Today I am speaking to Sabah Khan, Publicity Manager at HarperCollins. Below she shares some insight into what being a book publicist is really like, and some tips on how to secure a job in publicity.
1. Please describe your job – what does it involve?
The role of a publicist is really varied! Essentially I manage all the authors on our list, as well as every title they publish – so it ranges from writing and selling in acquisition announcements when we first sign the contract, working closely with the author to determine the best strategy for them to reach their fans which will depend on their own following and if they are a debut, sending the books out for review, organising blog tours and book signings, pitching for festivals and appearances – and working to place features and opinion pieces. I also work with authors to help them place short stories, pitch them for broadcast opportunities and recently have been doing much more work with podcasts. For some of our key authors, I also help them manage their own diaries, go on publicity tours with them and generally hand hold them a bit… no day is ever the same!
I also work hard to tell the Avon story wherever I can – I’ve devised a 12 month strategy for the imprint which means I’m always championing the brand at every opportunity, and working closely with other divisions and teams here at HC to make sure we’re included in all conversations.
2. How did you get to where you are now?
My journey into publishing is quite unusual. I started off working at an ethnic PR agency which is a job that I fell into post-graduation. I really loved it but it was quite niche so I decided to branch out and try different types of PR – food and drink, travel, trade, corporate. Eventually I ended up an at agency where I spent four years working on all things consumer and lifestyle, including The Friday Project and Avon – both of who were my favourite clients. I left that agency to go and work in the charity sector, and was then approached by HC to come in house and run the PR for Avon, as they had never had someone full time in house – and it’s fair to say I jumped at the chance!
3. What is your favourite part of your role?
I’m very lucky and I love most parts of my job – my favourite part is still when a piece of coverage lands. I think it’s easy to forget how much work goes into landing that one review in a newspaper, or that feature that gets commissioned online. I spend 80% of my time chasing and pitching and following up so I still get a glowing feeling when something actually goes live.
4. And what’s the worst part?
On the flip side of that, sometimes things just do not land. It’s so frustrating when I have a lot of confidence in a story, or a book and I know it should get reviewed but it just doesn’t. It’s a horrible feeling when that happens – or if you plan an event for an author like a signing and no one shows up. Completely out of your control but not ideal!
5. How does your role fit into the wider publishing team?
Because Avon is such a small team, I’m very lucky to be involved in all aspects of the book – when I was out of house this was much more complex because I would just get sent a finished product and had to make do with it. Now I’m here, I get to have a say in editorial decisions about authors – if I think they have a really promotable story then this gets taken on board. I also work really closely with all the editors here, so we will always meet with the author all at once and we’re just all included in all the conversations so nothing ever slips off the radar. All the PR activity and events that I line up, I also share with the sales teams who can then let retailers know how well a book is going to be supported – which can sometimes lead to them considering a title they weren’t sure about before.
6. Where do you see your career going in the next few years?
Hopefully onwards and upwards! Ideally I would like to have a full publicity team to manage and work with – at the moment it’s just me looking after everything which can be absolutely terrifying! I’ve managed people before and I really love to teach people about what I do so my goal is to have a team because this will help grow the Avon profile and as the author lists and book numbers increase, the more support the better.
7. What is your relationship to authors?
As a publicist, I have day to day contact with most of my authors. A book campaign starts very far ahead of publication, and particularly as our authors publish more than one title with us, I’m working to build them as brand names rather than just focussing on releases so they know that they can come to me with any question and I’ll do my best to answer it, and they also know that I will always offer an honest opinion about whether or not an opportunity is right for them. I have a lot of love and respect for my authors so I always put them and their interests ahead of anything else.
8. What advice would you give for somebody wanting to be a publicist?
This is definitely a job that you can only really do if you are really passionate about the media, and the books you work on. I’d suggest if you’re thinking about getting into publicity, try a bit of everything to see what suits you! There are some aspects to the job that seem glam but they are not, and it is really hard work so you have to find the thing that motivates you and then just be persistent. Don’t give up. My first ever job application was to be a junior publicist at a publishing house that I will not name – and that was over ten years ago. Now I’m running the publicity strategy and I just had to do it in a roundabout way – the struggle is worth it. Try and find a mentor, be honest and always put authors at the heart of what you do, ask as many questions as you can, and really soak up the knowledge of people around you.
Thank you so much, Sabah! You can follow Sabah on Twitter at @sabah_k.