The Marketeers Club: Publicity Wasteland

Rosemary Vestal is the publicity manager and Oprah guest booker for UNP. 


In case you don’t have internet access or have been living under what I imagine is a very sad, boring rock, Jon Stewart announced last month he would be stepping down from “The Daily Show.”

In a wonderful moment of hyperbole, the Washington Post claimed “book publicists were crushed.”

Scribner’s Kate Lloyd told the Post that the show was the “Holy Grail for book publicists.” Pete Miller, director of publicity at Liveright said, “This is probably a sad, sad day for university presses.”

Pamela Paul tweeted:

Publishers Weekly polled some book publicists about what would be the new, essential “holy grail” for books and no single show emerged preeminent from the ashes of this doomed, post-Stewart world. There were some publicists who named NPR, 60 Minutes, and Fox and Friends, as mild contenders.

PW did go on to say that publicists agreed that the key is to think small and focused and that “it’s less about the big ‘get’ than the right ‘get,’” when it comes to boosting sales through national media.

The survey results were not surprising considering publicists, nay book publicists, are used to being turned down. We adapt, we rewrite, we change our strategy to, hopefully, get what we want. There isn’t a science to the fool-proof pitch (if there is, honestly, don’t share because that is amazing; save it for a bookish memoir), and there isn’t one media outlet or television show that creates a big enough increase in sales that we get a raise.

Now, if we dig a little deeper, university press book publicists are an even rarer breed. Not only are we used to being turned down, we are also used to being told what to do from an exciting variety of angles. We are also extremely adaptable and can make our UP titles shine in the national media despite the odds (more than 600,000 books are published a year).

A colleague from another university press alluded to these poor odds recently by praising the ability to get media to cover to university press titles as akin to genius.

Genius aside, this is our job, and book publicists are champions for their authors, seeking media attention far and wide. In the last year, University of Arizona Press was in the Los Angeles Times, University of Texas Press was in the New York Times, and Princeton University Press was in USA Today. UNP had six Wall Street Journal reviews just within this past year (the most recent of which published this past weekend). These examples are just a small part of the larger picture. AAUP canvassed university press publicists in fall 2014 and results indicated that publicists placed 155 reviews in national media in 2014.

I’ve had success with national media, but when Jon Stewart announced he would be stepping down I was not sad. I have never had an author on Jon Stewart. The closest I’ve been was a request to be added to our mailing list.

I would like to think of this post-Jon Stewart world not as a “vast PR wasteland” but as a book publicist’s dream where anything is possible and the words “not interested” don’t completely crush your soul every time. For example, Princeton University Press published Alan Turing: The Enigma (inspiration for The Imitation Game), Southern Illinois University Press had a poem published in the New York Times Magazine, and James Franco is making a UNP book into a movie.

The possibilities are endless and the definition of success is as ever-changing as the headlines.

Plus, Stewart is still very much alive. Maybe he’ll start a Book Club 2.0.

-Rosemary (@ravestal)

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