Wells began his career in publishing at age sixteen at a small publisher on Long Island. Before joining Abrams in 2002, he held positions at Penguin, DK, Hyperion, and Simon & Schuster. In 2007 he received his MLS from Pratt Institute. He has worked on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney; Lauren Myracle’s TTYL and Flower Power books; Ian Falconer’s Olivia; NERDS and The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley; Babar by Laurent de Brunhoff; The Jellybeans series by Laura Numeroff; Tonya Bolden’s Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl and George Washington Carver; 365 Penguins by Jean Luc Fromental and illustrated by Joelle Jolivet; and the forthcoming My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart by Angela Farris Watkins, illustrated by Erica Velasquez (among other titles).
BBS: Hi, Jason. Welcome to The Brown Bookshelf.
JW: Glad to be here. I’ve long looked from afar at the work that you do. It’s thrilling to take part.
BBS: What does your job as Publicity and Marketing Director entail?
JW: I, with the people in my department, handle everything from setting up author and illustrator interviews and appearances, to pitching authors and illustrators for trade shows, submitting awards, coming up with clever marketing campaigns and much more. Of course, as director I also have to handle managing and motivating the team, and planning out the future. One of the most important roles I play is as communicator—explaining how things work to authors and illustrators and relaying news to them, talking with our sales reps to help them feed information and promotions to customers, and working directly with librarians, booksellers, and the media to spread the word about our books and get feedback.
BBS: What is your working relationship with the author/illustrator?
JW: During the peak promotion period for the book there are calls, e-mails, and information shared back and forth. I like to think of relationships with authors and illustrators as open, in which they feel free to ask lots of questions to discover what is possible.
BBS: These days, authors have a fair amount of marketing responsibilities—even when published traditionally. In your view, what are the most effective ways they can spend their time and financial resources?
JW: To be clear, the author’s involvement has a lot to do with how much time they have to devote to the project. I’m not going to isolate specific things to do as every book is different. Not all book plans are the same. But in general, authors (if willing, and especially if new) should:
1) Always consider every opportunity for promotion. We will often get requests from schools or stores that are nowhere near where the author lives. So if the publisher and author can work together to make these happen it is great. A publisher may not be able to always send an author somewhere but they can assist in other ways.
2) Talk talk talk. Publishers cannot fulfill every request an author may have, but talking about everything is important.
3) Don’t ignore local resources. Some of the best campaigns start at home. If you can get a local librarian, bookseller, or media outlet to cheerlead, sometimes the rest of the world then takes notice.
BBS: What marketing activities does a company like Abrams engage in when promoting a new title?
JW: The list goes on and on. But here are some things we always do:
1) Send review copies to key media, booksellers, librarians, and targeted subject areas that make sense.
2) Keep our sales people informed of activities on the book, so they can then inform booksellers who will want to buy more copies.
3) Exhibit books at trade shows, and bring in authors and illustrators when we can.
The list goes on and on though!
BBS: Tell us the biggest error you see authors making with respect to their perspective on promotion?
JW: I think there is a growing perception that publishers are less supportive than ever before. At least at Abrams, this is not true. So the worst thing an author can do is be distrustful of a publisher without talking to them first. While answers may not always be what the author wants to hear, at Abrams, we want authors to be part of the process all along the way.
BBS: There is a perception among many authors that the majority of promotional activities for PBs lie with them—versus the illustrator. Is that accurate? If so, why do you think that is?
JW: That is not accurate in my world, unless either party does not like to promote. I love the “divide and conquer” approach. If the illustrator lives in point A and the author in point B, all the better for spreading the word.
BBS: Any final advice on book promotion (including anything specific for authors/illustrators of color)?
JW: In my experience authors and illustrators of color have access to some unique marketing arenas. I’d advise them to take advantage of as many of them as possible.
BBS: Drink the leftover milk (from your cereal), or pour it out?
JW: Drink it, every day.
BBS: Picket fence and front porch, or high-rise condo with doorman?
JW: Picket fence and porch if it is waterfront, otherwise high-rise, doorman or not.
BBS: Street smart, book smart, or smart alec ?
JW: Book smart alec.
BBS: Let someone else pick all your clothes, or decide what you eat?
JW: Clothes, for sure. Only two of my seven outfits a week usually make sense.