Smith’s own Vice President of Business Development, Corinne Moulder, and Business Development Manager, Kellie Rendina, sit down with host Olivia McCoy to share their insights! They discuss a number of topics including vendor and client relations, networking, frequently asked questions, the relevancy of publicity in the publishing space, and how the industry perceives work-life balance. Join in for an insightful conversation relevant for both authors and publishing professionals.
The Open Book series airs on a monthly basis and includes brief interviews with Smith Publicity employees. Each episode will offer an inside look into book marketing and publicity, as well as tips for publishing professionals and authors alike. Keep an eye out for more!
Olivia: Hello and welcome to this episode of All Things Book Marketing. I’m your host, Olivia McCoy, and on this internal Open Book episode, I have two members of our business development team. You all will recognize Corinne Molder from our co-hosting episodes, she’s the Vice President of business development, but we also have Kellie Rendina and she is our manager over in business development. Hey y’all.
Corinne and Kellie: Hi.
Olivia: It’s so great to have you all on. This is our first multi-person in-the-office interview.
Kellie: This is. And it’s my first time on the podcast ever, which is crazy.
Olivia: I know.
Corinne: It’s overdue.
Olivia: Very overdue. Especially because you’re in the office with us.
Kellie: I know.
Olivia: It’s easy to grab you out.
Kellie: Exactly. And now maybe after this I’ll make more appearances.
Olivia: Oh, absolutely. Anytime. So why don’t we start with having you all tell us a little bit about your jobs, your roles, and what business development does here at Smith.
Kellie: All right. You want me to go first? All right. So I am Kellie, and I am, as Olivia said, business development manager, going on six years at Smith, which is hard to believe. And a big part, the biggest part of my job is really vetting prospective clients who are interested in our services. So their goals, project, the scope of their work, their target audience, their genre, and starting to really identify the ways that we can come in to support the launch of their book, non-fiction or fiction. I work pretty closely with all of our teams here, and if we do feel that there’s a good fit, we draft plans for a prospective author and client to consider before they decide if they want to move forward with Smith.
Corinne: And I’ll add to that, this is Corinne. Olivia, I love being back on. I miss our co-hosting episodes. I would say elevating beyond even the account by account perspective that we’re looking at, it’s really honoring the client experience, really being a bridge too, to the execution of our publicity services where we do get to be a little heavier in terms of setting expectations.
Corinne: And educating, that’s a big part of what we do too, because we get people coming in and they think they’re ready to hire a publicist, but are they really? So it’s assessing the platform that they have already. Where can we fill in? It’s always about networking too. So, our expanded partnership network is something that I have loved to see grow, and it’s not been in a vacuum. Our business development team, we pick up on, “Oh, we like this website, who developed your website”, and then we get to meet a new contact that might help other authors. And just learning the nuances of independent publishing and the contractors and the vendors that we get to be associated with has helped us grow in a way that I never even saw at the start of my time here.
Olivia: There’s a lot of topics in there. I don’t know how we’re going to get to all of them in 20 minutes, but we’re going to try. Let’s start with vendor relations and networking. I know that we tell our authors all the time that they should do it. We do a lot of that too, as I understand it, you all more than me on the publicist end. What does that look like and how can authors do the same?
Corinne: Yeah, so it’s really following the breadcrumbs. I think from a media perspective, our publicists are fantastically good at reverse engineering past campaigns and if they want to see something in digital online, they know to kind of backtrack two months from that. So we’re kind of looking at a similar approach to how we network too. And it is that reverse engineer. So if we see an author who’s coming in at a certain level, but we know that they’re going to need website development or print support, then we go back to other campaigns where we know that we’ve partnered with Bethany Brown at the Cadence Group, who I know has been on our podcast, or when is the right time to bring in a speaking coach, which is part of another circuit that we kind of support in terms of building out that brand identity. And then it’s LinkedIn. I mean it’s connecting on LinkedIn, it’s sharing our vendor posts and liking what they’re talking about, seeing who they’re engaging with.
Kellie: Starting to go to networking events.
Kellie: Virtual or in person. I know we go to the Publishing Tea that Tina Deets puts on every month and meeting new people there. And it’s really rewarding to see that happen really organically too over the years. I mean, just in the years that I’ve been here to see our own network grow so much and the people that we work with really regularly. So that’s just been incredible.
Corinne: Yeah, and I think too, it comes from our origin in working with independent authors too, because we cherish, absolutely cherish our publisher relationships, but we understand the grit and tenacity that goes into releasing a book on your own. And we appreciate the hard work that our authors will put into building out their platform and asserting their credibility in a way that they’re not coming in with an in-house team. So we learn so much from our clients that we like to give back then to our team and to our future clients too.
Olivia: You’re gonna have to educate me a little bit too. These vendor relations that you have, the importance of those, are authors able to make
those same types of relationships or do they really kind of need an in between person?
Kellie: Sometimes I think it’s both, because sometimes I think that we learn about these really incredible vendors from our authors and we’ll see that internally across our own team as well when we’ll ask, “Oh, do you know of anybody who offers x-service?” Maybe it’s digital advertising, and somebody will say, “Oh, my client worked with this person”. So sometimes clients even are bridging the gap for us. So I say that it can probably happen both ways. It’s a lot of putting together the puzzle pieces to really identify where authors best need that support and kind of looking internally to see where we already have trusted vendors that we’ve worked with in the past, but sometimes we do really get it from our clients
too. And sometimes it’s publishers and sometimes it’s independent authors, but oftentimes it is the other way around where we’re kind of educating, where a client says that I didn’t know that this piece, this digital marketing piece for instance, really would serve to elevate my book launch plan. We say all the time that publicity alone does not create book sales.
Kellie: It’s so much more than that. It really takes a village to launch a book. So really identifying any gaps in their existing plan and figuring out where they best need support.
Corinne: Kellie’s being modest too because honestly we’ve had instances where the best late plans have fallen apart and Kellie has taken it upon herself as we’re amidst a publicity campaign to support a client in taking early vetting calls and helping someone align themselves with a new vendor even to us. But that’s part of the client experience. We know this certain client needed that support on social, that’s not something we work on. And that was part of helping our team and helping our client because we know it all comes together to elevate.
Olivia: And Corinne, you mentioned earlier in your intro that a lot of your job is figuring out if potential clients are ready for publicity, or where they are in their journey. And I know we talked about this a little bit in the internal episode with Sam, who’s also part of your team. When should an author be reaching out for publicity? How do they know if they’re ready? What questions should they be asking? That’s a question for both of you.
Kellie: Yeah, it’s a great one. And we see authors come to us at all different stages, but we always say the more time on the front end that we have, the better. Because as we’ve already started to get into developing those relationships with other vendors that authors may need to support their plan takes time and everybody has their own internal calendars that they’re working on and their capacities. So usually the more time we have, the better. I mean, we were just looking internally at a prospect who had a project that was very far post publication and we identified that we were likely not a fit for it, but they had another book in the works that he wanted to secure an agent for and was well in his way, but he wasn’t there quite yet and we’re having a call with him, so his book might not be published for another two years or so. But starting that relationship and being able to identify where we can come in and whether we might be a fit for some author platform support and helping him identify those places where he might need to kind of buoy what he already has, starting as early as humanly possible. But I say the sweet spot is probably anywhere from maybe like five to six months is where we kind of tend to see people reaching out. But it can be earlier and sometimes people reach out to us a little bit closer too.
Corinne: Yeah. And I have to say we’re seeing the timelines shift as we’re seeing the publishing landscape shift. I think Covid showed us that we can play with digital copies and submissions more and maybe publishers don’t need to print off so many ARCs or early reader copies. And our services have a different cadence as a result of that and when we have accessibility to certain projects. So, that is changing always, which I feel it does kind of bring a startup feel to our agency, which I love because we’re always just on the front lines of what’s trending with media, what’s trending with publishing, and just what’s trending an overall content consumption anymore.
Olivia: We were just talking at the Firebrand Conference about how publishing timelines have changed so much in publishing, eBooks ahead of print books and that does drastically change what a campaign could look like.
Corinne: I’m dying to read your notes by the way.
Kellie: The one part that stuck out was instead of the 12 month, it was like 16 to 18 months?
Olivia: 16 to 18 months. And then we’re even seeing eBooks being published three months ahead of a print book.
Olivia: Which is three months ahead of the audio book. And so it’s much more spread out, much less of a focus on early print copies.
Corinne: Yeah. And those are methods and ideologies that other hybrids and more disruptive publishers have been playing with for years. So to see that now being adopted by traditional, it’s exciting. It’s just a world that we’ve always celebrated.
Kellie: It’s validating.
Corinne: It is validating. Yeah. And I will say, as much as we have grown and we put more processes in place and we have really planted our flag, I think very confidently in that we want to live in the media space, which a small business you do, you dabble in social media a little bit. Is this something we want to support? And working in business development, a big part of what we do is also identifying gaps in services and that makes
more opportunities. So if we know people are coming in droves without article writing support, which we know is a critical piece to any media campaign, then we play around with, “Is this something we can do in house?” But usually we want to identify a partner who can help round out the team, build more support and allow our team to continue doing what we do best. And I do love that about the leadership team, that really is the focus is doing what we do best.
Olivia: What are some of the most fun questions? The most common questions you could ask by authors and partners and some of the more fun ones as well.
Corinne: Like fun as in how much do I have to pay to be a bestseller fun or?
Corinne: I think a big part of it, Olivia, to be very honest, for authors and initial exploratory calls is usually just a roadmap of what is publicity. Because you have publicity, you have marketing, you have social, you have advertising, and then there’s influence in how they all connect together.
Olivia: I’m going to jump in real quick because I actually sparked another question. How do you explain the relevancy of publicity to authors and vendor partners? Because I know that one’s really hard, especially because it’s confusing. What’s marketing, what’s branding, what’s publicity? What are the differences?
Kellie: I love that question and it’s one that I feel like I’ve been developing my own answer to since I started. And just taking what I’ve learned because I didn’t come from the publicity side, I came from actually the academic publishing side. So to come and just see how everybody else answered that question, it kind of helped me to kind of define it for myself and for prospective clients too. And I always say that our job really boiled down into the smallest possible nutshell is to just create as many opportunities for visibility as possible. There’s like that old marketing adage that somebody has to see a product, like five or seven times or whatever it is before they make that decision to purchase. And so we’re really trying to create as many pieces of visibility as possible, whether it’s a link to an author interview or a book review or getting a book included in like a reading roundup or something like that, that there are all of these different pieces to borrow one of Corinne’s earlier words, breadcrumbs, to lead readers to really discover a book and then make that decision to purchase. So getting as many eyeballs as possible and creating all of those opportunities for discoverability. Which is hard because it is different from digital marketing because it’s a bit more fickle, you don’t have as much control over it. So it’s, it’s tough. But that usually is the way that I tried to explain it to clients.
Corinne: Yeah. And I would say too, it’s not just the awareness for the book, right? And certainly the purchase power and you’re absolutely right, it takes all those touch points to tip someone over to make a purchase. Boiled down, it’s the credibility versus control.
Corinne: So a lot of our focus is not just on the book. We do take a two prong approach and we’re really working on elevating our experts as thought leaders. We dive into niche industry vertical markets and trade publications, and we love the podcast circuit because podcast listeners are information seekers. We get to get very granular there. And with that, at the end of the day, Kellie and I say this on calls, we’re selling trust because we cannot say, yes, sign with Smith and you’re going to see your book and you’re gonna be interviewed for X, Y, and Z. We can have every intention to bring the best pitch and really pull together the story. That’s our job. You’re bringing the assets as a client, we’re helping you uncover the great content that you’re sitting on and making it fancy and edgy and let’s see how we can get people to open their inbox and take a closer look. But at the end of the day, we lead media to the story. We give them everything we can. But it’s up to them to really fit that into their editorial coverage and make sure it fits their audience focus. But with that there’s the credibility that comes with it. You are getting earned coverage. You are chosen to be a part of that media outlet, that story, that topic that’s trending. And we do see that that carries a bit more than advertising, which you’re paying for the control of your message there. But we do see it all coming together to support.
Kellie: Each needs the other.
Kellie: It all balances out.
Corinne: It really does seem that way. We all need each other.
Olivia: Well, thank you for entertaining that spur of the moment question. Sorry to interrupt, you were, you were telling us frequently asked questions and we can get back to that too, but that just came to my mind. I had to ask it.
Kellie: I love that question.
Olivia: Because you all are the front lines here at Smith.
Corinne: Yeah. And I think along with the education, another question that we as BD have to be ready to answer is, what does success look like? Authors don’t know what success looks like.
Corinne: We have to, again, educate, consult. It’s a true partnership. We want their ideas on pitch angles and things that excite them. But how we deliver that to media is the unknown to them. So we know we have our contacts, we know we have our skills and our pitch presentation. But how that generates interest, it’s really tough to quantify sometimes.
Corinne: What it is you’re onboarding for. So there is a lot of consulting and education that we bring into our campaigns as well.
Kellie: Yeah, absolutely. Another question I get a lot, and I’m getting it more and more, and I appreciate this question from clients, is, how much time should I be dedicating to my campaign? How much is this going to take from my every day? And I appreciate that question because we want clients to make the most of their investment with us. We always say we don’t want clients to feel like their campaign sort of happened to them.
Kellie: We want them to really make the most of it. And so it’s a question I’m starting to get more and more. I’ve always gotten it a bit, but I feel like lately, and I understand why, I mean, writing the book itself is a full-time job. Getting the word out there and continuing to network and get the word out there about your book is another full-time job. And most of the clients we work with are not full-time authors. They have so many other things going on, on a personal and professional level. So getting that question is always great. And I try to answer it to the best of my ability because besides the media requests that we’re getting and the time it takes to practice for an interview and then go on the interview or to write an article and edit it and get it polished, there’s also the time that it takes to brainstorm internally with your publicity team and to read through the written reports that we share and to have check-in calls to talk through those reports together. So authors usually are spending several hours a week really dedicated to their campaigns, but it’s definitely a team effort. Our clients have a wonderful team behind them in place. But yeah, I love getting that question because I think it just really shows how dedicated our clients are to their campaign.
Olivia: I get that question a lot when I’m asked about social media.
Olivia: How many hours a week do I have to sell myself to social media?
Olivia: Which varies per author, per goals, for each individual book, but that actually is a great transition into talking about time, work life balance. That’s a really hard topic. I ask this question in every internal episode because it’s something I think the publishing industry struggles with a lot. We’re all very, very passionate both on the author side about the projects, but also as on the publisher-promotion side about the projects and getting the word out there and books in general. So it’s really hard to maintain that work life balance when so much of your life is a part of your work. How do you two specifically maintain work life balance?
Kellie: It’s such a good question. And I was chatting with Olivia and Corinne before the interview. We wanted to bring it in now, about a recent article that came out about this very topic. And I think just the publishing industry as a whole, I think we really are a group of professionals who are super passionate about what they do just at a general level. Everyone who’s in it I think are in it for the right reasons and are really passionate about getting books out there into the world. So I think it can be really easy to slip when it comes to that work life balance. I think it’s a pattern that the industry and those inside of it have picked up on and are starting to recognize. So it’s a really timely topic. And for me, I can see how that can happen, just being so passionate about the work that we do. It can be easy to tip over into working late at night or whatever that looks like. And it sounds kind of counterintuitive, but I think the way that I kind of maintain that balance is by staying busy in my personal life too. Those staying a little bit busier and making yourself step away and getting away from work and being a part of community organizations or things like that. I’m part of a local running club and we have our set runs that we do during the week that make me step away from work at a certain time. Which is nice because I think when you come back you’re more refreshed. So staying busy, which sounds a little counterintuitive, but that tends to be how I try to maintain that balance.
Olivia: You have endless energy. I don’t know if I could go on a run after work.
Kellie: But it makes me crash at night. So it works out.
Olivia: Fair enough.
Corinne: I will say, and I think this is just my personality and my major, I’ve long struggled with work life balance and recognize it’s just the own standards I put on myself. I think in marketing and publicity, it is kind of type A because you’re juggling so many things and you have to be assertive and you have to have that control. But with that and with where I’ve struggled in the past is then delegating. Like I don’t need to do it all. And it’s taken me a little bit of time, I think too, we’ve been a smaller team for many years. I think of my time at Smith as like BK, Before Kellie. And then when Kellie joined six years ago and changed my life.
Kellie: My goodness.
Corinne: Around the time too that I was becoming a mom, as well. So I think too, there has to be internal boundary setting. And I have to say, with our newer hires and some of the individuals that we’ve had join our team in the past several years, I’m like, “Oh dang, she set a boundary. I want to do that”. So I do learn, too, culturally from people that have come into the team where it’s like, because I’ve really just worked at Smith, I’ve been here 15 years. So I do feel, I’ve grown up as a professional at the same company where I still am. It’s taken me a little longer to put those boundaries on, but I’ve learned so much from my colleagues on it. And then as a parent, it’s just like, something has to give. And for so long I’ve admired the flexibility that the Smith’s offer at Smith Publicity. And I knew I would come into the days where I get to leave at 1:15 today to go to this Scholastic Book Fair and I am so excited, because I will go right around the corner back home and finish out my workday. So I think for work life balance, you have to have your own hobbies. I have a book club, I have my gardening. And then for me, I’m in the season of life where it’s family time. Like that’s my time on the weekends and during the weeknights. But I do, I think there is a toughness that everybody has to have with themselves too. Like, it’s okay to honor a boundary. And I do love that that’s just a bigger discussion at large across the cultural landscape and professional news that we’re seeing trend. And again, it’s just naturally happening. I think as younger individuals are joining the workforce, they’re teaching us all how to set better boundaries.
Olivia: No, I appreciate it. It is something that I’ve seen Smith take really seriously is honoring those personal boundaries and work life balances. So it is something I feel like it’s important, we come back into our day feeling more refreshed, more energized, ready to go.
Corinne: So true.
Olivia: We give our all during the work hours and then we’re able to recharge after and come back in, feeling great the next day. It’s important to talk about, so I just wanna keep the discussion open.
Corinne: No, I love it. I love it.
Kellie: I love hearing other people’s answers.
Corinne: And I will say I’ve seen the shift as well from our client’s perspective over the past several years. I feel clients are very apt to, I mean, I had one client apologize in an email she sent me on a Saturday, and she’s like, “I’m just getting ready. I don’t usually email on a weekend”. And I really appreciated that and also was like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s not a big deal”. But I just appreciated that. And I do see clients are saying like, I don’t expect to have you get back to me on nights and weekends. Sometimes we will, you know, there are urgent things that come up. Again, as I said, a lot of us are type A, so we’re constantly,
Kellie: And the media’s on their own timeline.
Corinne: The media are on their own timeline.
Olivia: You know what’s interesting is I’ve actually seen more and more
often in media subject lines, not subject lines, media signature lines.
Olivia: They’ll say, “My hours are not your hours. You do not
have to respond to me the second you get this email”.
Kellie: Oh wow.
Olivia: And that was huge. I saw that come through the first couple times in a media contact and I was like, whoa, I see this email coming at 10:30 at night. But I love that there was that “do not feel the need to respond to me immediately”. I will go back to you during my time. You get back to me during yours. And that was really nice.
Corinne: I kind of love that. Yeah.
Kellie: It’s so nice to see that.
Corinne: Because I even feel as a leader on a team, again, it’s my choice sometimes if I can be done at four o’clock to pick up my kids, I know I don’t have any more calls and I’m gonna spend that last hour after my kids are in bed. But what I’m very sensitive to is that I don’t want Samantha to think, “Oh, Corinne’s sending something out at 10”, when I know it’s still my work hours. I’m just kind of manipulating it where I want to play.
Corinne: And apply it. There is a sensitivity to that as a team leader too.
Kellie: Yeah, absolutely.
Corinne: So I love that signature line. I might take that because clients too, they’re like, “Oh, you’re working awfully late”. But I’m not, I haven’t been working for hours and I’m just sending this now.
Kellie: I love seeing that shift and that article, I think they mentioned how people used to wear those late hours like it was like a badge of honor, I think was the phrase that they used. That’s like, “Oh, how late did you work? How late did you work?” Like that kind of thing. Which doesn’t feel good. I think you should wear your boundaries with a badge of honor.
Kellie: Because we all are, like Corinne said in different seasons of life. And it’s really wonderful to have that flexibility.
Corinne: Yeah, really is.
Olivia: Well, thank you for sharing all of that with us, and thank you for joining us today. Thank you for testing out my three microphones set up for the first time.
Corinne: Of course. I’m glad we could both join.
Olivia: Yes. Yes.
Corinne: Thank you Olivia.