Dyana Messina is a 2007 graduate of the M.S. in Publishing program and is currently a publicist at Crown, an imprint of Random House. In this interview, Dyana shares her thoughts with us on the value of her publishing education, the role of the publicist today, the impact of technology on the trade book business and the the future of books.
If you are an alumni and would like to be interviewed or, if you would like to suggest alumni for future interviews, please email Professor Jane Denning at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to include all of the relevant contact information.
Prof. Denning: What year did you get your M.S. in Publishing degree? What was the work environment like then (in terms of job opportunities) as opposed to now?
Dyana: I completed my MS in Publishing Degree in 2007 but I began working at Random House in 2006. At the time I was applying for jobs, there seemed to be a lot of great opportunities at the entry level into the industry. Then the financial crisis happened not long after and many of those opportunities dried up. Things finally seem to be improving, however, and there seem to be more and more opportunities cropping up.
Prof. Denning: How has the industry changed since you began your career?
Dyana: When I first started working in publishing, e-books, blogs, and online marketing were not a major focus in terms of my day-to-day and that has certainly changed! So much marketing and promotion is now centered online (advertising, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc.), it’s really been amazing to see how quickly things have changed. Working in publicity, we are more and more looking to online outlets for coverage and trying to find new venues to promote our books.
Prof. Denning: What have you been doing since you graduated? Where have you worked?
Dyana: Since graduating from Pace, I’ve been working in the publicity department as a publicist at Crown, an imprint of Random House.
Prof: Denning: Please tell me a bit about your educational experience at Pace.
Dyana: While at Pace, I interned in the publicity departments at both Simon & Schuster and Penguin. I had great experiences at both companies and it was because of these internships that I decided to pursue a career as a book publicist. While I was interning, I took the Marketing Principles and Practices course at Pace which was especially enjoyable for me because it dovetailed with everything I was learning in my internships—I would learn about something in class and then head into my internship the next day to see it being practiced.
Prof Denning: What was the topic of your graduate thesis paper? What advice would you give to students who still have to write their thesis papers?
Dyana: My thesis paper was on the future of book marketing and publicity. For students who are writing their thesis or about to, the best advice I could give is to choose a topic you are truly interested in and want to explore in depth. I remember how overwhelming writing my thesis was, so you need that motivation to help get you through.
Prof. Denning: What types of courses in the MS in Publishing curriculum do you think are essential for our students to take? What kind of new courses would you like to see added to the curriculum?
Dyana: I really enjoyed—and found most helpful to my career—the classes that went into the nuts and bolts of publishing. I took classes that delved into marketing, production, the different areas of editorial, finance, and they really helped me understand the larger picture of publishing and how each department works together to help make a book succeed.
Prof. Denning: What do you think the biggest trends in book publishing are now?
Dyana: Non-fiction seems to be the focus today—there’s of course the celebrity bios and memoirs, but psychology/sociology, health, humor, business all seem to be enjoying some popularity.
Prof. Denning: Which technological innovations are having the biggest impact on the book publishing industry today?
Dyana: At the moment, I would say e-readers like the Kindle and the Nook. It seems like everyone on the subway now has some sort of e-reading device that they’re downloading books to.
Prof. Denning: What kind of books to you promote? Are there any inherently different publicity strategies associated with fiction vs. nonfiction books?
Dyana: I promote both fiction and non-fiction and there is a difference when it comes to promoting the two. For both, you’re really trying to highlight for the media the specific aspects/topics that are going to be of the most interest to them, but fiction can often be a lot tougher because it’s really all about the read and you have to convince someone to invest the time in it.
Prof. Denning: Have you found that you’re doing more promotional work online?
Dyana: Yes, most definitely. Unfortunately, so many publications have either had to fold, transitioned from a print to an online format, or are cutting back on print space and doing more online, so a great deal of my focus has shifted to online coverage.
Prof. Denning: Do you find that organizing interaction with authors via online chats, social media applications like Facebook, and blog posts are an effective way to sell books? Can they ever replace book tours, readings, and signings?
Dyana: I think there are two sides to the coin. On one side, authors who wouldn’t normally tour or go out on the road now have the ability to interact with readers all over the world. Sitting in front of a computer they’re being exposed to more readers and fans then they would at a traditional reading. On the flip side, however, that social interaction isn’t the same as meeting your readers in person and having that face-to-face interaction. I think for most authors, online interaction is going to be more beneficial, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing traditional readings and signings completely go away anytime soon.
Prof. Denning: What are some difficulties associated with starting a campaign promoting a book? Where do you start?
Dyana: Since we’re dealing with the media, the news cycle can be a big impediment to a campaign or it can give it a great boost. If your author is an expert that can speak to a big topic in the news, it can open a lot of additional doors. At the same time, if the media is so focused on one particular topic, they may not be able to focus on the book or author you’re trying to get attention for. We’re always trying to be creative and see how we can best pitch our books and authors to get them maximum exposure.
Prof. Denning: Do authors ever appear disinclined to participate in promotional campaigns? How can they be motivated to push their book?
Dyana: This has really never been a problem for me! I work with wonderful authors who put so much time, effort, and energy into their books (sometimes years!) they want to do anything and everything they can to support it.
Prof. Denning: Can you think of any examples of where a unique publicity campaign did much to sell an otherwise run-of-the-mill book?
Dyana: I’ve seen a number of books over the years succeed because of a strong media line-up. I’ve also seen how one media hit—an NPR interview, a Today Show appearance, etc.—can give a book a major sales boost. I’ve also seen books that have incredible media line-ups and yet all the coverage unfortunately just doesn’t move the needle.
Prof. Denning: What advice would you offer our current students? Specifically if they want a career in trade book publishing/publicity?
Dyana: I would encourage students to really explore and research the various publishing companies and imprints because they can be so different; you want to be sure your pursuing a career that will allow you to work on the type of books that you really want to be working on. I would also encourage students to try to find out all they can about the various departments and positions that exist within publishing—of course there is editorial, publicity, marketing, but there’s also subsidiary rights, production, ad/promo that I feel people may not necessarily think about when they’re considering publishing. There are also so many new positions being created to help with the rise of digital publishing and technology that can be really great to explore.
Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future of books?
Dyana: I think books will be with us for a long time. Yes, e-books are certainly becoming more popular, and may eventually account for a large share of the market, but I personally still prefer the experience of reading a real book—and I don’t think I’m alone!
Prof. Denning: What are the essential skills you think students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry?
Dyana: As cliché as it may sound, a real love of books and reading is essential—you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. In this ever-changing industry, being able to think strategically and out of the box is also crucial and, as in any other career, to always be professional and courteous.
Prof. Denning: Would you be interested in guest lecturing or teaching a course in the program? If so, what would be the focus of your talk/course?
Dyana: Yes. Having worked in publicity for a number of years now, I would love to guide a course in modern day book publicity/marketing.
Prof. Denning: Thanks Dyana!