Q&A with Sonya Bonczek: A Publicity Director’s Tips for Authors

Sonya Bonczek, the Director of Publicity here at UNC Press, enlightens us on what the publicity department does, how the landscape has changed over the years, and what authors can do to set their book up for success.

Q: What does the publicity department at UNC Press do and how do they work with authors?

The publicity department plays a key role in promoting new books and their authors. In other words: we help people find out about the books we publish by working hard to get those books covered in the media that people read, watch, and listen to daily. A majority of our day is spent pitching our books to editors, journalists, and producers of various outlets and programs. We are the facilitators, connecting authors to public outlets and making sure books are sent out so they can be reviewed or covered.

Publicity also helps coordinate author events and book signings at bookstores, book festivals, and public affairs venues. We attend sales conferences and make media calls to editors and producers in different cities each season to pitch our books. We create press materials, mail galleys and review copies, post on social media, and are involved in lots of different aspects of the publishing process—such as weighing in on book proposals and cover designs as well as joining calls with prospective authors and agents. 

Our small but mighty team of book publicists are assigned titles each season and work closely with our authors to strategize the best approach to promote their books. Our work starts months before the books are officially published for our trade/general interest books and often for our more academic books, too. 

Q: How long have you been working in book publicity and what are some of the major changes you have seen over the years?

I’ve been in book publishing for most of my career, starting out in commercial publishing at Random House and Hachette Book Group. My first year in publishing was 2007, the year the Kindle came out and eBooks really started to gain momentum. Twitter (RIP) was barely a year old, and no one was using it to promote their books at the time. Newspapers all over the country still had book review sections. 

While, unfortunately, there are less and less places to get reviews these days, publishers and authors now have new ways of promoting books via targeted digital marketing, social media, and substacks/newsletters. Authors can now build up a following and fan base for their work, creating a more personal approach by directly reaching readers themselves. It’s less common now to hear an hour-long NPR interview about a new book from a university press, and more common to hear a historian or academic as an expert commentator contextualizing current news (and maybe your new book will get mentioned in the byline). Viral book cover and/or pre-order social media posts can sometimes do wonders in terms of sales and exposure. Having an online presence now is almost always a requirement for a trade author. 

People are now accustomed to joining live, virtual events happening anywhere in the country with a click of a button, so we are seeing less in-person bookstore or event attendance and more virtual programming. Book media is more reliant on (watermarked and secured) PDFs rather than asking for physical books when considering coverage.

Q: In your opinion what is the biggest misconception authors have about publicity?

There are lots of misconceptions, but I’ll point one out that’s specific to academic publishing: getting big media doesn’t always convert to book sales. Sometimes, an author can pen a terrific and important op-ed that directly relates to their book, however that doesn’t always mean that it will convince or entice general readers who are not scholars in that field to go out and buy a 200–600-page book on the topic. Exposure like that is never a bad thing, and the point is to approach publicity via all angles to build up an author’s platform and to get more people aware of their book, but sometimes it takes a more niche approach to publicity to get the desired book sales. Sometimes it pays off more to set up a lunchtime lecture at a university where faculty and students keenly interested in your book’s topic may attend and very likely buy (and adopt) your book, rather than an evening bookstore event where you’re competing with lots of other events in the area.

Q: What can authors do to help set their book up for success?

So much! Like I mentioned, authors now have so many tools at their disposal for marketing their books. I tell my authors when we first meet that while I’m their book’s publicist, they are their own best publicist. I have 25 or so titles to work on each season while they have their one precious book to focus on and now is not the time to be shy about it.

  • Add the book to your email signature months before it comes out so everyone you email is aware of it
  • Notify your family, friends, and colleagues when your book is available for pre-order and mention why pre-orders are important
  • If you have them, reach out to your contacts in the media or potential reviewers to let them know what you’ve got coming and to offer up a review copy (your publicist is always happy to send)
  • Familiarize yourself with the media you are hoping will cover your book and suggest helpful pitch points to your publicist when there’s breaking news you can speak to 
  • Keep your book publicist in the loop on anything that you set up directly (especially national media) so we can let our sales reps know it’s happening (so they can encourage bookstores and accounts to be stocked up)
  • Visit your hometown or local bookstore and introduce yourself to the managers and sellers and maybe bring one of your copies as a signed gift to encourage them to buy a few more copies

It’s certainly a team effort and there is nothing better than feeling like a great author-publicist team! Your publicist is more than happy to strategize with you best approaches to getting the desired publicity for your book. 

photo of Sonya Bonczek smiling and standing in front of a green bush wearing a white shirt

Sonya Bonczek is Director of Publicity at UNC Press. You can find her on X & Bluesky @SonyaBonczek.