • Self promotion ideas

  • Wikipedia, Goodreads etc – do you have an account for all of these internet based sites?

Pre-order Campaign:

  • On-line advertising boosts on social media

  • Links to Amazon

  • All other literary retailers too

  • As an extra bonus – your pre-orders go into your first week sales!

The Launch – the time has come for your book to make its debut. Congratulations, you did it! Media coverage goes wild. National papers are ablaze with you and your book. Entice book reviewers to ignore the other 50 books they have and read yours first!

PR and marketing work very closely together so their budgets are shared.

  • Engaging, gripping content

  • Competition – join forces with other companies and more space can be given in book shops for your novel.

  • Events and festivals are key to getting your name out there. Regional festivals are a fantastic way to promote your book as they have an abundance of connections in their community.

  • Local bookshops – visit every store in your area and tell them about your amazing book.

  • Connections – keep them updated with who you are visiting and when, they can help provide materials and support if required. Give them time to get books out there though!

  • School visits – info in book bags, stickers, posters, workshops, puppet shows etc

  • Blog tours/Q&A

  • Visuals for posting on-line: quotes, #’s – know your world on social media

  • Point of Sale – bookmarks, postcards – creations that sit near the till in a book shop that will catch an unsuspecting reader by surprise.

Sales and Export – Louise Knight, Sales Manager

At an international level, local retailers from around the world provide contacts from within each country to ensure your book is on as many bookshelves as contracted.

The definition of Export is given as “…sales of an English book out with the UK market…” There are many benefits to this – profit and royalties are just two. The major book fairs are run over hectic weekends of non-stop meetings, procuring the sale of your book to as many parties as possible.

The promotion of your book doesn’t stop there as networks of agents manage the smaller markets too.

Things to consider in Export/Sales:

  • Fluctuating currencies – markets need to be in favour for maximum profit

  • Local differences – must respect their own local authors

  • Retail – can still sell your book worldwide even if it’s no longer sold in UK

Rights – Juliet Clark, Rights Manager

A part of the process that can seem hard to understand, here are Subsidiary rights:

  • Translation

  • US market

  • Audio

  • Educational – OUP and others

  • Serial

  • E-books

  • Book clubs – Scholastic

  • Film/TV – sadly only 1% ever make it to the big screen.

Selling rights happens in March at the Bologna Fair and October at the Frankfurt Fair. They meet with 200+ publishers over 3 days – half hourly appointments from start to finish. Attending the fairs can be lucrative as they help to solidify relationships for future sales. TIP – send your MS to an agent just before or just after a fair.

Star performers in this area are:

Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse – 44 languages

Minecraft – 41 languages

Mr Gum – 30 languages

Barry Loser – 16 languages

Egmont normally have ten tables at their stand where foreign editors come to the stand, provide proof copies and information/blurb on books and their authors.

As with all these events, the hospitality went on long after we had departed the offices at Shepherd’s Bush. The night was still young, so we carried on our questions and thoughts amid a sea of eager faces and SCBWI camaraderie.

In the meantime, keep swimming, we’ll all get there one day.