We speak to Sarah about taking the step into freelance publishing and working on the publicity campaign for Jojo Moyes’ Still Me.
Hi! My name is Sarah and I’m a freelance book publicist. I worked for about 11 years in-house, before I made a big change in 2019 and became a freelancer.
How did you get into publishing?
I started in 2008, after studying Literature & History at university (you needed a degree to work in publishing, back then, but I’m really pleased that’s not the case now!). I did three work experience placements, in the run up to graduating – unpaid in those days, but they helped me to get my first job, as a Publicity Assistant at Orion.
How has working as a freelancer changed your perspective of the publishing industry?
Being a freelancer, you don’t always work on book campaigns from the very start – often, you’re picking them up at a much later stage. So I now work more closely with other publicists than I used to, It’s been fun to see other people’s approach to campaigns; I think it challenges you to think differently about your own work.
Has your attitude to reading changed since working in the industry? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
Definitely! Before starting in publishing, I read almost solely fiction. Now, I’m a big fan of non-fiction. I’ll give virtually any book a try, if someone recommends it to me. I love hearing why someone likes a book and seeing if I have the same reaction. Though, I’m always really behind on reading the latest books, because I read a lot of books for work and they have to take priority!
Is there a book or project that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
I have lots of career highlights, but a special favourite was the campaign for Jojo Moyes’ Still Me. I worked alongside two colleagues and it was brilliantly creative. We wore the famous Me Before You bumblebee tights and hand-delivered proofs to journalists. There was a real sense of fun, and a love for the book (the final in a trilogy and a beautiful goodbye to the characters). We were so happy when it hit #1 on the bestseller lists.
Where do you buy or access your books?
I’m lucky to live near two independent bookshops. I read most of my work manuscripts on my Kindle, but I rarely buy eBooks, as I prefer to add to my shelves. Since turning freelance, I’ve also become a huge Audible convert. I never used to listen to audiobooks, but now I get through loads, as I’m at home more.
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?
Most of the books I’ve read during lockdown have been manuscripts for work. So there’s been a lot of reading and planning. I did have an initial period where I found it hard to concentrate and was reading really slowly, but I then read a thriller someone recommended: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh. It was really gripping, so it helped me get my focus back!
What is your most beautiful book?
I’m obsessed with my Penguin clothbound classics (I was lucky enough to have a staff discount, when I worked there, so I used to add to the collection whenever I could). They just look stunning, lined up together. I especially love my boxed set of Jane Austen’s work, as they remind me of studying Austen at uni.
What is the oldest book on your shelf?
My mum gave me some dog-eared poetry books. She was given them at school, in the ‘50s, and her name is written in them. I love them so much.
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
I used to be wary of translated fiction, because I wondered if the author’s own voice is lost during the process. Now, authors like Elena Ferrante and Michel Bussi are always at the top of my list.
Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future?
After a difficult 2020, I am looking forward to uplifting books, either fiction or non-fiction. I’m not sure I’d read anything set during the pandemic!
What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far?
I loved Seven Lies by Elizabeth Kay – she’s a brilliant editor and her debut novel is fabulous. I also really enjoyed The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – which isn’t a 2020 book but, like I said, I’m always behind on my ‘tbr’! And the audiobook of My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was brilliant.
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year?
I’m excited to be working on Pip Drysdale’s The Strangers We Know. It’s a psychological thriller about a woman who sees her husband on a dating app – but the situation is far more sinister than it first appears. Also, a good 2021 tip is The Push by Ashley Audrain. A former colleague sent me a proof and it is a-mazing!
Which books should everybody read?
Oh, that’s so hard! There are far too many. OK, I think The Secret History by Donna Tartt, I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, and Persuasion by Jane Austen. I’ve picked something for everyone!
Where can readers find you online?
I’m on Twitter (@SarahHarwood_) and Instagram (@bookpublicist), and I’m always happy to give advice to those looking to get into the industry – especially Publicity!