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Millie Seaward is Senior Publicity Manager at Dialogue Books, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group. She has worked in publishing since 2013 in the publicity departments of numerous UK publishers, including Penguin Random House’s Cornerstone and Hachette’s Headline divisions. Millie joined Little, Brown in 2018, running the publicity for the inclusive Dialogue Books, which spotlights stories written by authors and for readers from the LGBTQI+, disability, working-class and Black, Asian and minority communities. She has been recognised as a Bookseller Rising Star of 2020 and was awarded a PPC Quarterly Award for her incredible PR campaign for Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half.
How do you define publicity to authors? Do you find people often misunderstand what it is and its importance?
The four core elements of publicity are: reviews, interviews, features and events. I am responsible for securing these but also working with the author to make sure that we are making the most use of any of their existing contacts and supporting them through any promotion they wish to create themselves. I think that these days most authors are pretty aware of the importance of publicity – but maybe less aware of how hard it is to secure these four elements. There is a lot of competition out there – with limited slots for authors. Getting even one review in a national paper is an achievement – that review will have beaten out about 200 other books to get there.
How important is it to plan ahead when it comes to a publicity campaign? What are some key elements in creating a pre-publication buzz campaign? What results do you often hope to achieve from these campaigns?
I believe that it’s incredibly important to have as much time to plan as possible, even though a lot of elements to a publicity campaign will actually only fall into place in the last weeks leading up to publication. Having as much time as possible to build up buzz, getting proofs out there to journalists (who get sent a LOT, so you need to give them as much time as possible to read – no reviewer will thank you if a 600-page book lands on their doorstep within weeks of publication) will help all elements of the publishing process – with your marketing team, your sales team and, if you have it, your international team.
In terms of the key elements:
- Early endorsements from key authors writing in the same area. These quotes help get journalists, booksellers and readers excited on social media. The editor is in charge of sending these copies out for quotes but we often help to compile the list of who to send to.
- Identify your book champions and get them involved. Often there will be one or two journalists or bloggers who love the book – get them involved in shouting about it on social media.
- Do something every month! It can seem like a long slog to publication but doing something to promote your book every month will give that trickle effect – slowly people will start to think that they have seen your book everywhere! This can be posting on social media, writing a blog piece, sending out copies to journalists and bloggers. All the small things add up to a big campaign.
A shift in emphasis from book launches to pre-orders has occurred in recent years; what do you think has driven this shift?
Well, in short, you can sell a lot more books through generating pre-orders than you can through a launch party! Also the mysterious algorithm of Amazon means that the higher it is in the chart, the more visible it is on the site, so if you have a steady stream of orders you are going to be more visible to more customers. However, a public-facing event on launch day for some types of authors (big names with large followings) can help boost you into a Sunday Times chart position. Basically, no two campaigns are the same and you have to look at what is best placed for your author. Recently we worked with our marketing team on a ‘preview party’ with one of our authors, Clare Mackintosh. Working with two independent bookshops, the consumer had to pre-order the book to receive an invite to the party, where Clare answered questions and played games with the audience. It was incredibly fun and merged the two formats together, a mix of the human interaction you get with a launch party, and generating pre-order sales that help the author on publication.
What role do you think book bloggers, influencers and BookTubers have played in the world of book publicity? Has collaboration with influencers become a more popular PR strategy for publicising new books since the shift online?
Social media has become incredibly important, and book bloggers, influencers and BookTubers have a huge role to play in the publicity process. As an author, you don’t have to necessarily be the most popular on whatever chosen social media platform you are on, but it is important to engage these important readers. Think about it – how many hours a day do you read the paper, compared to how often you end up scrolling through Twitter or Instagram or TikTok? You may see a great review for a book in your chosen paper but then if you keep seeing it across social media, with more great reviews, that galvanises you even more to purchase. It’s important to engage with these readers and thank them for taking the time to read and review. Most of them do not get paid for this work. I always make sure to make proof copies available for book bloggers, Bookstagrammers and BookTubers.
In terms of more collaboration with influencers – that is more of a marketing question, especially if there is payment involved. In publicity we don’t pay an influencer to promote our work – we can send them a book for free in exchange for a review. However, a paid-for partnership with an influencer would require multiple posts on their platform and more creative content, which requires payment. We work very closely with our marketing teams to create our social media lists and work out the best strategy for each book.
With physical events and launches unable to take place this year, what do you see future book events looking like once they are allowed to resume?
The last year and a half has been a steep learning curve in events management for publicists! I think that when the only option is to stream things online, fatigue sets in. There is something incredibly special about being in the room with authors that cannot be replicated online. Nearly all of my authors are keen to go back to in-person events once they can.
I think going forward we will be seeing more and more hybrid events, with online streams occurring during in-person events. So many bookshops, festivals and event production companies have now set up the technology to enable this – it will be a shame to let it go to waste. One of the huge benefits of moving things online has been that events have become far more accessible, especially for those who have mobility or mental health issues. Another benefit is that international authors are able to find their audience in the UK without having to make expensive trips. Dialogue Books set up a collaboration with Fane Productions during 2021 – the Dialogue Book Lounge. We work with them to produce one event a month with a Dialogue author, with books being sold through Sevenoaks Bookshop. We initially set up the Dialogue Book Lounge during the first lockdown over Instagram Live. However, we found that book sales were not strong over that platform. Since pivoting to an events production company and having a strong bookseller such as Sevenoaks, we have seen a huge uplift in sales. We are working on continuing these events into the autumn of 2021 and hopefully beyond, in whatever capacity works best for our audience at the time.