The Publishing Post
Industry Insights: Virginia Woolstencroft
Virginia is the Head of Publicity at Orion Books.
How did you get into publishing?
I started thinking about publishing in my second year of university — I went to career fairs and it just seemed like the most obvious fit for me. I stalked publishers’ websites and social media feeds and applied for everything I could find. I ended up doing 2 short work experience placements at Cornerstone and Penguin Press. Then, once I graduated, I just applied for every assistant job I could see.
What appeals to you about publicity and did you always want to work in this department?
Like most people, I didn’t really know which other departments there were aside from editorial. However, those work experience placements were few and far between and I was offered publicity instead. I’m so glad I was! Publicity is fast paced, varied and right at the centre of the action. You get to develop strong relationships with lots of fascinating people — authors of course, but also journalists, bloggers, events organisers, booksellers and more.
For those who don’t know, what role does publicity play within the publishing process and how does this differ from marketing?
Simply put, marketing is ‘we say’ and publicity is ‘they say’. Marketing is the messaging that we have direct control over — we decide what line goes on an advert. In publicity, our job is to influence someone else, e.g. the media, to say something. We can point them in a certain direction, but ultimately we don’t have the same control. However, that means that positive reviews are authentic personal recommendations, which can be even more persuasive to a consumer.
What is your favourite thing about working at Orion?
It’s the people! It’s such a friendly and welcoming company with so many hugely talented people. Everyone is so committed to not only doing their job well but going beyond it. The new work experience initiative that we announced last month is an example of this and there’s lots more to come in this area, with the whole company currently involved in putting our Orion Values into action.
Do you prefer working on fiction or non-fiction books?
Another reason I love Orion is that I get to work on both. We publish such a brilliant range of titles across eight different imprints, and the publicity and marketing teams both work across the whole list. There are benefits to specialising, but I think that variety is a huge boost to both creativity and motivation. Every day is different, and you get to work with such a range of different authors. For example, today I’ve been checking interview arrangements for a literary novel called Small Pleasures, finalising autumn event plans for The Hairy Bikers, planning for the paperback launch of Cathy Kelly’s latest book, and organising radio interviews for Charlie Gilmour to talk about his gorgeous memoir Featherhood.
Is there anything coming up that you are particularly excited about working on?
As a dog lover, I’m thrilled to be working on Dog’s Best Friend by Simon Garfield which is out in January 2021 — Simon’s faithful labrador Ludo is fully involved in the campaign and it’s going to set lots of tails wagging!
Orion has a work experience opportunity coming up. What kind of applicant are you looking for/how can an applicant stand out?
We are really hoping to attract people from a non-traditional publishing background — for example, we’d love to see applications from BIPOC, people with a disability or those looking for a career change. But ultimately, we would love to hear from anyone who demonstrates a passion to learn, is curious about the industry, and shows commitment to our values.
Do you think remote work experience opportunities will become more common in the future?
I really hope so! It’s right that unpaid placements are a thing of the past, but we need to replace them with something, otherwise how will people get experience, or realise that there’s much more to publishing than editorial? Hachette has just announced that we are opening five regional offices around the country, and flexible working is available to everyone. The idea that you have to have an English degree and live in London to work in publishing is out of date and we want to encourage everyone with an interest to apply, whatever their background.
What advice would you give readers looking to enter publishing, specifically publicity?
Be curious, do your research and show your passion. Social media in the books world is full of information — make sure you follow as many people in the industry as possible so you can follow the big publications, the publishing trends and industry news stories. This knowledge will make your applications stand out and give you a lot to say in interviews. Publicity is all about passion and communication so don’t be afraid to put yourself forward.