Illustration of people surrounding giant book with laptops and highlighted text
Illustration of people surrounding giant book with laptops and highlighted text

It's Work in Publishing Week, where we share all the brilliant and unexpected things we get up to while creating books at Penguin Random House. 

Have you ever thought about who makes books with global brands like Peppa Pig? Or who finds out what readers are looking for in the first place? Here, Penguin colleagues share their varied journeys into publishing and what makes their jobs so great – who knows, you may find a dream job you didn't know existed...

Finding out exactly what readers want

Afsana Alam, Audience Insight Executive

How did you get into publishing?
It was quite serendipitous actually! During the frantic job-hunting and worrying about the future that so many fresh graduates know all too well, I found something called The Scheme – a six-month paid traineeship at Penguin. Despite always loving books, working in publishing had never felt realistic til I saw there was space for everyone. I didn’t manage to get a place with The Scheme, but it definitely unlocked an urge to be at Penguin, and here I am!

What does an average day look like to you?
The Audience Insights team collaborate with teams across the company on many different types of projects. Typically, I will spend time working with the marketing teams at Transworld and Cornerstone on things like author branding, how to position an upcoming debut or deep dives into genres. This might involve creating a study to test with our panel e.g. a questionnaire, or discussion room.

What might someone find surprising about your role?
It can get pretty philosophical. The Audience Insights team have a responsibility to connect publishing houses with audiences, and ensure the reader is at the heart of every book we produce. This means we strive to understand and uncover human truths and societal changes so that Penguin is always in touch with real people.

What has been your most surreal or exciting work moment?
Recently the Insights team were nominated as finalists for four awards. This was a really exciting moment for our team and the work we produced through a pandemic.

Creating books from the biggest brands

Leanne Gill, Publisher in Ladybird Licensing

How did you get into publishing?

I lived in Yorkshire, so my ability to do work experience was quite tricky – I would have really benefitted from a programme like The Spare Room project that exists now. Amazingly though, I managed to convince Yale University Press over the phone to take me on their paid internship programme, and as a result I got to spend an incredible summer learning all about publishing in New Haven, Connecticut!

My first real job in publishing was working as a PA to a literary agent, which was a really useful way to find out more about publishing from a different viewpoint. It also gave me the experience I needed to get an Editorial Assistant role at the BBC in their children’s books department. That was how I accidentally found my way into the wonderful world of licensed publishing, which is creating books on existing brands from television, film, games and other existing media.

What does an average day look like to you?

Lots of meetings! I manage a small editorial team and we look after some very successful brands, including Peppa Pig, Hey Duggee and Bluey. I meet with my team, our designers and various teams across the business – sales, marketing, rights and more – to work out the best strategies and schedules for our titles. I also meet with licensors (the brand owners), to find out what the wider plans for their brands are, and for them to pitch new brands to us. We also regularly meet with TV studios, animation companies and licensing agents so we always know what’s coming next.

What might someone find surprising about your role?

How creative it is – even though you’re working with a brand that already exists. I always talk about it as being like playing with someone else’s toys! All the building blocks are there – someone has created the characters, the locations and the parameters of the worlds already exist – but what we do with them is where the magic happens.

Unlike the majority of traditional publishing, every book on our list comes from us. We work with external writers, but we don’t accept manuscript submissions from authors or agents like most lists. The editorial team find the brands we want to work with, come up with the concepts and the formats, and create our own publishing programmes based on creative expertise and commercial insights. 

What has been your most surreal or exciting work moment?

I’ve had a few! Working with brands means you often get to visit studios to see the shows being created. I’ve been in several iterations of the TARDIS, had a lie down on Harry Potter’s bed in the Gryffindor dormitory, watched as Aardman have created frame-by-frame animations and had a meeting in an underground bunker with a YouTube star and his flame-throwing guitar. Licensing isn’t the most obvious route into publishing, but I think it’s definitely one of the most fun!

Creating websites for food lovers

Daniel Bhattacharya, Product Lead

How did you get into publishing?
I’d previously worked in ecommerce and digital websites, but my studies were in English Literature & Classics. I’d always wanted to connect my love of books with my digital career, and this role came up which merged the two.

What does an average day look like to you?
I could be working with marketing teams to come up with ideas for their authors or releases – such as a mini-site for a new book, promoting articles and events on Penguin.co.uk, or working on the Penguin Shop to come up with ways we can increase sales through new product releases or UX (user experience) design. 

What might someone find surprising about your role?
I think people might find it surprising that Product are so involved with everyone throughout the whole company. We can end up working with anyone, from our events and marketing teams, to legal, security and compliance. I’ve even had Zoom calls with authors to show them wireframes and get feedback for websites!

What has been your most surreal or exciting work moment?
I’d say the most exciting moment for me (so far), was re-launching our hugely successful food website The Happy Foodie. The whole project was a really long process bringing together skills from all around the business and a massive team effort. It tested all of our creativity and skills and we ended up producing something truly special.

Selling books to be translated

Lucy Beresford-Knox, Head of Translation in Adult Rights

How did you get into publishing?
My first role in publishing was as a Rights Assistant. I knew I wanted to work with books, but wasn’t sure in what capacity. A bit of research led me to the Rights business, and although it took me plenty of applications before I found my first job in the industry, I’ve not looked back!

What does an average day look like to you?
My days can really vary depending on where we are in the publishing year and what books we’re selling. Some days I can be at my desk, focussed on submitting books to foreign publishers, finding the right international homes for our books and negotiating the terms of translation rights deals. Other days I might spend more time meeting colleagues - talking to editors about the rights potential for new projects. And then there are a few times a year when I’ll be out and about at a bookfair or on a sales trip, meeting international customers or literary scouts, pitching our books in person. The best thing is that because every book we publish is different, no two days are the same.

What might someone find surprising about your role?
A job in Rights means you get to work on a book at all stages in its development. We feed back at the acquisition stage (when a book is bought), but then we’ll still be approaching new international publishers as the publicity campaign gets put into place – the job is never done! Rights is also more than just selling translation rights – there’s also large print, audio, newspaper serialisation...

What has been your most surreal or exciting work moment?
In terms of excitement, I always love seeing the cover design of foreign editions of our books – it’s great to see how different countries present the same books in different ways. The most surreal moment for me was when one of our most-translated authors used the names of the members of the Rights team for characters in one of his books... as characters in a prison!

We'll be sharing more about the book publishing process to give you an idea of all the roles that exist within a publishers.

Let us know who you'd like to hear more from by emailing us at editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk.

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

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