The first steps in a career as a publicist
I like control – in all areas of my life – but especially when it comes to my career. From the moment I got my first ‘proper’ job, I would dream of one day owning my own business, having complete freedom over my time, and achieving my wildest dreams (as yet tbc). I started my career as a journalist, having not gone to university but having managed to get a journalism qualification – I’d always wanted to write, and so that seemed the natural path to take. Soon though, I realised that news reporting wasn’t for me and I turned my mind to the world of books and publishing.
Starting a career in publishing can be hard. Entry-level jobs pop up rarely, and don’t nearly meet the demand of enthusiastic young book-lovers. When they do, they’re snapped up and competition is tough. I was worried I’d struggle to get a job because a didn’t have a degree (and it is true that almost everyone I have worked with in the industry does have a degree), but I had something slightly different. I had a blog that was reasonably popular and I was quite good at manically using Twitter to promote it. Also, I had a background, albeit a short one, in the media. I was going for publicity jobs, so this was my golden ticket. And boy did I use it in my first publishing interview.
Building a ‘combination career’
Fast forward eight years and a hurtle through a good few in-house jobs at various publishers, and I’m my own boss, sitting at a desk in my tiny flat in Edinburgh, trying to respond to emails in a timeframe that doesn’t warrant the opening line “sorry for the delay”. (I really am sorry for the delay.) I’m a freelance book publicist, which I love, but I’m also now a freelance writer too. The combination-career-path seems to be the right one for me.
Psychologically, there is something nice about being able to switch between two different streams of work. In the morning I might brainstorm some pitch ideas for myself to write, and then in the afternoon I’m free to concentrate entirely on the book campaigns I’m working on; which author I need to have a Zoom meeting with, who needs to be put in touch with which radio producer and which invoices need to be sent.
I love working with authors on their books. My favourite part of my job as a publicist is author relations, which basically means I like talking to people about their creative process, preferably over coffee and cake. But sometimes it’s nice to have my own creative output as well. I find the writers I work with so inspiring, and to be able to take that inspiration and channel it into something of my own is such a gift.
Why I think I’m a better publicist now
Since starting to write again and work with journalists and editors on a more personal level, I’ve become a much better publicist. I get on-the-ground, every-day experience of what being commissioned is like, and how you do that. As a publicist we pitch our authors around all the time, but there’s nothing like having to actually write the piece that gets commissioned, edited and published, to focus the mind on what the editor in your inbox is looking for. Both in a pitch and in a writer.
I’ve found that journalists respond more frequently to a freelance journalist than a freelance publicist (PR people can be annoying… I know… I get it). So I’m building strong relationships with commissioning editors I didn’t know very well before. The two roles are working in tandem and complimenting each other nicely.
There are drawbacks, as there always are with literally anything in life. Sometimes having a combination-career can add to the feeling of busyness, as well as added stress and anxiety around the dreaded to-do list. But overall I have found this new way of working to be incredibly rewarding. I feel like my working life is on a path I’m excited about, and if I’m completely honest with myself I’m not sure I’ve felt that before.
Wherever you are in your career journey you have options, and if you want more control over the what, when, and where of your work – that is not out of reach. Emma Gannon’s The Multi-Hyphen Method is an incredible tool for anyone who wants to explore the idea of a ‘side hustle’. It won’t be for everyone, but for some people the prospect of combining their passions and being able to design their own personal career path will be life-changing.
Claire Maxwell is a freelance publicist and writer. She has worked for publishers such as Canongate, Icon Books, Hodder, Speculative Books, SPCK, Neem Tree Press, Wiley and Lendal Press. Her writing has appeared in publications like HuffPost, The Independent, inews, Metro, Peach Street Magazine and STORGY.