See You on the Bookshelf | Episode 13
May 23, 2017
We’ve talked a bit about marketing in past episodes; this week we go more in depth with Julia Teece from Penguin Random House (UK) and Alexis Watts from Penguin Young Readers (US).
Jack: Okay. I know I said in our last episode that we’d be talking about the book tour, and I promise we’ll get to it next week. This week, I want to cover one more department within the publishing house that we’ve only talked about partially here on the podcast … and that’s marketing,
Julia: I guess it’s very rare for someone to buy a book off one thing that they’ve seen. So our aim is to really make sure that people are seeing these messages multiple times. So they might see an ad in their favorite magazine, and then they might see a bookmark in their local bookstore, or they might see a YouTube video …
Jack: And that is Julia Teece, who was on the marketing team on the UK side.
Julia: My name’s Julia Teece, and I work as a marketing manager for Penguin Random House, in the children’s team.
So the way I got into publishing was, I guess, quite a traditional way – or at least it used to be a quite traditional way. It was through work experience.
Jack: And for the American listeners out there, “work experience” in the UK is the equivalent of internships in the US.
Julia: I’d realized that I wanted to work in publishing. I had no idea which area I wanted to work in, so I just applied for as much work experience as possible and got offered a placement at – it was Penguin at the time, this was before Penguin became Penguin Random House – and worked for the Rough Guides team, which is a team that looked after travel books. So that was really interesting, and I loved to travel at the time as well so it seemed a good fit.
So I had a couple of weeks there, and after that, I kind of went back to uni. I was still a student at the time and kept applying for more work experience. I got the book publishing bug and eventually got another placement, and this time with the children’s team at Puffin. And while I was there on that placement, a role opened up for a marketing assistant and a couple of the team members suggested that I apply for it, so I did. And it was all while I was still on work experience. So it was like a three-week-long interview I kind of had to go through. But yeah, I applied for the job and got it, so over the years I’ve kind of worked my way up from there. But as soon as I started working marketing, I realized that that was the role for me.
Part of it was that in marketing, we’re in this brilliant position where we will receive a book or a manuscript in pretty much its final form. So we know that the book that we’re reading for the first time is the book that our buyers, our customers – in the case of the children’s team, the children – they’re going to read that book and have a very similar experience with it that we’re having as we’re reading it. So that, I guess for me, is especially appealing because you can think of your audience – of what they would like – and also take the feelings that you had when you first read that book and apply them to your marketing campaigns.
I also love the marketing team because you’re really in the heart of the action. I mean, I guess the marketing team services a lot of different areas of the business. So we’re constantly in touch with the sales team, we work really closely with the publicity team, we talk to the production team quite a lot because we produce quite a lot of posters and printing materials and things … and of course, editorial. We’re in touch with editorial from the very beginning.
So really, in my mind, I picture it as though marketing’s kind of connected to all these different departments – and we’re all interconnected in publishing.
Jack: So walk me through what happens after you get a manuscript for a book.
Julia: I guess one of the first things that we tend to do in the marketing team once we’ve got a manuscript is decide in what way we’re going to share that manuscript in its current format. And sometimes it’s before it’s been fully edited or confirmed – but to what degree are we going to share that with the wider world. So one of the things we often do is to create book proofs. Sometimes they can be just digital, online book proofs to send to early reviewers or to send to bloggers, or send to other people who might be interested in reading that book and knowing about it before the rest of the world do.
And sometimes we create physical printed proofs. So that’s what we did for See You in the Cosmos. And that’s something in the children’s team that we don’t do very often; we have to really care about a book and feel really passionate about it and think it’s an absolutely amazing book, a must read, for us to create printed proofs. Because they’re almost as expensive as creating the final book itself. So that shows a real kind of commitment to that book.
And we’ll then send that out to booksellers and to bloggers and other contacts. And that’s kind of where the conversation begins. And from that very early conversation around getting more and more people to read it in it’s early stages, we can really gauge the reaction. We can kind of listen to what people are saying, if there were common themes. So if people are talking about, I don’t know, that they love the adventure element, for example, or they love the emotion. Then we know which elements we need to pull into our campaign messaging.
Jack: So a couple of things strike me about what Julia just said. One is how responsive this process is. Those early reviews and feedback are shaping how they’re going to talk about the book in the future. The other thing is that a lot of what Julia mentioned is similar to what we heard our publicists describing in Episode 11.
Julia: I guess the main distinction that people make between marketing and publicity, which is maybe not entirely fair, is that marketing tends to have a marketing budget. So we can pay for space. Say we wanted to place a feature for the book in a kid’s magazine. We could approach that magazine and just say, we’ve got this amazing book. We’d like to do a puzzle page or we’d like to do a competition, or we’d like to do something kind of creative, like a how-to-make-a-rocket-ship or something like that.
We can approach that magazine and say, we’ve got this great idea, we can design the page and everything, and how much will that cost? And then we pay for that placement, and it goes like that.
Publicity, I guess, has more limited budgets and the budgets that they have tend to be more for author tours and for events and for book launches, that kind of thing. So wherever possible, they will not pay for space in the media outlets. They are spending a lot of time on the phone, a lot of time meeting their contacts with their books in mind, giving them the perfect pitch for this book – why these journalists and why these media professionals should love this book and why they should talk about it and share it with all their readers – or their followers if they’re bloggers, for example.
So that’s, I guess, the main distinction. And we’re able to reach quite separate audiences. Marketing can be very, very targeted. We can target down to age, location, interest level … you know, you can get really, really granular with marketing. With publicity, you’re able to get masses and masses of reach through one piece in a national newspaper, for example. Which if marketing was going to try and buy that space, would be astronomically expensive. So that’s I guess how the two departments can work really closely and just complement each other, really. Make sure that we’re covering as many bases as possible.
Jack: And that’s why I think you often hear marketing and publicity mentioned in one breath.
Julia: We’ll work together every step of the way for a campaign, you know? Sophia and I, when we were working on See You in the Cosmos, we had weekly meetings. It was actually quite convenient because Sophia and I also sit next to each other. So our desks – we were in constant conversation about the book. And just kind of brainstorming ideas, making sure we’re sharing with each other what we’re doing. So for example, if I thought, oh, it’d be great to get a competition in Toxic Magazine, and I was thinking of booking this page advert, Sophia might say, well, actually I’ve already spoken to them and they’re going to do a competition in that issue. I can say, okay, brilliant, that base is already covered, so I can prioritize elsewhere.
Jack: But of course, there are also specific challenges and opportunities to reaching kid readers – to telling kid audiences about the books.
Julia: There are ways to … I always hate saying the phrase, “target children” – it sounds so bad. [ laughter ] – but reach out to children and make them aware of a book. So for example, we know that they are spending a lot of their time on YouTube, for example. So we might create a trailer and run book trailer advertising ahead of some of the videos they might be searching for.
So if we know we’re mainly targeting, for the sake of argument, 9-to-11-year-old boys, well, what else are 9-to-11-year-old boys doing? What kind of videos are they watching on YouTube? And we can target those so it might be that they’re looking for funny cat videos or they’re looking – actually, I wouldn’t target funny cat videos because everyone is searching for funny cat videos [ laughter ]. So that’s not very targeted. It would have to be something that they actually are watching on television or something like that. So we can do it that way.
Or we can also – I guess the beauty of working in children’s book publishing is that you know you have a captive audience at a given time of day, that all of these children will be in school, hopefully. They should be. So we can reach out to them via school, we can send activity sheets into schools, through the teachers or through the librarians, and we can create lesson plans. So we do a lots of work with schools as well, or after-school clubs – or over-weekend if the children are potentially going to sports clubs and things – and thinking of, how could we put samples of the book in these sports clubs? If there’s a leisure center they’re going to, maybe we can put little mini books on the counters.
So it’s really kind of trying to put yourself, I guess, in the shoes of, of a 9-year-old boy and what he likes doing and where he might encounter messages about the book.
Jack: And that’s why things like the library conference in Episode 10 are so important. Schools and libraries are some of the places where kids spend most of their time. Teachers and librarians are some of the people who are most involved in recommending books to kids.
In that same episode about the Texas Library Association conference, we heard from Venessa Carson from the School and Library marketing team at Penguin Young Readers in the US. Now I want to bring on one of Venessa’s colleagues to talk more about the role of school and library marketing for books like See You in the Cosmos.
Alexis: My name is Alexis Watts and I work on the marketing team, but specifically I do school and library sales. So really working on getting our books into classrooms and libraries.
The standard response, I think for most people who end up in publishing, is that you work for free for a long time and you do a lot of internships. And I did that. But I’m from California so it was really hard for me to find internships out there that were worthwhile because there’s just not a lot out there. So I ended up taking a publishing course in the UK at University College London, and I interned there a lot, at Random House UK, at a publicity firm, and at a foreign rights firm.
And then when I moved back to California, after I lived in London for a couple of years, I actually got into publishing at Chronicle Books, which is based in California – I think in large part to the fact that I was a teacher all through college at an after-school program at the Jewish Community Center, and the now-president of Chronicle Books, her name is Carol Mahoney – amazing woman – her kids were in my class. And so there was a job open at Chronicle Books and I applied for it, and then I sent her an email and was like, I’m not sure if you remember me, but if you do, I’m really interested in this job and can you pass me along? And I think having her vouch really kind of helped me break in there.
So yeah, that’s sort of how I got in. And then I ended up at Penguin, actually through a similar situation where a job was open and I applied for it, and one of the editors at Chronicle Books used to work here. She worked on Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray; she worked in the imprint here called Philomel, and she knew my now-boss Carmela was looking for people. So she sort of passed along my resume in that situation, and I had, I think, three phone calls from California to New York. And then I got hired and I moved here. And so now this is my fourth year on the team.
Alexis: In addition to planning for events and conferences, and deciding which authors are going to attend them, the school and library team also does things for their various accounts – that are similar to what the sales team does for bookstores. Once a season, and we have three seasons – spring, summer, and fall – I organize a local event where we invite librarians from the tri-state area. So as far as Philadelphia or Connecticut – usually it’s where people can train from. We host a half-day event where we have our editorial team present the upcoming list. It’s sort of like – think, fashion week, but a lot less cool. Our editors come out and present their chosen school and library titles for that season to a group of usually around fifty, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the time of year. And then we have an author guest give a small speech and sign some books.
Yeah, it’s really cool. We end up inviting a lot of – we call them “big mouths” – but sort of like influential librarians, district buyers. For example, New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library – those two or three people will buy for all of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library locations. Same thing happens for certain city districts, for library and school district buyers, collections developers from all over the place. … And we do it about three months out from a season because we find that that’s when those people are looking to purchase and put in their orders.
Part of my job also is, I travel – not to conferences, but separately from conferences – a few times a year, like four or five, to different large library systems. There’s always one in Philadelphia in the fall, for example, where I will go and pitch our list or a certain version of our list of upcoming titles, and they’ll host something like the preview event we have here, where they invite librarians and teachers from their trainable area. But those are a little bit larger. Those can go up to like 150 people.
Jack: And you can really get a taste of what happens at these presentations by going to PenguinSneakPeek.com. The school and library team recently started making videos for the books that are their lead titles in any given season. See You in the Cosmos was actually featured in their video for spring 2017.
Alexis: We wanted to take that same idea of pitching a list to a group full of people and be able to send it out further than the reach of – because I can’t obviously travel to all fifty states, for example. That’s how that video first got born – was out of this idea of wanting to take that and make it larger.
They’re slightly different than what the presentations look like in person, which tend to be a little bit more formal. We looked around and saw how popular booktubers are, and sort of tried to take a bit of that strategy and style – particularly in terms of editing – and apply it to the video to make it a little bit more consumer-friendly, should a person stumble upon it who’s not a buyer.
Jack: And I should point out here that the books that are featured titles for school and library in any given season might not be the same books that Penguin is really promoting in bookstores. They’re selected here because something about them is particularly suitable for the school and library environment.
Alexis: Within my team, we really like to discuss what we think is going to, you know, have award potential. Or if there’s something that we’re really all reading and loving and feel is really applicable to our market, we might brainstorm something in that meeting to bring back to the plan, or to do on top of what is already being done. An example of a book that we did that for a couple years ago was Fish in a Tree.
Jack: And that’s a middle grade novel by Linda Mullaly Hunt.
Alexis: My whole team really, really loved it. And it’s really, really great for our market because it has this hero-teacher element. And we ended up doing, when it was first published, this in-house mailing where we ordered a bunch of copies and we had people from Penguin write letters to their favorite teachers from their past, and sent personalized letters on designed stationery for that particular title, because it had such an applicable connection. And so sometimes we’ll do sort of extra things like that.
Jack: So you mentioned earlier, awards. So can you talk a little bit about sort of the importance of awards, especially in school and library marketing?
Alexis: Yeah, of course. So for us, awards are definitely important. I mean, we don’t determine them and our marketing efforts can’t determine them, necessarily. There are sort of the bigger ones that we pay attention to, the American Library Association – or ALA for short – they have a set of awards. And then the Young Adult Library Association – YALSA – also puts on some awards, and those are like really, really large ones. And some of them, like the Caldecott the Newbery can, if your book wins, can necessitate a large reprint – lots of sales, guaranteed into pretty much every library in America … A lot of the industry on the institutional side really pays attention to that announcement.
I would say some other big ones – National Book Award has a young adult category; ILA, which is the International Literacy Association, also puts out some lists that are really well regarded. And I would say the same for the CBC, which is the Children’s Book Council. For us, particularly state awards – every state has an awards list and they’re all run a little bit differently, but some of them can be very significant. For example, in Texas, they have such a large buying district and the awards there are so popular and so well-distributed by the Texas Library Association that winning a Blue Bonnet award can demand a reprint of almost 10,000 books. So state awards aren’t necessarily as sexy as an ALA award, but they can really make a huge difference in a book’s success.
Jack: And something I’ve learned since See You in the Cosmos has been published is that compared to adult, or even young adult books, the results and success of a kid’s book can be less immediately apparent.
Julia: Well, also remember that YA or teenagers have the buying purchase power. If they like a book, they can buy it themselves. Whereas a seven year old, they like a book, they have to remember that they like it, mention it to a parent … there’s so many more steps involved.
Jack: And with some of those additional steps, it ends up becoming much more of this long game.
Alexis: And I would say in general, you know, library success is a little bit more immediate, but our market definitely can be long game, particularly with schools. It can be really a long time before a book is adopted into a curriculum, for example. Or, you know, garners a ton of state award recognition. But if you don’t get it within the first couple of months or even the first year, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to have that success long-term.
Julia: The sales pattern for children’s books versus adult books, I’ve noticed, is so different. You know, adult books – if you don’t sell an adult book in the first few weeks, it’s pretty much, oh no, something that’s gone wrong; let’s try again in a year’s time. But in children’s books, there is a much longer tail. You have a much longer kind of life cycle. I mean, that’s borne out by books by Roald Dahl or The Very Hungry Caterpillar or these classic children’s books that just sell and sell and sell.
Alexis: I mean all authors/anyone who wants to get into school and library marketing – you’ll see immediate payoffs for sure, like guests coming to events and wonderful panels coming together or well-produced conferences coming to a close … it’s all really great. But I think you can work on a book your first year, and then three years later, you can get an email from someone that you handed that galley to at some show and they gave it to a kid … and I think that’s something about school and library that’s a little bit different, is we form these really great relationships with teachers and librarians all over that you just meet in person at these conferences.
And you know, many times I’ve gotten emails about books after the fact. You just came with us to TLA for Cosmos, and I could get an email literally six months from now, two years from now, that was like, I saw Jack Cheng at this thing and I gave this kid his book and this is what happened, and I’ll just forward it on to you and be like, this is what we got, you know?
So I think that’s one of the special things about school and libraries, is that if you work in it, you get the special connection, but you also, I think, get to have a little bit more of the warm and fuzzy feelings, because teachers and librarians are such important members of their community.
Jack: Thanks very much to our guests this week, Julia Teece at Penguin Random House in the UK and Alexis Watts at Penguin Young Readers in the US. Music for this podcast is by Saint Benjamin (now known as Ben Johnson Music Factory). See You in the Cosmos is available now at bookstores and libraries pretty much anywhere.