Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Interview: Evan Munday, Publicist at Coach House Books

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I thought of calling this post, "Facebook, Conic Sections and A Pencil." That seemed a little indirect for an interview on the topic of book publicity and being a publicist. But, it does capture (perhaps) the essence of my experience of Evan Munday (Publicist at Coach House Books).

If you come out to the reading at Another Story this Thursday, you can meet Evan, who is one of the gutsiest guys going. He uses his guts to get people to wrangle interviews, to book readings and to let us writers know that we aren’t alone out there. Don't even get me started about Evan on public transport. You want him near you.

Also, Evan is the only person, other than my husband, who seems to know where I’m at and asks after every event. That feels great when you're caught in a torrential downpour on I-75 way, way down South.

How does he do it? Want to know the secrets of book publicity? I suspect Evan’s gift with publicity has something to do with his drawing pencil and conic sections. He seems less convinced of that. Read on.

I have to ask, what do you do back there behind Christina (Coach House’s sadly, soon-to-be-departing Managing Editor)?*

Mostly, I spy on whatever email she's sending and websites she's browsing. But when not doing that, I'm doing the majority of the publicity tasks at Coach House, which can include (at any given moment) pitching author interviews and book reviews to media; organizing book events and tours; designing advertisements, posters and other promotional materials; updating the website, Facebook and Twitter (though our intern also handles some of that); working on press releases; and anything else that helps spread the word of Coach House titles and authors.

How many titles are you publicizing at any given moment and how do you not go crazy?

Coach House publishes about 15 books a year, and those 15 books are my main current concern. Of course, there are always a number of backlist titles that need attention, as well, as authors from previous years get invited to events, or older books become suddenly relevant to current events. So, around 20 or so at any given time? To avoid going crazy, I sometimes repeat this handy phrase, over and over: 'Serenity now.'

Your own books (Quarter-Life Crisis: Only The Good Die Yung, etc.) are snatched up at the TO Comic Book Festival. You sit, as artist & publicist, on both sides of the table. What PR tips would you give aspiring authors and your own publicist?

It's hard for me to say. I'm pretty sheepish and awkward in promoting my own work. I often feel like I should be publicizing Coach House's titles rather than my own (even when I'm off the clock ... or is a good publicist ever off the clock?). But in general, I feel it helps to personalize pitches and to reply in a timely fashion. In addition to sending out mass emails or press releases, it's really handy to follow up with individuals about your book. Personalize the press release to that particular person and describe why it's perfect for their paper, radio station, blog, etc. And I always try to get back to media queries as soon as possible. Even if I can't help them out, a prompt response means you become a somewhat reliable go-to person for books and authors.

Any special techniques to get press to take on your authors either in an interview or review?

Paypal has made bribery fast and efficient. No longer do reviewers or journalists have to wait for your envelope of cash to arrive on their desk. It happens with the click of a button! But in seriousness, I don't think there are any tricks. It's best to learn about the person you're pitching to, and make sure the book makes sense for him or her. People appreciate when they get pitched the book that's right up their alley. You don't want to waste your (or their) time sending them books or authors that are way off the mark.

In what ways, has the explosion of social media helped or hindered your job as publicist?

I'm not sure if it's helped or hindered ... more migrated the job. Though I think the migration has been easier for Coach House. When I arrived here, the press had already built up this community of readers and writers over the years, and it was relatively easy to establish a similar group in the social media world. I think we have a pretty sizeable following for a smallish press, and that may have even grown a tiny bit since the mass adoption of social media publicity techniques. And there's something very nice about being able to post some good news or event information on Twitter and have people react to it immediately.

A bird** told me that ‘Evan’s a math genius.’ Tell us one good thing (or two) about fractals and calculus. Feel free to throw in there how this genius elevates your work as a graphic artist and publicist.

That doesn't seem right. I was very good in math in high school (even earning 100% averages in Calculus and Algebra & Geometry), but most of that knowledge has atrophied. The best thing about calculus is conic sections. I used to love memorizing the different formulas for different curves (exponential, logarithmic), but now I only remember that Gauss was called 'The Prince of Mathematics.' I wish I could say my math aptitude helps my drawing or publicity work, but it doesn't. I'm terrible at drawing things in realistic perspective, which is the one key area where math should help, shouldn't it?

You’re a gifted graphic artist. Is there a connection between your sensitivity to mathematics and publicity?

In terms of math helping me in publicity work, I think it helps stay organized and on top of things. Publicizing books, especially when you're handling dozens of books at the same time, can certainly get out of control. I think the mathematical part of my mind makes it more easy to break things into orderly chunks, follow up on loose ends, that kind of thing. Nothing unaccounted for. That said, my memory and mathematical capabilities have atrophied since high school. But who knows? Some festival and reading series organizers have complimented me on how organized I am, which is a shock to me. I always feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants.

After escaping New Jersey as a kid, what are the first things you dug about Canada, your new homeland?

I lived in the relatively affluent suburbs of New York and moved to the relatively affluent suburbs of Toronto, so there wasn't too much difference (aside from the way people pronounced 'pasta' and 'drama'). And in my New Jersey town, few of the homes had fences around their yards. But in Canada, I did enjoy the CityTV of my youth (though those days are long gone).

Can you share an especially satisfying moment you’ve had as a publicist?

When someone tells me (or tells the author) that they've seen 'a lot of stuff about that book,' or even if they've heard of it, that's pretty satisfying. I think when we *finally* got someone interviewed on Metro Morning about our Toronto books, that was also a big moment. [None of the uTOpia series were covered by Toronto's CBC morning show until The Edible City (the fifth in the series).] But I never feel like I should take full credit for these things happening. Oftentimes it has way more to do with the author and with the 'Coach House' name than me.

What’s your idea of the perfect ‘Evan Munday’ outfit?

Button-down shirt with sleeves rolled up (to get work done!), necktie, plaid pants, Chuck Taylors. Accessorize to taste.

*this interview was conducted prior to Christina’s departure in early July.
**actually, that bird is Avery Swartz, a fab web designer (see thomvernon.com), who went to high school with Mr. Munday. Long after high school, she is still in awe of his mathematical prowess.

1 comment

It's true, I am still in awe of Evan's mathematical prowess. And his mad comic skills. Really, everything about Evan is pretty rad. I must remember to give him a good-natured punch in the face next time I see him, just to bring him back down to the level of mediocrity that the rest of us are operating at.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Thom Vernon

Thom Vernon has worked in film, television and theatre since 1989. He has been the Actors’ Gang Youth Education Program director and has worked as an arts educator at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. The Drifts (Coach House Books) is his first novel.

Go to Thom Vernon’s Author Page