Having self-published my own comics for a number of years, I'm used to doing everything myself - and that included all my own marketing and promotion (which I enjoy - to an extent). But when you're published by a mainstream book publisher, and you're suddenly in a world of High Street bookshops, non-comics media, literary festivals and who knows what else, then it could become a full-time job for about three of me, and they'd all need specialist training in how the book trade works and to not be shy about promoting my own book too much. Luckily, alongside the equally important marketing department, there's someone at Egmont who can do all that stuff...
How did you end up as a press officer at Egmont? Did you work for other publishers in different positions, or was PR in the book trade something you aimed towards?
My sights have always been firmly set on the book industry as a workplace and my inclination to talk incessantly guided me into PR and events. I worked on the book shop floor for Borders before getting a great break working for their Head Office managing the chains events and PR, since then I've worked in various roles for Egmont, but most substantially as Press Officer.
In brief, what does your job at Egmont entail?
Setting up events for authors and talking to book influencers (newspapers, bloggers, librarians) about those same authors and enthusing these people about our publishing list.
Do you specialise in a particular area or do you deal with a wide variety of books? What are some of the more high-profile projects you've worked on?
We work together as a team on all of our publishing list, we don't split titles between us arbitrarily. That said, when you need to enthuse someone about a book, it tends to help if you have an interest in it yourself, so sometimes you're drawn to particular titles. The two most high profile things I've been involved with are the launch of the new Winnie-the-Pooh book Return to the Hundred Acre Wood and The David Beckham Academy series.
Do you have a standard template for book promotion, or will each book need to be handled in its own unique way?
Each book is different and always offers particular approaches or opportunities but there are some things we always do. We send new books out to a big list of reviewers, from national press to bloggers, we submit it for awards and we make sure our sales team are well informed about it. After that a lot depends on topical news interest, the author, the content and luck!
Is it difficult to get a new book noticed in today's market?
It's incredibly difficult, just try and find a children's book review section in a national newspaper and you'll see why. There's not much space given to reviews or news about children's book publishing. The children's market is so large and lots of titles are released targeting the same audience, at the same time of year. Come to think of it, I should be paid more!
What are some of the most effective tools in a press officer's armoury for raising awareness of a new book?
The most important tools are always the book and the author. If neither the book or the author have something interesting about them then you've no chance (thankfully this is rarely the case)! We normally discuss books as a team and out of those discussions come interesting angles, topical, new or relevant about a book or its author. Sometime's it's obvious (we sent the picture book Birdsong to bird magazines) sometimes you have to dig a little deeper.
The internet is such an integral part of people's lives now, has it had a big impact on the way a book is promoted?
Personally it's had a big impact because I embrace the internet as an equal realm for promoting books. There are lots of opportunities to promote and talk about books online. Individually, the reach of blogs might be small, but if you can get the online community talking the combined potential is huge. Our book Gone by Michael Grant is our most successful recent example of this.
Do you have to be based in London to do your job effectively?
Technically no, but it does help to be near colleagues in marketing and editorial, so if we all moved outside of London, that would be fine. There are plenty of PRs that could function quite happily from Blackberry alone. Often publicists are sociable people so working from home or on the road all the time wouldn't be what most of us would choose.
Some authors seem to love the limelight, while many would prefer to keep hidden in the background. Is it important to promote the author as much as the book, or is the book the thing?
I think a "promotable" author, one who can string a few words together on a stage, is a benefit, but we often work without it. After all, there's no reason why the ability to write and the ability to perform in front of a crowd should go hand in hand. If authors are nervous or reluctant to publicise themselves we can always find other ways. Often, even the most reluctant author can start small and work up. Many authors find that meeting their public and speaking to journalists can become as invigorating (and as tiring) as writing itself.
Do you think comics present any particular challenge or difficulty in their promotion?
Comics that make it huge, normally do so because of film studio interest, but those instances are rare so it's important to look outside of the typical comics fan base and take advantage of growing interest in the wider world. If children's publishing is a niche area for publicity and comics aimed at young people are a further niche then I think it's fair to say that it can be a challenge. If you get an original concept, with fantastic artwork, then you've got every chance of getting that comic good press.
Do you enjoy reading comics? What are some of your favourites?
I would say I dabble in comics. I really liked Blankets and am a huge fan of the original Dragon Ball series. I watched (and read) Watchmen and will see Kick-Ass. I'll go into Forbidden Planet and have a browse. I'm not heavily into them but I rate them alongside any other genre of writing equally.
What's the best thing about your job?
Meeting the authors and going to festivals and events. For me being at a festival with an author is like having a backstage pass to Glastonbury - it's the same kind of thrill. I think this means I am a book geek.
What other books do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I read broadly, from children's books for work to serious non-fiction. I've just finished reading 1421 : The Year China Discovered the World. My favourite books are Catch-22 and Nineteen Eighty-Four but I also like the work of Haruki Murakami and Terry Pratchett. There are so many good books in the world that if I don't get into something I'll toss it aside quickly and without remorse. I could spend every minute reading something good and still not get through everything in my lifetime, so I don't have time for books I don't love.
Thank you very much, Alistair!
And a huge thanks to everyone who took time from their busy schedules to indulge me in these interviews - they've all been really fascinating: Oliver Munson (literary agent), Tim Jones (commissioning editor), Peter Marley (editor), and Faye Dennehy (designer).