For those unfamiliar with your job as a book publicist with Pan Macmillan, could you give us an overview of what it involves?
In essence a publicist is responsible for promoting a book to consumers via the media. Basically we need to let the general reading public know that a new book is out here, but we differ in our approach from the marketing department in that we are trying for unpaid editorial in newspapers, magazines etcetera as opposed to paid advertising. If you see an author being interviewed on The Today Show, most likely their publicist set it up. We also organise author appearances at bookstores, libraries and festivals and often travel with the authors to help them through the whole promotion process.
You are involved in a lot of author events. What tend to be the most important factors in a good author event?
An interesting speaker and an engaged audience makes for a perfect event, but to get to there is a combination of location, timing, promotion and a dash of luck thrown in for good measure. I keep records of good events and bad to try and elimate the role that luck plays, but sometimes it feels like the whole process is in the hands of a higher power! I do think that ‘experiences’ are really big right now, and that author events are only going to become more popular. The success of something like The Wheeler Centre is proof positive of that, and the way of the future is to introduce other bonus elements into the mix as opposed to straight talks or signings. By that I mean things like involving local books clubs, offering food and wine, finding unique venues and bringing different authors together for panels, in conversations, issues based stuff and the like.
Who are some of the authors you work with, and what unique aspects does working with these specific authors bring to your job?
I work across the entire Pan Macmillan list including fiction, literary fiction, non-fiction, children’s, young adult and illustrated books, but most of my ongoing authors are novelists. Some of the big names I work with are Tony Park, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and Di Morrissey. All three of these authors tour for each book, attending author events and garnering a lot of media coverage. It’s hard work, but its a lot of fun. With the new and less established authors its more about ferretting out as many opportunities, big or small, to get their name and the cover of their book out there. Media are generally looking for newsworthy or gossipy angles so non-fiction tends to fare better in that department while fiction tends to be more review and event driven. With YA books, online is everything these days as young people are moving away from traditional media.
To what extent is your authors’ publicity up to you and the team at Pan Macmillan, and to what extent do your authors initiate their own publicity?
With the explosion of social networking authors are initiating their own publicity more and more. We just don’t have the time and resources to maintain websites for all our authors, and it goes against the grain of what web 2.0 is about to tweet and blog for them (readers can spot the inauthenticity from a mile away). I encourage all my authors to maintain an online presence as its such a worthwhile investment and a beautiful way to connect with their readers. Other writers too! Having said that, most mainstream media activity such as interviews and reviews are still organised by a publicist. A media release from a third person gives a book a gravitas and sheen of professionalism that is just not there if you are trying to promote something yourself. Its a little bit like the difference between being published and self publishing – it means you’ve already had a third party vouch for you.
From a publicity perspective, what attributes would you hope to find in a debut novelist and why?
Someone hardworking who is willing to be creative in their approach to promoting their book (I always say that the only thing guaranteed to not sell a book is doing nothing) and someone who has a back story and the ability to sell that story. But the most important attribute is that they are a good writer. Word of mouth is still the best selling tool in the book trade, and if people love a book, they’ll talk about it.
What is the best part of being a book publicist?
I love the variety of it. Even though there is a bit of a formula to promoting each genre, each book is different, so month to month the job really changes. Obviously I got into publishing because I’m a complete bibliophile and I love thinking and talking about books and being in a publicity role means I get to talk and write about them all day long. Like editors and publishers publicists also get to spend lots of time with authors and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some truly inspirational authors and people during my career, including Colm Toibin, Geraldine Brooks and Jeanette Winterson. Some of my authors have now become friends.
What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading, and do you have some favourites?
I like a variety of stuff from literary fiction to crime fiction and I’m a sucker for a good paranormal romance. I also love books with an historical setting. I look after Aussie crime novelist Katherine Howell and her latest book Violent Exposure is a fantastic read. I’ve also just read two new YA books which will be published in June and they both had me completely engrossed; Starcrossed is a US book that, instead of vampires or werewolves, is all about demi-Gods, and Winter’s Shadow is a debut Aussie novel for which the author MJ Hearle has created a completely original mythology for. Some of my favourite authors of all time include Tim Winton, Alex Miller, Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, AS Byatt and Jonathan Franzen. My absolute favourite is now deceased Canadian author Carol Shields and I was stupidly excited when I got to meet her daughter once.
Which of your fiction authors have events coming up and where can people find details for these author events?
In May I’m working on Sydney author Christine Stinson’s new book It Takes a Village which is such a heartfelt but witty novel. It’ll make you cry, but in a good way! You can check out her website www.christinestinson.com for more details. In August Tony Park will be hiting the road again for his new book African Dawn. Tony is a brilliant writer and a great guy and if you check out his website www.tonypark.net you can join his mailing list for regular updates on his whereabouts. He is currently touring South Africa. The Pan Macmillan Facebook and Twitter pages are also great places to stop by for regular author event updates. You can find the links at www.panmacmillan.com.au.
The Australian Literature Review