Monday, August 16, 2010

Penguin's Odd But Welcome Query Opportunity

This is one of those rare posts where I feel is a disclaimer is in order at the outset:

The opinions expressed in this post are strictly my own. They may or may not have any basis in fact and are purely speculative in nature. They are not to be construed as directives or advice.
Okay, now that my, um, bases, are covered, here goes...

Quietly and with no fanfare that I can find, Penguin UK has opened itself (themself if you're British) to accepting unsolicited queries for a limited time. You can query it/them directly -- by email no less! -- through October. No mention as to genre limitations or that you have to live in the UK. It appears submissions are wide open. Go here for details.

Coincidentally, Penguin celebrated its 75th anniversary on 30 July and began its trial period of accepting unagented submissions on 1 August. But why? And why do it so relatively secretively? (If you can find an official announcement from the company, please let me know. All I've been able to find is a tweet here and a blog announcement there.)

Here's my thought (refer back to the disclaimer, please): I'm betting Penguin is tinkering with starting up a digital imprint. Most of you know Dorchester, in a last gasp effort, recently switched to an all-digital model, leaving a number of authors out in the virtual cold. Now I am not at all suggesting that Penguin is having trouble the way Dorchester was. I think Penguin is simply a forward-looking company ready to embrace a digital economy.

You'll note Penguin appeared to jump right in bed earlier this year with Mac and the iBook. It's already played around with a few "enhanced" titles. What more natural progression than to do what Harlequin did and spin off an e-press of its own? And, like Harlequin's Carina Press, the backing would be there to take any deserving electronic title down the traditional print route as well. Plus, Penguin UK has a job posting for a digital marketer. Is the timing really coincidental? And is it not telling that it's asking for subs by email rather than trying to limit the number of queries, especially from authors outside the UK, by using snail mail?

So why not work with the agented slushpile it already has? Likely because it is not ready to announce a new model, especially on the heels of the Dorchester disaster. And because agents are looking for the more favorable contracts print publishing traditionally delivers. It would be a wily move: Lure in thousands of unsuspecting, unagented authors and hope the cream that rises is willing to take the digital plunge with them.

If Penguin UK is contemplating a digital imprint, I have one plea: That it price the e-books in line with other e-press offerings. The digital versions of its print books are quite high by those standards and I have a feeling the reading public isn't going to flock to a high-priced store front when they can get reading satisfaction cheaper elsewhere.

So, should you take the chance and query them? If you're not trying to pick up a UK-based agent, what harm is there in testing the waters? After all, it may be just an odd experiment on Penguin's part and they may indeed be looking for mss to print traditionally. If you ARE trying to pick up a UK-based agent and Penguin UK rejects you, you'll need to come clean with an agent that you submitted to Penguin UK. By that time, Penguin may have fessed up to why it's accepting submissions and an agent may still be able to submit work there on your behalf. I truly don't see any downside.

Except one.

You'll note Penguin asks for a covering letter and a synopsis. I can't imagine Penguin not accepting a fabulously crafted US-style query letter as the covering letter. But you can't substitute the synopsis. A synopsis is a synopsis wherever you may be in the world.

Just another reason to get your synopsis honed. There are 5 in the queue and slots available for 3 more. Since a few came quickly, I'll post out the first one for us to crit later this week.

And yes, I took my own (legally non)advice and submitted my current ms to Penguin UK this past weekend. I sent a US-style query letter, a synopsis and the first 5 pages. I'll also send along a submission package for another work later this week.

I just hope Penguin has hired in a LOT of interns to scrub the amount of slush it's sure to receive...


Sarah Laurenson said...

BTW Dorchester said they were only doing it for 6 months. I didn't read the whole article on their retraction.

Very interesting. To query a UK company? Hmmmmmm.

LSimon said...

I'm for it...any opportunity is an opportunity, as long as they don't pull the "Vanity press- pig in lipstick" business that Harlequin pulled.

But I gotta get my synopsis in shape **big puppy dog eyes look up at Mistress Phoenix**

Anonymous said...

Good luck with your submission Divine Miss Phoenix. Rooting for you. Keep us posted.

Angela James said...

@lsimon Carina Press isn't a vanity press, but maybe you're referring to Dellarte?

Glynis said...

Wow, thanks for this. I am a Brit writer in Cyprus and have been targeting UK and US.

Worth trying :) Thanks for the post and link.

Author Blog: Glynis Smy