There’s no doubt that publishing is an ever-evolving and rapidly growing industry, which makes it an exciting place to work as a young professional. Smith Publicity’s Book Publicist and Social Media Strategist, Shannon Donaghy, joins us in our latest Open Book episode to share valuable advice with young professionals entering the publishing space. Read on as Shannon guides us through her career journey and learn how to leverage essential skills, professional networks, and personal passions. Let’s dive in…
As a young professional in the publishing industry, what has your career trajectory looked like so far?
I started off in a writing internship, where I traveled to Iceland and wrote an entire section of a travel book – that was an interesting beginning! And then I started at Smith Publicity as an intern in 2019. I worked for almost a full year as an intern, and at that time Smith Publicity was on the cusp of some more major growth and had a need for additional entry level roles. I ended up filling one of those roles, which was really the first of its kind. Then, there was a need for a different type of role, which I transitioned into. So, I guess you could say, I paved the road for these two brand-new-to-the-company roles, which really became integral and were later filled by other talented young professionals as I grew within the company.
Did you always want to be in the publishing industry in the capacity you are now?
I actually thought I would become an editor! I majored in English in college and just pictured myself, as I think many English majors do, becoming an editor upon graduation. I had a particular love for poetry and fiction; I knew I didn’t want to do technical writing or end up in crisis communications or anything like that. I interviewed with Smith Publicity and thought it would be a great place to be able to dive a little into the world of fiction while growing and learning, and it turns out that along the way, I fell in love with publicity.
What do your responsibilities look like in your role today?
My day to day today is really fluid and can be as flexible as it needs to be. I do a lot of pitching, of course. I do a mix of publicity and consulting, and so pitching is going to be in the publicity space. I love doing that kind of work. I also love the consulting side of things where we’re working on an author’s brand. I do a lot of work in the social media space, obviously, so that comes in handy with consulting.
I also run our Smith Instagram and that is a daily activity. I do scrolling and liking and posting and strategizing with you about what to post and what direction we want to go in. And I also do my best to be accessible in the office to anyone who has questions, specifically the people who are now in the roles that I helped create. I love doing that kind of stuff, whether it be teaching or answering one quick question or helping write an email or whatever the case may be. I love just guiding and encouraging people because it’s just really exciting and I loved that kind of thing when I was starting, having someone there to support and also give me the room to do new, exciting things. That’s something I really love is having that creative freedom.
What are some skills that you think young professionals should have when entering the field?
There are so many. The number one is definitely social media. It’s something that I did not realize was marketable in terms of my own skills and capabilities in a position until I really started getting into it here. I think it’s something that is very misconstrued in terms of what is needed to understand social media, what is needed to operate or maintain profiles. I think it’s intuitive to a lot of younger people, as we just grew up knowing more about it and using it. I think it’s kind of second nature to us at this point. Even I catch myself sometimes scrolling on TikTok at night. It’s like a leisure activity. But then I realize that I’m paying attention to certain things because I can bring it to my work on the Smith Instagram in consulting as well, and what I tell authors.
It’s also important for young professionals not to shy away from their own interests and strengths. It’s a benefit to have a genuine interest in the genres you work with. For instance, if I’m promoting a book that I would read myself, I know where I would go to find it. And so it’s easy for us then to know who to contact, who is going to like that kind of book, etc. I also think you mentioned poetry and maybe this is part of our job and now I’ve learned how to do this and can spin anything. But I think having an interest in poetry, I could certainly come into an interview and say, I know how to look at things from multiple angles. I know how to present things in ways that people wouldn’t necessarily think of them off the bat. And that’s because I love poetry. You can kind of finagle any skill into serving you in any specific venue. That in itself is a skill: being able to position things in various ways and that’s important in publicity and book marketing, for sure.
And being able to recall authors and specific titles is going to be so much help with comp title research and comparison research. We’re always thinking in terms of, ok, we have a historical fantasy novel. What’s another historical fantasy novel that’s out in the world right now that people are interested in? And can we reach the same audiences? But if maybe I don’t read that, then I might tap you and be like, what are some? And so your personal reading then comes very much in handy.
What is your advice for young professionals looking to work with books?
The best piece of advice I got from one of my poetry professors in college was to read and write as much as humanly possible. Choose a news source you like. Reading a couple of articles on Substack is even beneficial. I used to pick up the Montclair and Montclair’s newspaper every single day and read that when I was in school. And then with writing, it doesn’t have to be something that you’re publishing, but just jotting down thoughts. I always make sure to carry a notebook everywhere I go. You never know when you’ll learn something new you’ll want to jot down, or when inspiration will strike.
Shannon Donaghy is a Publicist and Social Media Strategist at Smith Publicity. She works with authors of all genres, but works most often in the fiction space, particularly youth and children’s fiction. She has gained coverage for her clients in outlets such as Forbes, Fast Company, Wall Street Journal, Insider, Salon, Parade, Home & Gardens, Psychology Today, AARP, CrimeReads, Tinybeans, LittleThings, The Social, and NPR’s Jazzed About Work. She has the pleasure of running the Smith Publicity Instagram account. Shannonhas a BA in English with a concentration in Poetry Writing and a minor degree in Public and Professional Writing from Montclair State University. She has multiple original poems published, and when she is not writing or reading, she enjoys hiking and hanging out with her wife and their two cats, Willow and Marlin. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Instagram @after_this_chapter.