While I add the latest publicist answers for next week, I am leaving Leilah’s answers on my main blog page. Next publicist on Meet the Gatekeepers will go live on Monday.
I first started blogging in November 2018 and it was a completely new experience for me. I had been reviewing books for Armadillo Magazine and knew how to approach publishers for books that I was asked to read. In one of those first emails I remember asking, “Do I send the book back once I am finished?”. I received a lovely response saying that the book was now mine and I could gift it to a school or keep it myself.
I then began to think about how I incorporate this into my blog and I slowly began to build my own network of bloggers to follow. I reached out to Jo Cummins of Library Girl and Book Boy fame and she advised me to find the publicists of the different publishers. She called them the Gatekeepers and that term has stuck with me since then. I have long wanted to get to know these gatekeepers better and over time an idea formed. I had a set of 6 questions I thought would help me to know more about them and this incredible job they have. One that I covet but could not imagine being able to do so well!
I sent a few emails and had such a positive response that I now have a new page on my blog all about The Gatekeepers. Several publicists, who I have had the honour of meeting, emailing or bothering have answered these questions in unique ways. I am sure you will find them as fascinating as I do.
The first to feature is the lovely Leilah Skelton from Little Tiger!
- How did you get your start in the publishing industry?
I’d been part of the wider book industry for over a decade in my role as a bookseller at Waterstones in Doncaster. I joined Twitter reluctantly to try to win a book, but found that it was the perfect platform for me to shout about the books that I loved, to share creative ways to sell them, and to join in with conversations about the industry at large with other booksellers, librarians, creators, publishers, literary agents, media figures… the list goes on. My current boss knew me a little from visits to Doncaster with authors, but mostly through Twitter. She approached me at the London Book Fair on one of the rare occasions that I’d made it down to London, and asked me if I’d like to apply for a role in marketing and publicity. It did feel like a huge leap in the dark, and I had to turn my life upside down to move to London on a shoestring. She had faith in me that I could adapt to the role from bookselling, as she had… I hope every day that I’m proving that I can. There’s so much I’m learning all the time!
- What is the most interesting part of your job?
Oooh, that’s hard to answer! I’d say seeing a book develop from early concept right through to finished product, then working out the best way to share it with the world. I’m lucky at Little Tiger that the team is small enough that there’s lots of crossover when it comes to many of aspects of publishing. We all get asked our opinions on submissions, titles, covers, etc. regardless of whether we’re working in design, editorial or accounts, as new starters or seasoned pros, and I feel that those opinions are valued.
- What are the challenges of your role?
Bookselling required Octopus Arms, and publicity and marketing requires Octopus Brain. It’s 4D chess on a travellator. There are always new things to take on board and several timelines to consider. I’m a list-maker, and thank goodness I am. I’d have lost the plot a long time ago without a solid ‘To Do’ list!
- Describe a typical day? Or are no two days alike?
The beauty of this role is definitely the variety. Some days are admin-focused; submitting for book prizes, collating reviews, writing press releases. Some are more physical; making props, standees, packing reviewer copies, etc. Some days are planning for physical tours or blog tours, and some days (the best days) are out on the road meeting booksellers and teachers and festival organisers and librarians and hundreds of young, excited, book-loving faces.
- Tips for book bloggers?
Tip 1: To thine own self be true. Blogs are wonderful spaces, and the absolute best ones reflect the tastes, personality, and passions of their curators.
Tip 2: (And this is something I’ve come to notice in a publishing role more than I ever did as a bookseller…) When reviewing, concentrate how the book made you feel, and who you’d recommend it to rather than describing the plot. Publishers are looking for those reactions and opinions over everything else.
Tip 3: Post reviews and make noise as early as you want. I think it’s a bit of a myth that publishers want you to hold fire for publication day to share your reviews. Early reviews help to create a buzz and encourage pre-orders. Quotes from early reviews are really helpful. There’s nothing to stop you re-sharing on publication day! In fact, please do!
I’ve so much respect for bloggers. Blogs require a lot of time and energy. I’m in awe of anyone that successfully carves out time to keep the plates spinning in their own spare time. It reflects such a level of commitment to the art of promoting books and reading. Heroes, all of you.
- What are you currently reading?
My lockdown brain isn’t really letting me relax into reading properly, and I’m trying not to beat myself up about that. Before the news became so stressful and relentless, I was thoroughly enjoying Things In Jars by Jess Kidd, which has merefolk, mystery, and the most wonderful pipe-smoking, no-nonsense female protagonist in sturdy boots, so I’m holding off finishing it until I can give it the attention it deserves. When a world is so enveloping, and such an enjoyable place to spend your time, it’s worth waiting for. I’m so envious of those who manage to keep reading through times of great stress. I think it’s important to recognise that this isn’t the case for everyone, and that’s OK. I have to say it to myself enough, so I’ll say it again here: Be kind to yourself.