Industry Insights: Isabelle Panay
By Leyla Mehmet, Elizabeth Guess and Aimee Whittle
For this issue, we interviewed Isabelle Panay to learn more about her role as Publicity Assistant at Watkins Publishing and Nourish Books.
1. Tell us about your journey into publishing and how the pandemic affected your job search.
My journey into publishing was a bit of a bumpy road at the start, as I left my previous full-time job working at a Travel & Lifestyle PR company around a month into the first lockdown. It was tricky to gain experience in publishing at a time when even those with well-established publishing careers were struggling, and there were times when I wondered if making the change in career had been the right decision. However, as soon as I managed to get some experience working in books with The Comedy Women in Print Prize and Smashbear Publishing, I realised that getting a role I was truly passionate about was worth it! While I did these part-time roles, I was applying for countless jobs in publishing, particularly publicity. It was tough to keep morale up when I was stuck at home and lacking that usual work-life balance, but publications like The Publishing Post and Facebook groups like Publishing Hopefuls made a world of difference!
2. Watkins Publishing and Nourish Books specialise in mind, body, spirit and wellbeing books. Was this something that you were always interested in?
I’ve always had an interest in cookbooks and had dabbled in reading self-help over the years, but when the pandemic hit and I found myself with more spare time than usual, the number of mind, body, spirit (MBS) books that I read increased. When I saw Watkins advertising it felt like perfect timing! I find most of the books we publish easy to connect with and I feel like they’re something I would personally be interested in regardless of my job. However, as is the case with all publishing jobs, you are never going to be the target audience for every single book you publish. What I love about MBS is that even if I don’t personally relate to a book, I know it will still be an incredibly useful tool for someone else.
3. What does the typical day of a Publicity Assistant look like?
Every day is different; there is truly never a dull moment! I enjoy days when I can put aside time to work on writing Press Releases, as I get the chance to be creative with how they look and how I build a pitch email around that focal point. I would say my most consistent task is answering emails, whether that be responding to interest following pitches, liaising back and forth with authors and journalists to arrange interviews, or just general admin like monitoring our coverage emails for the week.
4. Has there been anything that has surprised you about working in Publicity?
This may not apply to all jobs in Publicity, but for me, at a smaller publishing house, I was surprised by how much one-on-one interaction I get with authors! Every time we create a Marketing and Publicity plan for a book, we then have a meeting with that author to run them through it, which we call a ‘startup.' These meetings are a great way to gauge what the author is looking for. From this initial meeting, through to arranging interviews and submitting books for awards, I didn’t expect to interact with authors this heavily so early on in my career, but it is a very humbling experience.
5. Do you have any advice for publishing hopefuls?
My top tip is to always keep going – keep applying, keep chatting and keep learning! So much of the application process takes time to get used to. By the end of my journey as a hopeful, I looked back at the first cover letters I had written and was equally as embarrassed by them as I was proud at how far I had come since the start. Part of that was from practising, but part of it was due to making use of the resources available online. Many publishing houses are now sharing top tips for applications, and I’d recommend looking at Watkins’ Peek Into Publishing for this too! Myself and Brittany, Editorial & Audio Assistant, set up this initiative after both being hopefuls during the chaotic year that was 2020. Also keep an eye on Twitter, as people there are constantly offering advice and are almost always happy to answer any questions. If you don’t feel comfortable using your current account, I would recommend setting up an account exclusively used for publishing-related things.
6. What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading Detransition Baby by Torrey Peters. I was intrigued to read this after all the controversy following its longlist nomination for the Women’s Prize. It was fantastic to see so many people in the industry stand up for what’s right, sending the book to a very well-deserved top position in the charts. I’m really enjoying it so far; it does an excellent job of portraying the different perspectives that trans women have, from day-to-day events up to huge life events, such as parenthood.