How I Got into the Publishing Industry

Earlier this spring, I (impossibly) spoke on a publishing career panel at Columbia, something very similar to what inspired me to look for publishing jobs when I was in college. That experience, coupled with the internship candidates I interview every season, inspired me to share what got me into publishing, and how I stumbled into the industry. I did not come out of the womb wanting to work with books, although I did essentially come out reading.

Also — I’m very proud of the path I’ve forged and proud of the work I do. I’m also incredibly lucky that I get to be around books and authors every single day, and that I get to learn from some of the smartest people — from editors to authors to my colleagues — every day. Below are some of the questions I got at the panel, as well as some of the most common questions I get asked by folks outside the industry.

What has your career path looked like?

I started as a Publicity Assistant at Portfolio in 2014, right out of college, assisting a publicist and a senior publicist. I was an assistant for two years, where I built my way up from helping with my boss’ titles, to working on my own paperbacks, to eventually working on my own lead titles. After two years as an assistant, I was promoted to Associate Publicist, where I continued to work on my own list of frontlist titles. After about a year, I moved over to Basic Books as a Publicist. In this role I worked completely on my own on a whole list of front list and lead titles. After about another year I was promoted to Senior Publicist, which is just about the same.

What made my industry stand out?

First and foremost, I love books. I love reading, I love discovering, I love learning. I’ve actually always learned best by reading how to do something. At one point in my childhood, my mom bought me a book about how to do multiplication, because it wasn’t sticking in the classroom.

By the time I was getting ready to go to college, I wanted to work at a magazine. This was in 2008/2009, when the economy was crashing and publications were folding left and right. I interned at a few magazines, decided it wasn’t for me, and started looking into marketing and public relations internships. I was a publicity intern my entire senior year and actually loved it, so when I graduated, I started looking for similar roles.

In one of my freshman composition classes, I met with the professor to go over a paper I had written, and she asked if I had ever considered getting into publishing. At the time, I had not, but her thoughtful recommendation was in the back of my mind as I interned my way through college.

All of this culminated in my attending a panel hosted by Penguin and Fordham Career Services. I went on a whim, but immediately fell in love. When I graduated, I started looking for publicity assistant roles with all the major publishers, including Penguin Random House. I wound up having an interview with Portfolio that summer, and stayed there for almost three years!

What experience best prepared me for this position?

Definitely internships. I was lucky enough to go to college here in NYC, so I could intern during the semesters I was here, versus just in the summers. As a result, by the time I graduated, I had over two years of interning under my belt, and had explored a ton of different industries.

One random role that I actually think helped me a lot was working in a call center during the summer in Rochester. It didn’t necessarily help advance my career, but it helped me get over my phobia of talking on the phone, taught me how to effectively communicate, especially with folks who are not happy, and taught me that the people on the other end of a call are also people. I’m glad I got to learn that before I started working, rather than as an assistant.

What guidance would I give current students?

Try out a lot of things. I interned in fashion, news, magazines, and film before I found my way to publishing. By the time I got interested in publishing, I thought for sure I’d want to work on the cool new fiction that I most enjoyed reading, but now, I don’t think I could work on anything other than nonfiction, which I love.

My other advice is not to think you’re ever above anything. When I interned at a fashion showroom, I literally swept the floors. As an assistant, there’s a lot of admin to handle, like mailing books and stuffing envelopes and ordering cars for authors. It seems menial, but it taught me a lot about paying attention to details. Even as a publicist now, I still jump in and do more “admin” tasks when needed. It not only shows a good work ethic, but it also shows that you’re a team player and willing to put the work in for your books. A LOT of work goes into bringing a book into the world, so it’s important that everyone is willing to chip in where necessary.

How has your industry evolved?

I started in the fall of 2014, which was only 5 years ago, but a lot has actually changed. For one, the publishers themselves have consolidated and become more streamlined.

But more than that, the media landscape has vastly changed. Not only are the people I’m pitching different, but the types of media that are important are also different. A network morning show or NPR is still a great “get,” but now some podcasts or more niche websites can sell a book better than, say, Good Morning America. When I first started, podcasts were kind of an afterthought, and now they’re huge. Same with social media – Facebook was not a huge deal, and now it’s SUPER important for marketing.

And then, since 2016, it’s become even harder to get a book into the media. While shows used to book at least a month or so out, now, no one can think even a few weeks ahead into what they’ll be covering in the future, so bookings come a lot later on in the publication process, and you need to be a lot more creative in pitching authors for media.

The bestseller lists are also less of a big deal. The NYT and other outlets (like Bookscan and the WSJ) use their own algorithm to determine what books make the list. It’s not just a matter of total copies sold. They take into account retailers, geographic location, physical bookstores versus online bookstores, etc. It’s impossible to game the system and in some ways, completely arbitrary. So while it’s nice to have a “NYT Bestseller!!!” it also doesn’t mean other books aren’t good or selling well. It’s also a game-able system if you’re willing to spend money. You can read more about that here.

How does your industry differ from others?

For one, while publicists work with authors, and they’re technically “clients,” they’re not the ones paying us. I always have to remind myself of that, especially with difficult and demanding authors.

The other way is that it’s very tied to the life cycle of a book. So we try to concentrate all media hits around the book’s publication date, and move backward from that, determining which outlets to send early copies to and when.

What are some specifics that others don’t always know?

You have to be creative about pitching. A lot of people, authors especially, believe that all you have to do is say “here’s a new book” and it will get reviewed etc., but there are so many amazing books coming out on a given date that you have to pull out the most novel (ha ha pun intended) and compelling aspects of a book and essentially show the media what a story would look like. Some situations are easier than others!

What current issues/trends should students know about?

My best advice would be to know a lot of what’s going on in the news, what’s going on with the media, and what’s going on within publishing. I’m always combing the internet for new journalists covering xyz topics, and also following other publishers to see what they’re doing and what kind of coverage they’re getting.

It’s also super important to know what’s happening in the news so you can quickly adapt to a changing news cycle. For instance, I worked on a book about Bibi Netanyahu, and we’re always watching the news in case something breaks on that front. Then I can quickly write up a relevant pitch and reach out to various outlets to get the author on as an expert to discuss.

How might a student get their foot in the door?

Apply! We have a ton of internships every semester, which are a great way to get in and learn so much about the industry.

How does your company support employees?

Hachette is really incredible in that they have an awesome Mentorship program. Each year I’ve been matched with a different publicity director who has been awesome about helping me make media connections and refining pitches with me.

They also have a pretty robust “publishing curriculum” where different departments host informational sessions on how everything works, from finances, copy writing, and sales.

Hachette on the whole is a pretty open company. All departments are super happy to share media contacts or experiences with everyone else.

I’ve also been lucky enough here to have incredible bosses who are willing to help me meet different media contacts, work on a huge variety of books, and to help me work through challenges with difficult authors.

How have you maintained and expanded a professional network?

I think there are two aspects of this in publicity. One is a relationship with the media. My boss, our Publicity Director, meets with the big media contacts – like the NYT Book Review, the WSJ, Morning Shows, etc. – every season. She’s great about inviting publicists along with her, so that we can start building these relationships as well. I’ve also started taking trips to Washington DC to meet with the folks down there as well, and to start nurturing those relationships.

I also build relationships with the media by identifying folks outside of just “book” media who cover topics similar to the books that I work on – like business, science, politics, etc. Then I’ll meet them for coffee or lunch and go over our catalog with them. That way, they learn to put my face to my email and recognize me when I pitch them, and I learn about how to effectively pitch them and what exactly they’re looking for.

The second aspect is building relationships within the industry. As I mentioned above, Hachette has an excellent mentorship program.

I’ve also been lucky enough to have connections with a few of my past bosses and coworkers, who have always been willing to meet for lunch or drinks and give me advice, whether on a specific campaign, or on my career in general. People move around a lot in publishing, so I’ve found it beneficial to keep in touch with the colleagues who I’ve really “clicked” with.

What does a “typical day” look like for you?

In any industry, there’s no “typical day,” but each publicity campaign for a book does follow a typical trajectory. We get our assignments about 6 months out, at which point we connect with the author and hear about the content of the book and their network (if they have one).

I will say – about “assignments”: We see the coming titles about a year in advance, at which point we rank our top (and sometimes bottom) choices for our Director. Then she sits down with the publisher, and depending on our interests, strengths, and scheduling, assigns titles. Usually everyone gets some of their top choices, which is always incredible.

About four months prior to a book’s on-sale date (always a Tuesday), we send galleys/ARCs to long-lead media contacts.

  • What is a galley/ARC? ARC stands for “Advance Reader’s Copy,” and usually looks like a paperback version of the book. An ARC is also technically a galley, but sometimes they’re a lot less designed and nice looking, in which case, it’s just a galley. We always use “galley” as a blanket term, but I know some folks, especially in fiction, differentiate between the two.

Regardless, they’re made from uncorrected pages of the manuscript, so there could be some typos/images missing. They’re produced so we have content to share with the media before books are available.

  • What is a long-lead media contact? Contacts who plan coverage way ahead of oublication. For instance, magazines work a few months in advance, so if we want something covered in the MAY issue of Good Housekeeping, they go to press in March, and so we need to send them copies way before then, so they have a chance to read.

Other outlets that get galleys are the “big” outlets – The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, morning shows, NPR. They may not plan their coverage that early, but it’s important for books to be on their radar so they have time to actually read the books, find reviewers and plan coverage.

Once the galleys are mailed out, I follow up with each contact personally, asking them if they’re interested in reviewing the book, speaking with the author, an excerpt, etc.

About a month prior to the book’s on-sale date, we have finished copies, which are the hardcover books you see in the store (although some books are paperback originals. But usually books are in hardcover first). We do a big pre-publication mailing of these books to anyone who would be interested in covering, this includes everyone who got galleys, as well as .com versions of publications, local newspapers and radio, podcasts, websites, blogs, and so on. Again, once books have landed I do tailored follow up, depending on what each journalist covers and how the book can help that.

The goal is to have all the media happen right around when the book is available. If it’s too early, folks won’t go online (or to the store) and buy. By concentrating it on on-sale week, we make a big splash and get in front of as many eyeballs as possible in order to encourage sales.

The dream is for books to have a long life after the on-sale date, where the topic is evergreen and authors can continue to lecture on the subject of the book, building on that initial momentum at publication.

I usually have 2-3 books on-sale each month, meaning I usually have a few books in each stage of the process. It’s fast and busy with a lot of moving parts, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to see your work translate into media coverage and sales.

What do you look for in an applicant?

First, a genuine interest in books and publishing in general. I want to know you’ve done your research and know what we’re publishing and what else is out there. Do you read for fun? Let me know about that, too, even if it’s not necessarily in line with what we publish. You can bet I’m going to ask you what you’re reading.

For publicity specifically, it’s important that you follow the news in some capacity and are up to speed on current events, and not just on Twitter. Start reading the Skimm everyday, or listening to The Daily podcast. A lot of our publicity comes from latching onto the news cycle, so it’s very valuable to know what’s going on.

I also love someone who is genuinely curious. Ask me questions about my work and the role, to show you’re actually interested and excited about the position. It also shows you’ve researched me and the job, and take it seriously.

Organization is important, too. There are always a lot of moving parts in publishing, so showing that you’re organized and excellent at planning ahead and keeping track of various assignments is key.

And one last pet peeve — bring a printout of your resume to the interview! I don’t always print them out ahead of the meeting, and it’s just a small thing that makes you seem prepared and polished in my eyes. It goes a long way.

I love books and reading and knowing all about what’s going on in publishing. It’s a fascinating industry that somehow manages to ebb and flow and change, while remaining exactly the same at the same time.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any other questions about publishing — I’m always happy to answer :).

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