You love books but you aren’t sure if working in the book industry is for you? You love writing but you wonder what other opportunities there are? Storyfest is kicking off a new content series: come and take a peek behind the making of a book, and hear from those in the industry first-hand. This time, we sat down with book publicist Maraya Bell to chat about how she got started in publishing.

When you think of the publishing industry, you often only think of two distinct roles: writing books and editing books. Luckily, there’s so much more to it than that. For starters, once a book is written and edited, it then needs to find its readers. This is where publicity comes into the picture.

From the screen to the pages

Of course, publicity is not limited to books alone. Almost anything that has public visibility is managed by a publicist, whether that’s to advertise, sell, or promote something. Maraya Bell is Publicity Manager at publishing house HarperCollins Australia, but she didn’t start her career in books.

“I began my publicity career working for a charity called The Humour Foundation. From there I moved into TV, working at SBS, the ABC and then onto Network 10. TV publicity was always my career goal because I love film and TV and popular culture in general. It was a fantastic time!”

Following a stint as a freelance publicist and some part-time work for an agency, Maraya found herself presented with a different opportunity: one to work with books.

“I’ve always been a big reader, and I have a particular love for children’s books. The books I read as a child shaped me as a person and I still have them all! Characters like George from The Famous Five and Kirsty from The Baby-Sitters Club are a part of me. I wouldn’t be who I am without those influences. So when the opportunity came up through a former colleague to apply for the role of Publicity Manager at Walker Books, I leapt at the chance!”

After four wonderful years, Maraya was approached by HarperCollins, and she’s been with them ever since. By her own admission, it’s a dream job.

A born and bred publicist, Maraya found her footing in publishing with ease.

“I’ve only ever been a publicist. It’s the role I love! I love being in kids books specifically because helping kids find a book that connects with them is so satisfying. Books shape who we are and I love being a part of that.”

TIP FROM MARAYA: If you are in school and interested in being part of the publishing industry, I urge you to think about what you might like to do. There are so many other roles involved in making books that just writing them and editing them. Like me, you can help promote them once they are written, you can design covers for the books, you can sell them to bookshops, you can work on marketing them to readers. There are so many hidden roles in the publishing industry. Look at work experience opportunities so you can see what area you are most interested in and then look at the different university courses that fit the area you are interested in.
Maraya Bell

In the life of a book publicist

Over the years, Maraya has worked in different roles, under different organisational structures, but she’s always found a deep love in what she does. When asked what some of her favourite projects have been over her career in book publishing, she has plenty to choose from.

“Working on the Little Ash campaign with Ash Barty was fantastic because we have limited opportunities within kids publishing to do large scale author tours and publicity campaigns. Ash was wonderful to work with and we had the opportunity to travel to cities all over Australia to promote the series in collaboration with her adult memoir.

“Other than that, my favourite projects are working with my authors such as Matt Stanton and Katrina Nannestad. I have the opportunity to travel with them to various festivals throughout the year and it really is my favourite part of the job. For me it’s all about the relationships I build that makes me love the job.”

Of course, not everything is as perfect as it may seem. It’s a well-known fact that publishing doesn’t pay well – at least not in a monetary sense.

As Maraya says, you need to be doing it for the love of books and not the money.

“It’s not highly paid, but (for me at least) it’s been very family friendly and flexible and very satisfying professionally.”

Additionally, it’s a role that requires a lot of creativity and resourcefulness. As Maraya points out, there are not many opportunities in kids books to do a lot of traditional publicity like TV or radio, so you often have to get creative in a rapidly shrinking media landscape.

TIP FROM MARAYA: Working in book publicity, you need to be comfortable working on many different projects at once. I can be working on up to 10 books a month in varying capacities so you do need to be able to juggle that. But I haven’t met a publicist yet that doesn’t thrive on that sort of pressure.

What’s next for Maraya

The life of a book publicist is never boring, and Maraya doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.

“I have some exciting, large scale projects coming up at Christmas that I cannot disclose yet, but I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to do large scale media campaigns.

“I also have some great festivals to attend with my authors this year which is my very favourite part of the job, so I’m very much looking forward to that. It’s so great to get out amongst the kids and see how excited they are about meeting their favourite authors. There’s nothing like it!”

Want to know how to get into book illustration? Check out our interview with illustrators Kate Isobel Scott and James Foley here!