Sunday, 12 February 2012

The people behind the books - Q&A

Interviewed this month is Joe Pickering, publicist at Penguin Books UK, whom you can also follow on Twitter.

Q: Hello Joe! First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to answer my questions! You are a publicity manager for Penguin. Which imprints do you work on and do you have a favourite?

A: I work for the division of Penguin called Penguin General, which comprises the imprints Hamish Hamilton, Fig Tree, Viking & Penguin Ireland. I work across all four imprints but Hamish and Viking the most. I couldn't really pick a favourite: it's more book-to-book and all four publish ones I've loved.

Q: Can you briefly describe what you do on a typical day? Is there a particular activity that you especially look forward to?

A: Get in, turn my computer on, get a coffee, go through emails that have come in overnight and/or reminders I've set myself. Usually I'll have a particular book campaign or two in mind that I want to concentrate on that day: send out pitches, set up events, think of feature ideas, who to contact about radio, bloggers, etc. Emails come in all the time though about various things; some can be left but others require immediate attention. Every day requires a lot of multi-tasking and prioritising – and discipline with my time.

Q: What kind of journey led you to being a publicity manager? As a book-lover, your job sounds amazing. What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue the same career?

A: I worked at Waterstone's Brighton while at university then transferred to the Leadenhall Market branch in London when I moved back here after I finished my studies. I worked there for just over a year and a half. It was a store that held a lot of events and when I decided it was time to move on and I needed to change what I was doing, the events manager very helpfully put me in touch with a publicist at Random House; she put me through to the Assistant who had an opening for a work experience placement the following week. I was there for three weeks and two weeks at Random House and during that time a job as Publicity Assistant at Simon & Schuster came up, which I got. Most people seem to start off doing work experience, it seems, and you're fortunate if a position comes up in that time.

Q: I imagine that you attend festivals and literary happenings around the country to promote your authors. What is your favourite event and why?

A: I love Edinburgh Book Festival: it's very friendly, a great city and is happening at the same time as the comedy and arts festival so there's a lot to do. I really enjoy events at Topping & Co and Mr B's in Bath: wonderful bookshops and lovely, friendly staff. Events like Book Slam and The Book Stops Here in London are great: they have a great feel to them as they tend to be in places that aren't particularly 'bookish'.

Q: You worked with authors such as Nick Hornby and Mohsin Hamid. I wonder: do you ever get star-struck? Is there any writer that you’d love to work with?

A: I think when I first met Nick Hornby I was aware how famous he is but, more often than not, I've dealt with them over email before I've met them so have a feel for what they'll be like. This year I'm working with John Banville and Zadie Smith and I am quite aware that they're extremely well-known and respected.

I'd love to work with Tobias Wolff, if for no other reason than that I just love his work and think it would be a pleasure to promote.

Q: What is the publicity campaign that, so far, you have been most proud to be a part of?

A: My one for David Vann's Legend of a Suicide. That book came from nowhere and knocked me sideways and I was convinced it would have the same affect on others. In short, I think I helped kick-start the writing career of someone who should go on to write lots and lots of good books and I genuinely believe Legend of a Suicide will in the future be regarded as a classic. It's a nice thing to have been a part of.

Q: And lastly, what should the reading public be getting excited about in 2012?

A: I'll say right away that there will be lots of books from other publishers that I'm sure will be great. Granta, for instance, are bringing out Denis Johnson's sensation Jesus' Son, an outright American classic that's been inexplicably out of print in the UK for many years. That's one of the best books I've ever read and everyone with any interest in good literature should read it.

From us there are lots I've enjoyed but for the sake of keeping it succinct I'll pick out four:
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
The Apartment by Greg Baxter
The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
Ancient Light by John Banville

These are very different but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any to someone looking for something new to read.

Q: Thank you for your time!

A: Thanks for the questions!

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