Today I’m delighted to welcome Becci Mansell, Publicist with Avon (a division of HarperCollins).
Hello and welcome, Becci. Can I start by wishing CONGRATULATIONS to you and your colleagues that one of your authors is the joint winner of the Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy in the RNA 2022 romantic novel awards.
Hello! Thank you for having me! Firstly, I just wanted to say how over the moon we were for Bella that she won this incredible award.
Can you tell us about a typical day in your role as a publicist?
One of the best things about working in publicity is that there’s no such thing as a typical day. On any given day the majority of my work will be spent doing campaign work. I’ll be chatting to journalists about our fantastic list, liaising with our authors on their publicity campaigns, pitching in to festivals, sending books out for review, pitching features to journalists, and speaking to bookshops to organise events.
The RNA now has an award for a Christmas/Festive Holiday novel. How important is the seasonal timing of a book release and the campaign you build around it?
We love a seasonal book at Avon and so do our readers! The strategy doesn’t differ hugely from the books we publish at other points in the year but I do find that there are lots of opportunities within the media that we can put our authors forward for. We always ask our authors if they have any seasonal stories or anecdotes for features pieces. It’s great that these Christmas/Festive novels are now acknowledged in their own category!
I am full of admiration for the finalists and winners in the RNA’s romcom award as I think comedy is one of the most challenging genres to write. Humour is also quite subjective and readers may not all be on the author’s wavelength. What do you think are the key ingredients that help make up that laugh out loud story?
Humour is such an individual thing, but I think what readers really respond to is an author who has a unique, or even offbeat, voice and sense of humour, that feels genuine. This is what can often make a romantic comedy really stand out and feel fresh and new. Readers often feel the strongest connection when an author finds the humour in something they might not have before. I’d always advise an author to explore what makes them laugh and not to try and write for an audience. Readers can tell what is real and authentic and that will win them over every time!
These days, all authors are encouraged to market themselves through social media as well as make themselves available for events like book-signings, interviews, talks etc. Is it part of your role to try and keep control of an author’s commitments (so they still have time for writing!) or is it up to the individual author to manage this for themselves?
A huge part of what I do it organising schedules and putting events, interviews, book-signings into place. As a publisher we tend to focus on the key promotional period around the publication of the book. I have some authors that organise events for themselves all year round but regardless of the timing we always make sure to amplify these on our channels and I am always on hand to help with any queries!
Can I now ask a little about the remit of Avon. The website describes it as a commercial fiction division of HarperCollins. What does the label commercial denote? For example is it to do with expected level of sales, or the range of outlets through which it will be marketed? I once had a publisher comment, Well, everything should be commercial really!
Commercial fiction can be a very broad and all-encompassing term! At Avon, we publish a wide range of fiction that spans the largest commercial genres, such as crime and thriller, historical and romantic comedy. Perhaps a more useful way to think about it is as popular fiction, much like pop music. We aim to publish books that will help readers escape, will entertain and inform them. We want to offer you the perfect book to take on holiday and a book that will connect to your emotional experience of the world. We want to offer a book for every occasion and every person!
I can hear your enthusiasm! Can you tell us about how you became a publicist?
Following graduation, I did a lot of temping, before landing a role as a PA at the Wickes (DIY company) head offices. I spent around 18 months applying for roles in publishing and was delighted to be accepted onto the Hachette Fresh Chapters scheme which saw me interning in the PR department with Orion for 8 weeks. I can honestly say it was the best 8 weeks and I just knew that publishing was where my heart was. Off the back of the internship I applied for a publicity role at Hachette Children’s Group and spent the next 3 years working across picture books, middle-grade and YA titles. Last March (2021) I moved to Avon to work on their fantastic adult commercial fiction list and the rest is history!
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened at work?
I’ll tell you about an almost extremely embarrassing moment when I was working in Children’s publishing – I’m sweating, thinking about it now! I was with an author at a festival event and for this event we had a giant costume for the main character of the book. The festival had organised a volunteer to come along and step into the costume and interact with the kids. It was 5 minutes till the beginning of the event (bear in mind these costumes can take 15+ mins to put on!) and the volunteer was nowhere to be found! There was a horrible silence where everybody in the room looked at each other hoping someone was going to volunteer. Slowly everybody started looking at me and I prepared myself to step into this huge costume and dance around for the next hour but with literal seconds to spare the volunteer ran through the doors! I was eternally grateful to have been rescued at the last minute haha!
What do you yourself read for leisure (assuming you get any!) and can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?
So funnily enough…commercial fiction! I’m a sucker for a rom-com but am as equally obsessed with a twisty thriller.
So for a published book that I absolutely loved, it has to be Yinka, Where Is Your Husband? By Lizzie Damilola Blackburn. I steamed through it and just fell completely in love with the characters and their stories. It was funny, relatable and totally moving.
A non-published book that I really enjoyed was Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister – a true masterpiece, and a really refreshing crime read. Definitely add to your tbr pile!
Thanks for taking us on such an interesting tour of the work of a publicist, Becci
Find Becci on Twitter: @beccimansell
Becci was talking with Susan Leona Fisher (www.SLFisherAuthor.co.uk)