More Ways than Ever: Tor/Forge’s Justin Golenbock on Promoting Your Book

Justin Golenbock’s job is to promote books, assist authors in promoting books, and to strategize ways to better promote books.  He is a book advocate, a writer’s advocate, and a publisher’s advocate.  He’s also a guy who loves books so much that he’s made a career out of telling other people about them.

Golenbock is a senior publicist at Tor / Forge / Orb / Starscape / Seven Seas. He’s worked in the book publishing industry for five years.  He’s been at Tor/Forge for just over two years.

Golenbock is one of the publicists I work with often.  I contact him to request review copies, to arrange interviews, and to brainstorm.  Just last week we carved out a list of Tor Fantasy authors who would make an interesting mix for a round-table interview.  He’s not a smarmy salesman who’s in it for the sale and nothing else.  He gets to know the authors he represents, studies media outlets, and is open—eager—to explore new marketing and PR approaches.

Below, Golenbock and talk about the publcist/author relationship and the new world of book publicity.

What is your role in the life-cycle of a book and in an author’s career?

Justin Golenbock: It’s hard for me to nail down an exact answer – book publicists have a lot of responsibilities, some more visible than others, but they all basically boil down to doing everything we can to get our books noticed by readers. Pitching reviews and interviews to editors, producers, critics and bloggers; scheduling events and signings; booking hotels and travel; brainstorming and executing promotions; writing press materials; maintaining company and author websites and social media platforms; social media training for authors; and a lot of other little things that I’m probably forgetting.  Needless to say, we don’t sleep much.

In general, over an author’s career, our primary responsibility is to just be there for all their questions and concerns about their book’s promotional efforts – especially new authors, for whom the entire process (from contract to publication, and after) can sometimes be overwhelming.

What should an author expect from a publisher in terms of PR?

Justin Golenbock: That’s a tough question to answer – in terms of effort and creativity, every author deserves the best.  If you’re not getting it from your publisher, that’s a problem.  But in terms of visible results – there is a negatively connoted phrase among editors especially called “managing expectations,” because the reality is that most authors are not going to get reviewed in the New York Times or get interviewed by Jon Stewart.  When the results aren’t there, it can be discouraging and it’s a natural impulse for authors to look to their publicists for answers.  Bottom line, that’s our job.

The important thing, I think, is to remember than in 2011 there are more ways than ever to get the word out about a new book, and so much of our job is coming up with and trying new things that we weren’t even thinking of a few years ago – and all of that is work we’re doing on top of everything else we’ve always done to push for traditional coverage.  So we have a lot on our plate.

Long story short, the very best advice I can give authors is to have a candid conversation with their new publicist well before their book comes out about their ideas and expectations.  Every author I’ve ever worked with brings something different to the table, and it’s always exciting for us (who work on so many books) to hear new ideas from new people that can help us do our job well.

What should an author do on her own to publicize and promote her book?

Justin Golenbock: Everyone knows this by now, but it’s more important than ever to have a strong web presence for your fans, most of whom are online in some form, whether that’s through your website, blog, Facebook page, etc.

That can be a tough hurdle for some of our authors who just aren’t as into this kind of stuff, and we definitely get that it isn’t for everyone.  And a lot of authors mistakenly think they’re expected to over-extend themselves in coming up with all kinds of crazy, innovative digital marketing ideas.  That’s what we’re here for! Best advice is to be honest with your publicist about how comfortable you are online, what new things you’d like to try, and what just isn’t for you.  We understand and appreciate just how much work this stuff is, and we’ll find a way to maximize all of your efforts so they translate into greater attention and, ultimately, higher book sales.

If you could tape a sign over the desk of every published author, what would it say?

Justin Golenbock: This could get me in trouble!  Outside the office, I’m a homebrewer, and every brewer is familiar with homebrewing Godfather Charlie Papazian’s slogan: “Relax, don’t worry, have a [beverage of your choice].”  Getting published (and staying published) is… hard.  Real hard.  And a lot of unexpected things will break right or wrong over the course of your career.  Best thing to do is maintain an even keel and a respectful, professional relationship with the people who work on your behalf, be they editors, agents, publicists, artists, designers, etc.  We’re in this together.

Any last bits of advice for writers?

Justin Golenbock: Yes!  Keep writing! Every one of us in publishing got into it because we love books and we love reading, and without you we’d have no industry.  So don’t stress [all-of-the-above], and keep doing what you do best.


Jeremy L. C. Jones is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher.  He is the staff Interviewer for Clarkesworld Magazine and a frequent contributor to Kobold Quarterly.  He teaches at Wofford College and Montessori Academy in Spartanburg, SC.  He is also the director of Shared Worlds, a creative writing and world-building camp for teenagers that he and Jeff VanderMeer designed in 2006.