We speak to Megan about rethinking virtual events during lockdown and her stunning home library.
I’m a publicity manager at Fortier Public Relations, a book publicity firm specializing in nonfiction books. I’ve previously held publicity roles at Harvard University Press, Hachette Books, and Storey Publishing.
How did you get into publishing?
I majored in English and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation. I just knew that I “liked books” (but don’t ever say that in an interview for a publishing job!). It wasn’t until I took an introduction to publishing class—a rare offering at a state school—that I thought publishing might be the right thing for me. My first real job in publishing was an internship in the Books Editorial department at Wiley and while I quickly realized editorial wasn’t the department for me, I knew from that point on that I wanted a career in publishing.
How has working under lockdown conditions changed your role?
Well, it’s certainly a bit harder to get publicity for books unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic!
One big change has been events planning instead of in-person book events. Everything is virtual, which certainly took some time to get used to. What does a virtual book event look like? How can we rethink the Zoom event so that it’s engaging and fun, rather than just another hour to spend in front of a screen? I don’t think there’s any one right answer, but it’s been exciting to see how publicists, authors, and bookstores are working together to create virtual event formats that span genre and medium. Hire a DJ! Have poets and academics in conversation!
As a publicist, it’s impossible to “unplug” from the news. I have to know what’s going on so that I can appropriately pitch books and authors when they have the right expertise to comment and add context. It’s been tough being so plugged in during this, but other than that, I’ve settled in to working from home and conducting everything via Zoom.
Has your attitude to reading changed since working in the publishing industry? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
I don’t think working in publishing has changed my attitude toward reading or my taste in books, but I definitely have an eye for details that I might not have noticed before working in the industry, like matte cover finishes and interesting jacket designs. I also know a whole lot about the bookselling industry that I didn’t before (support your local independent bookstore, please!) and that has changed my buying habits.
Is there a book or a campaign that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
While my answer is perhaps not as sexy as those from other publicists you’ve spoken with, I am especially proud of the campaign I led for Healthy Buildings by Dr. Joseph Allen and John Macomber during my time at Harvard University Press. Dr. Allen is at the Harvard School of Public Health and quickly became a sought-after expert during the COVID-19 crisis because of his expertise in exposure assessment and the spread of disease indoors. He and I worked closely together every day from March to August to get the word out about the importance of ventilation and mask-wearing and several other issues related to the pandemic. Working on Healthy Buildings gave me a deep, deep appreciation for public health experts and I’m proud of the small role I played in helping to get evidence-backed advice out to the public via the media.
Where do you buy or access your books? I made a choice a couple years ago that, even if I ordered other things from Amazon, I would not buy any books from Amazon or other big box stores. I’m lucky to have the means to do this—I know that books are cheaper online (for various reasons) and I definitely bought several from Amazon in college and at the beginning of my career, but it’s important to me to prioritize independent bookstores now that I’m able to do so. My local indies are Porter Square Books and Harvard Bookstore and I switch between the two. I also have a library card and will sometimes buy used from ThriftBooks if what I’m looking for is older.
In this virtual event world, anytime I’ve attended an event I’ve made sure to purchase from the store hosting.
What books have you been reading in lockdown? Do these books typify your usual reading taste, or have you found yourself reading other genres and authors?
My reading habits are totally different this year. Last year, I read 48 books and kept a detailed spreadsheet of everything I read and tracked page count, genre, etc. I also kept track of how many books I read by marginalized and underrepresented authors.
I had planned to read more this year, but I was not able to focus on anything for the first several months of quarantine. One thing that kicked me back into the habit was rereading on of my favorite books, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, as I didn’t have to worry about zoning out or keeping track of the plot—I could just enjoy it again.
Since then, I’ve picked up a few books that are definitely out of my usual reading taste. I went down a bit of a rabbit hole and ordered several books on Marxist Feminism and have been working through those. My time at Harvard University Press gave me a better appreciation for academic writing and I’ve been exploring some of my interests via scholarly texts and works of critical theory.
What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?
My father-in-law has a massive collection of books and gave us a first edition copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. It’s not in mint condition, but it’s certainly a highlight of our library.
What is your most beautiful book?
I just got a sketchbook zine from one of my favourite artists, Sofia Salazar, and it’s far and away the most beautiful book I have (even though it isn’t technically a published book!).
What is the oldest book on your shelf? The oldest book on my shelf is likely a 1921 travel guide to Paris: Muirhead’s Paris and its Environs. I bought it in a used bookstore (housed in a garage) in Wolfeboro, NH. It’s honestly delightful. It has fold-out maps and I found pressed flowers and four-leaf clovers in the first time I flipped through.
Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future?
I have so many newish books, fiction and nonfiction, that I want to read but that I’m saving for a future time when my focus and attention are back to normal. These include Real Life by Brandon Taylor, Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino, Heavy by Kiese Laymon, Know My Name by Chanel Miller, and… the list is never-ending.
What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far?
Motherhood by Sheila Heti rocked my socks right off. Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby was the only thing that made me laugh in early quarantine. Like, out loud, uncontainable laughter. Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom was another excellent read that I slept on for way too long.
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year?
The two books I cannot wait to read are Shit, Actually by Lindy West (October) and Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo (December 2020). Those two are SISTERS-IN-LAW (!) and I’ll read anything they write.
Which books should everybody read?
I don’t know if I can answer this, to be honest. I think reading should be enjoyable always, so I hesitate to say that there’s one book that everyone should read because there’s no one book that everyone will enjoy. I think that everyone should read, period, and not get so caught up in the act of it. Don’t like something? Don’t finish it! Life is way too short. Dip in and out of books like you would TV shows. Keep a stack next to your bed and read whatever you’re in the mood for. Try fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short stories, anthologies.
I also think the answer to this question really depends on where you are in your life. In college, I probably would’ve given a cringe-worthy answer about something I found subversive (like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) but should everyone read that book? No way! That probably wouldn’t even make my top 100 “must reads” list now.
If I had to say one thing everyone should do, it would be to read with the goal of expanding your perspective. Read authors that don’t look like you, read about James Baldwin or Rome or the sense of smell, read poetry (even if you feel like you don’t know how).
Where can readers find you online?
I am on Twitter @MeganPosco (very creative handle, I know).