Posted 20.01.16 by prhcareers
“I once dressed up as a giant lobster…”
Hello, Cat – so you’re a Publicity Assistant – what does that mean?
As a Publicity Assistant at Vintage, my main role is to support the publicity team with their campaigns and make sure the office runs smoothly. This involves a lot of admin such as booking hotels and transport for authors, circulating campaign updates, liaising with journalists and festival organisers to set up meetings, and supporting work experience. It also involves helping at events and signings, travelling to festivals, meeting authors, contributing to brainstorms, helping out with social media and – of course – reading a lot of excellent books.
I think the key to being a great Publicity Assistant (or any assistant, really), is an open mind and a positive, can-do attitude. Your role is really to know about as much as possible about the department and to be willing to help solve any problem at a moment’s notice.
Where were you before Penguin Random House?
Before Penguin Random House, I completed a degree in English and Related Literature at the University of York and then took a year out due to health conditions that prevented me from working full time. I spent 8 months working for a women’s centre that provides services for victims of domestic violence and women with mental health problems, whilst also volunteering for my local library, Oxfam shop, and a Time to Change mental health project. My main role at the women’s centre was helping out with social media, liaising with journalists, creating newsletters and organising events.
I’d always known that working in publishing (and specifically at Penguin Random House) were what I really wanted to do, so as soon as I had my health conditions under control, I decided to apply for pretty much every publishing internship and work experience placement I could find. My first placement ended up being in the marketing department at Ebury at Penguin Random House, and I instantly knew I was in the right place.
This placement lead to me getting an internship at a literary agency in Soho, then doing holiday cover for the Publicity Assistant at Ebury, and then finally to my first job at Penguin Random House: the Publicity Assistant position at Michael Joseph.
Six months of hard work later, at the end of my contract, I got my dream job: the Publicity Assistant position at Vintage.
What’s it like to do publicity at Penguin Random House? (especially compared to anywhere else you’ve worked)
The publicity department is incredibly fast-paced and hectic, but also extremely exciting – you can never really predict what you’ll end up doing on any given day. On the first day of my current job before even sitting down at a desk I got to meet Ian McEwan and helped him sign 1000 copies of his latest novel, which pretty much set the pace.
What’s the culture like in your team?
The best thing about working in publishing (after all the free books) is definitely the enthusiasm of everyone that works here; everyone is passionate about what they do and every day here is really fascinating as a result. The team at Vintage are really supportive too – everyone is given a chance to discuss their ideas and get any additional training they need.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you at work recently?
As one of my colleagues was unexpectedly out of the office last week, I accompanied one of her authors, Lisa Randall (world-renowned particle physicist and the author of Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs) on her UK tour. I travelled with her to interviews at the BBC and the Guardian, and we were given a tour of the new Cosmonauts exhibition at The Science Museum. It was a really fascinating two days – I not only got great experience of the logistics of organising a tour (including juggling hotel and travel bookings, the author’s needs, and tight deadlines), but also got to learn a lot about particle physics, dark matter and the universe! It really didn’t feel like work at all.
Best thing about your job?
The greatest thing about working in publicity is just how varied the work you do each day can be. My highlights have been researching and hiring circus acts and commissioning a merman ice sculpture for the launch party of The Gracekeepers, touring around beautiful independent bookshops in Scotland for a week with debut author Katarina Bivald, partying on a boat travelling down the Thames filled with multi-coloured meringues for the launch of Everything Sweet, and accompanying Salman Rushdie to Google headquarters. I once even dressed up as a giant lobster…
Biggest challenge to your job?
The hardest part about being a Publicity Assistant is definitely learning how to prioritise and handle such a massive workload. You could easily work for 12 hours a day and your to do list would still not be complete. The trick is being able to assess what needs to be done most urgently, and to constantly communicate deadlines and timelines with your colleagues. Although this can often be a challenge, it’s also one of the reasons I enjoy working in the publicity department – there is never a boring or slow moment and you learn so much every day.
All-time favourite book/story?
That’s too much of a difficult question for anyone who works in publishing! I can pretty much read and enjoy anything, but the books I really love are the ones that completely surprise me and really play with what literature can be. My favourite authors include Dave Eggers, David Foster Wallace, and Kurt Vonnegut, and I really love books like House of Leaves, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
I also really love graphic novels, which was another reason I was desperate to work for Vintage as Jonathan Cape has one of the greatest literary graphic novel lists in publishing. I especially love Daniel Clowes, Alison Bechdel, Charles Burns, Mary and Bryan Talbot, and Stephen Collins.
I find that since working in publishing though I have a new favourite book almost every week. It is impossible not to catch the infectious enthusiasm everyone has for the books they’re publishing, and the novelty of getting to read books months before publication never really wears off. Recently I have fallen in love with The Girls by debut author Emma Cline, and was very excited to get an early copy of Patience, the latest graphic novel by Daniel Clowes.