I want Louise Swannell’s job
by Helen Wishart
I suspect the same was true for the majority of us who attended her seminar.
Let’s face it, publishing is a geek’s world. But as Louise describes her role, Publicity Director at HarperCollins, she makes us feel it is the cooler, sexier, sibling department to marketing and the most exciting place to be.
Publicity are there to tell the public what they should be reading and why. It is arguably the second most important relationship with the author (after the editor’s). Not only this, but PR liaise with the most influential people in the creative industries, making a real cultural impact across the newspaper, radio and television media. There is also the ultimate satisfaction of being able to see and hear, on a daily basis, the fruits of your labour – when your books are the buzz of the airwaves, flying off shelves, and reaching the highest accolade of the Times Best Seller list.
Between organising launch parties, wining and dining these vital contacts, keeping ‘embargoed’ books under wraps, reading brand new manuscripts and often playing a vital part in the pitching of new authors to editorial boards, working in publicity has to be the most exciting job going, right?
‘It’s just so much fun’, confirms Louise, at various times throughout the talk, ‘it is exhausting,’ she concedes but ‘so, so much fun’.
Obviously, nothing is ever as glamorous as it seems. You start at the bottom. You will be asked to do things you may feel are beneath you, Louise advises; there is always going to be a lot of envelope stuffing, particularly in an entry level role. Some authors can be a nightmare; occasionally, the publicist can feel like little more than a babysitter for the big names. Louise cites being required to fetch shampoo for one particular well known celebrity.
It’s not a 9-5 job, either. Naturally, many launch parties take place in the evenings, and though sipping champagne and hobnobbing with guests may seem like fun, you are the host: you have to meet everyone’s needs and make sure they are having a great time, no matter what… and you are also the one who has to tidy up at the end.
‘But it’s so much fun’ Louise assures us, ‘it’s worth it’.
Her energy and enthusiasm are inspiring. She shows us two campaigns she has worked on recently. One is the re- launch of Lauren Beukes from a niche fantasy writer to a bestselling mainstream crime fiction author. The huge success of The Shining Girls, which has become a bestseller and was short-listed for UK based Crime Writers' Association 2013 Goldsboro Gold Dagger award, is a testament to the passion Louise shows: ‘we were so excited to have Lauren as an acquisition’, she tells us. The terrifying video trailer produced for The Shining Girls became a YouTube hit and the book has sold thousands of copies.
Another project was for a well established author: ten years after the publication of the world bestseller, The Devil Wears Prada, the sequel Revenge Wears Prada: The Devil Returns brought different challenges and there was a huge amount of anticipation around the publication and the opportunity, with the large budget associated with such a recognised brand, to do something a bit different. The launch was a massive event and took place in both New York and London; a ‘Stiletto Strut’, hosted by Lisa Snowden, in which participants, issued with a bright yellow pair of heels, underwent a series of heats in which they strutted along a 50m carpet in their heels, until one girl was made Stiletto Queen. All participants received a free Revenge Wears Prada goody bag.
The talk was inspiring, and helped us to look to the future and a role in which we will be able to apply the lessons we have learnt through the course of the MA: the projects we are taking as part of the modules, then, a practice run for one day, hopefully, producing our own international campaigns. If I can somehow engineer a book launch in which David Tennant is the necessary host (a new sci-fi brand, perhaps?) then I will consider my career a success.
About the author of this article
An MA Publishing student at Oxford Brookes University, Helen is an upcoming professional, cat enthusiast and the future wife of David Tennant. She has been a student/waitress/serial intern for far too long and will be looking for employment in an entry level role in publishing in the spring/summer of 2014
Please see her LinkedIn page for her qualifications, work experience etc.
Last edited: 27 01 2018