Harriet Pester: Bookworld PR

Alas, not everything is plain sailing in the world of book-trade PR

Arty Types

This article is taken from the June 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

“Actually,” Harriet brightly intones into her mobile, sharp grey eyes trawling the Islington skyline, “I think I can offer you something rather exciting. You know Abigail Rothesay’s new memoir’s due in a couple of months? Orgasm Addict? Naturally everyone’s very interested, but I’m told she’s only doing one interview, and I know she’d love it if it could be you.”

At the other end of the phone, the literary editor of the Daily Telegraph stifles a yawn and murmurs something about space being a bit limited in July. “Well, then,” Harriet goes on, a little less brightly, “why don’t I send you Araminta Bogle’s new collection? You remember how much Amanda liked Women and Children Last.”

The Telegraph’s literary editor says that, yes, he would quite like to see Araminta Bogle’s new collection, and Harriet puts the phone down, if not quite triumphantly then with the sense of a job reasonably well done.

She is esteemed for her willingness to read the books she is commissioned to promote

From their various vantage points around the Hoxton Square attic from which Pester & Associates Public Relations conducts its business, Harriet’s employees nod their approval. Since Harriet began her conversation, a motorbike messenger has clumped up three flights of stairs to deliver the proofs of what an admiring press release will shortly describe as a “long-awaited and exquisitely-written” biography of Zelda Fitzgerald, and two overdue utility bills have arrived in the post. It is clearly going to be a busy day.

Pester & Associates has been going for ten years now, first from Harriet’s dining-room table then from a cubicle on a West London trading estate. Before that Harriet worked in the HarperCollins publicity department.

She is a brisk, capable woman in her middle forties, esteemed by professional colleagues for her willingness to read the books she is commissioned to promote and talk them up with a fair degree of sincerity.

Under her aegis, P&A, as the firm is known, has come to specialise in single-item contract work for publishing houses anxious to make a splash but without the internal resources to match. It was Harriet, for example, who took over Just Desserts, Minty Maltravers’ catering trade romcom, when everyone else in the business despaired of it. She got her onto Loose Women and fixed her up with a cookery column.

Not, alas, that everything is plain sailing in the world of book-trade PR. Newspaper arts coverage is in sharp retreat, and an author who five years ago could expect to be interviewed by the Guardian can consider herself fortunate to make it into the Bedfordshire Gazette.

The promo party circuit isn’t what it was, either, and there was a dreadful occasion in which the launch of Straight Outta Deptford, a searing first novel by an author known only as “ZZ”, had to be transferred at the last minute from the Chelsea Arts Club to a pub in Harlesden.

Just now, with the proofs of the Zelda biography on her desk and the utility bills settled, Harriet can apply herself to the morning’s principal task, an email updating Abigail Rothesay’s publishers, messrs Boggis & Stone, on her progress.

Everything going extremely well, she types. Daily Telegraph keen to interview. Lovely Sam at the Spectator completely on board … In her defence, worse lies have been told in publishing than these.

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