Jamie Tan: The Life of a Candlewick Press Publicist

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It’s 5:01 PM Eastern Time on a Wednesday and Jamie Tan and her coworkers are eagerly refreshing their browsers, in hopes of finding one of their client’s books on this week’s New York Times’ Best Seller List. Tan who has been a publicist at Candlewick Press for the past three years, shared that this is just one of the many things that goes into her job within the publishing industry.

Candlewick Press is an independent publisher that has branches in the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries abroad. Some of Candlewick published titles include, The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo and the Judy Moody Series by Megan McDonald. After graduating from the University of Arizona, Jamie found her home in their Boston publishing office. We caught up with her midst her email-packed day to share her success as one of her titles, The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, made it on the children’s bestseller list, and to gain more insight of the life of a publicist!

“I come in at the end of the process,” Jamie says in her virtual visit, “or at least of the publishing process, to help usher books toward the consumer.” Her job is mainly to book tours, schedule media interviews, and answer questions about the publicity process for specific authors. She also does what she calls “author care,” which Jamie explains encompasses the more sporadic issues such as answering author calls on Saturdays because the author is stuck in an airport. “In July,” Jamie recounts, “right as I was about to go on vacation, author Shannon Hale, who I work with, was stuck somewhere in Michigan for almost an entire day because of a giant weather pattern. That was terrible for many reasons. The entire day all I was doing was seeing if I could get our travel agent to rebook her. That’s one of the random things I have to do.” In any given season, Jamie is in touch with thirty to fifty different authors. Of these however, she only tends to work closely with ten or so authors. “The work is kind of unending because there’s always random opportunities to either get people to go to an event or book some sort of media,” Jamie explains.

Ringing true to her title as a “publicist,” Jamie’s regular day is filled with an immense of communication, mainly via email, to generate buzz on her most current projects. Whether it’s pitching titles to the media, setting up author tours, or staying in touch with people all over the country, Jamie’s constantly on her phone or computer checking her inbox and sending out emails. Her job also requires her to stay on top of things in the publishing industry to which she keeps tabs on what’s on the shelves and frequents on the Publisher’s Weekly site. Jamie’s also constantly watching social media, “I’m on Twitter a lot,” Jamie says. “I’m not really posting, but I’m looking to see what people are talking about.”

When it comes to how she brings awareness to the books so they can make it onto the bestseller list like her successful title, Jamie believes there’s no one way to publicize a book. The only uniform method she uses is determination. She is extremely persistent, “amidst all of the really fun rejection letters or sometimes just plain silence that you’ll get from reporters or bookstores.” She tends to pitch to Entertainment Weekly or People Magazine, and when she gets a response she feels overjoyed, but she doesn’t let it bother her she doesn’t receive one. Both weekly magazines have a big circulation, which give Jamie’s book more coverage, especially to people that she normally wouldn’t reach. This can spark more bloggers to request the book and talk about it, which in turn, generates hype for the title.

All books assigned to Jamie are off of her preferences. After three years working at Candlewick, Jamie states that her bosses know her well enough that, “If a certain title comes up, usually whenever a graphic novel comes up, they’ll say ‘Oh, let’s give it to Jamie. She’ll love it.’” This arrangement of specific types of titles works out for Jamie. She has connections with graphic novel, middle grade, and young adult blogs and reporters. However, the same can’t be said of picture books and early readers. “I actually recently had to do publicity for a picture book,” Jamie explains, “and I was a little bit lost. I actually had to get one of my coworkers to give me a lot of input in terms of where I should be pitching.”

Maintaining the connections within her niche, proves still to be a tough job, “One of the things that everyone in the publicity department kind of has to do is go to publisher dinners, which can be anywhere from as small as twelve people to as big to a hundred people at a cocktail party. It’s basically authors, publishers, media, booksellers, and the like hanging out in the same room, all trying to just be like ‘Please talk about my book. It’s really great. Please look at this author. This author is a delight! Don’t you want to interview them in your magazine and/or publication?’ We hope the answer is yes.”

Candlewick maintains strong, personal connections between the publicity department and the people they contact. They also do more galley mailing for reviews from their well-connected bloggers, booksellers, and reporters. Jamie tends to prefer blind galley sending where she makes a list of a hundred or so people and sends out the galleys with her contact information, hoping to get them to talk about it. Even though she doesn’t always succeed in getting attention from big magazines, sometimes the hits can come from unexpected places. All it takes is one popular bookstore tagging the book for the book to be seen by their 20,000 followers.

Jamie is deeply rooted in her job by her connections throughout the industry. Connections she made during the time she was getting her master’s degree in Library Science in Boston and the Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona during her gradual move to becoming a publicist are still helping her today. She still texts the people she went to school with because some of them work at big publications and she still uses the knowledge she gained from working in a retail job at a bookstore. Things like knowing what people want in a book, the kinds of people who are looking for books, and “how to respond when someone says, ‘Hi, I’m looking for a book for a girl,’ and then don’t give you any other details and how you produce a book for that. In that way I learned how to sell books, I also kind of learned about the books I personally liked, I learned a lot about marketing because I ended up going to hosted events and helping out.”

Jamie also got to go to her first BookExpo America (BEA) meeting, which she highly recommends for everyone to attend. The BEA displays books and gives out galleys galore, which was too tempting for Jamie on her first visit. “If you haven’t gone to the BEA I just want to warn you for your first BEA, for my first BEA, I acted like I was a kid in a candy store and I ended up shipping back three to four boxes of books back just because you can grab that many free books. It’s insane. I don’t do that anymore because I really value my back.” Even if you don’t go crazy with the books, Jamie insists that the experience is fun and it shows people how you can get involved with books in different ways.

Jamie does, however, give a word of advice to people looking to get into publishing. “Publishing is a trade,” Jamie states. “It’s nearly impossible to get anywhere without internships, either paid or unpaid. And, in Arizona, the only internship I was able to get was with the University of Arizona Press. […] You have to put your time in. The way I did that from the West Coast, which is a relatively barren area of publishing, was through bookselling. Right now the really expensive way to do it is you move to San Francisco and hope to get a internship at Chronicle, you move to Boston and you hope to get an internship at either Candlewick, or, the most expensive option, you move to New York and you attempt to get an internship at one of the big five. That’s something you kind of have to do.”

PRR Writer, Kayla Wactor

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