Industry Insights: Ana McLaughlin
Ana is the Deputy Publicity Director for Riverrun and Quercus and an author.
Tell us about your journey into publishing.
My route was very common at the time: after graduating with an English Literature degree, I did some unpaid work experience. While at Mitchell Beazley, I was shown an advert for a Publicity Assistant at Random House which I applied for and — somewhat to my surprise — was offered the job. I was able to do the unpaid placements because my parents lived within commuting distance from London. I’m glad unpaid internships have largely been outlawed — it made the industry accessible only to people who lived in or near London or were wealthy enough to do so without earning a wage.
What appealed to you about working in Publicity? Did you ever consider working in another area of publishing?
At first, I had only really heard of editorial — I have to confess that I was completely ignorant about the industry. It was a friend already working in publishing who pointed out how completely unsuited I was to editorial and that I should clearly apply for publicity jobs.
What is the best thing about working for Riverrun and Quercus?
I love the breadth of the list. I work on literary fiction and high end and commercial non-fiction — it’s so varied. Quercus was founded as an independent publisher and was only relatively recently brought into the Hachette group of imprints, so it’s retained some of its independent spirit. I love the combination of that indie energy with the excitement and opportunity to work with and meet lots of brilliant publishers as part of something much bigger.
There probably isn’t a ‘typical’ day in publicity, but could you give us examples of things the publicity team might work on?
We’re involved in reading potential acquisitions and feeding back on promotional possibilities for new projects, and we’ll put together a publicity plan when we pitch to buy a book. It’s a great feeling when an author chooses to work with us because we’ve knocked their socks off with our passion and plans for their book. Pre-COVID, we’d spend a lot of time in face-to-face meetings with journalists and event planners running through upcoming titles, as well as in meetings with our colleagues cooking up plans for upcoming books.
Sometimes we’d be on the road with authors for up to a few weeks at a time, taking them to media interviews and events (a lot of time on trains). As with any job, there are also a lot of emails!
How can somebody hoping to work in publicity stand out from the crowd?
I’d be very impressed if they had engaged with the list they were applying to work on, and if they had examples of publicity campaigns they had admired by any publisher. It helps to be aware of the difference between publicity and marketing — reviews, features, broadcast interviews, events and some digital activity will be done by publicity, but poster campaigns, proof design and digital advertising will (usually) be executed by marketing. It’s great if they can show awareness of the places you can promote books — from the review pages of national newspapers and magazines through to new podcasts and the digital landscape that’s now so important. Engagement with social media is also helpful as we do so much work on there now.
What has been your favourite publicity campaign?
There’s too many to choose from! Recently, it’s been exciting and rewarding launching Candice Brathwaite’s I Am Not Your Baby Mother as my job share partner, Elizabeth, and I have been able to reach such a broad spread of media, from ITV News to Hello! Magazine.
What’s it like writing your own books whilst also working in publishing? How do you balance the two?
My publishing role is now a job share, so I work in-house two days a week and on my own books the rest of the time. Since March I haven’t had childcare, so I can’t really tell you that anything is balanced at present! It’s very useful to know the other side of the industry and I try to be useful to my wonderful publicist Amber Ivatt without being too annoying... I hope! I have a good understanding of what will and won’t work for the media and I do think it’s made me a better publicist being on the author’s side of the fence for a change!
Can you tell us about any new poetry anthologies you are working on?
I’m putting the finishing touches to She Will Soar, which gathers women’s poems about wanderlust, freedom and escape. The theme wasn’t quite so topical when I chose it last year, but the poems took on an extra layer of resonance as I worked on the book through lockdown. I’m also working on another new anthology but I’m not quite ready to reveal the theme yet.