See You on the Bookshelf | Episode 11
May 2, 2017
Media coverage around this book and others like it don’t happen by accident; they come as a result of the persistent efforts of the book publicist.
Jack: See You in the Cosmos has been out for two months now. It’s been reviewed in places like The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Time for Kids, and a number of other newspapers and magazines. And a lot of those reviews and appearances, even on blogs – they’re there largely because of the work of book publicists.
Kaitlin: How I usually describe it to other people is I say that we do two things: We pitch our books to media – so like, if you see a book in a magazine or a newspaper or on a TV show or on the radio – that’s us. And then we also plan author events – so when authors go on tour or just one off book signings, we’re also the ones who take care of all the logistics and planning for that.
Lindsay: In a lot of ways, we’re kind of like middlemen for authors. You know, your editor is someone that you have a very close relationship with and they really represent you in-house. But when it comes to things that are outward-facing, that’s really us. So it’s kind of our job to interface between everyone outside of the publishing house for you.
Jack: And these are my two US publicists, Lindsay T. Boggs and Kaitlin Kneafsey.
Lindsay: I’m Lindsay, and I’m a publicity manager at Penguin Young Readers.
Kaitlin: I’m Kaitlin and I am a publicity assistant at Penguin Young Readers.
Lindsay: When I was in high school, I realized that I was pretty much only good at English – naturally, anyway. I worked really hard in other subjects but, you know. Anyway, I went to college knowing I was going to be an English major and my parents and everyone I knew were like, oh, so what are you going to do with that? You’re going to be a teacher? I was like, I’m going to be in publishing. [ laughter ]
So I basically geared everything in college towards that. And I had a couple of internships and then, when I graduated, I think I started working at Penguin three weeks later? I had a publicity assistant job and at the time that was in the adult side of Penguin. I was working in Berkley/NAL, which is a lot of different types of genres – literary fiction, chick-lit, genre fiction, nonfiction … it was just a lot of different things. And then about a year-and-a-half later, there was an opportunity for me to transition over to young readers, which I was really excited about because I grew up on young adult fiction and I loved, loved, loved it. And we published some of my favorite authors, so I was really excited about it. So that’s how I ended up here.
Kaitlin: And then for me, when I went into college, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to major in. I was completely undecided, but I started taking classes in the communications department – so in like, public relations and advertising. And that really interested me, but it wasn’t necessarily something that I was super passionate about.
So one day, somewhere online, John Green mentioned something about his publicist, and I was like, oh, a book publicist. That seems kind of cool. So I did some more research and I realized that it seemed like the exact thing that I wanted to do. And so I started putting all of my efforts into doing that and I got a couple of internships, and the summer after I graduated, I was applying for jobs and there was a publicity assistant job open at Penguin. And ironically it was actually the assistant to John Green’s publicist. And that is my job now.
Lindsay: Full circle right there. I love that.
Jack: So the publicist – or in this case, publicists – are probably the people at the publishing house that the author has the most interaction with, aside from their editor. Hold on – actually, I’m going to bring in one more voice here.
Sophia: I mean, really, it’s a job that involves so many different skills and so many different aspects. Because you know, you organize really big events – you’ve got that. There’s a lot of writing – you’ll be writing press releases and pitches and things like that. You’re talking to people all the time and having meetings, but you’re also putting together strategies for books. It’s almost a bit of everything, really.
Jack: And that’s Sophia, our publicist on the UK side.
Sophia: I’m Sophia Rubie. I’m the publicity manager at Penguin Random House Children’s. I’ve been in this position for about two years. I got into publishing because I always loved books and reading at school, and then I went on to do English literature at university. And then publishing was just a natural progression for me, really.
It was quite difficult to get into the industry at first. It took quite a lot of persistence, and I spent a year sort of bouncing from one internship and workplace to another. And I thought at the time that I wanted to go into editorial because, you know, when you think about going into publishing, that’s what most people think of and want to go into. But actually I ended up in the publicity department for Dorling Kindersley and then just really loved it, and I thought publicity really suited my personality. But obviously you still got to work in publishing and to be surrounded by books all the time. So I felt like it was a really good fit for me.
And then I actually got a job there as the publicity assistant and then worked my way up to manager, and I was there for five years and then moved to children’s. So, yeah, in a nutshell that’s how I got into publishing.
Jack: In Episode 6 of the podcast, we talked about the internal launches at the publishing houses, where the editor first presents a manuscript to the broader team. And it’s usually at these launches – or around that time – that the publicist first comes in contact with the manuscript.
Lindsay: I was really excited about it partially because Jess Garrison was editing and I personally love Jess Garrison’s work. And I trust her taste and I feel like it aligns with mine.
Sophia: My PR director sent it to me because a lot of the books I work on are things like Diary of a Wimpy Kid or the Danger is Everywhere! series by David O’Doherty, and so there’s a lot of illustrated fiction in there and I wanted to work on something that would be a little bit different.
Lindsay: So we had our brainstorming. And then, I think the manuscript came in during that process.
Lindsay: Because the brainstorming takes several weeks because we do a lot of books all at once. And that’s when I first read it and I loved it and I knew I was going to ask to work on it.
Kaitlin: I’m pretty sure I read it in one sitting.
Lindsay: It seems like, yeah, I feel like that was the case.
Kaitlin: Yeah. I mean, if not one sitting –
Lindsay: In one weekend.
Kaitlin: Yeah, in twenty-four hours.
Sophia: As soon as I read it, I know I absolutely loved it. And I said to my director, I have to work on it.
Lindsay: We actually get to put in requests.
Kaitlin: Yeah. And that’s something that – I don’t want to say it’s rare, but not all publicly departments at all publishing houses do this. Our department heads ask all of us before they give out our assignments for the season – they ask us to put together a list and write why we want to request these books and why we think that we should work on them. And they really take those to heart and take those into consideration. And I think that’s probably why Lindsay and I were assigned this book.
Lindsay: We both put in very great requests, is what we’re saying. But actually usually you don’t have two publicists.
Kaitlin: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine the reason why I’m put on this book along with Lindsay was because See You in the Cosmos was launched not too long after I started at Penguin. And I knew just from the launch and from the plans and everything, that it was going to be a bigger book for us. And so for me, just starting out, I just didn’t have the experience to take it on as a full-fledged publicist yet. But I definitely wanted to be involved in the process and the campaign for this book. So I said, just put me on I’ll help out wherever I can.
Sophia: Especially for something like this book, which is a novel that resonates with so many people, a lot of that excitement starts often in-house. And that’s how a lot of big books actually start off.
Lindsay: The quality of a read is so important to publicity. So when you have a book that is of that caliber, we want to work on it because it’s going to make our jobs more exciting too.
Sophia: You really need that passion to get that cross to journalists and to retailers, and they can really tell when you’re passionate about something and that can make them passionate about something.
Jack: Jumping back to our timeline for a second: so, launch happens, there’s brainstorming round it, our publicists, Lindsay, Kaitlin, and Sophia get it – they get assigned to work on it … then they work with the marketing teams to come up with a marketing plan for the book.
Lindsay: It’s kind of like editorial gets to give us, here’s the book. And then we come back and we say, here’s the marketing plan. And then sales and editorial get to weigh in on what we’ve come up with. And then we take their notes and finalize a plan, and then those were presented at sales conference.
Jack: And I should quickly mention that US and UK here are happening separately – that each team is working in their own market.
Lindsay: So that’s kind of happening, but in the background, we’ve already moved on in terms of the day-to-day things. We start coming up with our pitch angles and we start talking to the authors and getting to know backstories, and prepping for pitching.
Jack: Okay, so I wanted to do one episode about publicity, but there’s actually so much to talk about that this week, we’re just going to focus on this one part – on pitching to media.
Lindsay: You know, when we’re first pitching [media], we are kind of condensing the story a little bit to give them just tastes because we don’t want the emails to be too long. And it’s important to include other things like author backstory or like, why this is relevant today – reasons that they should pick this book up above all others. Because the people that we’re sending these books to are getting hundreds of books a week, you know? There’s a stack. And it’s hard to cut through that noise.
Jack: You heard Lindsay talking about sending books just now. So in our episode about the design of the book’s interior, we talked about the production of the ARC, the Advanced Readers Copy – also called a galley or proof. A big reason that those galleys are printed five, six months before the book comes out is so that publicity can start sending them out.
Lindsay: And in terms of who we’re sending to, it really varies on the book. You know, if it’s a YA book for a teen romance reader, we’re sending it to, like, Romantic Times Magazine.
Lindsay: Right. Seventeen, et cetera.
Kaitlin: With middle grade, I think it’s kind of a balance of reaching that reader directly through something like Time for Kids, or Boys’ Life or Girls’ Life magazines, and also going through those gatekeepers like teachers and librarians –
Lindsay: And parents.
Kaitlin: And parents. So like, if you’re trying to go through teachers, maybe you pitch to Scholastic Teacher Magazine. If you’re trying to get to parents, you pitch to Parents magazine and that kind of thing.
Lindsay: But there’s also a certain group of tastemakers. For instance, Meghan Cox Gurdon at The Wall Street Journal is a great example. She has a weekly column where she writes about the best new children’s books. She’s kind of someone that you want to get on your side. So she’s definitely been on our pitch list. Newspapers – sometimes we don’t send them galleys because they have a shorter lead time. But with big ones, like New York Times, Wall Street, Journal, USA Today, that kind of thing – we send them galleys. But most galleys are reserved for long-lead publications –
Kaitlin: Mostly magazines.
Lindsay: Magazines, really big radio shows, people who need a lot of lead time to set things up on their end.
Sophia: I mean, that’s why we usually do proofs and make sure that we get them out well in advance, say, usually like four or five months sometimes they’re sent – it could be a year – to really get people reading them and to give them enough time.
Jack: You know, and it’s not just a matter of picking the different outlets and copy-and-pasting the same message. A publicist really has to tailor the pitch to the outlet that they’re sending it to. That’s what we mean when we’re talking about pitch angles.
Kaitlin: For instance, you’ve done a handful of interviews with local Detroit media. And so obviously, our pitch angle there was, here’s this really great author, he’s from the Detroit area …
Lindsay: He’s making his debut, there’s lots of buzz. Like, someone you should be aware of in your community.
Kaitlin: Right. Whereas for Time for Kids, when we were pitching the book to them, we were talking about more about the read and how this book is relatable to kids and how, you know, the kids will see themselves in Alex’s story. And so when you’re choosing who to pitch to, it’s really important to –
Lindsay: Take into consideration what they’re interested in.
Lindsay: I think a lot about like, what is going to like resonate and stick with them? What are people going to remember when they read? You have to really be able to see where the book that you’re working on fits into the cultural landscape, and to the conversation about what’s happening right now. It’s like, why do they need to cover this book now? What makes it different from other books, or what makes it like other books? It just depends on, you know, what the angle is and what people are interested in at a given moment.
Like right now, diversity is really hot in children’s literature. So if that’s something you have going for you, it’s something you want to say. And I think it’s important, because people in children’s books are like all about finding representation of themselves in the books that they’re reading. Because it was important to us when we were kids, and we want that to happen and be true for kids today.
Kaitlin: Something that people are always surprised about when I tell them about my job is how much like, physical mailing and stuff that we do. [ laughter ] You know, we send an actual galley to all of our media contacts – or an actual finished book, with printed-out press materials. Because in a lot of other industries, when you’re trying to promote something, you can just send an email and let them know about it. But in book publishing and book publicity, we need to get the book to them somehow through mailing.
Lindsay: Yeah. We mail so much paper.
Jack: And why haven’t ebooks as galleys really taken hold?
Kaitlin: There is a way that people can request e-galleys, but I think in general people just prefer to have the physical book.
Lindsay: I think it’s a physical thing. Like when you have – say you’re the books editor at People magazine, and everyone is sending you a book. If that was all in email, there’s no way they would be able to read it all and go through it. And so for them to open the mail that day and have a physical copy of your book in their hand? That’s going to make more of an impact than an email.
Kaitlin: And with a physical mailing, you also have more opportunities for creativity. Like for instance, we wrapped up the books that we sent to look like golden iPods. And you couldn’t do that with an email.
Lindsay: Right. So, it just definitely helps get their attention. And sometimes we do special mailers, like a box maybe, and it might have cookies in it if there’s cookies in the book or something like that. And like, obviously the media loves food because who doesn’t, right?
[ laughter ]
But yeah, we do everything we can to make the mailings stand out.
Jack: And even with having the right pitch angle and an eye-catching creative mailer, it’s hard. I mean, if you think about the stack of books that you’re meaning to read, that’s sitting on your shelf or nightstand, and then multiply that by ten-fold or a-hundred-fold … that’s what book reviewers are working with. And that’s what publicists are trying to cut through.
Sophia: In many ways, the press and retailers love to see new books and new trends and new writers and new talent, so that can be a real merit. But it is also hard because you have to work that much harder when your author isn’t as established as some of the more established children’s authors.
I think maybe sometimes I get a little bit impatient being a publicist and emailing people asking them if they’ve read it, and it’s only been a week. And you realize that some people don’t read that quickly, or they’ve got about twenty books that they have to read. So I think having a really good proof strategy and just getting books out early, and giving people enough time, and then gently nudging them that this is a book that they should read …
Lindsay: Every time you go back on a pitch to someone who maybe hasn’t responded the first time around, you want to have something new to add to it. So when we get a great new blurb, or if we’re seeing a lot of buzz on Instagram or people are talking about it, it’s a spring Indie Next pick … every time we get that kind of stuff, it just gives us more ammunition to go back and say, are you paying attention? Because this is rising to the top.
Lindsay: So that kind of, I think, is a good overview.
Jack: You heard me go, hmm, a couple of times back there. And that’s because something that I didn’t realize, or maybe just didn’t give much weight, is just how much publicists have to follow up on their pitches, and re-pitch.
Lindsay: Oh yeah.
Kaitlin: Oh yeah, that is a big part of our job.
Lindsay: Publicists do have a reputation for being annoying. [ laughter ] But, you know, it’s important because you have to understand – they’re getting pitches from a lot of people. Like, a lot. And sometimes, maybe they miss it or maybe they thought, the first time around, this sounds good but I just don’t have the space. And then they didn’t answer us. So we go back to them with more ammunition, and then they maybe take a second look and say, maybe I can make space. You kind of have to make the argument, you know?
To be honest, there’s a lot more media opportunities for adult books. There’s more space in magazines and on television shows and radio shows for non-fiction and for really big bestsellers like Paula Hawkins and things like that – that we have to fight a little bit harder for, I think, in children’s.
Kaitlin: We kind of have to go back and re-pitch to these outlets if we want to, you know [ indistinct ]–
Lindsay: Yeah, exactly. You have to really fight for it. So every publicity hit that we get is a win. Like, a big win. So we’re excited whenever we get a confirmation –
Sophia: – or an interview in a paper, or that one review that I really wanted and I see it in print or I hear it on the radio. Because I think with publicity, it’s not always tangible. You can’t always measure how much work you’ve put into what you get out. Because a lot of it is just talking to press and suggesting ideas to them, but you can spend so long doing that and not get anything out of it.
Lindsay: You know, when we get to someone who is like, “Oh, I just started reading it. This is so great. I’m so excited.” And then you’re like, oh yes, I have them on the line, you know? So how do I bring it home? You just kind of have to keep going at it. And if you’re not getting responses, you have to find a new way for them to look at it, you know? A new positioning.
Sophia: In publicity there’s a lot of suddenly having to change direction, or dropping something because something else has come in. And there’s a lot of working really last minute or, you know, working on something that comes up really quickly and you have to turn it around. So I think being reactive is a really good skill to have in publicity.
Lindsay: Publicity is not a field for anyone who has problems with rejection. [ laughter ]
Sophia: It does take a bit of getting used to, actually. But I think it’s also building really good contacts with your journalists and the media, and people get to know you, and I think if you’re saying, oh, this book’s really good, then it’s like them trusting you that it is a good book and they should read it. So it does get a bit easier. But yeah, you definitely need persistence to be a publicist.
Kaitlin: Yeah. And I have to say that with this book in particular, it was very easy to go back to people with that new information because, you know, over the last however many months, all the new praises enrolling in – the Indie Next news came in – so we’ve had a lot to go back to the people that we’ve been pitching to, who maybe when we first approached them about the book, they were like, oh, maybe not. But with all this new buzz, they are able to now say that it’s something that they would be interested in covering.
Jack: So it might just be because I’m more of an introvert, but after all this, I definitely have the sense that publicity is one of the more high-intensity jobs in publishing. And publicity in children’s, especially, can be both more challenging and rewarding in its own ways.
Lindsay: I think there’s also some conviction in children’s publishing that what we’re doing matters on a level that’s a little bit different than adult books. Because, you know, we’re influencing readers who are at a very critical age, and getting books into their hands could make a very big difference in their life in terms of how they see the world and in terms of their cognitive abilities and reading levels, and things that matter for them down the road. And it can make a very big difference in a child’s life if they find a book that really speaks to them.
I think that that gives everyone who works in children’s publishing, from booksellers to librarians to publicists, a certain amount of, I dunno – weight. Like, we really believe, you know?
Kaitlin: Yeah. I think everybody has this shared idea that children’s books matter and that children’s books can have that significant impact on a kid’s life. And many of us can speak to, you know –
Lindsay: Specific examples.
Kaitlin: Yeah. Like that one book that we read when we were like, 9 years old, that changed us for the best. Or like that book that we were obsessed with and read over and over and over again.
Lindsay: And I think you really see that in – you know, I hate to bring this up because I feel like everyone references this, but – you really see that with our generation in particular, I think, with Harry Potter. Because we grew up on it. And you see now, there’s so many people who are applying the things that they’ve learned from that series to real life. You know, there are charitable organizations – it’s anti-genocide. It’s weighty.
Kaitlin: Yeah. Actually there’s a book that describes how Harry Potter more or less changed the political and social views of like, an entire generation, and how people who have read Harry Potter are significantly more likely to be more accepting of other cultures. I mean, that’s a very impactful example, but yeah, even on a smaller level, even if it’s not Harry Potter, there are children’s books, I think, that all that can think of that changed us.
Sophia: I think when you go to an event and you just hear children say that, you know, meeting an author was the best day of their life … and children don’t really lie. They’re quite honest about what they think. And I think that is so rewarding, knowing that you’ve helped make a difference to a child’s life or how they’re going to read, or what books they enjoy.
Jack: Thanks very much to my publicists, Lindsay T. Boggs and Kaitlin Kneafsey at Penguin Young Readers in the US, and Sophia Rubie at Penguin Random House Children’s in the UK. The next time you notice See You in the Cosmos in the news, or in a magazine, you’ll know that it was likely because of all their quick-thinking, persistent work. In fact, after this episode aired, we also got a review in The New York Times.
See You in the Cosmos is available now everywhere books are sold. It’s in libraries, too. Music for this podcast is by Saint Benjamin (now known as Ben Johnson Music Factory).