Interview with Claire Maxwell, Freelance Book Publicist
Claire Maxwell is an experienced publicist and former journalist. Having worked at some of the UK’s leading publishing houses including Canongate Books, Claire has implemented PR campaigns that have seen titles rocket up the bestsellers charts. She was the publicist behind the campaign for the Sunday Times Bestselling How to Stop Time by Matt Haig, and has worked on a huge variety of books and projects. She co-programmed BookMachine Unplugged 2018: Talking Marcomms, which takes place this Wednesday evening [SOLD OUT] and sits on the BookMachine Editorial Board.
1. What’s your favourite aspect of working as a freelance publicist?
The variety. And the freedom to wear pyjamas all day if I want to.
Since starting my career in publicity I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that I would one day like to go freelance: to be in complete control of my schedule, and not be tied to any particular city. At the heart of book PR is the author – and their book – and so long as that remains the focus of my work I am happy.
I went freelance just over a year ago, after many years working for UK publishers in their publicity departments, and it’s been brilliant. Stressful and worrying sometimes, sure, but overall it has been exciting, full of books I can really get my teeth into and I’ve had the privilege to work with many supportive and talented publishers.
2. How do you balance ongoing work with making yourself available for more work?
I offer tailored campaigns to clients, dependent on their budget and expectations, and agree a day rate to keep things simple. I know how many days I’m contracted and try to spread my time pretty evenly over the length of the campaign. Because of this I can quite easily slot new projects into my schedule, but if I’m in the midst of a particularly busy month I might have to either turn down a project and point the client in the direction of another freelancer, or suggest we start the campaign a few weeks later if that is feasible.
3. How has your use of social media evolved over the course of your career?
I’ve always pounced on the latest social media platform almost as soon as it’s launched. I remember those heady Twitter days when we’d while away our evenings live-tweeting The X Factor and retweeting Adam Kay (@amateuradam). I also started a blog in 2010 and that, along with an active Twitter profile was instrumental in my getting my first couple of jobs (first in journalism, and then in publishing).
Social media is evolving, but it remains an essential part of Communications. The urge to talk about books, to share and recommend, has been around for millennia, but how we do that has changed somewhat. Twitter is a place we can chat with fellow book lovers, offer short reviews and tweet authors to let them know how much their book meant to us. Instagram (or ‘bookstagram’) is rife with artfully posed shots of gorgeous book covers beside a sprig of eucalyptus and a black coffee. Publishers are looking to online influencers to boost their book campaigns because readers are listening, and a lot of them are online. It’s such an interesting time to be in book promotion – it’s constantly changing and we have to keep up, but it’s an exciting challenge and frankly, the more people talking about books the better.
4. Tell us about some people whose work you admire. What makes them special?
There are loads of publicists I admire. I regularly find myself wistfully perusing campaign examples masterfully executed by creative and passionate PR people. I think Unbound in general are doing amazing things, and their publicity team are no different. Emma Knight at Hodder is incredible – I actually worked with her for two weeks when I was about 20 and on my first work experience at a publishing house and was endlessly inspired. Ditto, Vero Norton at Hodder: her campaigns and insight are second to none.
5. What’s one thing you wish people knew about publicity?
It’s different to marketing. And that refers only to people outside of publishing or communications, because those inside of course understand. I just find it mildly irritating when a distant family member enquires at a gathering: ‘placed any tube adverts recently?’ No.