Interview With A Book Publicist
The BW INSIDER SERIES: Part 5
"To me the most marketable authors are the ones who are willing to contribute their time and energy toward promoting their book. That means doing everything from at times answering the most rudimentary interview questions for a small fan blog to getting in front of a TV camera beaming you out to millions of viewers. There should be few things you are not willing to do, at least for the first book!"
In Part 5 of our series, we meet Glory Plata, a forward-thinking and innovative publicist at Penguin Random House. She talks about why she became a publicist and shares about the immense amount of work that goes into helping an author become a bestseller.
How did you become a publicist?
I didn’t know I wanted to be a publicist right away. I came to New York because I knew I wanted to work in book publishing, to be a part of the process that puts books out into the world and in the hands of readers.
I interned at an excellent non-profit publishing house called The New Press, and in the evenings I took publishing-focused classes offered by New York University’s SCPS program. Both of these experiences helped me to familiarize myself with the inner workings of the business. The New Press in particular was a huge reason for why I ultimately chose to pursue a career as a book publicist. Their internship process at that time required that interns spend one month in each of their four major departments—editorial, publicity/marketing, sub-rights, and assisting in the publisher’s office—so that we were able to get a feel for what really interested us. It was an eye-opening process, and by the end of it I knew I would be applying solely to publicity assistant positions.
Book publicists always seem as busy as banana flies! What do you actually spend your time doing?
I wish there were a more straight forward answer to this question!
Book publicists are often simultaneously doing a million things at any given time during the day—from managing an author’s book tour schedule and sending literally hundreds of pitch e-mails a day, to organizing book signings and writing press materials—and that doesn’t include the literary events that we attend after work hours.
I might start a typical day going through my inbox (I can receive up to 200 e-mails that actually require me to take action a day) and checking my media alerts for new reviews or features about my authors that I need to know about. Those are probably the two things I always do.
After that it’s a crap shoot!
I might reconfirm media appointments for my authors, book plane tickets and hotel rooms for authors going on tour, work on a creative angle to pitch a new novel going on sale a few months later, put together a press kit, curate a targeted mailing list of media contacts who I think should receive a prize-winning journalist’s memoir, meet an author at a radio station to discuss any last minute questions that the host might ask, arrange a media luncheon of a debut writer, etc. It really just depends on the day. Outside all of the day to day work that goes into promoting a book, what most people don’t realize is how emotional a book publicist’s role can be.
Publicity comes at the tail end of the publishing process, so we are sharing in a very personal way both the excitement as well as the anxiety each author feels just before their very personal project is released to the public. That means if an author wants to call and fret over a not-so-great review for an hour, I will always talk it through with them! If there is something going on in an author’s personal life that is making the publishing process difficult to manage, I will do what I can to help alleviate as much of that stress as possible. My boss used to tell me that a publicist’s job is comprised of a variety of roles: promoter, scheduler, travel agent, art director, event coordinator, author therapist, and friend, and I’ve come to learn that all of those things are true!
B is for...book. What is your favourite childhood book?
I had many childhood favourites! Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell to name a few. I also loved the Sweet Valley Twins and Goosebumps series.
A is for… animal. If you could transform into one animal for one week, what would you be?
It’s cliché but I would be a puppy at around 3 months old. All they do is sleep and run around until they sleep again. Who wouldn’t want that life for a week?
N is for… necessary. If you were banished to a desert island and could only bring two items, what would they be?
Assuming that my husband does not count as a bring-able item I would bring lip balm and my glasses. I can’t function without those two things.
A is for… authentic. How would you describe yourself in three words?
Patient, empathetic, observant.
N is for… novelist. Which writer do you most admire?
Toni Morrison is a goddess to me. I nearly passed out from excitement after meeting her at a book party recently.
A is for… appetite. What is your favourite banana themed food?
I’m Filipina so my favourite banana themed food is definitely Turon. I could eat a million of them!
What is the process for getting books reviewed by the press and getting an author media attention?
The timeline for pitching a book is more or less then same every time, but the finer details of what is done within a campaign for each book varies. It’s normal to start building the skeleton of what will eventually become a full-fledged publicity campaign a year before the book goes on sale, but the most labour intensive part of the process comes around six months prior publication. That’s when we really start talking to the media about the books we think are the best fits for their audiences, and how we think the books should be covered. A common misconception about any type of publicity is the presumption that publicists can tell the media which books to cover and what to say in the review. I wish this were true! One of the tricky parts about publicity is that you can have all of the right pieces of puzzle—the sensational hook, the right angles to pitch, the fantastic story and unique author biography—but at the end of the day a book reviewer or features editor will not cover the book if they feel they have a reason not to. Often it’s due to space limitations (most publications have one page to cover as many of the hundreds of books the editors receive each month), but it just isn’t our decision to make.
What types of attributes make an author more marketable?
I don’t think there is a correct answer for this. But to me the most marketable authors are the ones who are willing to contribute their time and energy toward promoting their book. That means doing everything from at times answering the most rudimentary interview questions for a small fan blog to getting in front of a TV camera beaming you out to millions of viewers. There should be few things you are willing to do, at least for the first book!
There are famous authors who refuse to use social media and do not have Facebook and Twitter accounts - they say it is a distraction from their writing. How important do you think social media is when marketing an author?
Maintaining multiple social media accounts is hard work, so it isn’t a surprise when writers shy away from participating at all. But there are benefits when an author is somewhat active on at least one platform, and it should be the one they are most comfortable using. Social media gives readers the opportunity to hear directly from and interact with their favourite writers, a connection that help us in the publicity and marketing realms directly reach the target audience for the books we are hoping they purchase. It isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but it helps.
When you first take on a new author, what types of questions do you ask them before you start marketing them?
It’s common for the editor to arrange a meet and greet between the author and/or literary agent and the publicity and marketing teams early on. Authors submit author questionnaires, as well, which detail their thought process behind the writing of the book, what ideas they might have in terms of promoting it, and whether or not they have any existing media connections.
Is it possible for an author to have a successful career without doing events or book signings?
Nowadays it takes much more than just one aspect of publicity to sell books, and that applies not only to book signings but also to any one book review or media feature. With that said, author events are still a popular way for fans to meet authors they admire, and why not make that happen at a great bookstore?
What do you think are the most useful vehicles for boosting book sales?
While it’s true that getting an author on “Fresh Air with Terry Gross” or on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” are considered the holy grails of book publicity, what most effectively sustains the life of a book publicity-wise is a combination of everything you can think of.
The goal is to have complete media saturation, which means not only does a publicist want the New York Times to review their book and wants the author to discuss it on the radio, but he or she wants popular blogs like The Huffington Post and PopSugar.com to cover it, as well. We want our books to be seen or heard in as many different places as possible because that’s when readers with a variety of interests start saying things like, “Oh, I heard about this same book on NPR, how interesting that Cosmopolitan is covering it, too.” The hope is that this kind of media saturation builds word of mouth, which hopefully in turn leads to book sales.
What are best and worst things about being a book publicist?
I don’t think there is a worst thing, but I would say that for me the hardest thing is managing authors’ expectations and emotions during the publication of their books. Publicists work extremely hard to try to get as much media coverage as possible for all of their authors and take the privilege of ushering their books into the world very personally. But we don’t always get the results we hope for, and at times that is a difficult and delicate situation to have to work through with an author.
The best thing is when you know you’ve made a difference in the life of a book, whether it’s when you see a stranger reading it on the subway or when a review for the book appears in a national newspaper.
Tell us about some of the Asian authors that are your clients and what types of publicity campaigns you are currently working on.
I have worked with Jen Lin-Liu (journalist, chef and founder of the extremely popular Beijing cooking school Black Sesame Kitchen) on her memoir On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Road with Love and Pasta; with prize-winning novelist Chang-Rae Lee on his most recent novel On Such a Full Sea; and finally with bestselling author Jean Kwok on her second novel Mambo in Chinatown, which is coming out in paperback in July 2015. BW