Mary Ann Zissimos is Publicist, Abrams Books for Young Readers | Amulet. She and author/illustrator Barry Deutsch worked together to promote Hereville. The Whole Megillah decided to find out more about the inhouse publicist and author collaboration.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): What attracted you to becoming an inhouse publicist? Why Abrams?
Mary Ann Zissimos (MAZ): Funny enough, I sort of stumbled into this career after graduating college and moving to NYC with no job. I knew I wanted to be in publishing, but honestly wasn’t aware how many career choices there were within the field. I know this probably is going to sound crazy, but I found a job in the New York Times paper for a publicist, I faxed over my resume, and the rest is history. I came to Abrams in early 2009 to work in the children’s publicity dept. because I had worked on virtually every other kind of book except picture and young adult. So this was going to be more of a challenge, but one that would also enable me to learn new things about the publicity field, meet incredible people, and most importantly bring good books to the attention of parents and eager young readers.
TWM: Take us through a typical day.
MAZ: No day is typical, but generally, you can find me behind a computer all day chatting with people about events, tours, and media. I remember when phones would be ringing off the hook and I’d be checking the fax machine on an hourly basis, but now not so much. Everything is done via email including Q&As such as this. It’s difficult to have structure in this business because we hear from authors past, present, and future about anything and everything, and if media calls I pretty much have to stop whatever I’m doing to help and it’s sometimes hard to jump back into what you were doing before. But it’s the lack of structure and constant unexpectedness that also makes this job fun.
TWM: How do you/the company decide which books get your time and resources?
MAZ: Well, anyone that gets me as their publicist has my full attention at anytime, and we pretty much give all books a shot for publicity. Even our board books. But I would say for anyone looking to publicize their book you need to give it a solid three months of work. You need one month to get people interested before the book comes out, you need an active month of doing events pitching the book/author to media like TV, radio, or online writers, and then you need a month after that push to figure out “what more needs to be done?”
TWM: At what point in the process did you first hear of/lay eyes on Hereville? What was your reaction?
MAZ: We are introduced the forthcoming season’s books via a conference in-house. It’s like a fashion-show of books, if you can imagine. My initial reaction was very positive because I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical graphic novel for kids and that there could be some really interesting reactions to it.
TWM: At what point did you first talk to Barry? What did you need from him? What was your process for publicizing Hereville? What work is left to do?
MAZ: I talked to Barry pretty early in planning stages of the book. Because materials were being changed and updated constantly I had to know what was still the same and different. I also needed to know how committed he was going to be about publicizing the book beyond my efforts. My process for publicity was sending out early advance copies in time for the holidays because I knew that gift-giving season would do well for this title. I also just let the book speak for itself. Hereville is the story of an Orthodox-Jewish-sword-wielding-girl trying to find her voice and place in the community. Take away the specifics of her faith and weapon of choice and she’s someone with a mission, on a journey, that everyone can identify with. As far as work left to be done, Barry is now on his way setting up school appearances for himself, which will only further the longevity of the book
TWM: Now, let’s turn to Barry. What was your reaction to having the help of an inhouse publicist? Did you have any expectations before actually connecting with Mary Ann?
Barry Deutsch (BD): I was pleased and surprised; I didn’t realize that there’d be an inhouse publicist. And so no, I didn’t have any expectations at all.
TWM: How much time do you think you spend in promoting your book? Is it too much, too little, or just the right amount of time?
BD: It’s always too much time, since time spent promoting this book is time that I could be spending working on the next book. And it’s always too little time, since I want to promote Hereville as much as I possibly can; like all first-time authors, my biggest fear is that the book will come out and then sink without being noticed. Plus, from my end, most of promoting Hereville means talking to people about Hereville, and there’s no such thing as too much of that.
TWM: What do you think are the advantages of working with an inhouse publicist?
BD: Mary Ann has a depth of knowledge that I really can’t match. Things like arranging for me to go to a bookseller’s conference in Oregon, or to ALAN in Florida; not only would I have not known how to arrange those things myself, I wouldn’t have even known they existed so that I would have known to be frustrated with my lack of knowledge about how to set them up! And yet those were some of the more satisfying and, I suspect, effective things I’ve done, publicity-wise.
TWM: Please describe how you worked together.
BD: I’m sure there’s lots of things Mary Ann does for Hereville that she does without me helping at all. There’s a lot to her job beyond the bits where she’s working directly with me.
But when we do work together, Mary Ann sets up publicity opportunities that I wouldn’t be able to do myself. Then there’s an embarrassing amount of hand-holding required of her (embarrassing for me, I mean), where I’m constantly calling and emailing her to try and understand exactly what I’ll be doing, what’s expected of me, and just basically asking for reassurance. Then, once I’m at the school signing or the bookstore or the conference, I just try my best to be enthusiastic and full of energy, to make it worthwhile for Mary Ann to have done all that work setting it up.
TWM: Is there anything you thought was extra special? Anything you think you’d do differently in the future?
BD: As I said, this is my first experience with any sort of publicist, so I wouldn’t know what’s extra special and what’s normal! But no regrets. Things have been going really well so far, I think.
TWM: And, Barry, we have to ask: How will the Sydney Taylor Book Award help?
BD: Aside from already reinforcing what a fantastic book this is, it will hopefully introduce new and reluctant readers to the graphic novel format and get them interested in reading.