I have been working as a publicist for… well, let’s just say that it turned out to be a rather horrifying number of years when I added it up, but I recently gained a new insight into the author’s experience. I had edited a handful of poetry anthologies for which I handled the publicity myself, but in 2018 my latest – She is Fierce – was published by Macmillan’s Children’s Books. Thanks to their excellent publicity team, especially my publicist Amber Ivatt, it was a brilliant experience being on the other side of the campaign and underlined for me several points that were hugely valuable to me as an author. So, publicists, here are some things your authors would like you to know:
You speak the lingo, your author might not
Serial, spot UV, export, extent, VISTA, verso, dumpbin, deckle edges, Net Book Agreement, Nielsen, range, remainders, B Format, blad, wibalin, WIP, AIs, TIs, ATIs… We are used to flinging nuggets of booktalk around but to your author – depending on their level of experience – it might all be double Dutch. Translating that quirky lingo – some of which might even be peculiar to your own publishing house – before they have to ask you what on earth you’re wittering on about will prevent your authors from feeling bamboozled in the book world.
Funnel information from other departments
Are Marketing planning to dress people as intergalactic space monsters to terrify commuters at Paddington into buying their sci-fi masterpiece? Have Turkish rights been snapped up in a small but perfectly formed deal? Is there a promotion running in a boutique Australian book chain? Did you make promotional bookmarks? Was there unexpectedly strong support from libraries? Did you post the book, artfully arranged among cups of coffee and dried flowers, on the company Instagram page? Might they bump into their book in a National Trust gift shop? This stuff makes authors purr and – as long as you’re not treading on the toes of a colleague who wants to share the news – you can be the bearer of good tidings, some of which they might not otherwise hear. Which will soften the blow when you have to destroy their long-cherished dream of having Beyoncé perform at a glittering launch party in front of three hundred of the nation’s foremost critics.
Ask the questions
Most publishers issue their authors with a questionnaire, but do pump your authors for additional information. They may not realise that a skilled publicist can reach readers through their homebrewing blog, their ruthless domination of the local WI or their surprisingly well-followed Instagram feed devoted to the country’s rudest-looking landmarks… but we can!
Nobody knows the book better than the author, so don’t be afraid to quiz them relentlessly about feature angles, statistics and anniversaries. They’re itching to talk out loud to another human being about their book having worked on the damn thing for so long, and information from them can make your pitches really sing (and cut down your research time into the bargain).
Before I took my turn author-side I was already familiar with the kind of questions a regional radio presenter might ask me, or the rough format a panel event might take. Attending events where – for the first time – I had to actually speak made me really value the comprehensive briefs on travel, contacts and format provided by my publicist. There are so many aspects of publicity – from what page to sign a book on, to whether it’s Old or New Broadcasting House they need to report to in the W1A maze – that might be unfamiliar and intimidating to an inexperienced author.
Here, again, I was at an advantage since I already knew how the publicity process worked. I knew that even if I didn’t hear anything from my publisher for a week or so, my publicist would be beavering away pitching my book to all and sundry. Anyone unfamiliar with the publicity process might assume that we contact a handful of journalists about a book, receive prompt and enthusiastic responses and confirm coverage in secure knowledge that it will definitely run, on a specified date.
(I’ll pause here to let every publicist reading give a hollow laugh.)
I know that you might send hundreds of pitches before anyone responds, that you almost never get told why something isn’t picked up and that you often don’t get a heads-up of when coverage will appear. Authors without this insight might need more updates, more of an explanation of how the process works, timelines and some help managing their expectations. Early on is the time to explain how unlikely it is that TalkSPORT will want to interview them about their historical bodice-ripper, and that Newsnight rarely devote sections of the programme to histories of the miniature railway, no matter how thoroughly researched and crisply written.
I loved my experience being publicised by Amber and the fabulous team at Macmillan, and being on the other side of the fence was instructive. I hope it’s made me a better publicist… and that I wasn’t too much of a nightmare as an author!
Ana McLaughlin is Deputy Publicity Director at Quercus. She edits poetry anthologies under her maiden name, Ana Sampson, and her most recent publications are She Is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women (Macmillan) and Ten Poems for Breakfast (Candlestick Press). Ana can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @Anabooks.