#64: An Interview with Consumer Engagement Coordinator Amy Brinker, by Matthew Daddona
December 10, 2014
The departments involved in publishing are vast and intertwined, weaving editorial, publicity, marketing, production, operation, sales, art, and more. But what about the department that is directly responsible for what the consumer sees, for the information on a publisher’s given website? In this week’s ‘Encounter,’ I chat with Amy Brinker, a consumer engagement coordinator at Penguin Random House. She describes the fascinating personal appeal of her job, and the creativity involved in maintaining the Penguin.com site.
What department do you work for at Penguin Random House? What are the general responsibilities and day-to-day duties?
I work in the Consumer Engagement group which deals with online marketing, Penguin.com, the corporate social media platforms, newsletters, and much, much more. For my part, I run the Penguin Corporate tumblr (readpenguin.tumblr.com), share social media duties, cohost the podcast Beaks & Geeks, manage the employee Staff Picks feature on the Penguin Blog and curate the genre pages on Penguin.com. I also drink coffee, bother my coworkers for chocolate and sometimes help stage elaborate Instagram photo shoots.
You work extensively on the Penguin website. What does this entail?
My main work on the website is on the category pages (Literary Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, History/Current Events, etc.). I work with the imprints and my supervisor to pick books we’d like to feature prominently on each page. I get a piece of exclusive content for each genre – usually a note from the author or the editor to accompany a book. I love to see how authors choose to introduce their books and it’s been a great way to familiarize myself with sub-genres I’d never heard of before… I’m looking at you, Amish Romance novels.
How do you prepare for author interviews and podcasts? What are some of the most interesting interviews you’ve conducted?
Once I have an interview scheduled, I generally do a little bit of research on the author but spend more time reading their new book or making lists of questions I’d like answered. Lindsay (who manages the podcast) and I have a list of general questions we refer to, but on the whole we prefer Beaks & Geeks to be organic and conversational. I know what I’d like to ask each author but I think the interviews turn out best best when they are looser and less formal.
Interviewing any author is fun, but it’s especially exciting if you’ve been a fan of their work for a long time. One of my favorite interviews is with Anne Helen Petersen, the author of Scandals of Classic Hollywood. I’d been reading her columns on The Hairpin for years, and was delighted to get my hands on her new book. She’s a sweet, funny conversationalist, but she’s also a hardcore academic with years of research and teaching under her belt. https://soundcloud.com/beaks-and-geeks/anne-helen-petersenhttps://soundcloud.com/beaks-and-geeks/anne-helen-petersen
It was a treat talking to Emma Straub, who is just the most lovely person as well as a fantastic, talented writer and enthusiastic reader. https://soundcloud.com/beaks-and-geeks/emma-straub
Lindsay’s interview with Damnien Echols and Lorri Davis is by far our most popular episode and really gives some insight into their relationship: https://soundcloud.com/beaks-and-geeks/damien-echols-and-lorri-davis
Another big hit is Lindsay’s conversation with Deborah Harkness, author of the hugely successful All Souls Trilogy: https://soundcloud.com/beaks-and-geeks/bea-deborah-harkness
How has the website extended its outreach to more consumers across the U.S.? Are there any big plans in 2015?
We launched the new penguin.com early this year and have seen a huge response. Browsing for books is much simpler, more precise and more fun. I think readers are spending more time on the site because we’re offering so much exclusive content from authors and editors and its easier than ever to discover something new to read.
How do the “Staff Picks”work?
The Staff Picks on the Penguin blog is a hugely popular feature and my personal favorite. Each month, I sit down with my supervisor and we talk about who reads what. We look for big readers of each genre from all corners of the company and I ask them if they’d like to share some book recommendations. No big surprise, but people who work in publishing love talking about their all time favorite reads. The employee includes a few sentences about each book, so you really get a sense of why they love it and whether or not you’d like it too. The best part is that these books can be any Penguin title…frontlist, backlist or coming soon. Oftentimes, backlist gems are overlooked, so it’s great to give older books a little attention.
What I love about the website is that it has a very personal feel–it brings together readers and editors in an engaging format. How is this accomplished?
That’s great to hear! I’m going to tell everyone in my department so we can pat ourselves on the back.
I think that the new website is meant to be exactly that: personal. Books are so specific to a person and there are as many sub-genres as there are readers. The tricky thing is to be able to find something in a sea of titles. Our browse feature lets a reader filter down and down and down, by fiction, nonfiction, award-winners, coming-soon, mystery, etc. There are tons of options so book buying is made a little simpler.
You’re right about the emphasis on editors and readers on the site. It’s helpful to have the personal touch of a Dear Reader letter from an author, a category page with specifically selected books on display or a link to an interview with an author.
Amy Brinker is a Consumer Engagement Coordinator at Penguin Random House. She co-hosts the Penguin podcast Beaks & Geeks and reads submissions for The Atlas Review. She likes classic novels and terrible movies.
Matthew Daddona is an assistant editor at Plume, a founding member of the performance ensemble FLASHPOINT, and an editor at Tottenville Review. His most recent writing has appeared in The Adirondack Review, Electric Literature, Tin House, and Gigantic. He is currently finalizing a collaborative project based around synesthesia. He lives in New York City. You can follow him @MatthewDaddona.