Thursday, January 5, 2012

A day in the life of...a book publicist

It's a new year, and I would like to install some new features on my blog. I don't know how often I will be able to do this, but let's start off with a good one. I love books and I'm fascinated by jobs that include working with books. So let's learn what a day in life of a book publicist is like. Please welcome Sarah Burningham, founder of  Little Bird Publicity. I have received lots of books from Little Bird Publicity, so Sarah seemed like the perfect choice.

For starters, what does Sarah look like. Here she is at the Design*Sponge at Home launch party at the New York City West Elm store. Sarah is the 3rd one from the right (with the glasses) and with the Artisan Books publicity team. Photo credit: Smilebooth.
1. Were you working in book publicity before starting Little Bird? 
My very first real job (beyond babysitting or mowing the lawn) was at a local B. Dalton bookstore, which sadly, doesn't exist anymore. I earned a whopping $4.35 an hour but was immediately hooked by the smell of new books. (For the record, I like old book-smell too.) I loved shelving - yes, it's true! - and talking to people about what they were reading. Then, in college, I got an internship at a University Press, which turned into an official part-time job. I never turned back. After college, I was lucky enough to get a job at local publisher Gibbs Smith. From there, I moved to New York and worked in publicity and marketing at some of the best publishing houses in the world, including Workman, Miramax, and HarperCollins. The best part of the job, besides getting to work with books every day, is getting to work with other people who love books. The entire publishing industry is filled with smart, talented people who ultimately want to bring books and readers together. I can't think of anything more fulfilling.

2. How does a typical day go?
I'm an early bird, so I get up, make some coffee, and check my email first thing - usually by 7:00am. Then, after the clock hits 9:30 or 10:00am, I make some pitch calls. The calls themselves depend on the project I'm working on and I'm careful about who I call. That said, I'm a big believer in the phone. Email is great but people know you're serious when you're willing to call them. I do a lot of lunch and coffee meetings. Face-to-face meetings are still very important, even in this day and age. And my afternoons are usually spent writing, putting press materials and mailings together, and tending to the day-to-day business aspects of the job (hello, accounting). I go to events an average of two nights a week, which keeps my calendar full. I love the social aspects of the job.

(Little Bird office)
3. Have you always had a passion for books?
Always. My parents encouraged me to read as much as I could when I was little and really pushed the classics - old and new - from Black Beauty to From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I devoured them and everything else in sight, including the Baby Sitters Club series and Lois Lowry's hilarious Anastasia books. (Like many girls, I also harbored a secret desire to be Harriet the Spy, and re-read that book at least ten times.) I started a little library in my bedroom complete with check-out cards and I used to make my younger sister "check out" the books she borrowed from me.

4. What are your favorite/least favorite aspects of your job?
Not to beat a dead horse, but the books - and the authors - are definitely the best part of the job. That said, being a publicist is work. Real work. It takes a serious attention to detail and persistent follow-up. I keep copious notes on everything I do so that I can be consistent about who I pitch and what, specifically, I've pitched them. I also spend a lot of time reading (blogs, websites, newspapers and magazines), and I flip through the mornings shows every morning to watch the segments. You can't pitch media outlets if you aren't familiar with them, so I read and watch everything I can get my hands on. (I'm the process of switching some of my paper magazine subscriptions to my iPad. I feel guilty about all those trees!)

5. How would you advise a newbie who is looking to break into the world of book publicity?
Become a part of the industry before you're even in it. There are great industry newsletters, like PW Daily, Publishers Lunch, and Shelf Awareness, that offer reviews, author interviews, publishing news, and job listings. And they're free! Anyone who wants to work in publishing should be reading them every day. Most publishers have blogs, too. Not sure where to start or find a publisher's blog? Scan your own bookshelf and see which imprints are publishing the books you read and go from there.

6. Favorite memory since Little Bird was founded?
It's hard to pick just one! But a definite favorite was when I got to see the endlessly creative Amy Krouse Rosenthal give her "7 Notes on a Life" talk at TEDx Waterloo (link to talk: It was a day of total inspiration and Amy awed the crowed with her unique perspective on everyday life. And to take the cake, I got snowed in Toronto and spent the day after the conference walking around, being further inspired. Such a treat!

P.S.: Be sure to come back tomorrow for a review of Hidden Summit and Q&A with author Robyn Carr, who just happens to be a client of  Little Bird Publicity.


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