Faces of Publishing: Justin Golenbock, TOR

Justin Golenbock

Justin Golenbock is a Senior Publicist for Tor and Forge Books and has worked with them for over three years. Previously he was a publicist at Henry Holt & Company. In this interview, Justin talks about how he got into publishing and became a publicist, what an ordinary day entails for him, and what he likes to do for fun.

Justin Golenbock

Alex C. Telander: How did you first get started in publishing?

Justin Golenbock: Like most young wannabes, I applied to lots and lots of jobs (over 70, I think) before landing my first interview, and the rest is history.  I’ve been in the industry over 5 years now and haven’t yet lost my sanity. 🙂

Alex: Did you always want to work in publicity?

Justin: I had no idea what it was, actually, until I first interviewed for an assistant job.  The industry (and this job) is a lot more complex than I thought it was, from the outside looking in, but the excitement of working with authors and having such a direct impact on the success or failure of a book hooked me.

Alex: Who are some of your favorite authors you’ve gotten to meet and/or work with?

Justin: Oooh boy, that’s a tough one to answer!  I hate to leave anyone out.  For fairness sake, I’ll stick to authors I loved working with at my old job: Charles Shields, who wrote a tremendous literary biography of Harper Lee called MOCKINGBIRD and has a new book just out, an authorized biography of Kurt Vonnegut called AND SO IT GOES, and Bill McKibben, who wrote DEEP ECONOMY and is an amazing activist for climate change regulation and community action.  Too many at Tor to mention…

Alex: Author book tours: are they lots of fun, lots of hard work, or a combination of the two?

Justin: Oi!  More the latter…lots of late nights, weekend calls, and the stress of oh-so-many things that can go wrong that are out of your control.  To be fair, though, its all of those things and more for the unfortunate authors we force out onto the road 🙂   But it’s incredibly satisfying when they go well, and you see a deserving book and author get rewarded with a spot on the bestseller list.

Alex: Any enlightening stories you’d like to share about a particular author or author tour?

Justin: I’ve worked on some wild ones.  Without naming names, one of the strangest, high-maintenance author tours I worked on involved having to schedule regular hair appointments in every city this author visisted.  A bald guy researching top salons across the country?  I didn’t even know what a “blowout” was.

Alex: What does an ordinary day entail for you?

Justin: I don’t know if there’s any such thing…every day can bring some new disast-, err, I mean exciting development.  Lots of emails and phone calls, mailing books, updating budgets and bills and all sorts of administrative minutia, scheduling interviews and doing all kinds of things with the goal of getting as much attention for a book as possible.  You have to manage your time well, so you’re busting it on the books just out without neglecting those coming down the road.  And on the fun days, events and conventions!  I love talking to fans and readers, whether they’re in the media, at bookstores, or over Twitter.   But there are a lot of different responsibilities to manage.

Alex: What’s your favorite part of the job?

Justin: The activity.  You’re never bored, there’s always something you can be doing, and we’re living in an age where the industry is changing seemingly by the day.  You have to stay up to date with the latest things that authors and bookstores are doing that are helping sell books, it’s an exciting time to be experimenting with new ideas and different types of projects.

Alex: Do you get lots of free books as a publicist?

Justin: Lots!  My Xmas shopping stays cheap 🙂

Alex: Like anyone who works at a bookstore, it’s said that everyone working in publishing is an aspiring writer; is this true for you?

Justin: It actually is true for me, though I don’t think it’s as widespread as you might think.  Working in publishing won’t get your book published, only writing a good book will do that.  But a very cool benefit of working in publishing is that you meet a lot of talented and interesting people.

Alex: What do you think about ebooks?

Justin: Personally, I still prefer the physical book; most of the books I do pay for are in paperback.  And I love bookstores, and continue to do what little I can to support them against the mighty ebook powerhouses.  I have an iPad and a Sony E-Reader, but I mostly use them for work books that are as yet unpublished (much more convenient than the old days of printing out 500 page manuscripts, held together by rubber bands and coffee stains).  The medium doesn’t matter so much to me, so long as good stories still find their way to readers.

Alex: How long do you think printed books will last, or will they never disappear?

Justin: I don’t think they’ll disappear.  I think what we’re seeing now is that E-Books are replacing certain types of books, like the mass market paperback, and that they do disproportionally well in certain genres, but not others.  The printed book isn’t like the CD, which hadn’t been around for very long and was never a great medium for listening to music; printed stories have been around for thousands of years, and they ain’t going away anytime soon.

Alex: For someone interested working in publishing, what’s the best way to get started?

Justin: Do your research in two areas: 1) get to know the industry, particularly the different publishers and imprints and what types of books they specialize in, and 2) milk any connections you have to get in touch with people who work in the industry.  If a friend of a cousin has a job as Publisher X, ask for their email address.  Many first jobs come through internal referrals, and I’ve found that most young people in this industry are very generous with their time when it comes to helping someone break in.  Keep in mind that many of us also get a referral bonus through recommending new hires, so there’s a self-serving benefit as well.

Alex: What do you like to read?

Justin: Like most of us, I’m a book worm!  I landed at Tor because I’m a big SF/f geek, but I try to alternate between genre and literary books.  I’m also big into historical nonfiction, particularly military history.

Alex: Who’s your favorite author?

Justin: Another tough one…my two favorites are probably Cormac Mccarthy (the great American author) and Haruki Murakami.  I’m reading 1Q84 right now and loving it.  I’m also a huge fantasy fan and love George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan.  I guess it’s not such a huge surprise that I ended up working on the Wheel of Time 🙂

Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?

Justin: When I have any?  Sigh.  I’m a big gaming nerd, and it’s been a big season for games: Uncharted 3, Deus Ex, Skyrim…I’m also from Boston so by definition I’m a huge sports nut.  Balance that with a beer or three here and there, and that about sums me up!

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