by Olivia M. Croom, Collaborative Designer
In July, I visited Portland and had the opportunity to host an Indigo happy hour at Tugboat Brewing Company focused on New York publishing. Below are answers to a small sampling of the questions that came up. Thanks to everyone who attended!
1. Who are the Big 5? The Big 5 are the five biggest book publishers in the United States. They are based in New York City and have offices all over the US and world. From smallest to largest they are: Macmillan Publishers, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Penguin Random House (PRH). They used to be the Big 6, but in 2014 Random House and Penguin merged, making PRH twice the size of the next biggest publisher.
2. What’s an imprint? An imprint is a trade name within a publishing house. A single publishing house can have multiple imprints. For example, Knopf is an imprint of PRH. PRH has so many imprints that they’re organized into nine different publishing groups. The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group includes Doubleday, Knopf, and Vintage, among others. Editors from imprints within a publishing house can compete for a manuscript. For example, an editor at Crown might bid against an editor at Knopf even though they’re both a part of PRH.
3. What do the Big 5 do? The Big 5 publish on the largest scale in the US. In addition to having the resources to provide substantial advances to authors and hire the best editors and designers, the Big 5 utilize in-house marketers and publicists to get their books in front of potential readers with techniques like paid advertising, reviews from major critics, and pitching to large news outlets. In-house sales teams pitch to places like Barnes & Noble, Costco, and Target to get books placed in physical stores. While authors need to be active participants throughout the process, the Big 5 are structured to sell as many copies as possible while giving authors the time and resources to write.
4. How do I submit my manuscript to the Big 5? You need an agent. The Big 5 do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, meaning they don’t accept submissions directly from authors. Big 5 editors rely on agents to pitch potential manuscripts.
5. What do agents do? An agent’s goal is to place an author with an editor who shares the author’s vision and get the author the best financial deal possible. These days, authors rarely stay with one publisher or editor for their entire career, so agents have become their main point of contact in the industry. Agents pitch manuscripts and act as the liaison between the author and the editor and publisher. They also keep track of what houses editors are working for and research editors’ tastes in books.
Book contracts are full of legal obligations, and the Big 5 require authors to have an agent to sign a deal. It’s an agent’s job to know the legal ins-and-outs and represent the author’s interests. If there are multiple editors bidding on an author’s manuscript, agents run the auction and negotiate which rights the author keeps and which are sold to the publisher—for example, movie, foreign language, or audiobook.
6. How do I get an agent? Research and follow directions. Agents specialize in certain genres just like editors and publishers. Using resources like Writer’s Market, attending writing conferences featuring agents, and investigating who represents other authors (look in the acknowledgments sections of their books) can help writers do targeted querying to agents who are most likely to be interested. When submitting, follow the agent’s guidelines to the letter. I repeat: follow the guidelines to the letter. Agents are inundated with queries, and following directions can help keep a writer’s work in the To Be Read pile instead of the recycle bin.
Olivia M. Croom is a production coordinator in the art department at Knopf, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and is a graphic designer with Indigo: Editing, Design, and More. Previously, she was in the managing editorial department at Henry Holt & Company, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. Olivia has worked with a number of publishers including Tin House Books, Hawthorne Books, Small Doggies Press, Ooligan Press, University of Hell Press, and Civil Coping Mechanisms. You can find her on Twitter at @OliviaCroom and Instagram at @reddish.ampersand.