A Conversation with the Publicity Manager at Beacon Press
I got the chance to have a phone conversation with Caitlin Meyer, the Publicity Manager at Beacon Press, for my course Introduction to Publishing. We discussed the philosophy behind the non-profit publisher, the ins and outs of her role at the company, how she got into the field, and some of the pros and cons of working at a well-known publishing house. She also offered up some advice on those considering a career in publishing, especially in the area of publicity.
According to their website, Beacon’s current publishing program emphasizes religion, history, current affairs, political science, gay/lesbian/gender studies, education, African-American studies, women’s studies, child and family issues and nature, and the environment.” So, caring about these issues is a necessary quality for any employee of the press. For Meyer, it is aligned with her favorite part of the job. She loves to help the authors to bring the books into to the world. She mentioned: “Many of our non-fiction books are framed around social justice topics that we care a lot about.” Along with any job, there are downsides. Caitlin’s least favorite aspect of being a publicity manager: passionate people. She explained: “ Passionate people have a lot of feelings and anxiety about whether books will be successful. It’s important a maintain a good relationship managing expectation internally with staff and with authors externally.” In order to better understand why these would be her main pros and cons, let’s explore the main aspects of her work as Publicity Manager.
Meyer works directly with authors on publicity campaigns before the books are out, before they have titles, and before they have any cover art up until the books are available to the public. She writes press releases and helps get information out to media outlets, books interviews with radio and television stations, solicits publications for reviews, and send out inquiries for coverage.
She works on a national level, across the country and also globally. Most of the publications she communicates with are major outlets like The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Economist, but she also targets smaller niche outlets such as environmental blogs or education outlets. She doesn’t narrow it down too much unless the book has a specific outreach.
Aside from the basic element of her position, “getting the word out,” she also co-manages The Publicity Assistant and relates back to the Director of Publicity.
I wondered what a typical day at the office included for the Publicity Manager, and she described it very clearly. “A typical day is very busy. Media correspondence is coming in pretty quickly. Media is competitive and a lot of outreach must be done for many authors at once. It’s like a juggling act. There are a lot of meetings as well. We have to catch up on what’s happening with a particular book if it’s about to publish. We connect with editorial to keep the momentum going. We have meetings about cover art design. We update our website, plan on how to use our resources and social media, and we meet with authors to develop a campaign.”
I wondered what led her to her job as a publicity manager since it seems most people don’t actually end up with the job that they originally set to acquire.
Having worked at Beacon Press over ten years, she originally started off as a publicist and worked her way up to Publicity Manager
“Did you always want to be a publicity manager or to work in publishing?” I asked her. She replied that she was always interested in writing and literature. Her father worked in publishing in production. One of her first jobs was copywriting. She worked at an ad agency first and then moved to an academic publisher where she was a copywriter in the marketing department. She said, “A lot of people interested in books and publishing think they want to work in editorial but end up in publicity.”
Aside from the laborious aspects of her role, there are also some fun moments, and she mentions that she really enjoyed working with Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility, a current New York Times Bestseller.
But working with authors isn’t always fun and games and she advises upcoming authors: “Be nice to the publicist.” Sometimes authors forget that the only person who wants it to do as well as them is the publicist. It is competitive, and they try as hard as they can to break through all that is happening in media.
For those interested in a career in publishing she says:
“Find a publishing house that you get to work on books that you are interested in. Study literature and writing but also marketing and public relations and business skills.” She also recommends publicity because it allows one to be creative, to learn, and to come up with ideas. “It’s a very interesting part of the job that not many people know about,” she mentioned in her closing remark.
Black Swans and Rock Bottoms
When I read or hear the term Black Swan, I think of Natalie Portman’s eerie portrayal of a self-loathing ballerina who puts her body through rigid abuse for the pursuit of physical perfection. So, I wonder how it came to be mean a book that is a surprise success like Harry Potter. I guess one could infer that it relates to something rising into grace from obscurity. I had never heard of it being used in the book publishing world and found it interesting, which is why I chose this term. There are many others that I was not familiar with as well. I am fairly new to the publishing world. I just had two poems from my manuscript published in the University of Miami’s literary magazine Sinking City. I was very happy at this milestone but I have a very long way to go, especially in the world of non-fiction book publishing. I can’t imagine ever having any kind of success even remotely close to that of the Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling, and I imagine her life to be a fantasy fairy tale made up of castles and adventures now that she is the richest woman in England, pretty cool for someone who was on welfare at one point. It really goes to show that where there is a will there is a way and we all have the potential to be black swans and rise out of obscurity with grace. She supposedly wrote the book while traveling to work every morning on public transportation. I have a hard time just writing a page a day from the comfort of my own home. But J.K. Rowling is an example of someone who didn’t let anything hold her back and we shouldn’t keep making excuses for ourselves when we don’t write even a page a day. I don’t know about others but I find it so hard sometimes just to get motivated. I wonder what gets you motivated. I would be happy with just having a few people reading my book and just having it published at all. But motivation is key, drive, ambition. What do I have to do to get myself to just write to write the story? Sometimes I think I need to go on a retreat somewhere far away from everyone and the madness of my home at times, or the energies of those I feel pull me down around me-family members watching TV while I try to concentrate or people talking at the cafe next to me while they see me focused on the computer screen. I find it so hard to get motivated to write nowadays that I wonder if I am even a writer. Would going on a retreat help? Any suggestion as to how this swan can rise from obscurity would be really welcome. Why is it so hard sometimes to just get started? Do you think the people around us can often kill our drive? What about negative life experiences? I think J.K. Rowling used them as fuel to succeed as she herself said that she was at rock bottom when she wrote the first book. Perhaps it is the need for perfection like Natalie Portman’s character in the film of the same name that kills our drive.
Success vs. Accomplishment
I just found out two of my poems were selected to be published in the literary magazine Sinking City from the University of Miami. I am so excited because it is my first publication, and I was just about to give up on my poetry. I feel a sense of accomplishment. There is definitely a link between being published and accomplished, not to overplay the word. So successful will be another word for it, though many people also associate money with success. One can be accomplished yet not wealthy so then they would not be successfull; in the end, the overall concept of success also includes monetary gain because it plays such a vital role in personal well-being. Since the latter is true, and money is part of success then I am hardly successful.
But, I make my own hours, go for a run by the ocean when I please, go do yoga in the park, and basically follow my inner rhythm. I have food to eat, clothes to wear, a roof over my head, and a way to get around safely, so I have not had the need to “get a real job” just yet, despite my mother’s advice. I believe the higher power has a greater path for me. I always follow my heart, instincts, and intuition. It is all I can really do. My instincts led me to do my own thing. I launched my own publication in May 2017 after I got fired from a sit-down, desk job at Miami-Dade College.
After working there for three years, and saving money, I knew it was time to move on and so did they. It was a good position while I completed my MFA in Poetry. But, once the new manager and employees came in, things changed. It was the more “secure” steady income-producing gig, but I felt less and less like I belonged in the atmosphere of an institution, where my lunch breaks were going to be dictated by another person and the amount of time I used the bathroom was going to be monitored. I found it went against my natural flow and life rhythm to adhere to someone else’s schedule or idea of how I should move my body and what I should wear. The other employees were unhealthy, often excepted to be sitting down for hours without going for a walk. They did not eat well, opting for the fast food across the street, the only thing quick enough for the short half-hour break. I felt ostracized because I would not engage in eating food that would damage my health. I often felt like a slave working those long hours for not much pay.
After leaving Miami Dade College, I was drawn to Love Life Wellness Center, a place full of health, consciousness, and life. I fell in love with the life-affirming vegan food, the brilliant owners, and the wonderful fitness instructors. I ended up changing my path and got my yoga teaching certificate. I wanted to be able to move my body during work–not be stuck sedentary at a desk, which had caused me health issues. I also started going to recite the poems I had written during my program from my manuscript Moon Over Miami. Since I didn’t have to be up early for my job, I could go to the evening open mics.
But the open mic events were at bars where the environment is often toxic and riddled with sexism. So the owner of Love Life, who became a close friend, suggested I host an open mic at their space. Conscious Creatives was born. Since then, we have hosted the event at various venues throughout the city, bringing a conscious, non-toxic, healthy vibe to the arts scene, often plagued with drug abuse, sexism, and toxicity. It makes me feel very accomplished to see everyone enjoying themselves at the events I host. In this way, I feel accomplished– until I look at my bank account.