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It might seem something of a dream job to become a literary publicist. For the uninitiated, such a career would seem to involve rubbing elbows with great authors, attending gala receptions, scheduling television and radio interviews, and taking part in highly advertised book-signing sessions. As with most professions, however, the truth is quite a bit different from the fiction. While a handful of those who become a literary publicist do enjoy a jet-set lifestyle, the average publicist spends his hours in the trenches. Even landing such a job, or at least one that pays a decent salary, is no small task.
To become a literary publicist, you should first have an educational background that centers heavily on language, literature, and the nuances of grammatical perfection. You should also have experience in sales or business, as a publicist spends much of his time attempting to convince bookstores or chains to carry the works offered by the publishing house or literary agency for which he is employed. More times than not, the sales and publicity sides of a publishing house or agency work hand in hand. In smaller operations, the publicity and sales staff may be one and the same.
Your best chance to become a literary publicist lies in gaining experience in three distinct sectors. First, you should be well-versed in sales.The best salesmen are born with the gift of gab, and have the ability to convince the buyer that he offers an indispensable product.
Next, and equally important, you should attempt to spend some time working as an intern at either a publishing house or at a respectable literary agency. Much of this time, at least initially, will be spent making coffee, typing letters, scheduling appointments, picking up doughnuts, and answering the phone. Though it’s not a glamorous position, literary agents tend to work at a frenzied pace, and will be quick to give their most capable and trusted employees ever-increasing responsibilities. Through this job, you will gain invaluable contacts in the publishing world, and just might end up working as a publicist for the agent himself.
The final critical step, not mandatory but certainly helpful, is to work as an editor or editorial assistant. Your editing chops alone will not help you become a literary publicist, but such a background is something that particularly impresses the human resources folks at publishing houses. You should always remember that very few people begin their career as a literary publicist. It is a job that most frequently arrives via internal promotion, good connections, and an almost superhuman ability to accept large amounts of rejection.
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