Jo Lusby is the managing director of Penguin Random House North Asia and a long-term expat, having lived in China for 17 years. She worked for a local foreign magazine before landing her current job ten years ago. Under her direction, Penguin Random House opened offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Seoul. In addition, Lusby oversees the sales of imported books from the US and UK. She recently visited a Grade 5 class at the International School of Beijing (ISB) to answer questions about being a publisher.
“The best qualification is to read, and to read anything. If you don’t read, you don’t have a strong sense of passion”
Gwen, 10, US
What inspired you to be a publisher?
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity. After five years as a journalist and editor, Penguin found me and said, “We want to set up a new office in China. Are you interested?” I didn’t realize how much I would love it until I started.
Shawn, 11, Hong Kong
What challenges did you encounter when you first became a publisher?
It was just scary. It’s thinking things like, “I have to make this book, people will read it, and you’ve got to do a good job.”
Alisha, 10, US
What is the most important step in publishing?
Whether it’s the cover pictures, color, hardback or paperback, the [little]things are the hardest because if we don’t get [them]right, then we won’t get the big things right.
Hubert, 10, US
What kind of problems are there when you publish a book?
The biggest challenges are the conversations with writers. For the writer, this is their baby and they don’t want to change it. But our job as the publisher is to take their baby and make it something different that can be shown to the world. It has to be edited, for example, and a lot of writers don’t like us going through and changing their writing.
Joseph, 10, South Korea
What are some of the most famous books you’ve published?
My colleagues in Britain and America published Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The author Jeff Kinney was actually an artist; he came in with loads of pictures. Inside the company, it was a big question whether to publish it. It felt like a risk, but in the end it worked out. Another book we did [that you guys would know]is called The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. In adult terms, we publish people like Dan Brown and Stephen King.
Owen, 10, US
How many drafts from authors have been through your office?
Thousands come through every year. For every ten books I read, I’ll choose one. In China, we publish or 500 or 600 successfully a year. A lot of books we’re doing are famous overseas, so our success rate is really high.
Julie, 10, South Korea
Why do books get turned down?
When we turn something down, it doesn’t mean that it’s not good. It just means we as a publisher don’t think we can make it successful. We all turn down things which then potentially go on and become very successful. For example, Penguin and many other publishing houses turned down Harry Potter. Interestingly, Bloomsbury took it on because the publisher gave it to his daughter to read. His daughter was 9 or 10 years old and loved it. He was the only publisher that gave the book to his daughter, which was pretty smart.
Ingrid, 10, US
How do you compete with other publishing companies?
By not doing something that’s already been done 100 times. You’ve go to find something like The Fault in Our Stars, which no one had ever really done before and people would want to read.
Archi, 11, India
Do you choose the authors or do the authors choose you?
Both. Sometimes, we choose the author; other times, authors come to us. But mostly for fiction and history books, the writers come to us. For that kind of creativity, you can’t go to someone and say, “Write me a story about a magic school.” It probably won’t be very good.
Vincent, 11, US
What is the best book you’ve published?
It’s hard to say because I get very protective of the books I do. One of the most successful books we did was
Midnight in Peking by historian Paul French. It was a true story of a murder in the 1930s in Beijing. The book sold very well around the world. They’re making it into a big TV show now in the UK so in two years, it’ll be on TV and we’ll sell more books.
Alice, 11, Australia
What degree do you need to be a publisher?
I did an English Literature degree but the best qualification is to read, and to read anything. If you don’t read, you don’t have a strong sense of passion.
This article originally appeared on page 46-47 of the March 2015 issue of beijingkids. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact email@example.com
Photos: Dave PiXSTUDIO