In-House Publishing VS. Agency Model: Open Book with Business Development Associate Nickcole Watkins

The All Things Book Marketing podcast is a popular biweekly show featuring book marketing and publicity tips from the top voices in the publishing industry. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss a new episode! Our Open Book series was established in 2022 and features interviews with Smith Publicity team members.

In this open book episode, Smith Publicity’s Business Development Associate Nickcole Watkins joins host Olivia McCoy to discuss the differences between the in-house publishing and agency models. Having worked at a traditional publisher prior to joining Smith, Nickcole comes to us with insights and advice for industry professionals and authors looking to get a peek behind-the-scenes. Let’s dive in…

What are the differences you’ve seen between working in-house versus working in an agency environment like Smith Publicity? 

Author talking with a book publicists at a book marketing agency. My role at Smith Publicity is different in that I’m on the business development team, where we really act as “matchmakers,” matching authors and their specific goals to the best services for them. I really enjoy that part of it. I am part of the early conversations with authors, helping a bit with that author education piece and also assisting them with chiseling away at what their goals really are so we can get very specific with our focus in order to help them achieve the best possible outcome.

Another difference I’ve noticed is how each type of model goes about communicating. There are a lot more internal meetings in-house because you’re meeting with all of the other departments like editorial and design to see how their side of things will ultimately effect marketing; there are a lot of moving pieces. At Smith, our internal communication is still very strong, but with less of those constant internal meetings. We meet together and communicate consistently via Skype, etc., but the alignment of the communication is very streamlined.

How hands on do you get to be with authors in-house versus at an agency, in your experience?

You get to be hands on with both, but in different ways. In my role at the company I worked at previously, which was in-house, I was super hands-on because we were working with authors from the very start (the “I have my book; now what?” stage) to the end stages. In my role at Smith Publicity now, I am very hands-on in the beginning stages of helping the author get clear on their goals and how we can best serve them, matching them with the best publicity team, coming up with initial angles and ideas… but then I release them into the arms of their fantastic publicity team for that execution piece. The great part is, I still am very much part of the campaign from behind the scenes: I get to keep an eye on the campaign as it progresses, join occasional team calls, and am always there for any questions throughout the campaign.

How is marketing handled differently, in your experience, in-house versus at an agency?

The company I worked at previously was a traditional publishing model, yet with a hybrid feel, as the authors we worked with were quite involved in the process. I know that other in-house models can have marketing very segmented: branding versus marketing versus publicity versus digital media. However, I would say my previous experience was more an overarching umbrella marketing approach, as we worked with mostly entrepreneurs and they were very involved in the gorilla marketing tactics. I think that’s key for authors to understand: they are a crucial piece of book marketing.

What were some professional skills you learned in-house versus here at an agency?

On the publisher side of things, I learned a lot about the behind-the-scenes of publishing. Things like how metadata flows out to all platforms and the relationships between publisher, author, sales and distribution.

Here at Smith, as a business development associate, I’ve really developed skills in proposal writing and putting together campaigns: it’s like a fun puzzle. I absolutely love having those initial conversations with authors, seeing what their goals are, what their budget is, and then taking all of those pieces and creating this beautiful layout of “this is where we could take you and what a partnership with us would look like.”

Let’s talk work-life balance and flexibility: what are some differences you’ve seen between in-house versus here at Smith Publicity (an agency)?

Here at Smith, that flexibility piece really translates well because our team is set up in a hybrid structure and has been from the beginning. It really comes back to the individual; the work is never done, so it’s really a matter of being mindful of your time. Since starting a family, I have become very diligent in drawing those lines and knowing that the work will never be done, but there needs to be a stopping point. We really become more productive, more innovative, when we take the time to step back and give ourselves time to have the creativity actually manifest itself. When I worked at the publisher, there were times I worked into the night or on weekends. So now I know that it’s really a matter of being disciplined if you’re going to work remotely: you need to get the work done, but you need to set those boundaries and stick with them. Smith is very supportive of that.