Joanna Cárdenas, Senior Editor at Kokila, an imprint of Penguin Random House, has a wealth of knowledge about the publishing industry. She shares about her experiences of working at Penguin Random House, and gives us an insider’s look into various aspects of the publishing industry.
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What are the key aspects of your role as a Senior Editor at Penguin Random House?
An editor is very much like a project manager. I acquire books for young readers across genres, formats, and age categories for the Kokila list. I work with authors on developmental and line edits, all in service of publishing the strongest work possible. I collaborate with our art director on visual components of a project. And through every part of the process, as books are touched by other departments like sales, marketing, and publicity, I act as the point person and biggest advocate for the book and creator. All the editors on our team are ambassadors for the Kokila imprint and we take a lot of pride in fostering a spirit of community around our mission to center stories from the margins. We deliver books that inspire and entertain readers and add nuance and depth to the way children and young adults see the world and their place in it.
How does Penguin Random House select which books it wants to publish?
Each imprint at PRH has their own approach. At Kokila, we acquire projects three main ways. Some of our submissions come through traditional channels like literary agents. We recognize that there are many barriers that could prevent a creator from connecting with an agent, which reduces access to publishing. To help facilitate more access, we hold a yearly unagented submissions window where creators without literary agents can submit a project directly to Kokila editors. As a team, we also recognize that not everything we’re looking for will land in our inbox. We make it a point to approach creative people with ideas we think would be special in their hands. So sometimes, we pitch ideas that turn into beautiful books. Like most imprints, our list is driven by the individual sensibility of each editor as we work toward a common goal. Each book on our list is intentional and layered.
Penguin Random House is a large company that receives multiple submissions. How may aspiring authors stand out?
There are lots of reasons, including systemic ones, that make it hard for creators to connect with agents, which is still one of the primary ways to get your work in front of editors. That’s why other avenues, such as unagented submissions guidelines, are important. At Kokila, we receive many submissions through our unagented submission window, and since we opened it two years ago, we have officially added two projects to our list.
What industry trends do you see in the publishing industry?
Our industry is experiencing an unprecedented moment with bookstores and schools closed due to the pandemic. The formats and genres that seem most coveted reflect the needs of parents who are home-schooling and looking for alternative summer entertainment for their kids—this includes workbooks, activity books, and backlist titles popular in the school and library market. I’m not sure this is necessarily valuable information for a writer to know because a) a lot of this feels obvious, b) I don’t recommend writing to trends, and c) everything is changing by the day. Create art only you can create. Think about what’s important to you and why you want to make art for young readers. These are always better guideposts than trends.
What are Penguin Random House’s plans for the future?
We’re mission-driven at Kokila. If our mission resonates with you, we invite you to join our community—read our books, use them as springboards for conversation within your spheres of influence, and share your work with us if you think it’s a good fit. There are lots of ways to support Kokila’s growth.
If you have any additional questions about sharing your work with Kokila, I recommend checking out our FAQ video!
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