For All Reasons, For All Seasons

Updated: Jan 26 2003, 05:30am hrs
There is a hilarious scene in the film, The Diary Of Bridget Jones (the book became an international bestseller), where Bridget, who works as a publicist, among other things, in a publishing house, makes a complete gaffe of her welcome address during the launch of Kafka: The Motorbike. It doesnt help either when her boss tells her that switching on the mike would have helped! We would sympathise with Bridget and her tensions in organising the book launch, if we examined the role a publicist plays in a publishing house.

Many publishing houses did not invest in publicists and a publicity department till recently. Recognition of the role publicity plays in promoting, marketing and the eventual sales of a book is more recent. Today, the publicist is on the job, planning publicity and promotion even while the publication of the book is some way off. Today, publicists are involved with designing publicity brochures and sales briefs and organising reviews for the book in the media, author interviews, the books visibility in retail bookshops and book launches.

The publicity campaign for a book involves team effort and close coordination with marketing, editorial and sales to make a campaign work. The publicist is, consequently, involved with the book right from the commissioning stage, so that its market potential and readership may be gauged and an appropriate campaign drawn up. No wonder, publishing houses are paying more attention to recruitment and staffing of the publicity department.

What would be the ideal qualifications The person would have to be smart and media savvy and have a pleasant outward disposition. The ability to deal with both inhouse colleagues and authors with aplomb, some copywriting skills and design sense and the ability to create the right kind of enthusiasm and motivation in the publicity department are necessary. Above all, the publicist must have a deep knowledge and enthusiasm for the book and this enthusiasm needs to be infectious.

The ever increasing proactive role of the publicist is best evident at a book launch. Book launches have become increasingly glitzy affairs, where the profile of guests resemble that of Page 3 events. Its the publicists job to organise these launches, from finalising guest lists, designing and mailing cardswith appropriate follow-up callsto booking the venue, finalising the menu and organising the interiors on D day. Audience turnout can be dicey and I know of occasions when publicists have waited with fingers crossed for the first guest to show up and hoped that office invitees would be mistaken for outsiders.

Apart from ensuring that everything goes off well during the book launchand no goof ups on the mike please!the publicist has to ensure that the gift-wrapped copy is wrapped just so, that the august chief guest is not compelled to wage a tug of war! Or that the wrong book is not wrapped up. Expectations from publicists are growing increasingly. Ensuring that photographs of the chief guest and the boss are on Page 3 and that the hors doeuvres and drinks do the rounds, so that everyone leaves satisfied, even if in no condition to drive, is part of the publicists job, too.

Sometimes, publicists are called upon to perform an intellectual sleight of hand, as in the case of the celebrated crime writer Colin Dexter, the creator of Inspector Morse. The publicist for Dexters last novel, The Remorseful Day, had to think fast and on her feet. The book was scheduled to be published in September and in it, Dexter was planning to announce the death of Morse. Unfortunately, Dexter unwittingly divulged it to a journalist friend, while the book launch was still two months away. When the journalist called to confirm the news, the publicist spun a tale. It worked. The journalist ran a story that Morse was going to marry in Dexters last book. So, even though Morse died in that last book, public interest in it did not!