By Elizabeth Oladoyin, Elizabeth Guess, Kathryn Smith and Leyla Mehmet
This issue, we interviewed Anna Frame, Publicity Director at Canongate.
Can you tell us about your first steps into publishing?
I applied for publishing because I knew that I loved books and that I really didn’t want to become a teacher. I actually applied for an Editorial internship but found myself bounced into publicity where there was, at that stage, more demand. I genuinely consider this to have been one of the greatest strokes of luck I’ve ever had; I’m better suited to PR than I ever would have been to editorial. I was immediately hooked: I loved the creativity, the variety and the sociability of the PR role; I loved working out who the audience for a book was; I loved the thrill of connecting with authors whose work I admired. Years later, all of that remains true.
During your time at Canongate, how has your role grown and changed?
I started at Canongate as Publicity Assistant and have been here for over fourteen years, so my job has changed a lot! The media landscape is almost unrecognisable in some ways, and staying on top of those changes can be challenging – but it’s an excellent way to prevent complacency; you have to keep learning and adapting. I’ve run the publicity department for a decade now and watching my team grow and develop their skills is one of the best parts of the job. Experience doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers, but it does make you less prone to panicking when something goes wrong and more confident you’ll be able to find the solution.
Can you tell us about some of your proudest achievements or most fulfilling projects?
Canongate has a small but eclectic list, so I encounter a wide range of titles and personalities through my work. The publication of Amy Liptrot’s debut, The Outrun, is something I’m proud of – I was overjoyed to see Amy’s story reach the readers who so needed it. Similarly, working with Ruth Ozeki on three separate tours in one year for A Tale For the Time Being, which won the Independent Bookshop Award before it was ever shortlisted for the Man Booker (proof that booksellers are the heart of our industry). More recently, helping Ian Rankin hit the bestseller list with The Dark Remains felt particularly moving as I had worked with McIlvanney when we brought the Laidlaw trilogy roaring back into print in 2013. There are also moments that stand out: being given a lecture on Dante by Alasdair Gray on a train to London; acting as a background extra for a Grazia photoshoot with Dina Nayeri; standing with an emotional Mike McCormack in front of a London underground poster displaying his book; dancing in the street with Alex Preston on hearing that Winchelsea would be a BBC Radio 4 Book at Bedtime; growing increasingly in awe of Gina Miller’s strength and empathy, with every day spent in her company.
What do you look for in someone wanting to enter a role in publicity?
The job is all about passion and story. To be a publicist you need to find the joy in every book – even those which aren’t to your personal taste – and identify who the perfect reader is, and how to reach them. You need to find the stories behind the books – the news angles, the hooks, the piece of abandoned research, the author’s best anecdote or the reason they delved down this particular rabbit hole – and use your discoveries to convey in just a few short sentences why this is the book that a reader (or a journalist, or producer, or festival programmer) should pick up. You need to genuinely enjoy working with people, even when they’re stressed; other than editors, publicists tend to work most closely with authors - and at a time when they’re at their most vulnerable, watching their books head out into the world - so you have to be able to be sensitive to that.”
Advice to those applying: do your research and let your personality show. Why do you want to be in publicity? What are you passionate about? Spend some time making sure you know the company’s list – not just the bestsellers – but also their ethos; social media is a gift for that. Show us you know who we are, and let us know who you are too.
Can you tell us about an exciting title coming up that you’re working on?
There are too many exciting books coming up to name – Travis Alabanza, Pragya Agarwal, Danny Ramadan, Nick Cave – but if I had to choose one then it has to be Madly, Deeply: The Alan Rickman Diaries. Publishing in October, these are the diaries Alan kept for over twenty-five years, and are at once funny, charming, spiky, insightful, incredibly generous and gloriously bitchy. We’re putting together a very exciting event to launch the book, and also possibly the biggest print media feature I’ve ever worked on. Like many people, I grew up on Alan’s films, so working on these diaries – with editor Alan Taylor and Alan’s widow, Rima – feels very special.