As the publishing community settles into the routine of WFH, we wanted to hear more about how it’s going and how the business of doing business is changing. So, we reached out to a few alumni to hear about their jobs…and how they got there! Below is the first in an ongoing series.
April 27, 2020
WFH: View From an NYU SPS MS in Publishing Grad, Part One
Heidi Richter, Senior Director, Publicity, William Morrow/Dey Street Books, HarperCollins Publishers, NYU SPS MS in Publishing, Class of 2008
Heidi Richter (left) with author Karin Slaughter at BookExpo 2019.
How did you know you wanted a career in publicity, and what was the pathway that led to your current position?
During my time in the graduate program in publishing at NYU SPS, I was able to apply for an internship at Simon Spotlight Entertainment (now called Gallery) at Simon & Schuster. It was a half editorial/half publicity internship, and I loved it. The people were smart, the books were fun, and we got to talk about pop culture all day long. When it ended, I accepted an internship at Newsweek, helping to write articles for their Tip Sheet section. I got to review products, spotlight new trends, and even wrapped up my time there by interviewing my favorite author, Judy Blume. It was exciting, but I missed the longer creative process of book publishing. Luckily, Simon Spotlight Entertainment needed a publicity temp, and I got to go back there while I was finishing my degree.
After I graduated from the NYU SPS Publishing program, I moved to Scribner and eventually joined the publicity department at Berkeley/NAL. Then in 2012, a position focusing on high-profile authors opened at the William Morrow division at HarperCollins, and I just couldn’t pass it up. I was lucky enough to be able to join the team and since then, I’ve been able to oversee many bestselling campaigns for Dey Street and William Morrow.
Did any specific courses in the publishing program influence you?
Accounting! Just kidding. Even thinking about it makes my blood pressure rise. The class that influenced me the most had to have been the Introduction to Book Publishing course taught by Michael Morrison, who was then President and Group Publisher of the HarperMorrow division at HarperCollins Publishers. It was hands down the best class we had and many of my friends and colleagues from the course still talk about it to this day. He told us stories about the industry, gave us sage advice about how to navigate it, and put our book knowledge to the test. We even got to pitch him our book ideas and when they were approved, we created a prototype of our book that we presented to the class. It was fun, extremely enlightening and we looked forward to it every week. Little did I know that I would end up working for him at HarperCollins years later. It was a really great full circle moment.
You have a host of new challenges now as authors cannot go on physical tours, bookstores are largely closed, and media outlets are all remote. How has business changed with remote work? What is your day like now? What was your day like before working remotely?
When we all started working from home in March, we had to quickly figure out how to adapt our publicity campaigns to the new way of remote life. At the time, I was also preparing for a major book launch to kick off in early April. My author was slated to do national television appearances in NYC and LA. He also was scheduled to go on a book tour all over the East and West coasts. Luckily, I work with some of the smartest people in the business and together we uncovered lots of new ways to publicize our books and bring our authors to their fans. Thankfully most national shows also adapted to remote interviews. We used Skype or FaceTime to record his interviews instead of having him in the studio. And instead of signing books for the author’s fans in-person, we worked with the independent stores to create private Zoom events for him to interact with customers.
Ultimately, we were able to preserve the campaign during the crisis and the book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. Our days might look different now—much of it is all done by video conferences and phone calls instead of our in-person meetings—but the passion to publish books remains the same. Each day seems to be as busy as before, but now it has an extra dose of craftiness to make it all work.
Out of every crisis, there are lessons learned. Do you see any practices that might work for the future?
Being able to orchestrate a publicity campaign virtually has been one of the most interesting experiences of my career to date. Sometimes there are certain circumstances which prevent an author from being able to get into a studio. In the future I hope that our media colleagues will be able to take what we have learned during this time into account and will be open to doing interviews with our authors remotely, if it’s not possible to be in the studio!
In good times and in challenging ones, why do you love your job?
I love my job because every day is different. You go into the day thinking you know what’s ahead but you’re likely wrong. It’s a thrill to work in publicity, whether that means crafting pitches that will help a book tie-in to the news cycle, creating tour schedules, working with bookstores to create events for readers, and uncovering new media outlets. There is nothing more gratifying than working side-by-side with an author through publication day and celebrating a book hitting a bestseller list. When you and your colleagues have spent so much time and effort working on a campaign and then the book becomes a success, you feel such a sense of accomplishment. Each media hit to this day—almost 14 years later—still feels like winning the lottery. It never gets old.
Any advice for those who seek a career in publicity? What should they be doing now to prepare?
Internships are a great way to learn about the publishing industry from the inside. If you’re in school, or even out of school, and you see an opportunity to apply for one, do it. You’ll be able to try your hand at just about any department at a publishing house and narrow down which role excites you the most. And if an internship isn’t available, find a person on LinkedIn that has a job you think you want and reach out to them to schedule an informational interview. Be prepared to come with questions and use their time wisely. The industry is ever-changing, and it’s so fun to be a part of the ride. I hope to meet you along the way.
Applications for Fall 2020 enrollment in the NYU SPS MS in Publishing: Digital & Print Media program are due July 1, 2020. Visit our website to learn more.