Answering the #FridayFive today is Simon Armstrong, Senior Publicity Manager at HarperNonFiction, HarperCollins UK.
Tell us a bit about your job?
In a nutshell, my job is to secure authors (and their books) coverage across the media – from newspaper reviews, to TV appearances, to podcast interviews – and appearances at a variety of events – launch parties, to bookshop signings, to literary festivals. However, the groundwork to achieve this can encompass everything from budget management, to copywriting, to logistics planning, and pretty much everything in-between.
What are the key ingredients for success?
I like to think of publicity as a game of educated luck, where it’s the publicist’s job to load the dice as much as possible and create as many opportunities as needed to roll. You can never force the media to cover a book, or a festival to book an author, however what you can do is pitch to the right people, in the right way, at the right time. You can’t trick a reviewer into loving a book but you can manoeuvre it on to their TBR pile. It may sound defeatist, but I would have probably lost my mind long ago as PR if I hadn’t accepted that luck often was the tipping factor between a good campaign and a great campaign.
Could you describe a normal day?
If there’s one thing that PR lacks, it’s a ‘normal day.’ I can be travelling around the UK on a book tour one week, lurking around ITV the next, holding back excited fans in a signing queue at Waterstones Piccadilly one day, pouring drinks at a lunch-party the next. This being said, it’s not all that glamourous. You could equally find me trying (and failing) to code an invoice, ringing up numerous local taxi companies, desperately trying to track down a lost parcel or rewriting the same sentence in a press release twenty times in despair. There really is no normal day.
For those trying to break into the industry, could you explain how you got to where you are today?
I was incredibly lucky and was kept on after a work experience stint, when the publisher suddenly found themselves in desperate need of an admin assistant. However, what I would say is that I didn’t have a degree in publishing, family in London nor a plethora of book(ish) experience. What I did have was plenty of experience working in retail and hospitality, and I quickly learned that at assistant level these were of much greater value than I expected. So the lesson I learned was never underestimate the skills any job gives you, and don’t feel you need any one type of experience to impress a publisher.
What are you reading, watching and listening to right now?
I’m currently the last person alive who is trying to finish A Little Life. I have picked it up and put it down so many times but have finally (or perhaps hopefully) broke the back of it. I most recently watched Del Toro’s reimagining of Pinocchio which I found, in the very best tradition of tales for children, balanced beautifully humour and pathos.
I’m currently gone full circle with podcasts and have now gone back to some of my favourites from the last few years. I’d particularly recommend any interview with Marian Keyes (a true GOAT icon), but especially her Love Story interview with Dolly Alderton.