Answering the #FridayFive today is Suzanne Sangster, Publicity Director at Biteback Publishing.
Tell us a bit about your job?
I am the Publicity Director for Biteback Publishing, a small independent publisher of non-fiction titles which generally focus on politics, current affairs, history and sport. We publish about 50 titles a year and I work on the PR for all of them, alongside my colleague Nell, who looks after our marketing and social media. It’s great being part of a small, close team as you are able to see the book through from commissioning to publication.
What are the key ingredients for success?
We definitely punch above our weight as a company, with widespread review coverage for many of our books. I think you want to feel that the author is happy with the job that you have done and to know that the coverage you achieve translates into sales. Knowing your audience and running targeted campaigns to achieve maximum coverage is very important. Working closely with your colleagues in editorial and sales to achieve this is part of the process. I love my job and feel very lucky to work with such a nice team of people.
Could you describe a normal day?
No two days are the same. It is nice to be back in the office a couple of days a week, rather than WFH all the time. For instance, we might have a commissioning meeting in the morning and then Nell and I will have a Zoom call to discuss PR and marketing plans with an author. I will write a press release and put together a mailing list for a title or chase up possible interview requests with journalists on the phone and over email. Sometimes I will have lunch with an author or journalist, but usually it is a quick sandwich, and then perhaps a call with a literary festival, submitting titles for an award and catching up with colleagues about our PR and marketing plans. Sometimes we will have a book launch to attend in the evening. It’s very varied.
For those trying to break into the industry, could you explain how you got to where you are today?
I have worked in publishing for a very long time… My father worked in publishing and I always thought that his job looked much more fun than my mum’s, who was a health visitor. I started work in the 1980s and my first job was Marketing Assistant for what was then Blackwell Central Marketing, the marketing department for Blackwell bookshops. I then moved on to become Assistant to the Publicity Director at Transworld. I have worked for lots of different publishers over the years. I was Publicity Manager at Reed Children’s Books and then freelanced for a while after I had my children. I have worked in an agency for Midas PR and then been at Biteback twice with a few years at Head of Zeus in between.
The industry has changed hugely during my career. When I first started work there were no computers, only typewriters. We had to keep carbon copies of letters – mine were always illegible as I wasn’t the best typist – and we had to type labels out each time we did a mailing. There was no online media at all; it was all print and broadcast, with lots of focus on regional press, which was a big thing then.
What are you reading, watching and listening to right now?
I’m currently reading Jesse Norman’s The Winding Stair which we are publishing in June. This is a wonderful political novel, set in the courts of Elizabeth I and James I, so an exciting new departure for Biteback.
I’m currently watching Happy Valley and The White Lotus and listening to the How To Fail and The Rest is Politics podcasts.