I met Meg Cassidy through my friend Sara in NYC and later she joined a writers group I started. I’ve interviewed her before and always enjoy her insight as a book publicist. Check out as she discuss joining Tin House and her most recent success.
Jennifer Bowen: Tell us about your background in PR in New York City, what you did there, what kind of projects you worked on.
Meg Cassidy: I worked on a wide array of titles during my time at Random House and Simon & Schuster–everything from fiction to cookbooks, business to religion. While I loved the variety and the pace–it felt like I was constantly in a Masters-level class for whatever subjects I was taking on each month–I disliked having to move on from certain books just because I always had so many on my plate at once. So when I got the opportunity to move to Portland, I jumped on it, not really knowing how my NYC publicity skills would translate.
JB: Then you worked for Tin House. How was that experience? Did the work vary?
MC: Landing at Tin House in Portland has been incredible. They do fewer books than the big houses, but I’ve been lucky in that the things I loved about my job in NYC have remained the same. I still get to talk about books for a living, help authors build their platforms, and even book national media. I also get to split my time between Tin House and doing freelance projects on the side.
JB: You recently worked on Ruth Wariner’s memoir ‘The Sound Of Gravel’ about her escape from a polygamist cult. Tell us about how you met Ruth and started working with her.
MC: When I was leaving NYC, I posted about my move in Publishers Lunch, a daily email about the publishing industry. Ruth’s husband called me when I was actually still packing up my apartment in Brooklyn, and I agreed to meet with him when I arrived in Portland. He didn’t want me to know that it was his wife’s book he was pitching, but I agreed to read it, and spent the entire next day on my porch in the Oregon sun a) not realizing how burnt I was getting and b) totally engrossed in the manuscript.
JB: What was your strategy in promoting the book?
MC: Our first strategy was to get the best possible publisher on board for it. We went to NYC for a week and took as many meetings as we could get. Once we met with the team Flatiron Books, it was clear we had a winner. Many of them had stayed up reading the entire manuscript the night prior and they were not only excited about the story, but expressed how moved they were by it. After a few more meetings, Ruth was sure that they were the publisher for her, too. My strategy as a publicist was to get a major outlet on board for a feature piece on not just the book, but on Ruth and her fascinating family history. We were lucky that our number one choice of an outlet, Good Housekeeping, came through and did a three-page feature spread on Ruth’s life: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/inspirational-stories/a36324/polygamist-cult-ruth-wariner-story/
JB: It seemed you had a lot of success with it. What worked?
MC: On a very basic level, I think the book worked. It’s one that you can’t put down as you’re reading it–and that you need to talk to someone about immediately upon finishing. The print coverage has been outstanding. I can’t remember the last time a memoir got such overwhelmingly rave reviews. The publisher hosted a lovely media luncheon for Ruth last fall, where she got to meet with many magazine editors, which led to great coverage such as People Magazine’s Book of the Week. It was also a Goodreads selection in their January newsletter, which millions of readers look to every month for new recommendations.
Meg Cassidy and Ruth Wariner
JB: For an author with less resources, what could they learn from your recent success to try to make their own book noticed?
MC: Emphasize the things that set you apart. For Ruth’s memoir, while many people would say that polygamy books have run their course, there were aspects of it–like her incredible fight to save her sisters–that I’d never read in a memoir before. So while it’s important to set your book and pitch it within a certain genre that has successful comp titles, it’s also important to pull out what makes it unique and able to set it apart from the crowd.
JB: Anything you would have done differently?
MC: I’m still working on it, so unless or until I get a restraining order from Terry Gross or Oprah…too early to say!
JB: Could you tell us what an author can do for $500, $1500 and $5000+ to promote their book?
MC: $500 can help you boost your social media following quite nicely. Targeted Facebook advertising can help connect you with potential readers or do a giveaway of early copies. $1500 would best be spent on a website. Hire a good designer and have a clear plan for how your site can be used to complement your book. I’d highly recommend the one Ruth went with: ilsabrink.com. She’s been fantastic at every turn. $5000 I’m probably a little biased here, but I think hiring a reputable book publicist a few months before publication can help you strategize and launch the book in a more impactful way, whether or not you also have a major publisher on board.
JB: Any last advice to authors in trying to break through?
MC: Find or build a community of book lovers and supporters. Go to author readings, writing workshops, connect with people on Goodreads and be a cheerleader for other authors you love and admire. It may seem like tough world to break into at times, but there’s always room for another great book, and sometimes all it takes is one connection, introduction or recommendation to put things into motion. If you’re already well-connected and known as an advocate for fellow authors, I think that goes a long way these days.
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Jennifer Bowen, QueenBee (more fun than CEO) of BookHive Corp.