Thursday, July 2, 2009

Interview with Sourcebooks Publicist Paul Samuelson

Paul, who is a publicist for Sourcebooks, so gratiously allowed me to ask him a few questions in regards to his job, why hitting the NY Times Best Selling list is so important for an author and their publisher and if book reviews on blogs really do matter...

KB: Can you tell us about the day in the life of a Sourcebooks publicist?

If you havent read it yet, I think the best summary of a day in the life of a book publicist ran in Publishers Weekly about a year ago: Needless to say, there would be a lot more outreach to bloggers and online media outlets today. It is truly amazing to see how far blogging (and now micro-blogging) have come in such a short time.

My day officially starts at 8:30, but I like to get in early to read Shelf Awareness, the School Library Journal blogs (Practically Paradise, Fuse #8 and Amy Bowllan's blog are my favorites), Media Bistro, and other blog reviews so I can stay aware of what is going on industry. I also browse the news to see if there are any news angles I can use to pitch any of our authors. Google alerts are also a great way to see what is being said about my authors on the net.

On Mondays, I ALWAYS check Nielsen Bookscan to see how our books performed the pervious week, and to see if any local media hits produced a spike in sales for a particular market. The rest of my day varies, but generally consists of pitching (by phone and email) books to television and NPR producers, as well as editors at various newspapers, magazines and online publications. As you know, a big part of my day also consists of putting together blog tours for titles in genres with large online communities. We have a budding children’s, middle grade and young adult list and we’ve hit the New York Times Bestseller list with several of our titles: including I Love You More, Poetry Speaks to Children, Hip Hop Speaks to Children (Healing the Addicted Brain, hopefully not a kids book, was our most recent title on the Times Advice List).

KB: What are your favorite things about the job?

Paul: What really excites me about being a publicist is when I am able to convey my excitement for a title to other people. I know this may sound self-serving, but I truly believe that the books we put out change lives for the better, every single day. Whereas many of the larger publishing agencies use the spaghetti method when it comes to acquiring books—throwing a ton of material into the marketplace to see what sticks—at Sourcebooks, we have always selected authors who we think bring something important or unique into the marketplace. Whether it’s a blogger or a producer at the Today show, letting people know, for instance, the amazing effect that Horrid Henry has on reluctant readers, makes me feel that my job is more than simply drumming up media for a product.

KB: What type of work experience does one need to become a publicist?

Paul: The publicists at Sourcebooks come from a wide array of backgrounds. We have publicists from other publishers, we have people that were bookers on the other side of the phone, and we have relatively new people that started off as interns (like myself). Before working at Sourcebooks, I had the good fortune to work at a literary agency where I learned a great deal about all aspects of the business—from reading royalty statements to editing manuscripts. I wanted to work on the publishing side of the industry, and the only opening at Sourcebooks was for a publicity intern. I wanted something quickly, so I took the job and then I fell in love with it! How great is it to be able to talk about books all day!

KB: Which authors are your big sellers for Sourcebooks?

Paul: Well, Id like to start off with Healing the Addicted Brain by Dr. Harold Urschel III because I am the lead publicist assigned to it at Sourcebooks. Through an acquaintance Dr. Urschel’s, we managed to get the book on Dr. Phil and it hit the best seller list several weeks later. I’m still buzzing with excitement! I also have a great line-up of events for him in September, so I’m hoping to hit the list again!

Above, I also mentioned the best sellers from our Jabberwocky imprint, namely I Love You More, Poetry Speaks to Children and Hip Hop Speaks to Children.

But Sourcebooks is so varied that I cannot begin to summarize all of the books that make up the backbone of who we are as a company. Our romance line, for instance, is quickly rising to be a competitor in a genre that was thought to be overcrowded. Our Fiske and Gruber college guides are also an integral part of the company. For a better idea of exactly who we are, just check out our amazing Fall 2009 Trade Catalogue and our Fall 2009 Jabberwocky Catalogue.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the validity of on-line review sites and review blogs versus print review publications. Do you feel on-line review sites and personal blogs help generate word of mouth about an author or their book? Do you feel they also help with book sales?

Paul: The other day, I asked my followers on twitter where they would get their book news from if the internet suddenly crashed—and I got no responses! Blog reviews have become an integral part of the standard publicity campaign, as has twitter and even facebook. Many bloggers have become so well known that quotes from their reviews are being put on book jackets!

I was originally going to show you concrete examples of the marked effect that blogs can have, but I now fear that I might cross some invisible line about what I am allowed to divulge. Suffice to say that by looking at bookscan numbers for novels that are covered primarily by bloggers, one can see a marked increase during weeks reviews are running online, as opposed to the regular weekly sales. This becomes increasingly obvious when one looks at books that have ONLY had blog reviews.

KB: It seems that most publishers want their authors to hit that much coveted spot on the NY Times or USA Today Best Seller list. In your opinion, why do you think a label such as NY Times/USA Today best selling author matters? Have you noticed an increase in book sales if that Best Selling Author label is in on a book cover?

Paul: I’m not going to lie: both of these labels mean a lot in terms of both sales and publicity. For example, there are TONS of books out there dealing with addiction, but how many are there that have been on the New York Times Advice Best Seller List? Answer: I haven’t been able to find a single one. When I reach out to TV producers, newspaper editors and (yes) even bloggers, you have to admit that titles with this distinction definitely merit a closer look.

Despite this, I do find it refreshing that there is a push-back within the blogging community on focusing solely on these titles—I love that about you guys! However, in other mediums where so little space is dedicated to books and authors, it is definitely one more label that makes a book stand out from the thousands of other books that producers and editors get pitched every day.

KB: What new and exciting things should we expect from Sourcebooks?

Paul: Well, first of all, I am very excited about a new wunderkind author who we will be publishing through our Jabberwocky imprint in the Fall. Kaleb Nation, an internet phenomenon with legions of fans, is putting out a book titled Bran Hambric and the Farfield Curse and which—I’m not kidding—is truly an amazing read. We are also going to be publishing our first YA novel, Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble in Sept. under a new YA/Mid-Grade imprint. Were still trying to settle on a name and I'd love to hear what you all think of “Raven” for a YA imprint name?

As far as other things, we are forging ahead with eBooks, iPhone apps, and a slew of other initiatives (including a forthcoming poetry website which is going to be AWESOME!). As a company, we have always been ahead of the curve as far as new technology is concerned, so keep your eyes peeled!

KB: Who are your all time favorite authors? What books are your personal recommended reads?
Paul: I hate this question because I can’t even decide which genre is my favorite!! Well, I think I can say that my four favorite books of all time are The Count of Monte Cristo, Pale Fire, The General in His Labyrinth and The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

That said, I cannot imagine my childhood without Shiloh, Maniac McGee, The Phantom Tollbooth and A Wrinkle in Time. I also read every Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown book written before 1990, as well as many of the Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Middle school was all fantasy, but Robert Jordan (rest in peace) was hands down my go-to guy (although Terry Brooks hooked me on the genre with Shannara and David Eddings stayed with me for his massive 12 book long series).

For poetry, I LOVE Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, although when I was a kid the old world romantics like Byron and Shelly really provided some excellent fodder for my love-sick middle school years (Truth is beauty, beauty truth… is that really all you need to know? Still wondering). Has anyone else heard of John Cooper Clarke?? I haven’t found anyone else who has, but I was obsessed with his performance poetry all throughout college. You can listen to it on Youtube ( but be forewarned it has some profanity (bleeped out in this version).

As you can see, I am very wordy when it comes to talking about books. I hope I don’t bore your readers. Thank you so much for the opportunity to give my thoughts on what is going on. If you have any other questions, or wish to abridge this (I won’t take ANY offense, I swear), just let me know!

Thanks Katie!!
To follow Paul on twitter: @psamuelson01
Have a question for Paul or a comment about the interview? Leave it here!



KMont said...

Insider information like this is always interesting. Thanks for a very informative interview.

It's also nice to see an industry professional acknowledging bloggers in a positive manner, whether big or small. Personally I don't expect recognition for my very small blogging efforts, but it's always nice to see something positive said about blogs, because even if that recognition isn't expected, it's still nice to be seen in that positive manner.

It's also refreshing to see some more forward thinking in regards to online means of book promoting. Literally everything, across so many types of industry, is moving to the internet at a rate that is just phenomenal. I've had serious worries about the publishing industry.

Anywho, again, great interview, guys. Loved it.

Louisa Edwards said...

Thank you for the detailed, insightful answers! It's nice to hear acknowledgment of the (sometimes bitter) truth that the NYT bestseller label has a real impact. And exciting to hear about the new YA imprint! Thanks, both of you, for taking the time to do this interview.

SarahT said...

Fantastic interview! So interesting to read Paul's take on the influence of online reviews, especially in the light of the Avon Ladies comments.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Thanks for the genuine, honest answers, Paul! I will definitely point other bloggers toward this interview.
And I loved those Choose Your Own Adventure books!

L. Diane Wolfe

P.B. Samuelson said...

I'm so glad you all enjoyed it! If you'd like to chat about any aspect of this, I'm generally available (after 5pm) on twitter @psamuelson01



MsMoonlight said...

What a great post and interesting interview!

Carolyn Crane (aka CJ) said...

Thanks for this interview! This is just fantastic and so interesting. I have a question: how important are book trailers? Especially in the fanstasy/urban fantasy/paranormal romance genres?

SciFiGuy said...

At the risk of being unoriginal I second KMonts comments. It is interesting that Paul says there is real data confirming that there is an impact of the blogging community on sales as a result of reviews. Online communities can make a difference.

Carolyn said...

What a wonderful and informative post. And I loved your favorite reading list, by the way. You named a lot of mine, too.

I have a question for you. What, if anything, can an author do that will make your job easier or that is helpful in creating sales (aside from having written a great book).

Jill D. said...

Hi Paul,

This was a very nice interview. Thank you for the "insider" information. As an avid reader, I love to hear how the book industry works.

The memories of my childhood years came back to me when you mentioned Encyclopedia Brown. I have such fond memories of summers spent trying to stay cool tucked away in my bedroom reading.

Fantasy Dreamer (Donna) said...

Great interview, learned a lot of things I wasn't aware of, plus it's feels good to know that book blogs are making a difference.

I was wondering the other day about the significance of the NYT bestselling author tag, thanks for answering that question (even though I didn't ask *g*).

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse. Just to clarify. :)

Keira of LoveRomancePassion said...

Love Kaleb from the Twilight Guy - I hope his book does really well.

Author Tony Peters said...

A very good interview. I loved reading this!

Tony Peters
Kids on a Case: The Case of the Ten Grand Kidnapping

Heather Massey said...

Awesome interview!