I had the pleasure of interviewing my friend, former writers group pal, recently moved to Portland from NYC, Meg Cassidy, who’s currently a Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster. Maybe most of you are smart smarts when it comes to how PR works with one’s novel and know the deal-ee-o, but not me. So I spoke to Meg to enlighten myself, and now all of you, on what happens with your novel from a PR angle.
Meg and Jen (QueenBee)
Here’s the interview!
Jennifer Bowen: Hello Meg Cassidy! Might be interesting to start with what you studied in college, your first jobs, and how you got to PR.
Meg Cassidy: I studied creative writing in college. My mom was a teacher. And, writing always came very easily to me. But I didn’t know much beyond I liked writing and I liked books, so I thought, maybe I’ll work in a bookstore one day. I also did what a lot of people do and started thinking about teaching. And I did Teach for America, but then after two years, wanted to try something new. So I started applying for internships and got a good one in New York at a literary agency.
JB: And what was the literary agency you were at?
MC: I was at LJK which is no longer in operation. It was Larry Kirshbaum who then became a publisher at Amazon, and he’s now an agent again. I was just there for one summer.
JB: And then?
MC: I went on some interviews and one of the first was for a publicist position, and really had no idea what publicity entailed. I got hired full time at Random House Publicity. I was there for two and a half years.
JB: After your time at Random House, what did you do?
MC: I had a job briefly in a small firm that did educational PR, but missed the book industry, so then was hired as a Senior Publicist at Simon & Schuster for the past three years. And then I moved up to Publicity Manager.
Where Meg works! #Fancy
JB: Going back, what was your job title and what did you do at Random House?
MC: I started as a publicity assistant which most people do. I supported two Senior Publicists and was really psyched because I was working for these two women in their late 20’s and they were really cool, great to work for. They were working on a good mix of Fiction and Non-Fiction. And they were both starting to get Authors who had bigger tours. I did all their mailings, stuffed a lot of envelopes.
JB: And by mailings, what do you mean?
MC: It’s called review copy mailings. And you start by sending galleys, which is a paper back version of a book that is going to come out in hard cover. It’s either called a galley or an ARC, which is ‘advanced reader copy.’ About four to six months before the publication date, you do a big reviewer mailing. You send to producers, book review editors, magazine writers. It’s not the same list for every book. Like, say it’s a debut novel, you’re going to send to a very different list.
JB: What do you hope to get from sending the galley and letter from the editor?
MC: You hope to get coverage in publications and bookings for TV and Radio interviews. Once the letters/galleys go out, you follow up, and do different rounds of follow ups. Some are considered Long Lead media, like magazines work on a really long media time line. Right now it’s September, but they’re planning their January issue, or even into next Spring. And similar to like how the fashion world previews a season ahead, the book industry is constantly looking a season ahead to what is coming out, what they should be reading now, so they can put in their pages accordingly.
JB: Do you ever hear back from reviewers that they are going to put out a bad review?
MC: Sometimes I would have to beg people more for a no then a yes. They don’t really tell you no when they’re not interested. But even when they assign a review, it’s great for the publicist because you can say to the author and the editor – hey, you’re going to have a review in the Boston Globe. But that’s all they’ll ever tell you. They won’t tell you who’s reviewing it. They won’t tell you what the content of the review’s going to be. They might tell you a date. And most people know, all these dates should coincide with the book’s publication date. You want a really big pop at the launch week, or launch month. But then you can go after features and profiles, and there the author is a little more involved as it’s an interview for them. There you have a little more control over the content.
JB: So the features/profiles are obviously when they interview the author and talk about the book, but don’t critique the book.
MC: Yeah. And for the most part, those are favorable.
JB: I don’t know if this happens, but if all of a sudden the galley that you’re sending out to your usual list, if you’re not getting any response, like no one is going to review it, does that give you a sense that they don’t believe in the book? Or are their other factors why that might happen?
MC: That’s a good question. So, I worked on a lot of debut fiction books, and it is really quiet for awhile. You basically have to go back and plead your case for people to take a look. You have to knock on a lot of doors, and if magazines won’t review it, you have to go the online route, like to some junior level people at People.com, and see if people will give it a shot. I think that all the novels I’ve worked on should have been published and have merit, but there’s so many books out there and so few people on the media end who have the time and the job title to review.
JB: What do you do when you’re up against a lot of silence from the media with a new title?
MC: You have to go through alternate channels. Like have the authors write original pieces of their own that you can place, and PR books have a lot of columns that are constantly looking for content. So if the book itself isn’t seeming to break through on its own merits, then you can kind of put the author to work, almost.
JB: When you say writing original pieces, can you give me an example, and on what platform?
MC: Websites like Slate or The Millions or Time.com, even, has a lot of think pieces. Then you can circle back to mainstream book people with those pieces that are running and ask them to reconsider a review or a feature about the book itself.
JB: I’ve often heard from new authors the fear that even if their book gets picked up, there isn’t a big enough ‘PR machine’ to break them through, that they’ll have to do a lot themselves. Have you heard this too?
MC: I’ve heard it. But most PR places have long lists of contacts and if the book is strong, it will break through.
JB: Are there different PR budgets for certain books?
MC: That’s more on the marketing side, for advertising. That gets allocated in the publisher’s office, and it’s often a second push after publicity. I never think, oh, I won’t go after the New York Times since we’ll advertise there.
JB: So are marketing dollars allocated once a book is doing well (solid reviews, etc.) – so then they’ll do a push to place print, TV, radio, etc. ads?
MC: Yeah, it’s considered a second wave. But I’m just focused on the book, constantly talking about it, and why you’d want to read it. I think the author needs to see the publisher and publicist as on the same team, wanting the same thing.
JB: I spoke to an agent recently who said it was essential for her clients to have platforms in place, the blog, a website, social media, etc. – before she’d send out to a publisher. To have a fan base, a dialogue already going. Do you find that to be important?
MC: It is very helpful. Even their own community of writers talking up their book can be a vocal, powerful network. That being said, I’ve worked with writers that don’t have a publication they regularly write for, or don’t use Facebook for their writing career, and that can be fine too. We usually tell our authors to focus on one outlet of communication that’s authentic to them. But if you’re used to just writing on paper, plug into your community, don’t back peddle and fake an online presence.
JB: Like don’t do an inorganic Twitter Feed if it’s not your thing? Gross.
MC: (laughs) Right.
JB: (laughs) Nothing worse than that.
MC: Haven’t seen that work yet. We’ve tried. (laughs)
JB: Can you talk about a book tour and what that entails?
MC: That was one of my favorite parts of the job. With the author involved, you identify which markets they already have a good presence in and what might be good areas for them to develop new audiences. You can plan in-conversation events, with either the publicist’s connections or the authors, where they get interviewed. One of the cool things is that these events are usually free or a really low charge. Also, if a book takes off, it’s less of you having to schedule the events, and them reaching out to you. And then even paying to bring them out to events.
JB: I had a question about that too, for debut authors, do the expenses to get themselves to various cities, do those costs fall on them?
MC: Not necessarily. A budget will get set by the publisher. If there’s a reason to send the author to a market they don’t already live in, like the book is set somewhere, or grew up somewhere, and there’s a great media presence there that connects to the book, then the publicist will make the case to increase the budget and add a stop on the tour.
JB: How is it decided whether a book will be published in hard cover or go straight to paperback? Or some books just get a digital print, right?
MC: That’s pretty much decided on the editor agent level. And yes, there are entire imprints now that are e-book only, so the author will know when their books gets acquired. But I think a lot of people still will buy the right kind of debut books on the hard cover level, like Simon & Schuster just published a debut, the one I sent you, the Matthew Thomas ‘We Are Not Ourselves’, and it’s doing really well.
What the QueenBee is reading next (when she finishes The Goldfinch #Only200PagesToGo!!)
JB: To sum up, what’s the last piece of advice you would give to an author with a debut book.
MC: I think they should just be really excited to have a partner in their publicist that they can work with. And I would think of it as a relationship that they are working together on getting this book out there. And also trusting their publicist’s guidance and bringing ideas to the table and bringing their own network and connections, and seeing how their publicist can help amplify that.
JB: A good attitude goes a long way too, right?
MC: Right. It’s an exciting time.
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