Carys Bray is the author of a collection of short stories, Sweet Home, and two novels, A Song for Issy Bradley, which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards, and The Museum of You. Here, she shares her experience about an author’s relationship with a publicist.
When my first book was published I was my own publicist. I managed to arrange a few appearances in bookshops, but if anyone approached me (I couldn’t bring myself to approach them) I found myself saying things like: ‘You can buy one of my books if you like, but you don’t have to – in fact, have you ever read any books by Carol Shields or Anne Tyler or Liz Jensen? They’re brilliant, you should definitely buy their books…’
I was a terrible publicist.
When, having written my second book (my first novel), I was assigned to work with a publicist, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know that publicists work on several books at once and face both time and budgetary constraints – I’d never really given it any thought. I quickly realised that although some of the trickier jobs (such as sending out review copies, speaking to bookshops and festivals, working with book bloggers, arranging interviews and so on) may no longer be exclusively mine, I needed to remain engaged and think about the best way to showcase my work.
Advice from other, more experienced writers was, and is, helpful. Here are a couple of thoughts from some experienced writers:
‘Publicists are expected to perform magic for every author, every time, and from what I’ve seen they go into it with absolute dedication and determination, but it doesn’t always pay off for reasons that aren’t always within their control.’
‘Writers need to make a leap of understanding – our books are only the single most important thing in our own universes. A book is not a story. Writers need to offer a publicist something – apart from their book – to work with.’
Every book is different and, as another writer friend advised, ‘A standard approach does neither the book nor the writer justice.’ I’ve tried to offer my publicists things to work with (at such times I realise how boring I am and vow to get some interesting hobbies!). It can be tricky to decide which parts of your life you’re willing to share and which are entirely yours and should remain separate from your books and writing life. A good publicist can help you to strike a balance.
There have been times when things haven’t gone quite right. I’ve spoken to rooms of mostly empty chairs and once to a room containing one person – it was actually quite fun in the end! I’ve carried bags of books to events and lugged every single one home with me. I’ve twice been interviewed by journalists who subsequently removed all the questions and chopped up my words to create a decontextualized first person narrative which sounded absolutely nothing like me. But I have had many enjoyable experiences, too.
When The Museum of You was published I spent a day riding around the northwest in an old-fashioned bus. When A Song for Issy Bradley was published a writer at the Guardian conducted a thoughtful interview addressing my feelings about Mormonism. I have given talks in libraries, interviewed writers at literary festivals, been an after dinner speaker and interacted with many generous book bloggers. Publicists have helped me to practice interview questions, smiled at me through the glass while I’ve done live radio interviews, helped me find my way around unfamiliar cities, and even offered consolation following a horrible gaff on social media. I’ve enjoyed working with my publicists and hopefully, between us, we’ve managed to find ways to introduce my books to people who will really enjoy them.