Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A BOOK PUBLICIST


We are especially thrilled today to welcome Jessica Silvester from Simon and Schuster who, with hardly any begging on my part, graciously agreed to take time out of her very busy day to join us. Jessica is the person I get down on my knees and thank for working so hard to garner publicity for my books at Pocket. Without further adieu .... here's Jessica!

As a senior publicist at Pocket Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, I get to work with authors that write in many different genres. While all these different types of authors are great, the romance authors, I must admit, tend to be the most fun. Not only are they eager and adept at promoting their books—from blogging, to social networking, to writing newsletters and running contests—they also know how to have a good time. I feel confident saying this because I’ve witnessed it firsthand at the RWA (Romance Writers of America) national conference the past couple of years in a row. I really value having the opportunity to see these ladies in action at RWA because publicists aren’t always able to meet their authors in person, let alone stay at the same hotel as them for several days. It helps to promote a book when you’ve had a personal connection with the writer, when you can see what stands out about them—even if it’s something as simple as a sweet smile or a fun fashion sense.
And speaking of “standing out,” getting the media to pay attention to a book is sometimes half the battle. Editors and reviewers have to sift through piles of books every day from publicists like me, and it’s not always easy to catch their attention. The letters and press releases I write to them must make all the salient points quickly and succinctly, and it’s important that everything you send them is well-timed. A “galley mailing,” or, mailing of advance uncorrected proofs of a particular book, must go out several months before the book actually goes on-sale because certain outlets—such as Romantic Times, Publishers Weekly and women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan— work on long-lead times. These galley mailings can also garner early reviews. When the final “finished” book mailing eventually goes out, about a month before the on-sale date, I’ll quote from these reviews in the press release I send with it.
Amazingly, the media world is such a revolving door that people on your galley mailing list may no longer be the appropriate contacts when it comes time to send out finished books—so it’s part of my job to keep tabs on all this. Blogs and online media are great resources for book publicists now (especially in light of all the dramatic cuts of both book sections and staff at print publications), but since new blogs seem to crop up every day, this is another area where I need to be vigilant.
The fun part in all of this, of course, is when you get a nice publicity hit for your author—it makes all those hundreds of emails and phone calls worthwhile. There isn’t much time to sit back and enjoy it, what with all the other mailings yet to go out and books yet to be reviewed, but this is what brings me back to the point I made earlier about RWA—when you finally do have a moment to be with an author face to face, and maybe even share a cocktail or two, it makes it all the more enjoyable.
Jessica

Cindy here - Okay, people, here's the part where we open things up for questions. I'm sure Jessica's post has piqued your interest so ask away. And keeping with our recipe theme, Jessica has generously offered a copy of HIGH TEA: A novel (with recipes) by Sandra Harper, to some lucky blogger who posts a comment and or asks her a question.

46 comments:

Cindy Gerard said...

Again, welcome, Jessica! Because I'm curious, I'll ask the first question: Besides RT and PW, what type of outlets is an ARC (advanced readers copies) of a book sent to? And how many of those you send to actually give a review? And do all books benefit from ARCs?

Helen Brenna said...

Hey, Jessica. Thanks so much for visiting today! It's fun to see a different side to the whole book publishing thang.

How many authors do you work with? And do they cross all genres?

Keri Ford said...

Hey, Jessica. Wow, you are a busy lady it sounds like, but what a fun job!

Have you ever done anything different and unique to get a book noticed?

lois greiman said...

Welcome to Top Down, Jessica. I admit that your part of the publishing world really fascinates me. It's a part we rarely see, but it's so important. So my question to you is, what is the best way that we, as authors, can help you help us?

Jessica said...

Thanks for having me, everyone!
To answer Cindy's question first, other publications that we send ARCs to are, first and foremost, the trades--Booklist, BookPage, Library Journal, etc. Although the weekly magazines like Entertainment Weekly and People work on a shorter lead time than the monthlies like Cosmo, it's always still a good idea to send them ARCs if possible, and then follow it up with a finished book later on. We have a smaller quantity of ARCs to work with than we do finished books, but we can mail anywhere from 30-100 of them on any given mailing.

Jessica said...

Hi, Helen. I work with a lot of authors! It's hard to give a number because I'm simultaneously working on books that are currently on sale and ones that will go on sale in several months. They do cross many genres--serious non-fiction, humor, literary fiction, women's fiction, in addition to romance.

All of these different kinds of authors, to answer Lois's question, can help their publicists in the same ways. No matter what kinds of books you write, it's important to make your publicist aware of any personal media contacts you have that she might be able to use to get your book a push. And it's always helpful to try to condense as many questions or thoughts you may have for her in one email (or phone conversation, but email is usually easier because we can refer back to it). If a publicist is getting several one-line emails from you in a day, it can be harder to keep track of everything. And, as I think I mentioned in my original post, it's always great to keep us updated on any promoting you're doing on your own--Cindy does a great job of this!!

Jessica said...

It is a fun job, Keri! I'll use Cindy as an example again--a little something extra we did to get her trilogy noticed was send the media cute little triangular shaped notepads that had each of the titles in the series on the three different faces of the pad. Anything you can do to make your package look different than the hundreds of others that are sitting on a reviewer's desk is great...and sometimes that's even as simple as using brightly colored paper for your press release, or tying a pretty a pretty ribbon around the book. When you're sending them follow-up emails, it always helps to refer to something that's currently going on in the headlines and link it to the book.

Betina Krahn said...

Welcome Jessica! You have such a wonderful job-- reading and promoting all kinds of wonderful books! But I imagine it can be really frustrating, too, sometimes. . . to see how wonderful books may not always get the attention (and sales) they deserve.

Romance authors are usually at the forefront of promotional innovation. On-line blogs, communnities, message boards, web-sites, book trailers, and e-mail loops are now just business as usual for most of us.

So, what's the next big thing? What do you see coming down the pike that would make us more effective marketers?

Oh, and how do you like that "Kindle?" Is it going to change the game for us?

Playground Monitor said...

Hi Jessica! Do you think it is important for a writer to create some sort of online presence before they sell a book? Perhaps just a blog that gets their name out in cyberspace and creates the beginnings of a fan base?

Thanks for hopping in the convertible today.

Marilyn

Eden Glenn said...

Hi Jessica, Thanks for blogging with us today. Your career sounds incredibly fast paced. There would seem to be a cycle of promotion that everything has to happen at a time and you hope you hit the "right" time for a book to get noticed. I hear you saying the things you do for promotion and then the author also does some promotional activities. For new or aspiring authors what is the balance? I guess I'm asking to help see the lines of responsibility for promotion. What does your publishing house do as a standard part of the package for promotion? What should the author do to enhance that? What kind of budget should the author set aside for promotion? Do you have any thoughts on what gives you the best edge in promotion?

Jessica said...

Hi, Marilyn - Yes! I do think it's important for a writer to build an online presence. I know it takes diligence to blog every day, or even just on any kind of a consistent basis, but it can really help!

Jessica said...

You're certaintly, right, Betina-- I hear "no" way too often and it can be frustrating, especially when I really believe in a book, but I've learned to not take it personally and just keep plugging along.

I think that social networking is the next big thing that will help authors market themselves. Some authors already seem to have it down to a science!

I've personally never used a Kindle but I'm seeing more and more young people that love them. And now that Oprah started praising it a couple of weeks ago who knows how quickly it's going to take off! I still think a lot of people, and particularly the older generations, will always prefer the look and feel of a regular book, and I think there's a place for both out there.

Cindy Gerard said...

Jessica - Cindy again. when you say social networking in response to Betina's question, are you referring to things like My Space and Face book? If so, I've heard that My Space is sort of considered 'over' and that Face book is not the 'next big thing'. Are you hearing the same thing? And is there something 'newer' than Facebook that you're aware of? Told you we'd work you hard today :o)

Sean and Anna said...

Cool job! I have a couple of questions:
Do you get a chance to read the books that come your way?

Is there a peak time for book releases? Do certain genres sell better at certain times in the year?

Thanks for blogging today!

Playground Monitor said...

Cindy, did you mean "Facebook is NOW the next big thing?"

I sure like Facebook better than MySpace. I don't do a whole lot with it, but I'm friends with a bunch of authors plus my son, DIL and her sister and mom.

Marilyn

Cindy Gerard said...

Marilyn - yeah. I meant that Facebook is NOW the next big thing. Thanks for catching that.

Alexis Morgan said...

Jessica,
(waving madly from Seattle) I wanted to drop in and say hi--and thanks for all the hard work you have done on my books!

One question I think a lot of writers have is this: What can we do (besides websites, blogs, etc.) on our end that makes your job easier?

Alexis

Dara Girard said...

Hi Jessica,

Thanks for giving us a behind the scenes look at what you do and answering questions! Great post.

Dara

Jessica said...

Hi Cindy - You're right that Facebook is now more commonly accepted as a tool for professionals than My Space, which has become strictly social for a lot of people. LinkedIn and Twitter are also ones I had in mind. A lot of articles today are talking about how social networking helped Obama's campaign--I think it's definitely going to be something that we see influencing people more and more!

anne said...

What a gratifying and interesting job. It must be lovely to have all those books to read as your job. How did you happen to decide upon this as your career choice. thanks for this fascinating preview about your work.

Jessica said...

Hi Eden - A publisher usually doesn't have a universal set of guidelines for publicity campaigns. It will vary from book to book and contract to contract. But one thing I always tell authors is to let their publicists take care of mailing all and any books to the media--you shouldn't waste your author copies and your money on the postage. Most of the time, the media doesn't like for authors to send them books directly.

It's always good for an author to seek out promotional opportunities that their publisher or publicist may not have thought of...then shoot us an email and say "just wanted to be sure you were aware of this site...think it might be a good place to send my book or pitch an interview," etc. I said before that new blogs pop up all the time and it can be hard to keep tabs on them, so it's great if you can be another set of eyes for us. Also, look for books that seem similar to yours that have been covered in newspapers and magazines and make your publicist aware of it when this happens.

Before you spend your own money on making postcards, bookmarks, or any other promo materials, it's always worth checking with your editor or publicist to see if there's money in the budget for us to pitch in. Again, this will vary from book to book, but it's always a possibility.

Jessica said...

Hi Sean and Anna - That's a great question, and I can't say that I really know the answer! Different kinds of books can do better during different times of year, but it often really depends on the competition. Publishers usually put out all their biggest non-fiction and literary fiction in the fall, so that season is always the most competitive--it's also competitive from a publicist's standpoint since the media has so much great material to choose from. If a book makes a good beach it can benefit from coming out between the months of May and July. As authors build their audiences and start producing more books, publishers will notice if there's a particular month when that author tends to do well, and they will try to publish them again during that same time of year.

Jessica said...

Hi Alexis!!! Thanks for stopping in! It always helps if authors keep us updated on any events or coverage they've set up on their own, and if they offer any unique insight into the blogosphere...if you've noticed a certain blog is gaining a big readership and has given other authors like you good exposure, let us know because it might not be on our radar yet!

ArkieRN said...

Hi Jessica,

How soon before a book comes out do you suggest authors start plugging their book on the net?

Debra Dixon said...

Jessica-- Thanks for spending some time with us today.

I total agree that the blogs are a great sort of buzz. We've been spending a lot of time developing a good list of bloggers for reviews and ARC's over at BelleBooks and Bell Bridge Books.

ruth said...

Hi Jessica,
I was fascinated to learn about your job. Did you always envision dealing with authors and books as your future. It sounds incredibly interesting and never a dull moment.

Jessica said...

Authors can start plugging their books as soon as possible on their blogs and websites--consistently remind your readers that you have a book coming out down the line. Actual reviews and interviews should be timed closer to the on-sale date, and if it's a print review or a radio or TV appearance, it's best if it runs as close to the day of on-sale as possible.

Jessica said...

Hi Ruth - It was always my dream job to work in publishing. I always loved books and considered myself a writer growing up, and while I had of course considered a career in editing, I didn't really know about the publicity end of publishing until after I graduated college. Someone in the industry told me about what it was like to be a book publicist and it sounded like the perfect job for--getting to work with authors and then spend all day telling everyone why their books are special. I feel really lucky that I get paid to talk about books!

Jessica said...

Sean and Anna - I just realized I didn't answer one of your questions! Please forgive me since this is my first time doing this...
I do get to read the books that come my way. The more thoroughly I'm able to read the book I'm working on, the better I'm able to promote it!

annie said...

Hi Jessica,
Do you travel a great deal and interact with many famous authors. Your job sounds like a dream come true. Anything to do with books must be a constant source of satisfaction.

flchen1 said...

Wow, thanks for taking the time to visit and answer questions, Jessica! How cool to learn more about how you get the word out! Do you find in general that the more money spent on publicity correlates directly to better final sales? How many authors/books do you usually promote at once? Your job sounds really fun but hectic!

ellie said...

Hi Jessica,
You must derive a great deal of pleasure and enjoyment from your daily work. I certainly envy you your unique job. I hope that books remain popular forever. What would I do without their uplifting and great messages. Best wishes.

Jessica said...

It's my pleasure! I'm happy to be able to talk to everyone. I don't think more money spent on publicity necessarily relates to better sales. For some authors it can be worthwhile to hire a personal publicist outside their publisher if that person happens to have a lot of local connections in the area that the author lives or if it's a nonfiction book which could benefit from tons of radio interviews (which the in-house publicist can only devote so much time to). Book tours aren't as profitable as they used to be and publishers are doing them less and less. This also means that, in response to Annie's question, publicists don't travel that much anymore because their authors are rarely on the road.

traveler said...

Thanks for this lovely visit, Jessica. I loved learning about how you get publicity out there for the books and authors. A job like your is rare and sounds utterly special. Do you have many authors and new ones as well.

Jessica said...

I do work with lots of authors and the greatest thing is that I always get to anticipate new ones coming down the pipeline. The job never gets boring because the more new books Pocket publishes, the more new projects I get to work on!

Melissa Mayhue said...

Jessica!!! **waving wildly** I couldn't resist stopping by to say Hi! to my favorite publicist when I saw you were going to be here...

And me without even a single question or favor to ask for...for a change!!!

Hope you're having a great day!

~ Melissa

Jessica said...

Thanks, Melissa!! You know I never mind when you ask for favors! Hope you're having a great day, too!

Estella said...

Sounds like you have a great job.
Is there a certain time of the year that new releases sell better?

Sean and Anna said...

Jessica- Thank you for taking the time to blog today and for the great question/answer session. I love learning about the publishing world, mostly because I just love books!

Jessica said...

I've really enjoyed being here and hope I can come back again!

Keri Ford said...

Jessica thanks so much for answering my question and all the others! I enjoyed reading your responses and getting a look into what you do.

Shayla Black said...

Jessica is AWESOME! I know this first hand. She is one busy lady but incredible at what she does. Great interview!

Cindy Gerard said...

Hey all - Jessica was answering the blog questions from work and the poor girl had a full day, I'd say. thanks for giving her such a warm Top down welcome. And Jessica - thanks again for joining us. You were wonderful - especially considering how full your workday already was.

M. said...

with the hundreds of emails and phone calls per publicized book mentioned, I wonder, do publicists ever actually get to read the books? I don't mean that facetiously - maybe knowing the subgenre and reading the blurb gives them enough information to do their job well?

Jessica said...

Hi! I know my blogging day is over but since I missed a couple of comments at the end of the day yesterday I just wanted to say hi to Shelley (and thank you so much for the kinds words!!), and answer m's question...Publicists do get to read the books, but it's often in their spare time. We have so much information on the book, its selling points, etc, that it's also very possible to promote it well without having read it but, like I said, I prefer to do so if its possible.
Thanks to everyone again for all the great questions and comments!

Cindy Gerard said...

Thanks, Jessica. We appreciate it that you stopped back.
Hugs
Cindy