Digital Marketing – An interview with Anna Jarzab

It probably won’t surprise you all to hear that, over the past seven or so years, digital marketing has become a critical component to how publishers approach putting their books in the hands of readers–especially YA fiction. I’m very pleased that my good pal Anna Jarzab who, in addition to be a published author, is a Digital and Social Marketing Manager for Penguin Young Readers Group, has agreed to stop by today and give us some inside details. She’s the voice behind many a Twitter and Tumblr accounts (as you’ll see below!) and has worked on many upon many campaigns for authors as varied as Ally Condie (Reached), John Green (The Fault in Our Stars), Richelle Mead (Vampire Academy/Bloodlines series) and Andrew Smith (Grasshopper Jungle).

1. Can you give us your background on how you came to work in digital/social marketing? (For instance, what did you major in, did you intern, the publishing course, etc.)

anna-jarzab_2I was an English/Poli Sci double major in college, and at one point I thought I was going to go to law school, but while I was in college I got pretty heavily involved in the literary review and decided that I wanted to go into publishing and become–of course–an editor. It’s still something that I consider from time to time, moving over to the editorial side, but it’s a really different job from the one I do and I don’t think I’d like it as much as I sometimes imagine. I went to the Denver Publishing Institute after graduation and found my way into editorial at a textbook company that kind of doesn’t exist anymore, but I was working on Earth Science textbooks and I knew that wasn’t where I wanted to be. I wanted to move to New York, work in trade publishing–that was always my goal. Instead, I went to grad school! The idea of moving to New York with no connections in the publishing industry was really daunting, so I took this sort of middle road. While I was in grad school I interned at a small trade publisher that doesn’t exist anymore (maybe people should stop hiring me! I seem to be bad luck), and then afterwards at a literary agency. Through that internship, I got my first job in New York, as a marketing assistant at a book marketing company called The Book Report Network. I got that job mainly because I had a familiarity with book blogs, mostly just because I liked them. The skills I learned in that job–social media management, blog pitching, etc.–helped me land my job at Penguin, which at the time was more focused on developing relationships with book bloggers and securing reviews. I also developed a lot of content–book trailers, websites, etc.–when I started at Penguin, which was a big learning curve for me but my job has morphed a few times since then.

2. What advice would you give to someone looking to get into this particular field in publishing? Are there any programs that you’d recommend having some kind familiarity with (Photoshop, HootSuite, etc.)?

One of the best, and hardest, parts of my job is that I’m sort of a jack of all trades (and master of some, I hope!). I am, at any given time, a copy writer, a designer, a social media manager, an ad planner/buyer, and responsible for developing online marketing campaigns that integrate with retail and publicity initiatives. The greatest skill I have in my arsenal is as sort of a creative problem solver. One of my former coworkers and I referred to ourselves as MacGyvers–people want certain things to happen, and we either don’t have the resources or the skills to execute them, so we figure out how to do it, we learn the skills we need and leverage the resources we do have. I have taught myself so many things in this job, and continue to do so, which I think has contributed to my overall value at the company. I’m by no means an expert in Photoshop or video editing, but I have Googled and read tutorials to figure out how to do things, and taken advantage of trainings offered through the company in order to do others. If we’re talking specifically about social media management, this seems sort of obvious, but having a real in-depth familiarity with social platforms is so important. Knowing how the platforms work is different than knowing how to use them. The good news is that this information can be acquired with no money–just time, patience, curiosity, and an itchy Google trigger finger.

3. What does a typical day look like for you? What are some of your daily/weekly/monthly tasks, or does it really change day by day?

imagesI start most days by opening up all the Penguin Teen social channels on my computer and checking the state of the union–looking at Twitter notifications, and the performance of my more recent posts on Facebook, etc. I try to answer all the inbox messages that have come in, check the wall to delete spam or comment on fan posts, stuff like that. I do this with some of my big single-title or series fan pages, too, especially if I have campaigns going on. I check in on our social channels many, many times a day, to post or tweet or just see what conversations are percolating. Then I get into the meat of my job, which is planning social promotions, creating content calendars for social channels, writing marketing copy, working on advertising proposals and targeting. I always have plenty of emails to answer and write, and design work to do, mostly creating social assets that I use on our channels. I also attend several meetings a day, which inevitably lead to more action items. There’s nothing predictable about my job–I’m always looking for new ways to do things, new approaches to take, new avenues to promote our books and authors–but there are some things I do on a regular basis, like moderating Twitter chats, running Facebook and Twitter sweepstakes and all that entails, and creating the dreaded content calendars, which are monthly planning documents where I lay out all the posts I want to make on Facebook. They’re very helpful once they’re done, but they’re hard to put together! To paraphrase someone, “I don’t like creating content calendars, I like having created content calendars.”

4. What are some of the common elements in a book’s marketing campaign? Or, can you give some insight as to how you brainstorm for a specific title?

What we try to do when brainstorming a marketing plan is look at the bigger picture, try to figure out what makes the book special or what about it will really appeal to the market we’re trying to sell it to. Sometimes this can be a tagline, or a broader theme, or an initiative based on book content–it changes with every book and every plan. Then we try to figure out how we can carry that central idea out through all our various marketing channels–retail, online, publicity, institutional–and boil it down into executable tactics. Ideally, this is how it gets done. It’s harder than it sounds, and easier, if that makes any sense. Which it probably doesn’t.

5. Do you have any tips on how authors should approach social media? Do you see any common mistakes being made? 

I have been known to say that social media is a long con, by which I mean that there’s really no one-size-fits-all strategy, and no meaningful shortcuts. (You can pay money to acquire fans and followers if you want, but I don’t have tons of faith that throwing money at the problem helps you in the long-term.) It’s a build. It’s a constant, constant build. It’s about connecting with your fans and audience as a real and genuine person who also happens to write books. It’s about having conversations and being natural and personable. It’s also about playing to your strengths–if you hate Twitter, please, do not force yourself to do Twitter. There is probably a platform that better suits your style and the way you like to communicate and converse with your fans. Give them all a try, see what works. A lot of authors will say, “Do I have to do this? How many times a day should I post? What should I say?” and those are perfectly reasonable, natural questions, but they’re putting the cart before the horse. Figure out how you best like to exist on social as a consumer of social media, then start applying tactics–you may find that it becomes natural as you use the platform.

One thing I don’t think authors do enough (and maybe I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think I am) is use the free analytics tools at their fingertips to figure out who they’re talking to and why their followers choose to follow them. Facebook fan pages have some pretty robust analytics built right in (they’re called “insights” in Facebook parlance), and Twitter has secret analytics as part of their advertising tool (you don’t have to spend any money to use them, just go to and sign in under your handle–there’s an analytics tab at the top). Play around with these tools and see what you can discover about your own fans. It could be really interesting.


7 Responses to Digital Marketing – An interview with Anna Jarzab

  1. Alex Apr 29 2014 at 10:42 am #

    This is such a great post! Digital marketing sounds like such a fun job and one I’ve been wanting to learn more about. I was so excited to see that Anna attended the Denver Publishing Institute–I’m enrolled for the session this summer and I can’t wait!

  2. Chelsey Apr 29 2014 at 11:07 am #

    Great article! I’d like to learn more about Anna’s point re: social media. Knowing how it works vs. how to use it. Could someone explain that a little bit more? Maybe some specific examples about Facebook, perhaps?

    • Anna Jarzab Apr 29 2014 at 12:36 pm #

      Hi Chelsey – what I mean by “how to use it” is stuff like literally how to do things on Facebook–create a page, post, like, share, comment, the actual physical mechanics of how to use the platform–and how it works, which is more like, when should I post, how regularly, what kind of content should I post, how do I reach more people, what kind of content do my followers respond best to, etc. Or, even more big-picture, are the people who are my intended audience even on this platform? Should I be using a different platform to reach them? Does that make sense?

  3. Dahlia Adler Apr 29 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    Great post, and I love the point about social media – I try to tell this to authors alllll the time. If you don’t like something, not only will it be like pulling teeth, but it’ll eat into so much more of your writing time than if it’s something you enjoy enough that it’s practically effortless. Love that you came from a scientific pub background; we basically moved in opposite paths!

  4. Anna Apr 29 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    This interview was so informative and I learned so much! I am curious about the burdens placed on the writer to market themselves and their books. (I’m basing this question off of the recent Salon article by Becky Tuch.) Aren’t authors doing more marketing work (blogging, reviewing, editing, tweeting, tumblring, analyzing) than they ever had before? Does all of that work pay off in sales? Does it ever take away from their next project, since there is so much pressure to build their brand? So many celebrities have teams of people running their Twitter feed and Facebook pages. Do you think the book industry could be headed in that direction?

    • Anna Jarzab May 2 2014 at 9:34 am #

      I don’t think author should see social media as a burden. It should be part of the job, it is part of the job. Authors should be interested in and focused on talking to fans and consumers. If the optics are that authors are doing more “marketing” work than ever before, it’s because publishing as an industry is kind of old school and it took us a while to catch up. Authors should see social media as an opportunity rather than yet another thing they have to do. Whether or not it pays off in sales, well, there’s not really a way to quantify that (if there was, my job would probably be easier), but that’s why I say it’s a long con. It’s not really about 1 to 1 book sales (“if I tweet this many times, I’ll sell this many books”) but rather about forging bonds with readers that are meaningful and that, in the end, make people want to buy your books. I don’t know that authors make enough money in aggregate for everyone to have a team running their social media, although I suspect there are certainly some big, big authors who get some paid help. At the end of the day, I don’t think social media activity is meaningful to the consumer unless it is genuine, so paying someone to handle it sort of defeats the purpose.

  5. Michael Apr 30 2014 at 6:48 am #

    I agree with you about building slow. I’m a little overwhelmed about that. I guess if your book is really good, you will gradually begin to get interaction. When I see that it is resonating with somebody, I try to let them know that I care about them and I’m available for communication.

    I’m realizing that I probably have too many other responsibilities in my life to really keep up with the social media aspect well, so I’ll just have to write and go slow.

    Your perspective is really helpful!

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