Fiction & Drama
Lisa Rookes on the inspiration behind The Gallows Tree
Answering the #FridayFive today is Sriya Varadharajan, Publicity Manager at Penguin Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Tell us a bit about your job?
I work as a Publicity Manager for Penguin Michael Joseph. Working in comms, your job is to get books in front of readers, and when you work in publicity, that means lots of different things! It involves pitching books for review in newspapers and magazines; going on tour with authors to events you’ve set up with bookshops, festivals, and other partners; working closely with authors on potential feature and interview angles that tie in with their book; and developing strong relationships with editors, producers, event organisers, bookshop owners, and bloggers that last beyond the cycle of one book’s campaign and potentially for your whole career.
What are the key ingredients for success?
Managing to juggle a lot of plates at once – most of the time, you’ll be planning for books that are out as much as a year in advance, chasing for coverage on books that publish in weeks or months, and managing everything you’ve set up for books that are out right now.
Strong communication skills – you learn how to pitch your books confidently and with passion.
Being creative – every month, more books are published, so it’s important to think outside the box to get your campaigns to stand out. And most of all, keeping a calm head when things invariably don’t go to plan…
Could you describe a normal day?
It varies! Most of the time, a normal day will involve lots of emails – you’re constantly pitching to journalists and communicating your plans to authors, agents and internal teams. When a book you’re publishing on is out, you might go with an author to a radio interview that you’ve secured, or to a podcast recording, or a launch event. The autumn is always much busier than other times as it’s usually when our biggest non-fiction titles are out and when a lot of key literary festivals take place, so you might be on the road with an author for days at a stretch, travelling up and down to various events.
For those trying to break into the industry, could you explain how you got to where you are today?
I had a fairly traditional route into the industry. I didn’t think I’d be able to get a publishing job while I was at uni because I thought there would be too much competition, so my summer jobs and internships were in other industries – the charity and public sector. When I graduated, though, I did a few stints of work experience – one for an indie cookbook publisher, and the second in Penguin General, a different division of Penguin. While I was at the latter, my first job in publishing, the Publicity Assistant role at Penguin Michael Joseph, opened up.
Work experience was so useful to me because not only was I able to talk to people at Penguin General about my job application and get their help, it also helped me realise that I was really interested in publicity, which I hadn’t thought of as an option previously. There are lots of paid work experience and internship options now which is brilliant, but I also think it’s worth getting experience in other sectors if you’re struggling to get a foot in the door. Learning how a busy office works, how to be organised and how to communicate are core skills which you can get from lots of different roles.
And finally, if you’re interested in publicity, but also just generally, it’s great to have an idea of how the book world works. Pick up a magazine, watch BookTok, turn on Radio 4 once in a while, follow authors and industry figures on social media, and most importantly, go into bookshops and browse. You’ll get so much helpful knowledge which will help you immeasurably in a job application or interview.
What are you reading, watching and listening to right now?
I’m currently reading The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane – a book I’m working on this summer which I can’t wait to get out into the world. I also like to have a non-work book on the go if I can, so I’ve just started Hamnet, several years after everyone else!
My favourite way to relax is watching TV shows from the 2000s so after finishing Gilmore Girls last year, I’ve just started the OC, and very much wishing I was in sunny California instead of freezing England. And in terms of music, I pretty much always have Taylor Swift on – but I also love my sad indie music, so at the moment I have new singles by the National and boygenius on repeat.