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. 


Trends at Livre Paris: The power of self-publishing, the global audio market, and keeping young readers’ attention

With conference season in full force around the world, NetGalley France’s Astrid Pourbaix attended Livre Paris, or Paris Book Fair. In its 39th year, Livre Paris gives visitors a grasp on global book trends. 1,200 exhibitors from 45 countries displayed their services, products, and titles. The 160,000 attendees could sit in on one of 800 conference sessions or wait in line for an author signing from one of the 3,000 authors in attendance.

Whereas London Book Fair focused on the Indonesian book market, Livre Paris honored several different global regions. Primarily, the festival focused on Europe as a whole. Speakers including Livre Paris director Sébastien Fresneau discussed Europe’s rich and diverse cultural history as well as issues that affect the whole continent’s book market, such as the EU copyright directive legislation. Additionally, both Bratislava – the capital of Slovakia – and Oman were invited as special honorees.

A major takeaway from Livre Paris, like London Book Fair, was the growing children’s market. School visits to the fair have increased, and Livre Paris has responded by providing more programming designed for younger readers. Students, young influencers, and authors of children’s and YA books appeared on panels and in programs.

One challenge noted during the fair is that young readers’ attention is volatile. Publishing needs to do more to enliven young reading communities and keep them engaged.

Audio was in the air. 2 out of every 10 French people listened to an audiobook in 2018, doubled from 2017. For the first time, there was a prize awarded for audiobooks. Plus, writers and comedians were invited to record audio at the fair.

Like the US market, we are seeing the power of self-publishing in France. Both Amazon Direct Publishing and Books on Demand presented at the fair, indicating that self-publishing is an established part of the French book industry. Attendees also saw the Gutenberg One robot, a print-on-demand solution that can print books in less than 5 minutes. A recent survey saw that 80% of French people enjoy writing and 53% already wrote or would like to write a book one day, indicating that self-publishing is likely to keep growing in the French market. Check out our coverage of London Book Fair, as well as recent events from BIGNY and the Future of Media. And, keep up with NetGalley Insights conference coverage by signing up for our weekly newsletter!


Case Study: Chilly da Vinci

How NorthSouth Books used timely subject matter, modern visuals, and Read Now availability to give pre-publication buzz to the story of an inventive penguin

On NetGalley Insights, we highlight the successes of NetGalley publishers and authors, and share some of their strategies. Today, we’re talking with Heather Lennon, managing director at NorthSouth Books.

Below, learn about how she used NetGalley to gather over 100 pre-publication reviews for Chilly da Vinci by Jarrett Rutland. Chilly da Vinci tells the story about a young penguin inventor, tapping into current trends in STEM education for young readers, as well as the maker movement, all with a modern and appealing visual style.

The market for children’s books is especially hot right now. What do you think is unique about this particular segment of the publishing industry, as it relates to marketing and publicity?

Picture book publishing is very interesting in that it’s a visual medium, art and story together. We highlight the illustrations and the story in every book. Right now, I think that is a huge positive as far as coverage in blogs, Instagram, online and in print review journals. For Chilly Da Vinci, Jarrett Rutland’s artwork is so fun and striking–it just pops off the page, so I think it’s very appealing to reviewers.

Where does NetGalley fit into the overall strategy and timeline for Chilly da Vinci?

NetGalley is very important to NorthSouth Books! We always offer our lead titles on NetGalley. We aim to offer them 3-6 months in advance of publication. It’s really helped us reach readers, grow our brand recognition, and amass reviews online.

Which segments of the NetGalley community were most important to you? How did you go about reaching them?

Asking who is most important is like asking my mom to name her favorite child! We love them all. I will say….librarians have been a big part of our publishing program forever. Booksellers are enormously important in the life of a book–we are small enough that we never take a book being in-store for granted. Bloggers, tweeters, instagrammers help us get out the word!  This is our world, and we’re lucky to be a part of it.

Chilly da Vinci is a Read Now title. Tell us why that was the right decision for making the title available widely to NetGalley members.

I don’t set a lot of hoops to jump through to get to our titles on Netgalley. I am thrilled that NetGalley members want to open the book. I truly believe, if you read our books, you will enjoy them, you will recommend them and review them. So Read Now is always my preference.

Most NetGalley members who clicked to read Chilly da Vinci listed the cover and the description as the reason for their interest. It comes as no surprise, given that the author is also the illustrator! Tell us about how you created compelling copy for the Title Details page.

It was important to everyone at NorthSouth that we convey that Chilly is a do-er, that this book would appeal to the maker movement. And that Chilly never gives up. And then in general, I think one of the most important things is clean, readable copy, especially online. It’s so basic, but it’s important to make sure that your info has uploaded correctly–not doubled or tripled or cut off in some weird way!

Tell us more about strategies you used to leverage your NetGalley listing outside the site.

Every book has a tip sheet that is fed out online. The sales reps use it to sell the book, and it gets uploaded to Edelweiss–which lots of bookstore buyers use for their job. Whenever we upload one of our books on to NetGalley that is a sales bullet that’s fed out to the world.

How will NetGalley be incorporated into your post-pub strategy?

We will be following up with everyone who reviewed Chilly with  a pre-on-sale newsletter with activities and info about Jarrett Rutland’s events. The book launch will be held at an ice cream shop in Asheville on Saturday, Dec. 8. We hope that NetGalley members who loved the book will attend.

What is your top tip for publishers to use NetGalley to its full potential?

Download the reviews and keep those members in mind as you work on future books. It’s not just seeing what people think about this book, it’s being able to reach out to them for the next book as well.*

*NetGalley recommends using the Detailed Activity Report or the Feedback Report to see which NetGalley members are requesting, reading, and reviewing your titles.

Heather Lennon is the managing director of NorthSouth Books.

Chilly da Vinci goes on sale Dec. 4. You can preorder it here.

Interviews have been edited for clarity and length.