Sunday, July 22, 2007

listen to the sound of my tiny violin

It’s Sunday and I’m at work. Again.

That, in and of itself, doesn’t warrant a gold star – I mean, this is New York after all, but this week I’ve got two authors on tour for which I’m pitching local and national media; I have to write (and re-write) three press releases for upcoming books; pull media lists for four books; send out two publicity galley mailings and one finished book mailing; and write an acquisition announcement about a new title. I also have to do follow-up on books that released last month; secure long-lead press on eight titles publishing between March and June; and this list doesn’t include all the meetings I have to attend. Even though I’m only assigned three books publishing this month, I’m working on twenty. To top it all off, I’ll probably be showing up to work tomorrow with a hangover. There’s a party I’m expected to attend tonight.
Publicists by nature are social creatures. They party, gossip, and keep that famous revolving door rotating by changing houses more than any other position in the publishing industry, acquiring an incredible network in a short period of time. Nepotism is the name of the game and while it’s not uncommon for an editorial assistant to stay at that level for three years, a hungry publicity assistant can work her way up to senior publicist in that time.

Although publicity is the keystone for any successful book marketing campaign most companies don’t empower their publicists with all the resources and time needed to accomplish their tasks. Because of the shear volume of books publicists work on, they’re forced to make a decision about which books have potential and will warrant their limited time to aggressively promote, and those that don’t and will get the bare minimum of attention.
Publicity is the keystone that supports the marketing, sales and ad/promo campaign, and has the ability to reach critical mass, which, in an ideal world, can “make” a book. As each placement (which can take weeks of phone calls, letters, and creative pitching to secure) catches the eye of another reviewer or booker, it will result in more hits and, ultimately, more books sold. But really, without that one big break – Fresh Air, The Daily Show, a feature in The New York Times or the holy grail of publicity (which every author believes to be within reach): Oprah – a book is basically treading water unless the elusive “Word of Mouth” grabs hold or it becomes the darling of independent booksellers.

If you think about it, for the price of a full page book ad in the New York Times (which I feel is nothing more than vanity placement for an author and a transparent marketing ploy to get stores to order more books) a publisher could cover the salary of an additional assistant and a publicist who could dedicate an entire year to pursuing every single possible outlet to promote the very same title.

Publicity is a thankless job. It requires handling rejection on a daily basis from reviewers, feature editors, bookers and producers. On top of that are the demanding agents, authors and bosses. Many a time I’ve been asked “What else?” when I already have several major print features, national television and radio interviews lined up. The thing about publicity is that you are never truly finished. There is always a review to secure, a feature to place, a show to book. Active publicity on a book doesn’t end; it just slowly dies out as time goes by.

Fortunately a few of my authors understand what I can do for their book and have seen fit to bestow upon me gifts. These tokens of gratitude make all the difference to a publicist bereft of appreciation, and ensure that they will put that author’s book at the top of his or her mile-long list. It’s Pavlovian really, nothing more than a bell and a tasty treat, but when the treat is a bottle of single malt scotch, it makes all the difference in the world.

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