Publicist Interview: Rebecca Grose of SoCal Public Relations

Rebecca Grose is the founder of SoCal Public Relations: Literary PR Services–specializing in children’s and young adult books. Authors she has worked with include: Alice Walker; E.L. Konigsburg; Patricia & Fredrick McKissack; Walter Dean Myers; Jessica Harper; Margie Palatini; Cynthia Leitich Smith; and more.

What inspired your interest in opening a children’s/YA book promotion agency?

I was working in children’s publicity at a major publisher in New York, and loved what I was doing, but was tired of living in New York. I wanted to find a way to continue doing what I enjoyed, but while living in beautiful, sunny San Diego (where I had lived before I moved to New York). Freelance publicity was the perfect solution.

What prior experience did you bring to the job?

I worked in Adult Publicity here in San Diego at Harcourt (when it was still Harcourt Brace Jovanovich), and then when I moved to New York, I switched over to Children’s Publicity and loved it! I worked for several years at Simon & Schuster–I really enjoyed that experience, and it taught me a lot. Then I moved over to DK Publishing, and on to HarperCollins. In each of these positions, I had the opportunity to work with amazing authors and illustrators, and to work in some wonderful publicity departments.

Why children’s books specifically? What fueled your passion to support books for young readers?

Well, actually I sort of fell into it by chance…when I left San Diego (where I had worked in Adult Publicity) and moved to New York, that was the first job in publishing that I was offered, so I took it. But I found it to be so much more fun and rewarding than when I worked in Adult Publicity, that I grew to love it. The authors and illustrators were all so appreciative of our efforts in marketing and publicity, it only made you want to work harder for them. And when I had the opportunity to work on books by some of my childhood idols, like Beverly Cleary and E.L. Konigsburg, that really fueled my passion for working with children’s books. I could never imagine going back to working on adult books!

Do you represent publishers, authors, illustrators, etc.? What kinds of services do you provide to them?

I work with several publishers on various types of projects, usually on a larger scale–such as handling the fall regional trade shows. I work with authors and illustrators on more targeted projects for their specific books, creating press materials, pitching media, contac ting bookstores to schedule events, and consulting on assorted matters like their website, local festivals to attend, etc.

I also recently started offering my consultation services for a flat fee ($500) for authors and illustrators who want to do the work themselves, but need help getting started. This service has allowed me to assist self-published authors, which I usually don’t handle.

What should a writer or illustrator consider in hiring a publicist to promote his or her work?

I think it comes down to how passionate he or she is about their latest book, and how much time and energy they can expend on it. I work with several authors on a repeat basis (which is quite rewarding for me), and they may have a few books where they decide not to hire me to work with them, but then a particular book will come out that they really want to push…that they feel has something extra, and they contact me.

When deciding on a particular publicist, I think it’s important to consider their experience–especially in children’s books. There are a lot of freelance publicists out there, but I’m told that there aren’t that many who specialize in children’s books. And I think it’s also important to have a connection with the publicist you hire; you can usually determine this after a conversation or two. Since you’re going to be working together closely over the next several months, I believe that it’s critical for you to feel that you’re both on the same page, and that you’ll be able to communicate well with one another. Sometimes it just comes down to a gut feeling.

How can he/she best help their publicist do a great job?

It’s very helpful when authors/illustrators provide me with any personal media contacts or ones who have covered their work in the past–as they are more likely to be open to considering a feature on them again. Sometimes, my clients decide to pursue some of these directly themselves to maintain that personal relationship, but we discuss such contacts together to decide what methods will work best. It really comes down to teamwork–we keep each other informed, communicate ideas, brainstorm about strategies, etc.

What noteworthy changes in children’s book promotion have you seen over the years? What are your predictions for the future?

Unfortunately for authors and illustrators, I continue to see a shift at the major publishers–they’re concentrating their promotion efforts on celebrity books and big-budget titles. This puts more pressure on authors and illustrators to find ways to promote their books themselves. Many authors and illustrators are already doing this by creating websites, printing postcards/bookmarks and sending them to their own mailing lists, setting up bookstore events/school visits themselves, etc. Those that aren’t comfortable with this side of the business (or don’t know how to do it) will probably need to rely on freelance publicists to help them.

As long as we’re talking about books, are there any new titles you’d like to highlight?

I’m working on several terrific books right now…

My Brother the Dog by Kim Williams-Justesen (a new author)(Tanglewood, 2006) is a contemporary, humorous middle grade novel about a teen stuck taking care of her embarrassing younger brother who only responds to dog commands, wears a collar, and answers with various forms of “woof.” It’s a delight to read!

Waiting for Gregory by Kimberly Willis Holt (National Book Award winner), illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska (Henry Holt, 2006)(author interview)) is a stunning picture book (Kimberly’s first!) depicting one child’s joy and curiosity about the upcoming birth of her new baby cousin.

Selvakumar Knew Better by Virginia Kroll, illustrated by Xiaojun Li, (Shen Books, 2006), is the inspiring true story of a boy and his dog during the devastating 2004 tsunami.

How can prospective clients get in touch with you?

The best way to reach me is by email, and it’s helpful when authors send as much info about themselves and their books as they can–including their website, if they have one. I like to do a little research of my own before we have a conversation, so I’ll be prepared to throw out some ideas, etc.

My email is:

They can also reach me by phone, if needed, at 619.460.2179.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I talk to so many frustrated authors and illustrators who feel that their publisher is not doing anything to promote their book, or at the very least, that they could certainly do more. These days, authors/illustrators must be their own advocates.

In communicating with their editors (who need to be champions for their book when dealing with the other departments at the publisher), it’s important for the authors/illustrators to be assertive and let the editor know that they’re willing to do everything they can to help promote their new book.

It’s especially helpful if the authors and illustrators have a few ideas prepared to give the editor–do a little homework and perhaps suggest some trade shows or conferences in which they’d like to participate (note: they may have to pay their own way), or offer to create postcards if the publisher will distribute them to booksellers/librarians.

Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but also, you catch more flies with honey! (Aim for somewhere in the middle.)

Cynsational Notes

Rebecca has done a campaign for my backlist titles, and my husband, author Greg Leitich Smith and I have also hired her to promote our forthcoming Santa Knows, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006).

Cynsational News & Links

Dianna Hutts Aston: Children’s Book Writer has redesigned and relaunched her website. Dianna’s latest titles include: An Egg Is Quiet, illustrated by Sylvia Long (Chronicle, 2006), which has garned stars from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus; Mama Outside, Mama Inside, illustrated by Susan Gaber (Henry Holt, 2006); and Mama’s Wild Child/Papa’s Wild Child, illustrated by Nora Hilb (Charlesbridge, 2006). Find out more about Dianna Hutts Aston. Read a 2003 Cynsations interview with Dianna. Attend her signing at 11:30 a.m. April 1, 2006 at BookPeople at Sixth and Lamar in Austin. I’ll see you there!

Dianna also has launched a new picture book critique service, which is highly recommended.

Susane Colasanti: official site of the debut author of When It Happens (Viking, 2006)(excerpt). She’s from New Jersey, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and NYU and works as a science teacher in the South Bronx. Learn more about Susane.

Barry Goldblatt Literary: official agent website. See his fabulous client list. Read an SCBWI Bologna 2006 interview with Barry.

Children’s Bookshelf Talks with Cynthia Kadohata by Lynda Comerford, Children’s Bookshelf of Publisher’s Weekly. March 30, 2006. Read a February 2006 Cynsations interview with Cynthia Kadohata.