Is reading one of your favourite hobbies? Does the thought of being able to work with your favourite authors, shape the trajectory of a book release or getting your hands on the latest page-turners before anyone else, spark joy?
If so, consider a career in book publicity.
Veteran book publicist Andy Palmer has lived and breathed books for more than 30 years, promoting thousands of titles for the world’s biggest names in publishing – Bloomsbury, Allen & Unwin, and Simon & Schuster, to name a few.
These are his tips for nabbing a book publicity role and an overview of what you can expect, working in this sector. If you're after even more insight about life as a book publicist, take a listen to his episode on The PR Pod podcast.
Breaking Into Book Publishing
Let’s face it – an internship can be a necessary evil if you’re trying to crack an industry with little-to-no experience behind you. Book publishing is one of those industries.
The reality is book publicity roles are a tad hard to find so if you can secure an internship and become a beloved member of the team, you're going to be top of mind for the next available entry-level role.
The best place to start is head to your favourite publisher’s website and see if they offer internships. In Australia, the Australian Publishers Association website is another great resource. It’s a hub for the latest internships, job listings and industry events.
Resumes That Stand Out
Regardless of the sector you want to work in or the type of role you're applying for, it's essential your spelling, grammar and punctuation are spot on.
This is particularly true in an industry which deals with language - publishing. Think about it from an employers perspective.... If they have to sift through hundreds of a resumes, they're looking for easy ways to cull that list down to something more manageable. Removing resumes which haven't been proofread properly are an easy place to start.
The head of a publicity department will also be looking for people who share their passion for books and have a connection to their company. Ensure you highlight your favourite recent releases from the publisher you're applying to, mention genres you enjoy and make it clear you’re a passionate reader!
If you have PR experience in another sector and want to move across to book publishing, that is an achievable option. In your resume and cover letter, look at how you can create parallels between your previous experience and the requirements of the book publicity role when it comes to structuring campaigns, managing multiple projects at one time and being an agile interview scheduler.
Inside the Publishing House
Publishers release thousands of books every year. Thousands. It’s impossible to promote them all.
The average book publicist can expect to work on about four titles per month, and those titles will be at varying stages of their release cycle. You may be planning for a release in a few months time or be in the midst of the launch phase.
There are a number of roles within a publicity team including interns, assistant publicists, junior/senior publicists plus managers and heads of departments. All have varying degrees of responsibilities when it comes to strategy and execution. The higher you are in the food chain, the bigger the author you work with.
Assistant publicists have some of the busiest roles in a department as they're helping coordinate author tours, managing book send-outs plus providing support across the team. It's an exhausting but very rewarding role and it will give you fantastic insight into roll-out of a book release plus the inner-workings of a publishing house.
Elements of an A+ Book Campaign
A book publicity campaign is more art than science – kind of like writing a book, actually.
Much like television or music publicity, the calibre of talent you’re working with makes a huge difference to the campaign. A big-name author is an easier sell when you’re pitching for high profile media opportunities and if there’s something newsworthy on the page like, say, a retired politician dishing dirt on former colleagues – there's even more opportunities to secure coverage.
The kind of media coverage opportunities you might be striving for if all the book elements were working in your favour could be:
A cover, feature stories or profiling opportunities in major newspaper supplements
Features in relevant monthly magazines
A spot on a prime-time television show (for example, The Project or 60 Minutes, if you live in Australia.)
Radio interviews on leading AM and FM programs around the country
Traditional media still has the biggest conversion rate when it comes to selling books. Social media inevitably plays a huge role, too. A great example of this is Madeline Miller's A Song for Achilles, which received a huge resurgence in sales off the back of an organic TikTok campaign.
But the pièce de résistance of any publicity campaign is, and always has been, The Author Tour.
The Author Tour: What to Expect
Forget one-off book signings – a two week promotional tour stacked with speaking events, media interviews and meet-and-greets with the author can be the difference between a shelf-warmer and a bestseller when promoting a new book.
Red-hot international writers are in demand and can be harder to secure for author tours outside of their home countries. In these cases, you might be offered a handful of interviews in lieu of a tour.
However, if you've got a local author or someone who is willing to tour, going on the road with a client can be a publicist’s dream.
It's not necessarily as glamourous as it sounds, though. A great publicist needs to be an expert in reading people, managing expectations, an all-in-one personal assistant, available as a sounding board or therapist to unpack an author's woes plus step in as a bodyguard when manoeuvring through airports.
Plus, you need to develop trust and a rapport with this person you'll be spending the next couple of weeks with. So be sure to read their current book plus some of their previous releases. An intimate knowledge of their work will not only help you do your job better – it might be the best icebreaker you have!
At the end of the day, your job is to secure and facilitate interviews to help sell their book but you want to make this tour experience as enjoyable, comfortable and painless as possible for them.
What Makes a Best-seller?
In Australia, book publishers live and die by Nielsen Bookscan. This neat website tracks book sales, which means publishers can see how their books are performing against others. It also shows market trends. In other words, the kinds of manuscripts a publisher should be acquiring more of.
A best-seller doesn't have to achieve a certain number of sales to be bestowed that title, it just has to sit on a best-seller list. And what makes a best-seller isn’t always what you think. A book of poetry might only sell a few hundred copies against a political memoir that sells hundreds of thousands. But they both could be best-sellers in their respective categories.
Although having your book publicity campaign result in a best-seller is certainly a triumph, it's not the only judge of a great campaign. And your books won't always become best-sellers. Focus on creating a comprehensive campaign which does that book justice, reaches the relevant target market and is something you're proud of.
Loved these tips and want to learn more about working in book publicity? Listen to the full podcast episode on The PR Pod here. You'll also find this episode on your fave podcast player, just search "The PR Pod".
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