Industry Spotlight: Sydney Tillman on Picture Books, NetGalley Tips, and Life in Publicity

Originally Posted on We Are Bookish.
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NetGalley members don’t just love books, they’re fascinated by all aspects of the publishing industry. That’s why in our Industry Spotlight series, we’re asking industry professions to tell us more about what a day in their life looks like and to share invaluable tips for members who interact with them through NetGalley. Here Sydney Tillman, the Publicity Manager at Hachette’s Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, discusses the art of a picture book review, what she looks for in member Profiles, and her favorite parts of being in publicity.

Sydney Tillman, the Publicity Manager at Hachette’s Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Meet Sydney

Years in the industry: Going on five years!

First book you worked on as a publicist: The Purrmaids series–the pun options were endless! 

Book you’re currently working on: Strong Mama by Robin Arzón

An indie bookstore you love: Cafe con Libros in Crown Heights, NY! It’s a cozy, very well-curated Afro-Latinx-owned bookstore and coffee shop with a focus on community and intersectional feminist reads. It is also home to my favorite bookish tote bags!

What does a day in the life of a publicity manager look like? What’s your favorite part of your job?

I start every morning reading through newsletters, media alerts, and scanning through my inbox. A big function of our jobs as publicists is to be effective communicators and a hub for information—for authors, editors, booksellers, and media/journalists—and emails are a big part of our job. The sheer volume of emails that we receive has increased in this virtual world, so I always prioritize the day’s tasks based on what is currently in my inbox. My day-to-day is often a mix of communicating with authors, pitching media for book coverage (my favorite part of the job!), and working with booksellers and/or book festivals to plan events or school visits. 

People outside of the industry can have some funny or odd assumptions about our jobs. What do your friends and family think you do, and what do you wish people knew about being a publicist?

Publishing is such an insular industry and a lot of folks outside of it don’t see all the different stages of the process. Despite knowing that I work in publicity, most people assume I have editorial responsibilities—which I think is a common misconception for folks outside of editorial. 

Publicity is a behind-the-scenes job. A big difference between marketing and publicity is that publicists are working to secure earned media (review coverage, interviews, etc.) while marketers secure paid media (ads/sponsored posts, etc.). For publicists, there can be a lot of work (research outlets, building media relationships with journalists/bloggers, crafting pitches) that goes into securing one media hit. We can spend hours building a list, crafting a pitch, and having a back-and-forth with a media contact, but at the end of the day there’s no guarantee that coverage will be secured. However, when it is, it is the best feeling!

Your passion for picture books shines through even on your social media. What do you recommend reviewers focus on when writing about picture books, particularly when it comes to balancing who the book is intended for compared with the person likely to be purchasing it?

I. love. picture. books. And I love reading picture book reviews. I think it’s important to keep in mind that the art and text work together to create the story. I love a picture book review that is balanced in its examination of both. While it’s important to call out those special elements of the read that will engage young readers—maybe it’s a great read-aloud or inspires imaginative play—I think that picture books are for everyone. I love, love, love reviews that call this out. The adult reading the review and purchasing the book is oftentimes also the person that will read the book to the child, and so a successful picture book review should also compel the adult to want to buy or read the book.

Help us take NetGalley members behind the curtain: What does the NetGalley request approval process look like for Little, Brown Books for Young Readers? 

Publicists are responsible for routinely checking NetGalley to manage incoming requests for their assigned titles. I go through the requests for my titles on a weekly basis and approve or decline requests. It’s also important to note that Publicists are only approving requests on NetGalley for members who identify as “Media Professionals” and “Reviewers” while marketing handles “Bookseller,” “Librarian,” and “Educator” requests. 

What’s the most common misstep you see from NetGalley members that leads to a declined request?

There are two common missteps I often see. The first is someone who clearly has requested a title for a library or educational purpose, but who has mislabeled their member type. A request for anything outside of a consumer review or media purpose will often be declined by publicity.

The second is an incomplete profile. The more you build out your profile, the better. I personally immediately look for the links included. If a request has links to an active blog, bookstagram, or other platform then I’m most likely going to approve that request. If the request doesn’t include any links or it has links to inactive accounts, then that request will likely be declined. We want to see that you’re actively reviewing and engaged—that’s more important to me than stats or follower count.

What can newer NetGalley members, who may not have a high Feedback Ratio or strong blog/social stats yet, do to stand out to publishers?

Don’t be discouraged! Continue requesting books and posting reviews online. The more you continue to build out your platform(s) and engage with the community, the better. Regularly posting content shows us that you are consistent, which is something that we prioritize when going through requests.

Who are some book influencers you think are doing really cool things in online book reviewing spaces?

Maya Lê known as @maistorybooklibrary on Instagram is such an incredible champion for picture books. She goes above and beyond to create engaging, original content for young readers.

Thanks for chatting with me, Sydney! 

​​Editor’s note: The above opinions represent the specific viewpoint and strategy of one particular publisher. Publishers and authors use NetGalley to help accomplish a variety of goals, and incorporate NetGalley into their overall marketing and publicity efforts in different ways. 

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