Monday 11 January 2010

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Interview with Simon & Schuster Publicist

A lot of book bloggers hold interviews with authors. Everyday, I find that at least one blog I follow has a new author interview. Google "author interviews on book blogs" and you get around 111 million results. As much as we enjoy reading interviews with our favourite authors, we know roughly how a book is written. But do we know much about what happens on the publishing side?

Well, today we have a treat! The lovely Kat McKenna, a Children's Marketing & Publicity Assistant with Simon & Schuster UK, has taken some time out of her hectic work day to answer some questions for us on the part she plays in publishing!

Thank you, Kat, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some questions for us about working in Publicity at Simon and Schuster UK. I really appreciate it. Firstly, would you mind telling us a little about your book publishing history?

Well, my publishing history is actually limited to just Simon & Schuster! I’m only 24 years old, which is pretty young (as I understand) in this industry! I’ve been working with books in some way or another for years though – when I was 18 I took a gap year and needed a part time job, decided I’d quite like to work in a bookshop and miraculously a position came up in my local Ottakars. From there, I worked weekends in Waterstone’s Southampton throughout university, and then decided to move to London. I got a job in the children’s department in Waterstones’ Clapham Junction, where I stayed for a year before managing through a rep contact to get a job working for Simon & Schuster’s sales department.

I started out doing sales support four days a week, and children’s marketing/publicity one day a week, before moving over to children’s full time after four months! I’ve now been in this role for fourteen months and love love love it!! I consider myself to be incredibly lucky because my only prior experience was bookselling – but I think as long as you are focused and determined and passionate, it is a job goal that is achievable!

Put simply, we all know a publicist’s job is to promote books, but what does the job actually entail?

Well, my understanding is that things work a little differently at S&S because our role is marketing and publicity combined, but I’ll try to separate the two out in my mind. A publicist’s role generally entails securing review/interview coverage across local and national media (newspapers, magazine, television, radio, internet), organising author tours, accompanying authors on tour, writing press releases, organising press cuttings that come in, and generally promoting the books on your list via ‘free’ means. The marketing side of things involves working on campaigns for how to get books seen, angles to take on campaigns, getting together any materials like badges, posters, giant alien costumes, etc… I also take care of producing the banners for the kids side of S&, and contributing to what goes there per month. I’m pretty sure I’m missing out some vital elements of the job as there is such a lot of variety involved! Obviously your role changes as you climb up the ranks, too.

What would a day in the life of a publicist be like?

Ooh, busy! It really does vary greatly. My personal day usually involves mailing out review copies, writing press releases, and a lot of liaising with press, authors, bloggers, teachers/librarians, etc. As a team we’ll generally have conversations day to day about what we’re working on, ideas, planning, etc. The day is also usually pretty focused around which book you are working on in which month, because that changes too. It is really completely varied and there are quite often scheduled tasks – for example, making submissions to The Bookseller for their monthly round ups are pretty frequent but not day-to-day. One thing I do get to do everyday is tweet to our company twitter (@simonkids_UK) which I adore doing! And there also tends to be a daily Diet Coke :)

What are the perks of being a publicist? And the downsides?

To be honest, I totally love my job. It is perks, perks, perks! Getting to work with books for a living is really all I’ve ever wanted to do, and children’s/teen books even more so. There is so much opportunity for creativity involved and I think that you can thrive as a creative or practical mind because there’s room for both. I get to meet lovely authors and reviewers, other publicists from the industry; it is generally a pretty sociable job. I’m part of a lovely team and couldn’t ask for more on that end, either. I’m not constantly tied to my desk because we get to go out on tour and, as I said, the variety of workload is vast – you’re never ever bored! It does keep you very busy, and a lot of personal time is spent reading but hey, as somebody who loves reading- there isn’t much room for complaint!

In relation to your job as a publicist, what do you think of book bloggers?

As somebody who spent the majority of her younger teens on the internet, I have a lot of time and respect for bloggers. I feel like I have a hands-on understanding of why the internet and social networking can be hugely important, because at the end of the day, these are the people who know what they’re talking about.

I like to think I have a pretty good relationship with a lot of book bloggers online – the best thing is that when you get bloggers behind a book, they will go above and beyond to help you out. Their passion is so genuine, and they work so hard to do something completely off their own backs in their own time, and actually they probably don’t get enough credit for what they do! I try with our regular bloggers to do them as many favours as they do me – it’s a different kind of PR relationship than any other… especially since some know more about what’s out in publishing land than I do!!! There are certain bloggers that have their thumb so close to the pulse that they practically ARE the pulse…

The number of people who have book blogs seem to increase all the time. Do you see this as becoming a problem for publicists, or is it a good thing?

I don’t see it as a problem, particularly. I do think that it is important, as a publicist, to be discerning and choose blogs that you can be confident will work hard for you, and sometimes you have to work out if you think a small blog with grow, because at the end of the day audience size is important. You want reviews to be seen. I think some blogs have a real X Factor (to coin Mr Cowell), but it is often worth taking a chance on fledgling blogs as long as the enthusiasm is there. I think having more and more growing blogs only goes to show how important a community it is, and that it should be respected by the publishing world in general.

Have you ever had any problems with book bloggers?

Nope! Everyone has always been very polite, unassuming and genuinely enthusiastic. I feel like I’ve made some pretty good acquaintances, too.

What would be your do’s and don’ts for new book bloggers wanting to get in touch with a publicist about requesting a book for review?

I think really the only advice I could give is to show your keenness – try to have reviewed some books off your own back already, because it’s difficult to send out review copies when you can’t see anything that gives you a feel for how that blogger works. If they started their blog six months ago and have only updated once a month, I’m probably going to be a little more hesitant about sending review copies. That said, I will usually always send out at least the first request – if a review never appears, I might think twice the second time…

Also – one thing I would do if I were starting out as a blogger is take advice from some of the girls who run the bigger book blogs, because they’re all very friendly and in the know. Some of my favourites are Waiting on Wednesday and In My Mailbox (this as a v-log is really fun too!)– it brings a nice variety to the blogging format.

Talk to us about your own reading. What’s you genre of choice? Your favourite author? What would you recommend?

Hmmm I read pretty avidly. I would say that I find it virtually impossible to pick one favourite, because variety is the spice of life and there are so many talented writers that have different things to offer! So… aside from our fantastic S&S list… I’m obviously a big YA/kids reader, and when I’m not reading from that pile, I generally tend to pick up a lot of social satire (such as Anthony Burgess, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk), anything with a gender/non-heteronormative sexuality slant…

I think my favourite books EVER are The Book Thief (Marcus Zusak), The Line Of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst) , Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov), Running with Scissors (Augusten Burroughs), The Magic Toyshop (Angela Carter) , Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier), Stray (Sheri Joseph – a little known book that is WELL worth picking up, it’s beautiful), Tales Of The City series (Armistead Maupin), The Demons’ Lexicon/Covenant (Sarah Rees Brennan), The Thirteen Treasures/Curses (Michelle Harrison), City of Bones/Ashes/Glass (Cassandra Claire), the Uglies trilogy (Scott Westerfeld)… oh and I DO love Harry Potter A LOT! I’m also pretty enthusiastic about picture books, most notably Oliver Jeffers, Lauren Child, Shaun Tan and Emily Gravett. I also LOVE The Night Pirates by Peter Harris. PHEW. As you can tell, I find it absolutely impossible to be brief about favourites!!

Also, if you have a look here – you can see me raving enthusiastically about some titles we have coming up on the S&S UK list in the next few months.

Anything else you would like to add/talk about?

If anybody WOULD like to email me about review copies, they are more than welcome to! I’m on so just give me a shout, link me to your lovely blog and what you prefer to read… also, if you aren’t already following us on Twitter, you can find us @simonkids_UK so be sure to add us!! And I think I’ve more than addled your brains now… thanks so much to Jo for giving me some blog space!

Thank you, Kat, for agreeing to be interviewed! It's so interesting to read about how the Children's Marketing & Publicity department works at S&S UK! How awesome does Kat's job sound?!


  1. Sounds magical....*SIGH*. No really, I love the post! You're interviews pop up on many sites every day and while they are fun and exciting as well, this was a different spin on the classic idea. (Great job!)

  2. Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the interview! Kat has such a great job, and she's really lovely!

  3. Great interview, like you said it's really nice to read about other jobs in the publishing world. It's actually pretty fascinating. And what a lucky girl : from bookshop seller to Simon & Shuster publicist, thats' a great story ! It actually means that when you want something and really love it, any door opens.

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview! Kat was really lucky! As long as you keep at it, you can move forward! And her job is brilliant!

  5. Thanks for this - I really enjoyed reading it:)

  6. This was definitely an interesting post! I was wondering though if Kat takes review requests from the U.S. or not? I've worked with a few international companies before, and some do, some don't. Anyways, thanks for the post! :)

  7. You're welcome! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I don't know if she does. You would have to ask her; send her an email, she's lovely and won't mind you enquiring :)

  8. Hi, Kat!

    Your work sounds awesome! I always wanted to go into the publishing industry but then went with nursing! Which, don't get me wrong, I love but I absolutely love books as well! So I just live vicariously by beta-reading for a couple of writers. :)

    Ooh, Waiting on Wednesday's and In My Mailboxes are so much fun! Love doing those.

    Wish I could email you but I'm in the US! :( Hahah. Great interview and a great insight into the industry.

  9. Glad you enjoyed the interview! :)

  10. Great idea for an interview. Seriously, doesn't that sound like the *most* awesome job? Kat's enthusiasm is definitely contagious, and she sounds like she has fantastic taste in books too.

  11. This is a fantastic interview - it's fascinating! Thank you very much, both of you. :)

  12. Lauren - I'm glad you enjoyed the interview! She has the best job! Can you imagine living in a publicists office? All those books to read early!

    Luisa - I'm glad you liked it! :D

  13. This is a fantastic interview - thanks guys!

    I actually just emailed Kat, lol. Random! She's ace, and brilliant at her job. Love what she had to say about bloggers as well.. it's good to know we're appreciated! :)

  14. Haha, awesome! :) I'm glad you liked it! It's really awesome knowing we're appreciated, she's just lovely!

  15. It's great how you interviewed one of the few people behind the authors, instead of the author! It's very thoughtful, and I enjoyed learning about the life of a publicist!

  16. I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview! I thought it was really interesting!

  17. Very interesting interview. I think this sounds like a very enjoyable job. Great advice to bloggers. Thanks for the interview.


  18. You're welcome! :) I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  19. Thank you for the wonderful interview! It's a breath of fresh air from just having authors all of the time (though I definitely don't mind that!). =)

  20. I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

  21. What a brilliant interview! It's lovely to hear such things from another perspective :)

  22. Great interview -its wonderful to find out what happens in publicity and marketing.

  23. I'm glad you both like it!

  24. Fantastic interview! Kat is one superb lady and she's always been incredibly gracious with me. Great job!

  25. I'm glad you liked it! Kat is really awesome! Such a lovely lady!

  26. This is brilliant! I'm so happy you did this. It really did open my eyes to alternatives to future careers of mine, lol. I really like this.

  27. I'm so glad you enjoyed reading it! Kat has an awesome job, doesn't she? :)