Interview with a Literary Publicist

Back before HARPER Voyager purchased Beyond Redemption I both heard and read a lot about what it was like to be published by a major publisher. Most of it was bad. Here is the super-fast summary: Unless you are already famous, they don’t care about you, they won’t talk to you, they won’t promote you, you will have no say in anything, you are doomed, you should self-publish, everything is going to hell, fire and brimstone.

I can’t talk for other big publishers as this is the only one I’ve had experience with, but my experience has not been like that at all. I was consulted regarding the art cover, and choice of artists. During the editing David Pomerico (Editorial Director) and I were in constant contact. Now that we’re past that stage I chat weekly with publicist Caroline Perny and we’re still a few months off from the release date when, apparently, things will get really nuts. The staff, particularly Rebecca Lucash, have been amazing about answering my questions (what the heck is a cover mechanical?) and walking me through the entire process. They’ve shared early drafts of cover art and book covers, and even let me rewrite the back of book blurb!

They even took the time to mail me a print copy of the Publishers Weekly issue the Beyond Redemption starred review appeared in! Like, how cool is that!

I know far more about publishing now than I did, and they are the reason. That said, there’s still a lot I don’t know.

This is a cover-mechanical!

This is a cover-mechanical. I should also add that this is the first draft.

This interview was really an excuse to ask a bunch of questions I really didn’t know the answers to.

And so…

Who are you, who do you work for, what do you do there?

I’m Caro, I’m a publicist at HarperCollins Publishers, and I work in the William Morrow division on mostly genre fiction. Namely, romance and SFF, in our (extremely excellent) Avon and Harper Voyager imprints. I get to spread the nerd love!

What does the job entail?

This is kind of a broad question. In very general terms, publicity handles things that you pitch, rather than things you pay for, like ads (that would be marketing). I interact with traditional media like newspapers, radio, TV, etc., but also with a lot of online, genre-focused outlets, and a lot of blogs.

The fun does not stop there, though—there’s event planning, too! That goes for anything from a signing at a bookstore, to appearances at conventions. Side note: I LOVE conventions, and getting to attend them as part of my job is the cat’s meow. Then there’s also a mishmash of other things, like coordinating social media stunts, interactive events, and working with our super-readers, to name a few.

I see myself as an advocate for the books I work on. It’s my job to get them out there to the right readers and the loudest voices in the genre. I talk about books to the people who will then talk about them to more people, and get more people to read them.

How many books do you work with at once?

Ermmmm…a lot. In any given month I’m usually assigned to about 4 books, but we work on books for much longer than just their on-sale month, so it varies. When I first started, my boss told me I’d have to learn to juggle—but it’s never boring.

How do you handle interesting books that contain things not for all audiences (you know, like sex-fiend cannibals…) Do you have to change a few tactics in order to cope with less family friendly books?

Generally speaking, I don’t work on so many books that would be considered “family friendly,” whether it’s a choose-your-own-adventure style erotica novel, or a grimdark novel starring a certain infamous sex-fiend cannibal. I always try to pick out what about a book it is that I love so much, what it is that stands out about it. That helps me position it to myself, and figure out what my personal publicity goals are for any given title.

We don’t really do one-size-fits-all campaigns at Harper Voyager and Avon, so I always change my tactics. Media changes every day, and so does the industry, and so should publicity plans. The more I can analyze the book in my head, the more I can mold my campaign to be the most effective. I wouldn’t send a historical romance to an epic fantasy reviewer, despite the fact that I happen to love both.

Do you bring your work home?

Yes. All the time. I have always been a big reader, and that hasn’t changed since I started working in publishing. I read on the subway, when I can’t sleep, when commercial breaks bore me to tears…all the time. It so happens that a lot of what I read is either for work, or related to my work. So in that sense, I definitely take my work home.

Also, publicists can never really be “off.” If I have an author travelling, and she gets delayed for an event, then I need to deal with that. Ditto for a media opportunity. It’s one of the weird side-effects of the internet age that you don’t completely disconnect all that frequently. I do try not to answer emails over the weekend, though.

Do you actually read every book you work with?

Yes.

You work with authors to promote them. What is the one thing you wish they’d do/say/ask?

There’s one BIG thing: talk to me! The most successful campaigns I’ve worked on, there’s been a lot of communication between the author and publicist. I like knowing who you’re reaching out to, as an author, so that I don’t double-pitch. I like to know if you’ve planned an event on your own, or an interview.

It’s nice to know what the author I’m working with really is looking for, what will make them happiest. I have an author who is especially excited any time she gets local press from the area she grew up in, because it means a lot to her. That’s not to say that I won’t reach out and try to get as much of a variety of press as possible, but prioritizing does help. Talking with my authors also gives me more insight into how they came up with and wrote their book, who they are as a person. That’s helpful in pitching, but I’m just a nerd girl at heart. I like talking to my authors because it’s the coolest kind of backstage pass.

Thank-you Caro for taking the time to do this interview!

Uh…how does one normally end a blog post?

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