INTERVIEW: Publicists, take note of Yen Cheong’s Blog

By Ethan Comment

Yen Cheong.jpgYen Cheong, Assistant Director of Publicity at Viking and Penguin Books writes The Book Publicity Blog on which she posts tips/suggestions and publishing/marketing trends that may be of use to book publicists and others in the publishing industry to “do our jobs with greater ease and efficiency.”

Cheong graduated from Yale in 1998 with a degree in history where she wrote for and edited The Yale Daily News and “figured journalism in the real world wasn’t for me, so I thought I’d try my hand at the flip side of journalism – public relations,” said Cheong. After a miserable year spent working on a pharmaceutical account at a large agency, she moved onto the greener pastures of Viking Penguin and has been there ever since.

When I realized that Galleycat hadn’t done a feature on her yet, I sat down with Cheong over the interwebs to ask her about her job, blogging, and book publicity.

GC: What led you to start the Book Publicity Blog and when did you start it?

YC: I started The Book Publicity Blog in March of this year. I’ve always rabidly followed publishing and media blogs like GalleyCat and Gawker and I’d often email my department with useful tips I found online. Then I figured it might be useful to put those tips on a blog since although there are a number of PR/publishing/media blogs, there are only a handful devoted specifically to book publicity.  What really got me rolling was an online workshop conducted by Jeff Gomez, Penguin’s Senior Director of Online Marketing (he of Print is Dead) in which he discussed, among other issues, RSS feeds. I’d seen the icon on various websites, of course, but had never bothered to investigate it, so following even just a few blogs meant going to various sites multiple times a day. With my RSS reader, though, I can whip through thousands of headlines on hundreds of blogs and other websites every day which makes gathering information that much more efficient.

Books on NPR, Facebook v Myspace and the rest of the interview after the jump.

GC: What’s the most valuable piece of advice to publicists you think you’ve given/reported on the blog?

YC: The feature that attracts the most interest is probably the NPR Books Watch, a weekly listing of which books and authors the national NPR shows have covered. A book publicist pretty much can’t get through a sales / marketing meeting without being asked about national NPR interest. While those shows do, in fact, sell a lot of books, the truth is there are only a handful of shows and they don’t cover all that many books. It’s useful for book publicists — and others in the publishing industry — to be well informed about what exactly is being covered (or not) on these holy grails of book publicity.

The Papyrus Files
, in which I discuss outdated practices, is another (sporadic) feature on the blog that tends to garner commentary. I’ve written about people who use email like it’s 1999 (think subject lines or messages all in caps) or leave cold-call voicemail messages.

GC: Are your chances really better to be accepted into Harvard than to get on NPR? Has an author put this to the test yet?

YC: Pretty much – yes. When I started the blog, I used estimates – 100,000 books published annually and a dozen book stories weekly on the national NPR shows. As it turns out, I’d underestimated on both ends. Around the time of BEA, Bowker reported that 276,649 books were published in 2007 and by my calculations, the number of book stories per week has ranged from 15 to 25 – we’ll say 25 to be generous — since March 2008. (I record all the stories that appear on the NPR Books pages and ever since Ellen Silva kindly pointed out that I might be missing some stories, I’ve also checked the feeds for the shows themselves.) So that means that .5 percent of books make it to a national NPR show – way less than the percentage of applicants accepted at Harvard (which is probably about 10 percent).

GC: It seems online social networking for books has moved from Myspace to Facebook. Do you see a trend of where the next step will be?

YC: I think the next step has to be some sort of aggregator – there are so many general social networking sites, book networking sites, networking sites for kids and older people, microblogging sites — that it’s impossible to actually keep up with everything. Services like FriendFeed are starting to aggregate information on a number of – although not all – sites. (Not that I’ve had the time to actually investigate FriendFeed). As to which site will emerge victorious, I think Facebook is the way to go – for now. (The Washington Post just reported that Facebook had more visitors and page views than MySpace last month and anecdotally, I can say that there are a lot of authors, journalists and publishing folk on Facebook. I wouldn’t know about MySpace since I shut down my account on International Shut Down Your MySpace Account Day.)

GC: You must get a ton of spam and legit emails. What are your tips for managing mass quantities of online correspondence?

YC: Actually, I don’t get that much from the blog. Often people will respond in the form of comments that don’t require a response and spam is usually filtered out by the WordPress spam filter. What does help is that services like Gmail allow you to forward mail to other addresses so messages sent to the book publicity address will automatically come to my work address. Likewise, a site like Facebook allows you to receive alerts on your cell phone and/or by email. So at the end of the day, if you have all your devices/sites set up properly, you can get everything in one place rather than scrambling to check various sites and accounts.

GC: How do you juggle the blog and a full time job?

YC: My blog posts are almost always short and when I’m busy they’re shorter. Although I virtually always post daily, on a busy day, a post might consist of three sentences. I do get in early every day to go through my RSS reader and pick out the big media/publishing stories, but otherwise I don’t spend a ton of time blogging during the day. Also, unlike journalists and some bloggers who need to take time to interview people/check facts, I often just link to what I see online (and I sometimes throw in some of my own commentary). If the information I find is not accurate, que sera – I can live with that.

As far as taking the time to follow blogs/websites, this is something I’ ve always done — and it’s one of the aspects of publicity I enjoy the most — so I don’t spend any “extra” time doing it.

GC: Do you have any other contributors?

YC: Just yours truly.

To subscribe to The Book Publicity Blog, email Yen Cheong at: bookpublicityblog[at]gmail[dot]com.