Saturday, August 31, 2019

Reflecting On My First Book PR Job -- 30 Years Ago

You never forget your first job.  It was 30 years ago, on 8-7-89, that I  was hired for my first full-time, post-school job.  And so began my career in publishing and book publicity.

It was at a small indie press that I discovered a career in books.  

The office was a dump, sprawled across an entire floor that had no interior offices or barriers between desks.  It was more of a warehouse. Desks clustered on one side. Bookcases and stacks of books covered more than two-thirds of the joint.  

The stairs leading to the four-story walk-up smelled musty and their chipped, uneven look symbolized the wear and tear the book industry can have on its participants.

The building was cared for by a fall-down drunk.  When he was sober, meaning filled with booze but able to stand, he’d tell me about long-ago days when he was a boxer.  His worn face and thick fingers certainly have weathered many battles, in and beyond the ring.  He had an infectious laugh and seemed like he could be a part of society if he was just willing to lay off the “medicine.’  But all too often he was blitzed.  

On more than one occasion he would tumble down the stairs, only to come up again the way a knocked-down boxer finds his legs to stumble up before the referee counts him out.  

Sometimes my boss, the owner of the company, would have to shoo him out of the office.  He’d make a Kramer-like entrance, pop open the metal door quickly, and start mumbling some unintelligible stuff and then say, in a slower flow of slurred words,” Why don’t you put all this shit on microfiche” and then laugh himself hard.  You’d find him passed out at the bottom of the stairs, reeking from cheap alcohol and urine.

The people I worked with were all characters in a play that flowed with humor, excitement, and often times cruelty.  Let’s start with my boss.

He came from a family of money but was the svrew-up of the brood.  He’d told me he used to be a stock broker but it sounded like he got kicked out.  He was unethical in his treatment of his employees and authors. He spewed negative comments but covered them with jokes, hoping he could get away with verbally abusing others. He later went bankrupt and a Publishers Weekly story said he owed people millions of dollars to printers, authors, vendors, and workers. 

His fiance worked side by side with him, a brusk, tough-talking woman who used to air her dirty laundry right in front of everyone.  They’d argue loudly, right there, the way divorcing couples would at home.  She called him names and cried while he verbally abused her. 

My first job was a great learning experience, though most of my success came as a result of my natural drive and ability to self-teach.  I started with a vague title – assistant to the publisher. But within four months they fired the publicity director, who constantly argued with the owner and acted like a guy who thought everyone was after him, and thrust me into the position.

I ended up securing as many as 180 radio interviews for individual authors.  We had promotable books, ones that covered Hollywood, politics, sex, and scandal.  I got authors on the TV talk shows of the day, such as Geraldo, Montel, Maury, and Sonya Live.  The media – and the book industry – were different back then. It was a lot of fun.

Some of my colleagues were terrific.  One guy, a book editor also had a bunch of books published and I was happy to promote them.  

Another colleague, a nice older woman, dealt with selling Judaica books to the Jewish book market, and she was very sweet.  

Oh, and I can’t forget about Reverend Peter.  This guy was some type of preacher in Jamaica and here in the U.S.  his “church” was limited to him sharing moral reminders to colleagues while they endured the verbal mistreatment of the owner.  He was a gentle man with a good heart and an infectious laugh. I loved that guy.

The back office crew who handled shipping, accounting, and supplies were great to joke around with.

I always tell people not to stick around at their first job for too long because the only way to make more money is to go elsewhere.  You leave – get a higher position – learn new things and move up in the world.  Well, that decision was made for me.  My crooked boss fired me on the anniversary of working there two years.  He didn’t want to meet my request for a raise of a dollar an hour.  I was vastly underpaid.  My starting salary was $15,600 in NYC.  Back then college grads didn't make less than $20,000 at a first job in any industry. You can’t do anything with that, but it was a great experience.

“…THINGS that draws writers to writing is that they can get things right that they go wrong in real life…”  
--Tobias Wolff

“…DON’T write because you want to say something, you write because you’ve got something to say.” --F. Scott Fitzgerald

“…DON’T give people what they want.  You give them what they don’t yet know they want.”  --Mo Willems

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”  --George Eliot

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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