Hello everyone! Today I have the opportunity to share with you an interview that I did with my favourite publicist at Penguin Radom House Canada, Samantha Devotta! I have been working with her since September and she’s always been helpful and a really good person to talk to in general. I hope you enjoy this interview and find it insightful. 🙂
Hi Sam, to start off, please tell us a little about your background. How did you end up as a publicist at Penguin Random House Canada?
Hi Lola! It’s a long story, but I’ll make it quick for you: Basically, once I decided I wanted to go into publishing, I started the certificate program at Ryerson. I ended up doing three internships over the course of a year and a half: sales at HarperCollins Canada, editorial at Tundra Books, marketing & publicity at Dundurn Press. Then there was a boring time when I worked in retail before I got a job at Penguin Random House Canada Young Readers…and that’s where I’ve been since September!
Since you have experience in the editorial department also, can you tell us what the main differences between these two jobs (editor and publicist) are?
The main difference is what stage of the book making process you’re involved in.
As an editorial intern, I read a lot of submissions and wrote readers’ reports (essentially the same thing bloggers do!). I spent a little time proofreading and did some super basic copyediting. Editorial in general is all about making the book: Working with the author—and sometimes illustrator—to create the perfect reading experience.
Publicity, on the other hand, is all about getting other people to read the book. It’s setting
up interviews with the authors to give them exposure, and working with bloggers and other media sources to promote the book with reviews or features. It can be hard to secure interest in your books because there’s so much out there for people to read, so you can definitely put that creative side of your brain to work by coming up with different angles or looking at interesting, non-traditional outlets.
This is a question I think every blogger asks themselves at some point: How do you decide who gets the review copies and who doesn’t? What do you expect from a blog and/or blogger?
There’s actually someone at PRHC who officially takes care of the blogger program—Angela, who is one of our amazing publicity assistants—so she has a set of requirements that bloggers need to reach. For the most part, though, if someone comes to me asking for a book, there’s a strong possibility I’ll send it to them anyway.
In the simplest terms: We expect bloggers to give us honest reviews and not take advantage of our willingness to share free books.
Have you ever had a bad experience with a blogger?
I can’t say I have. I try my best to match bloggers with books I think they might be interested in – sometimes they make a specific request, other times I give them options and they choose which one sounds the most exciting. It’s all about building a good relationship with a blogger—once I get a feel for the types of books they like, it’s easier for me to send them random titles or make recommendations that I know they’ll enjoy.
What does a work day in your life look like? Walk us through your routine please!
I don’t really have a routine, to be honest. It sort of depends on what my week looks like! Sometimes I have meetings to attend—in addition to working on Canadian published titles, I’m slowly taking over publicity for Penguin Young Readers US titles, so I occasionally have to listen to presentations about those books. Or I might have to take an author to a TV interview, or help set up for an event, or even just spend some time with an author so that we can catch up on what we’re each working on.
I spend a good portion of my day trying to figure out ways to publicize the books I’m working on, whether it’s pitching an author to a festival or mailing out ARCs for review. I might also look at different places to pitch to, depending on the book—for example, when I was seeking coverage for Shane Peacock’s The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim: Monster, I looked at sites that reviewed Gothic literature and sent out a bunch of carefully crafted pitches asking if they’d be interested in a review copy.
As a publicist, do you get the chance to attend book fairs and meet authors?
I’ll admit I haven’t gone very far yet—I helped out at the OLA SuperConference at the beginning of February, which is held in the convention centre across the street from my office, and Reading For the Love of It last week which is a couple of blocks away.
I do get to meet authors and I love being able to talk to them one-on-one! Usually I meet them at events—sometimes I’m taking them to an interview, or they’re in the office for a panel or signing. Some of “my” authors have been writing and publishing for many years and it’s always interesting to hear about their past experiences.
If so, what was your best experience brought to you by the publishing world you’re in?
Back in November, we had a picture book panel featuring some incredible illustrators: Matt Forsythe, Julie Kraulis, Esme Shapiro, Matt James, and Sydney Smith. I didn’t get a chance to talk to all of them since there were so many people vying for their attention, but it was amazing being in a room that was so full of talent.
There’s a YA event coming up in April and one of the attending authors released a remarkable debut last year that I LOVED. We’ve talked over email while coordinating this event, but I’m really excited to meet her in person.
What is one discovery you’ve made working at a publishing house that shocked or surprised you? I know, I know, no industry secrets.
One thing that surprises me—especially as a publicist—is that no matter how much I love a particular book, there’s no guarantee that it will do well (in terms of sales, or even reviews). There are so many books out there, it’s impossible for them all to get the same amount of love and attention…even if they’re really really REALLY good!
I’m sure we all want to know, what are the top 5 books you’ve read recently?
Ooo, good question! I’m a huge YA fan, but I’ve been reading a lot of middle grade lately, so three of them are middle grade, and two are YA.
Full disclosure: four of these are PRHC titles…in fact, I’m the publicist for the first two! What can I say, I wouldn’t be a good publicist if I didn’t take the opportunity to promote books that I work on 😉
The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray – E. Latimer (MG)
Within my first week of starting at PRHC, I saw an ARC of this book and immediately wanted to work on it. It’s everything I want in a middle grade novel!!
Race to the Bottom of the Sea – Lindsay Eager (MG)
Great protagonist, bittersweet story, and some bloodthirsty pirates make for a quick and fun read.
The Agony of Bun O’Keefe – Heather T. Smith
I don’t even know how to describe this book, but I’ve recommended it to at least five people since I read it in January.
Emergency Contact – Mary H.K. Choi
It’s funny, it’s cute, it’s diverse, and it has a great cover—what more could I need?
And finally, what advice do you have for those (like me!) who aspire to one day work at a publishing house?
I know it’s not always financially feasible, but I definitely recommend doing at least one internship so that you get a feel for the industry. It’s also a great way to figure out what part of publishing you’re most interested in: Most people automatically think they want to be an editor, but getting a chance to dip into different departments will help you figure out the best route for you personally.
I would also say that if you’re going to do an internship, especially if it’s in the department you want, you should find a way to make yourself memorable, including taking the initiative to help out with something outside of your duties because it generally interests you. Speaking from personal experience, it was my interest in marketing—despite being an editorial intern—that helped get me this job!
Thanks for having me on your blog, Lola!
I mean, right? How can you not want to work at a publishing house after you’ve read all of that? I had no idea publicists actually met up with authors to discuss the books and keep them in the loop, I thought only book editors did that. Well, I hope you learned a lot, too, and thanks for reading! Thank you, Sam, for your candor! 🙂
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