Welcome back to another Pursuing Publishing post, where I talk to industry experts about their roles! There was a bit of a break in this series because of the virus and people adjusting to working from home, but I’m so excited to bring it back, and this time it’s all about publicity!
In today’s post, I spoke to the lovely Hope Ndaba, Publicity Assistant at Vintage, about her role and her publishing journey.
What does a day in the world of publicity look like? No one day looks the same! As you can imagine, working in publicity means being proactive and reactive. There may be a day where I mainly coordinate mailings, save press cuttings and emailing press contacts back and forth. There are some days that are filled with meetings where I take minutes or I may contribute something like in an editorial meeting if I’ve read a submission. Apart from overseeing a lot of the essential admin that helps keep the department running, I’ll also help with my line manager’s campaigns by running blog tours and in our previous world, accompanying authors to events or studios. My role has changed a lot since the pandemic. In a pre-Covid world, my job would have involved organising signings, going to literary festivals, being out and about with authors or at events and overseeing work experience with the other assistants.
What is your favourite thing about your role? The variety! I’m always being kept on my toes which can help foster some creative thinking as you face on problems and have to react quickly. There’s also a certain buzz about working in publicity and that energy is infectious. It can really help keep you going when you are faced with a difficult day or if you’re feeling down. Also, I wouldn’t say I’m super extroverted, but I love people and publicity means working with a lot of people.
And your least favourite? There’s always a crisis, haha! The world can’t stay normal for one day although what even is normal these days?
How/when did you realise that publicity was something you wanted to pursue? I’ve known for a few years now. I’m really keen on working within marketing and publicity and that’s mainly because I love talking about books. I’ll talk about books with friends, family but also strangers I meet at parties. I could yell about books, especially my favourite books all damn day. Also, I spend a lot of time consuming culture, whether that be scrolling on Instagram or Twitter, listening to podcasts or even going to the cinema or galleries. You can spot a lot of trends through media and the arts and a lot of the business is spotting trends, working with them or just being ahead of the curve.
Is there something that surprised you about publicity or publishing in general that you didn’t know before? This may be very nerdy of me but when I first started in publishing, I kept hearing publicists talk about Gorkana. I was very puzzled and was wondering what this strange thing was but it’s essentially a digital Yellow Pages for press contacts and I find that really cool. It’s very useful for creating mailing lists and keeping up to date with journalists.
What’s your favourite campaign that you’ve worked on and why? Currently, I’m working with my amazing colleague on Romalyn Ante’s poetry collection, Antiemetic for Homesickness. I’m enjoying this because this is the first poetry collection I have ever worked on and I’m learning a lot about how the poetry scene works and how we engage with readers with verse. I feel honoured to be working with poetry extraordinaire Mia Quibell-Smith who has worked with poets like Jay Bernard and Danez Smith. This has been really exciting for me and the subject matter of the poetry kind of hits close to him too. I’m really excited to see Romalyn’s work out in the world!
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you first started to apply for publishing roles? Do you think these challenges will change for future candidates? Lack of feedback. I understand that hiring managers cannot take the time to write back to everyone about why they didn’t get the role, however, I once applied for a job at HarperCollins which I didn’t get but their system provided statistical feedback on how my answers and application ranked in comparison to the top candidates. Something like that can be really useful to someone who’s looking for entry-level roles as you can see clearly where you can improve.
I’m not sure if my particular challenge will change for future candidates but I do think that some things will change and provide future candidates with some hope. For example, I’m seeing a few remote working roles come up, publishers are introducing pay bands and making sure job listings have a salary listed but also, people of colour in the industry are running great initiatives that can help potential candidates of colour navigate the industry. I’m also seeing a lot of innovators on Twitter and Instagram like Chelsea Graham who runs the Publishing Post, Christina Storey who runs Publishing Hopefuls and there’s Amy who runs Bad Form Review and even launched a Young Writers’ Prize. This is the kind of thing I love to see, and the industry needs to see more of it. This is the kind of energy that can really bring a big change to the industry.
What are the key skills needed to be a Publicity Assistant? Initiative – sometimes people can be really busy and when something happens, you need to be able to make an effective judgement call, with the best interests of the business in mind. Passion – this can manifest in a variety of ways. Passion can mean being creative, energetic or enthusiastic. I think passion is key as it can be the difference between doing a good job versus a great job. Efficiency would be the final skill! You really need to optimise how you work and know how you work best so that you can get the most out of your working day. You never want to sign off and think ‘I still had xyz to do’. Make sure to use your time wisely and be organised as this can really set the tone of your day/overall working life.
What advice would you give to your past-self when you were initially job hunting? I would tell myself to be patient and just to enjoy life. Job hunting is exhausting but hunting for jobs in publishing is something else. I would tell myself to enjoy having fun, work in a role I enjoy that would provide me with handy transferrable skills. I think I also would have told myself to be braver. For example, getting in touch with people currently working where I would want to work and asking them what they love about their role and how did they get there. I think I still struggle a little with the bravery thing and it may be a symptom of imposter syndrome, but I’ve been working in publishing for a year now and I can confidently say that I know I’ve got the chops.
And finally, for your bookish-question – what have been your top 3 reads this year? Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez is THE debut of the year. A moving and beautiful intersectional coming of age story following Jesse as he grapples with his racial and sexual identities against a backdrop of a religious upbringing.
Untold Night and Day by Bae Suah is an amazing book for those looking for something heady and hypnotic. This is an asphyxiating, spellbinding and quite frankly, a trippy story that unravels over a day and a night in the heat of Seoul's summer
Feminism Interrupted by Lola Olufemi which I read recently is also fantastic. This a great primer for those looking to radicalise their feminism and she dissects topics such as state violence against women, transmisogyny, reproductive justice and more in an accessible way.
A huge thank you to Hope for sharing her journey and for providing such insightful answers! Be sure to check out her socials:
As always, if you have any questions or people you’d like me to feature in the next post, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a message!