Me and My Job: Ella Davidson
1. What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
I am founder and director of The Book Publicist, a PR agency of eight publicists, specialising in promoting non-fiction books.
2. What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
After graduating in English I worked in PR for New Theatre, Crimson Publishing and ITV before launching The Book Publicist in the book town of Hay on Wye.
3. What does your average working day entail?
My role includes directing on book campaigns, working alongside publishers, authors, business schools and other organisations to publicise their books. My average day—once I have bundled my three monsters off to school—typically starts with my ‘commute’—a brisk walk around the woods to get my creativity pumping and focus my brain, as well as attempt to tire out my giant golden retriever. At 9am I’ll say a quick hi to the team, guzzle some coffee as I look through the media coverage that’s come in and share it with the team. Seeing results guarantees an uplifting start to the day. Twenty years in I still get a PR buzz. Every time.
From 9.30am to lunchtime I’ll have a catch-up with the team to check how each campaign is going, brainstorm new ideas and plan the focus for the day or week. The rest of the afternoon is a mixed bag of campaign management, writing, directing and helping the team to write tweets, bookkeeping and getting the admin sorted. A huge part of my job now is talking to new authors and publishers interested in working with us. I enjoy finding out about new books and projects and telling people a little about us to see if we are a good ‘fit’.
4. What do you enjoy most about your job?
Without a doubt, it’s generating results: the buzz of securing serialisation, a national review, TV opportunity or radio interview never gets old. I love it. As the team has grown I also get huge satisfaction from seeing the team develop and generate results, and I love to see their excitement.
I also love the world of books and the friendly, creative, honest people. We pride ourselves on being a ‘no fluff’ PR agency, and I love that indie publishers also seem to be very straight talking!
5. What achievements are you most proud of?
We have run some tremendous campaigns, sharing really important ideas from books that don’t always get media attention—leadership titles, books on inclusion and diversity, books on mental health and personal development. It’s fun and exciting to work on celeb books but, for me, campaigns with lesser known authors require different skills, creativity and a journalistic approach, and it’s satisfying to get great results that you’ve really had to work for.
What makes me most proud, and gives me a sense of purpose, is my team—the values they have, the desire to do the best job they can and the results they get every time make me proud.
6. What are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge for us is if an author isnt really ‘on board’ with a campaign—if they feel the ‘job is done’ after they’ve written the book and don’t really have the time or desire to do any interviews or further promotion. Sometimes that can be a little demotivating, especially when the media are keener than they are. Luckily it is very rare that we get an author like that—we work closely with publishers to pick the right books and authors to promote, and to engage them and manage expectations about what might be required of them from day one.
7. What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?
I didn’t realise quite how much I would develop and learn from the books we work on and the authors we work with. Or how much I’d miss the authors once a campaign had finished. Our job is to get close to our authors in a short space of time: to understand what they are about, to know the kind of advice and insights they have, to walk in their shoes. You become an expert for a short time and you get extremely close to them. I’ve worked in book publicity for 20 years now, and I have so many little nuggets of advice and guidance from self-development and business books. It’s hard not to share them sometimes, and I can always pull some advice “according to one of our authors….” Yes, I’m that lady you don’t want to find yourself sat by at a party!
8. What is the best thing about working with independent publishers?
We have many clients who are independent publishers, and I love how open they are to new ideas, and their creativity and agility. They’re quick to jump on new publicity ideas and hijack the news to maximise results. In comparison, my very first role was for a large corporation, working on public affairs. Things were less creative and PR momentum was often lost with lengthy sign off procedures. I think indie publishers are more agile and exciting to work with.
9. How do you switch off from your work?
I don’t think I have found the ‘off’ switch yet to be honest. But I really love what I do: it’s my baby, and to watch it develop and improve is the ultimate indulgence for me. I’m a proud mum.
I am mindful of not burning out though—an author I know says that’s key to success—and I love to walk with my husband in the Herefordshire hills and enjoy the chaos of a home with beautiful and boisterous boys Barnaby, Ben and Wilbur; Osbourne the dog, three-legged Matilda the cat, seven chickens and the real boss, Berger the cockerel.
10. How have Covid and lockdowns impacted your work-life balance and general wellbeing?
It’s been a tough time, but I think it’s actually made us reassess and grow as a company. We made a conscious decision not to furlough anyone and it was really bonding to pull together to generate new leads and continue to grow the business through Covid.
We reassessed how we work, and we all work from home now with regular meet-ups in a stunning wood cabin. This has allowed us to enjoy life as well as work. We have staff working from Portugal and Madrid, and some who like to run in the mornings or do yoga at lunchtimes. I feel it’s been nothing but positive—a happy team is a productive team.
Home schooling with the aforementioned children and animals was a lot less positive. Horrific! Kudos to teachers and anyone who home schools their children.
11. What have you done to try to stay well and motivated during the pandemic?
Talking, talking and more talking. I try to touch base with every member of my team every day to check in on how they are feeling, and not just how work is. They have been a huge support to me too and I feel like talking is key. I also work with my husband (a co-director of the business) and we have tried to get out, go for a walk and be grateful for what we have, like country views, a garden and a healthy family. Gratitude really helps with happiness (according to an author I know)!
12. What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?
Talk to as many people as you can, be humble and ask questions. I’m always surprised by how many people are willing to help, if you just ask. Work experience can be hard to get, but I would say it’s worthwhile, even if it’s not in the exact area you think you want to be in. Keep an open mind about what you want to do: there is a lot of crossover in publishing roles, and you can learn a lot if you go in with an open mind. Most importantly, always be honest and kind. It’s the right thing to do and it pays. Always.