Meet the Gatekeepers

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.

Katarina Jovanovic from Usborne is the fifth publicist to take time to answer my questions! Thank you Kat!

How did you get your start in the publishing industry?

I started out interning in literary agencies, specialising in children’s books pretty much straight away. I’m always surprised, when I talk to people trying to get into publishing, that they’re not considering literary agencies, or don’t know a huge amount about them. It’s a fantastic place to get a real overview of the publishing industry and understand the nitty gritty details – like contracts, royalties etc. I spent seven months at David Higham Associates (paid internship!), working with their children’s books and doing everything from liaising with authors and illustrators, scouring over contracts to check for mistakes, and giving edits back on a manuscript. They were incredibly generous with their time and expertise, and it was agent Lizzy Kremer who first suggested a career in PR to me. She won’t remember that offhand comment, but it planted a seed in my mind.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

Oh wow, where to start. You meet the most interesting people when you’re doing book PR – not just your colleagues or your authors/illustrators, but festival organisers, journalists, and other authors that you meet at festivals and events. It’s wonderful to just sit back over a glass of wine or a morning coffee, and let the fascinating conversation wash over you. On the flip side, I love how many conversations I have about unicorns, the placement of ducks, or what the best name for a unicorn-pig hybrid is. (Answer: it’s Unipiggle). Children’s publishing in general is a really fun place.

Oh, and also meeting all the kids. I’m often the only one in the publishing team who actually meets the readers, on school visits and at festivals, and it’s what keeps me going on tough days. They’re so full of creativity and imagination, and have a real love for stories. It’s why I think kids publishing always trumps adult. 😉

What are the challenges of your role?

It’s really tiring. I’m out of the office about one day a week, on average, and whilst I love the travelling and meeting lots of different people, often hundreds of kids a day, it is exhausting! My first few autumns in the industry (the busiest time) left me burnt out, until I learnt to look after myself. The other big challenge is the limited media space we get for children’s books! We need newspapers, radio, TV etc. to give us more space, and for journalists to cover more features/stories on children’s and YA authors. They’ve got amazing stories to tell and this snobbery has to stop!

Describe a typical day or are no two days alike?

No two days area like! I spend a lot of my time talking to my authors – organising details of a tour, going over plans with them, pulling together hooks for press and figuring out what core selling point of their book is. I also write press releases, pull together specialised mailing lists, pitch to journalists over coffee, write pitches for books on auction, brief videos, run social media campaigns, and talk to bookshops and schools for events. It’s a fast paced job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tips for Book Bloggers?

Don’t send generic emails. It feels like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many generic emails you get with [insert book title] put in. If you want to get a free copy of a book, you have to tell me why you should be the one to get it. Show me that you’re really interested in the topic, that its an author you’ve been supporting, that you’ve been blogging about similar books.

Cultivate a relationship with publicists. The more I work with you, the more I know that you’re reliable and enthusiastic, the more likely I am to send big, exclusive titles your way and to think of you when I get a book I know you’ll like. Also, don’t just go for the big releases. Bloggers are a core part of launching debut authors and we really appreciate your support. Plus, you never know what exciting new author you’ll be the first to read!   

Large follower numbers are great, but high engagement is better. If you get really good engagement but have lower Twitter/Instagram followers, make sure you highlight it to me. I’m interested in the community you’re part of and how you interact with it.

What are you currently reading?

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch – the second in the Locke Lamora series. I’m a big fan of chunky fantasy novels! I’m really looking forward to reading Hamlet next.

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