Welcome to our new series “How to Make it in” in which we talk to Bushwick residents about what it takes to be successful in their field. Leave us a comment below with an industry you’re trying to break into or simply learn more about, and we’ll find a Bushwick resident who is successfully working in it.
“Publishing is a mysterious field to break into,” says Siena Koncsol, a publicity manager at Harlequin Teen, a division of a publishing giant Harper Collins. “People don’t necessarily have an understanding about what the difference is between publicity and marketing, or what the role of sales or production is. People have a lot of questions about publishing.”
The great YA craze
Siena works specifically in an imprint that publishes a broad range of genres in young adult fiction. YA, as people in the know refer to the category, is literature for readers aged 14 and up. And yes, a lot of adults love reading YA, which makes up for one of the most rapidly growing parts of the publishing industry. “We see that 50 percent of YA readers are actually adults,” Siena told Bushwick Daily. “I think that the time of your life when you’re a teen never stopped being an important part of your life. Even if you moved past them, you can always remember the vividness of those feelings.”
“The young adult genre has really exploded over the past 15 years,” Siena continued. “The turning point was perhaps Harry Potter, which changed the game for children’s books. Then there was “Twilight” and “Hunger Games,” and these big blockbuster books paved the way for many other types of young adult books. YA is now its own section in bookstores, which didn’t used to be true.”
Book publicity is not your regular publicity
Siena’s role as a book publicist is truly multi-faceted. “It is a little bit like yoga,” she laughed. “You have to be stretching in many directions. You’re talking to authors, interacting with sales and media. It’s perhaps the most outward-facing role in publishing. It’s great if you’re an extrovert; it keeps you sharp.”
She explained that her role is to be the the liaison between the author and the publisher, as well as to set up signings for the author; to submit and send the authors to festivals and conferences or book tours. She talks to media trying to get her authors a lot of coverage, including reviews, TV appearances, website and podcast interviews.
According to Siena, the biggest difference between general publicity and book publicity is in what you’re publicizing. “It’s not just the book but it’s also the person who created it. The author has a really close relationship with the book, and the fans really want to know about the author, their process and where they got their ideas from to write the book,” she explained.
Naturally Siena’s job involves a lot of reading. “I read everything I publicize usually way upfront. Six months before the publication is when we start to publicize and in young adult we do a lot of cover reveals which can happen even a year before the book comes out.”
Instagram might have saved the physical book
Especially in YA, social media are just as important as traditional media. Siena cited the Bookstagram community, which plays a huge part. “People take these highly curated photos of their books and create their own beautiful works of art and it’s gotten hugely popular,” she said.
“One of my favorite predictions that didn’t come true is that eBooks will replace physical books,” she laughed. “The industry is changing but physical books are still very popular.”
Getting into the field
Siena told us that she moved to New York with a plan to get any job in publishing. “I gave myself a timeline, thinking that if I don’t get something within X months, I’ll go back to Florida where I’m from,” she said. “I was very open to whatever publishing role I would land in and then I could learn about publishing once I was in the role.” It turned out to be the right approach.
The first job she landed was an administrative assistant at an independent children’s book house. Later she took an internship at a publishing start-up. “Since it was an unpaid internship I was also a barista at Starbucks and was an SAT tutor,” she laughed. “That lasted for about eight months.”
It seems that everybody who works in publishing started through an unpaid internship. “It really is an apprenticeship-type industry,” Siena explained. “It has to be clear that you can match the fast pace of the industry and do the work, and the only way to know that is if you’ve done it.”
Later Siena became a publicity assistant at Simon & Schuster’s children’s book division and worked her way to a publicist. Two years ago, she took a job as publicity manager at Harlequin Teen.
Working in publicity was like a fate according to Siena. “I really didn’t know what department would fit me the best but I found out through being on the inside,” she said.
“The way a job description looks on a paper can sometimes be very different than the experience of doing it. Sometimes you end up being really lucky. That’s how I ended up working in publicity. There were all the things about it that fit my personality and my skillset. I realized it only when I was in it,” she explained.
Whimsy is encouraged
Siena gets to travel a lot thanks to her job. At the time of our interview she was just getting ready to for San Diego Comic Con. Four of her authors were on panels there.
She said that her favorite part of her job is the creativity of coming up with new strategies for books. “There is more freedom in YA with what you can do, because you are encouraged to be really imaginative and there’s a tolerance for whimsy. Recently, we threw a party with several Booktubers and we had this great Harlequin Teen balloon wall made by a balloon artist for people to take videos and photos in front of it. It was a great way for all the Booktubers to get to know our various books. We also made a cocktail menu and named the cocktails after characters in the books.”
Intrigued by the book publicist job or YA genre? Here are a couple of books that Siena Koncsol recommends:
If you like contemporaries such as John Green’s “Looking for Alaska,” look out for “The Sidekicks” by Will Kostakis. “It is a beautiful exploration of grief and male friendship. The author was only 17 when he wrote the book,” she said. “It was inspired by his best friend who encouraged him to become a writer and passed away before this book was even published.”
Another great one is “More Happy Than Not” by Adam Silvera who is Bronx native.
If you like dystopia such as Suzanne Collins’s “Hunger Games” read the upcoming novel “All Rights Reserved” by Gregory Scott Katsoulis. It is set in a society where people have to pay for every word they say. Siena recommends also “Feed” by Matthew Tobin Anderson which focuses on corporate power and consumerism.
Cover photo by Katarina Hybenova for Bushwick Daily