How to Get a Book Published by Penguin
Getting your work published by a major firm like Penguin is not easy. While the number of writers seeking publication grows every year, the number of books being sold is steadily on the decline. Competition from TV, the internet, video games and other sources simply means it's harder to make money in book publishing. Because each published work represents a risky investment on the part of the publisher, only a tiny fraction of writers get published in any given year.
Think about market categories. Penguin publishes a finite number of books each year and it chooses only those books it believes it can market and sell according to established categories. Penguin publishes books under the following market categories: Business/Technical, Fiction, Nonfiction, Young Readers, Travel and a few other special interests. Reading Penguin titles in the category of your interest will help internalize an understanding of the writing quality Penguin publishes. Though it's not necessarily encouraged to write for sales, when trying to publish a book, a clear understanding of where it would sit in a bookstore is crucial.
Know the imprints. Like most publishers, Penguin publishes under established imprints, which are usually organized by theme, genre or literary merit. If a book or proposal doesn't fit nicely into one of Penguin's existing imprints, it's very unlikely they will ever choose to publish it. Some recognizable Penguin imprints include Penguin Press, Viking, Puffin, The Complete Idiot's Guide, E.P. Dutton, and Doring Kindersley. Each imprint is like a brand name, and to be published by Penguin your work should fit alongside the other works in the imprint.
Get feedback. Writing is re-writing: even established writers usually get initial feedback on new work from informal sources like writers' groups or workshops. Because professionals, including editors and agents, will judge a book as is, it's important to have progressed well beyond the initial draft stage when submitting books to be published. Most books go through numerous stages and drafts before ever being submitted to an agent, let alone a publisher.
Find possible agents. Penguin does not accept unsolicited work, which means they only consider books put before them by literary agents. So, getting an agent that has experience publishing your specific type of book with Penguin is usually a critical step. While some online resources exist, beginning writers look to tried and true print databases like "Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents" or the "Writers' and Artists' Yearbook," published by A & C Black. These include agents' self-described preferences in written work, authors, and queries and are published annually. Though many agents should be queried, much time and effort can be saved knowing which are most likely to be receptive.
Sign an agent. Just as Penguin will ultimately have to be convinced of the marketability and literary merit of your work, and so will the agent. It is they, in fact, who will make your case to the publisher. But, of course, since they only get paid if the book is accepted for publication, convincing the agent to advocate on your behalf is the hard part. Agents are usually deluged with requests and can only represent a tiny fraction of writers who approach them, which is why polishing the book as much as possible before submitting to an agent is absolutely essential. When choosing an agent, look for those with experience with Penguin imprints and with the market category that matches your writing.
Work with editors and agents. If you're new to publishing, your editor and agent are going to have a much better idea of how the process works than you do, and it's probably a good idea to take their advice. This could mean making changes to a work that you might not want to make, but some compromise will probably be necessary. For the vast majority of writers, publishing a book does lead to wealth and fame. Though payment offers might seem underwhelming, especially to a young writer, trust the agent's judgment since their interests are aligned with yours. After all this time and effort, it's tragic to hamper the publication process or prejudice future prospects by being unrealistic.
It is possible to get your foot in the door with a publisher through a book proposal rather than a finished work. These should be carefully drafted to make the case for the book's probable commercial success. As always, submit your proposals to an agent.
Rejections are an inevitable part of publishing and happen to everyone. If a query to an agent is turned down, don't hesitate to revise your work and/or submit to other agents.
- Stan Shebs (GFDL 1.2 & CC-By-SA 2.5)