Pursuing Publishing - Marketing

Welcome back to Pursuing Publishing – and this time, we talk about Marketing in publishing! Marketing is one of the areas of the industry that, to me, have had to change and adapt the most during lockdown, having to create virtual launches and events instead of face to face meetings. I also know that a lot of publishing hopefuls can get slightly mixed up between Marketing and Publicity, but hopefully, this post will help solve that!

I spoke to Ellie Pilcher, Marketing Manager at Avon Books, about her career and life in the publishing world.

Can you explain what Marketing is and why it’s so important in publishing?

Marketing is the paid-for portion of a books pre-order and post-publication campaign. Whenever you see ads, brand partnerships, competitions, social media presence or a title available for review on NetGalley, that’s a marketing professional at work. It’s imperative to a book's success, as it’s part of the campaign to raise awareness of the book, in conjunction with publicity – which is the free-portion of the books pre-order and post-publication campaign.

What does an average day in your role look like?

Every day is different, particularly during COVID-times. For me, I spend about a third of my day answering emails from authors, editors and fellow marketeers on a variety of topics. From authors, it’s usually a request for a new asset or for information regarding social media. Editors want to know how their books ads are performing and what upcoming plans I have for them on social media or post-publication. For the rest of the day, I’m often doing deep data-dives to see how well our ads are working i.e. producing sales – what we call conversions – I’m scheduling all of our social media content, and often designing new assets, ads and coming up with new ideas for every title I work on.

How/when did you realise that Marketing in publishing was something you wanted to pursue?

Like most people that are interested in joining the publishing career, I initially thought I wanted to be an editor. But, honestly, my grammar is terrible! After university, during the time I was applying for editorial assistant roles, I was unemployed for four months and I spent that time working on my blog and developing my social media and networking skills. During this period I realised I had a knack for reaching audiences online. From that, and my role as an administrator and social media coordinator at a publishing recruitment agency, I realised I wanted to work in marketing as I loved talking about books.

Can you explain your publishing journey and how you got to where you are now?

My publishing journey was a lot quicker than most, for which I’m very grateful. I got an unpaid internship at a literary agency when I was in my last year of university which introduced me to the publishing industry as a whole: rights, contracts, editorial, marketing etc. I was in the role for 6 months, working one day a week, and was lucky enough to go to the London Book Fair as an assistant and even pitch a book to a few publishers. My first full-time role was an administrator and social media coordinator for Atwood Tate, a publishing recruitment company. I was only in the role for 8 months, but I truly enjoyed it, and I learned a lot about the industry and the career paths one can follow in the industry.

From there I was hired as the Marketing and Publicity Executive at Canelo Digital Publishing, an independent start-up very new in the making. At Canelo, I was responsible for the marketing and PR of every title the company published, which included an array of commercial and literary fiction, as well as some non-fiction titles. I was practically self-taught, utilising my skills within social media and networking in order to develop my role and to later assist the Sales Director in her role as Campaigns Officer. After 21 months at Canelo, I left to become Marketing Manager at Avon, HarperCollins where I’m currently working.

To go from a 20-year-old intern to a 23-year-old Marketing Manager is not the norm within the publishing, but I by utilising my skills, time, and understanding of the industry as the whole I was able to excel in the roles I undertook.

What is your favourite thing about your role?

I’m a sucker for data and making things work better than they already are. I’m always striving to do better – which is something of a strength and weakness of mine – as I can spend a lot of time focusing on why things don’t work, when I should be packing up and moving onto the next campaign. Marketing is a great career for data-nerds who want to see visual results of success and breakdown why things work, or don’t work as the case might be, and I just love that!

I also love to work with big brands on competitions and partnerships, and to design assets for a books campaign for use on social, advertising and online promotions like newsletters.

And your least favourite?

With marketing, we generally have a lot of titles and very little time and/or budget. If I could I would spend hours marketing each book – doing creative ideas, working with brands, creating ads and bespoke assets etc. But that just isn’t feasible.

What’s your favourite campaign that you’ve worked on?

I’ve worked on several campaigns I’ve loved over the years – too many to name, that’s for sure. I really enjoyed working on C.L. Taylor and Laura Jane Williams’ books at Avon, as they’re always great reads and the authors are so receptive and involved in the overall campaign. Recently I spear-headed the campaign for The Heatwave by Katerina Diamond, a psychological thriller standalone from an established crime author, and it was so much fun to work on – even when we had to pivot on all of our plans when COVID hit.

Is there anything that surprised you about Marketing that you didn’t expect before?

I think the most surprising thing with regards to Marketing is the amount of work that is expected of you. I’m quoted as having said ‘One tweet does not a campaign make’ and it’s 100% true. To make a true marketing campaign there is a lot more involved than just some social media and an ad or two. It takes a lot of time and energy, and books are constantly coming in so there is never any let-up. Anyone who thinks marketing is the ‘easy option’ of publishing, or who think it just involves dicking about on Twitter, is wrong.

Are there any big changes happening in Marketing due to the current landscape (working from home/lockdown etc)?

Definitely! From supporting the PR teams a lot more with social media content and promotions for virtual events, to focusing on ebook/audiobook promotions over paperback or hardback campaigns due to lack of footfall through bookshops and supermarkets – at the beginning of COVID particularly – marketing is adapting and changing the way it works. I think this period of time has highlighted a lot of areas that marketing professionals need to develop, just in case anything as serious as COVID happens again. If it wasn’t for ebooks and audiobooks the industry would have been seriously hurt by this pandemic, and I think it’s realigned our focus to those two formats in particular. Working from home isn’t something that affects Marketing professionals as much as it does others, thankfully a lot of our work is online – but when it comes to physical proof distribution, creative mailers to bloggers/reviewers/readers etc it’s definitely become trickier. But we’re adapting.

What would you personally look for in a Marketing Assistant?

I always look for passion when it comes to a Marketing Assistant, and skills. I’m not talking a proof-reading course or an MA in publishing, but everyday skills like social media, blogging, podcasting, Instagram, YouTube, photography etc. Marketing is a very creative role and I think these skills are particularly important to building a brand, developing an imprint or publisher’s profile and memorability to readers/booksellers etc

Also, speed is important. You can’t sit on your laurels when you’re in Marketing, it’s go-go-go all the time, so passion and speed are important. Initiative and the ability to make choices – even wrong ones sometimes – is also very important. Making the wrong choices is how we learn, so I’m not opposed to them, but not making any choices is detrimental to a campaign.

If you could go back in time, what is the biggest piece of advice you would give yourself?

Don’t be so hard on yourself. I once burst into tears, ran out of a meeting and hid in the toilets after a meeting with my boss where I received critiques about my work. I look back at that now and think I was ridiculously hard on myself – one critique and I thought I was a failure and I was going to lose my job – I lacked confidence in myself and my abilities. I realised then that I had to stop waiting for people to tell me what to do and just do it and hold myself accountable when things went wrong – but learn from them all the same.

What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to enter publishing?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from someone in publishing was this: it’s just books.

Mistakes happen – expect them to happen! – but done is better than perfect, learn from them, don’t repeat them.

And finally, constantly ask: why? Why will this benefit the campaign? Why does this asset not work? Why are these ads not performing to the standards I want? Why is this book pre-ordering so well? Etc.

And finally, for your bookish question – what is your favourite genre to read and why?

Ooh! I love a bookish question! My favourite genres change year on year as I get older, but at the moment I really enjoy contemporary women’s fiction (across commercial and literary spheres) – particularly about women in their 20s and 30s. Give me anything by Laura Jane Williams, Caroline O’Donoghue, Lucy Vine, Sally Rooney, Ottessa Moshfegh, Stephanie Danler, Emma Gannon any day! I’ll devour it!


A huge thank you to Ellie for providing such brilliant answers and for taking the time to participate! Check out all her socials below:

Instagram: @EllesBellesNotebook

Twitter: @ElliePilcher95

Blog: EllesBellesNotebook.co.uk (Ellie blogs a lot about publishing, with tips on how to break into the industry! It’s well worth a follow).

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