Jessica Napp, a 2000 graduate of the MS in Publishing program, is currently Associate Director of Publicity at Rizzoli New York (www.rizzoliusa.com), an integral part of its parent company, the Italian communications giant RCS Media Group. Rizzoli New York is a leader in the fields of art & architecture, interior design, photography, haute couture, gastronomy, performing arts, and gay & alternative lifestyles. In this interview, Ms. Napp will share with us some of her thoughts on the book publishing industry today and on the role of the publicist in an industry that is constantly impacted and adapting to new technological innovations.
Prof. Denning: Hi Jessica and thank you for agreeing to do this interview. It has been 12 years since you graduated from the MS in Publishing program. Can you tell us a bit about what you have been doing and how your career has developed since then?
JN: Hi Jane, thank you for asking me! I can hardly believe it has been 12 years, but during that time I have had the opportunity to work for a variety of publishers and PR firms, and I can honestly say that my career is pretty well-rounded. I have had the opportunity to work for 2 of the large trade houses (Little, Brown and Simon & Schuster), I have done stints at PR agencies specializing in book publicity (Planned TV Arts (PTA), now called Media-Connect, and McAllRow Communications), but have found my home in the illustrated world having worked for Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Welcome Books, Harry N. Abrams, and for the past 5 years, Rizzoli New York.
Every job in this industry has taught me another piece of the publishing and publicity puzzle. The successes I have had would not have been possible, in my mind, without this rich and diverse background and I am grateful for every opportunity that has come my way over the years.
Prof. Denning: What does your job as an Associate Director of Publicity entail? How has the job changed since you first began working at Rizzoli?
JN: My job is multi-faceted and certainly extends beyond the realm of publicity. The biggest change from when I started is the volume of work. As we grow and become more successful, as we continue to publish the books of cultural heavy-weights, there is always more to do. As Associate Director, my primary job is to assist the Executive Director of Publicity in all aspects of running the department.
I work on many of the company’s high profiles books and authors, handling roughly 20 books a season. I have had the honor of working with Michael S. Smith (interior designer for the Obama White House); designers Martyn Lawrence-Bullard and Mary McDonald of Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators; New York Times food columnist Florence Fabricant and the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger; Rihanna; Paula Deen’s former food stylist and culinary editor, Libbie Summers; legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman; and artist Will Cotton, the creative vision behind Katy Perry’s California Gurls video. This upcoming fall I will be working with actress Diane Keaton and music sensation M.I.A. My list could go on and on.
But what I do on a daily basis varies. I design press campaigns, craft press materials, research press contacts, organize author events and tours, and pitch a wide variety of features, stories, and interviews. My publicity team and I also supply our Social Media Manager with a great deal of content for all social media platforms including Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/Rizzoli website and blog. I also write tip sheets/fact sheets for the marketing department to use at sales conference; assist in setting the budget for the department on an annual basis, as well as track all expenses; I mentor junior staff and interns; I negotiate serial rights agreements; clear photo permissions; book advertising space; submit all Rizzoli titles for awards; and oversee all reporting for the publicity department. I also liaise with our foreign press representatives around the world to make sure they have all of the tools they need to promote Rizzoli books in their markets.
Prof. Denning: How do you interact with the other members of the publishing team?
JN: It is important that we have good working relationships with the other departments. I work directly with the Accounting team to make sure publicity’s vendors get paid in a timely fashion, that we are meeting our budgets, and that our bills are coded correctly. The department meets regularly with the Production team to know the status of the books coming off press, when they are due in port/customs (we primarily print overseas), and to arrange for the digital files to be returned to NY so that we may provide press with high resolution images to accompany their coverage.
Our relationship with our Editors is of the utmost importance; they are our primary source for early information on books and authors, for relaying early marketing plans and ideas that came up during the acquisition phase, and ultimately, providing us with the finished product, the book. Publicity meets with our Editor-in-Chief weekly to update him on our progress, successes, and in some cases, road blocks.
Our relationship with the Marketing team is multi-faceted and the closest of the departmental relationships. Together we promote and sell our books to targeted audiences, giving the sales force all of the tools needed to sell Rizzoli books into the marketplace, and continue to extend the Rizzoli brand wherever possible. Rizzoli’s sales and fulfillment are handled by Random House Publisher Services division of Random House (RHPS), giving us access to the largest and best sales force in the country, with the most up-to-date fulfillment services to support those efforts. We are in daily contact with the team at RHPS dedicated to servicing distribution clients only including trade, library/academic, and special sales.
Prof Denning: What are some of your favorite parts of the job?
JN: I still get a thrill from securing a fabulous media placement! Flipping through a magazine or a newspaper, reading a blog or turning on the TV and seeing a review/feature that I negotiated is a natural high. I still catch myself grinning from ear-to-ear, eager to share with my friends and colleagues. I love the fact that each season offers something new to learn and on which to become a mini-expert.
Prof. Denning: How does technology/social media fit into/impact your current job? Tell us a bit about Rizzoli and some of the initiatives they have taken in response to new technological developments.
JN: Technology has made our jobs so much easier and efficient. Before NetGalley came into use, Rizzoli started to use a system called Box.com, similar to a FTP site, but crashes less. On this site we can upload e-galleys, high res press images, author photos, etc., and easily send links to members of the press. When you work on illustrated books, having the best technology available to represent the finished product is crucial. We are still exploring e-books and their technology, but by definition, “coffee table books” are meant to be physically produced and displayed. When the technology gets to the point where it does justice to our books, I have no doubt that these versions will appeal to a segment of our market, i.e.: art school students with the need to zoom in on details or enhanced videos that complement our cookbooks and floral instructional guides.
In terms of social media, some of our best publicity placements/marketing outreach comes from social media. Author and social media guru Dorie Greenspan is a perfect example. When Dorie reviews a cookbook and offers a giveaway on her blog/Twitter feed, 93,000 people have read about the book, and all are fans of cooking, baking, French cuisine…and they purchase books! We will see more sales from this type of exposure than other types of press mentions, and so more and more we are making online press and marketing key components of our publicity and marketing campaigns.
Prof Denning: Rizzoli is part of the Italian communications giant RCS Media Group. Can you tell us what it is like working for such a large international company?
JN: RCS allows us a great deal of autonomy and is supportive of our publishing programs and retail endeavors. The New York office is small, about 50 employees. We publish original books under 4 distinct imprints, and distribute 3 imprints from our RCS family as well as distribute 2 non-RCS affiliated publishers, one from Japan and the other from Australia, in the US marketplace. We have a very global view on publishing.
The Rizzoli Bookstores on 57th Street in NYC and in Milan are world famous. Rizzoli, a marquee of the RCS empire, is associated with quality, luxury, style…and this cachet opens many doors for exciting opportunities and connections. The top names in fashion, art, and design all covet the “R” on the spines of their books. When Eataly – the brainchild of Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich – was planning their NY opening, they knew they needed a bookstore within its halls to help unify its vendors and purveyors and I am proud to say that Rizzoli was the obvious choice. Other bookstores and retail outlets respect the Rizzoli brand so much that they have asked us to set up boutiques in their spaces, and it is exciting to see Saks Fifth Avenue (NY), Fred Segal (Beverly Hills), Teatro Verde (Toronto), Books & Books (Florida), Book Passage (California) , The Gucci Museum (Florence) and Somerset House (London) aligned with the legendary “R.”
Prof. Denning: Please tell me a bit about how your educational experience at Pace prepared you for your publishing career.
JN: The best part of my experience at Pace was being able to learn the basics at night in class, and then apply those lessons to the real world job experience. Conversely, when a subject matter in school was troublesome, I had great resources in the office to rely on for additional guidance and advice. The book production class was the best example of this. Early on, I never really understood printing schedules, 4 or 5 color printing and color corrections, or how some pages got bound inversely in the finished book. After seeing a book on press over at Watchtower, I had a much clearer understanding of the whole process, which led to a better understanding at the office as to why files are prepped the way that they are, why schedules are set with the buffer dates, etc. Truly a full-circle experience!
Prof. Denning: Have you always been interested publishing? Where did that passion come from?
JN: My love of books started with my parents. My mom was an English major in college and made it a point to surround me with books growing up. She enrolled me in the summer reading program at our local library year in and year out, she took me to our local Barnes & Noble at least once a week and never said no to a book purchase, and always indulged my reading habit, from Sweet Valley High to Garfield comics to the infamous school reading lists. No book was off-limits, even those that caused some other parents to panic. We played Scrabble and Mad-Libs together and as I grew older I read books dear to her, Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, and the great Bard.
My father is an avid stamp collector and in the 1980’s decided to self-publish a book on his collection, going so far as to even create his own publishing company called Grounds for Divorce Publications (family joke – my parents are still together, 38 years and counting). He made me “publisher” and I got to sign all of the checks that came in as he sold them one at a time out of our basement. He was on the self-publishing bandwagon before it was even popular! All of this on the home front led to my participation in high school and college yearbook where I was a photo editor.
But I didn’t know I really wanted a career in publishing until I had an internship in college at Greenwood Press, an academic publisher, in their marketing department. My job was to read through all of the reviews that came in for the hardcover, highlight them, and type them up for the editors to use on the paperback reprints. After that, I was to go online and research organizations in which to promote the books, and in 1996, this was not as easy as it is today. The office had 1 internet connection, a dial-up modem, and each department had access to that one machine for one hour each day. I found the process fascinating and began looking into graduate programs that would allow me to learn more about the business and help me get a job. And I found Pace.
Prof Denning: What do you think the future holds for book publishers? Specifically the Publicist…how has technology changed the role of the publicist?
JN: The publicist has always done more than the job title suggests, but in this social media age, I think a publicist needs to be a web marketer and a voice for those unsure of how to navigate the ever-changing media landscape. A Facebook review by an influencer is just as key as a review in the New York Times these days. With so many competing outlets, the big hit is no longer all it takes to make a book, you need critical mass. The web makes niche marketing and publicity that much easier than in years past, and having a specialty, while always appreciated and valuable, is even more critical in my mind.
Prof. Denning: What initiatives has Rizzoli taken in terms of eBooks?
JN: We have experimented some and have 5 books on the iTunes bookstore, but we are waiting for technology to improve even more before we take a larger step into this area.
Prof. Denning: Would you like to speculate on the future of eBooks? Books in general?
JN: I think e-books will appeal to a certain audience always, and some genres lend themselves more to the format than others. I applaud the ways in which children’s books can be adapted for this new platform, especially in their use for the children with learning disabilities, including Autism. E-Books can engage disabled children, help them learn and communicate in ways that mainstream children do, hence closing some of the gap of misunderstanding and isolation that can exist. For all the advantages an e-book allows, it still cannot replace the feel, the smell, of a printed book, the free advertising the book jacket affords. A book can get wet poolside and still be useful, an e-book reader or tablet cannot. I grew up with rotary phones, TVs with rabbit ears, typewriters, and microfilm. I did not have a cell phone or email until I was in college. I will always love the printed book, but do look forward to the advancements on the horizon.
Prof. Denning: What do you think are the essential skills our students need to leave the program with in order to succeed in the industry? For those looking to survive and thrive in this industry?
JN: Be a professional student, and I do not mean that with its usual negative connotations. The more you are willing to learn and practice new things, the better the publishing professional you will become. Take a professional development class, offer to work on a project outside of your comfort zone – the more you are willing to understand the bigger picture and help with all aspects of the creative and selling process, the more in demand you will be. But, do have a concentration, an area of expertise will never fail you, as long as you admit it may have to be modified in 2, 5, or 10 years.
Prof. Denning: What were some of the highlights of your graduate experience?
JN: My internship while at Pace was in the special sales department of Oxford University Press. Back in 1998, Amazon was a special sales account…oh, how times have changed! It was my first corporate job, complete with workplace politics, expectations. Being a sales rep for 8 months was an invaluable experience; I had to work closely with the warehouse and customer service, all valuable skills that I still use today. But I wasn’t a fan of chasing the purchase order and when I realized that a sales rep basically has the same conversation as a publicist, but asks for time and talent instead, I knew I needed to change my focus and get a job in publicity!
Prof. Denning: What advice would you give to students who still have to write their graduate thesis papers?
JN: This could be the very last paper you ever write in an academic setting, so go out with a bang! You have chosen a career in publishing, so in many ways this should be the easiest paper you have ever written. Hopefully you will have had some real world experience to bring to the pages, and let your voice be heard. Since the invention of moveable type, the world has been shaped by those with a voice and the willingness to use that voice. While the landscape may continue to migrate from paper to screen, people still want a voice educating them, entertaining them, and informing them. The world may be smaller and faster these days, but human nature is still the same. We are curious and the written word, in whatever format, is still the great equalizer. Be eager, be willing to learn, be willing to go the extra step, be willing to make a mistake, but always be yourself.
Prof Denning: What can students entering the field do to set themselves apart from other applicants? Do you look for anything specific on a resume or in an interview?
JN: As for what I look for in potential intern candidates and new hires, I like to see well-roundedness, natural curiosity, a love of books, and someone who is not afraid to put in their dues.
Prof. Denning: How have you been involved in the program since graduating?
JN: In 2005 I had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer in Melissa Rosati’s marketing class. Dating back to my days at Abrams, I have always been in charge of hiring interns and since then have always reached out to Pace, my way of giving back to the program that gave me my start. Over the years I think I have had 6-8 Pace interns.