Interview with Jamie-Lee Nardone (BLACKCROW PR)
I’m Jamie-Lee Nardone. I’ve worked with some of the biggest names in genre publishing, from crime giants MC Beaton and Simon Brett, legends of horror Max Brooks, Ramsey Campbell and Grady Hendrix, to all-time greats and exciting debuts of science fiction and fantasy, including Ransom Riggs, Naomi Novik, Tamsyn Muir, Olivie Blake, Freya Marske, John Scalzi, Zen Cho, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Arkady Martine, Rian Hughes and Christopher Paolini. My debut authors have been Sunday Times bestsellers, BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week, and Stoker, Crawford, Aurealis, Locus, Shirley Jackson, RNA, BFSA and Hugo Award-winners.
A background in business, media and events alongside genre expertise makes me the go-to book publicist for all things genre and pop culture; whether you’re a debut author, indy publisher or mass market imprint.
I have also written about TV, film and pop culture for Time Out magazine, Den of Geek and Buzzfeed. In my spare time I enjoy exploring the Westcountry, watching films and talking to my four-legged companions.
Welcome to the Hive, Jamie! Thank you for joining our Women in SFF feature!
Let’s start off with getting to know your book taste. Tell us three of your recent favourite reads?
Most of my reading is for work, so there’s lots of exciting stuff I can’t talk about yet! What I can say is that I’ve read about dinosaurs, werewolves, magic, aliens, creepy gothic houses, secret societies, steamy sex scenes, and lots, lots more! I was also lucky enough to read an early copy of The Luminaries by Susan Dennard which was super addictive – I read it in one sitting and was up til 2am. That’s coming from Daphne Press in November.
I always like to have some non-fiction on the go, and have just finished Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman – it’s absolutely fascinating; how positivity culture can be toxic, how productivity is a myth, and why I need to stop looking at my phone!! My current non-fiction read is Poor Little Sick Girls: A Love Letter to Unacceptable Women by Ione Gamble and it’s beautifully written.
What’s a day in the life of a SFF publicist like? Do you have a daily routine?
I’m absolutely terrible with routines – a big reason I don’t work in-house! I’m a bit addicted to my inbox, so I check it when I get up to see if there’s anything urgent. I do this from bed (I know, bad habits) where I’m usually surrounded by my dog and cat. Then I get up and have a (decaf) coffee, or, if I need it for fatigue/hayfever, ALL THE CAFFIENE. I check my to-do list for the day and double-check my calendar for any calls/meetings. Depending on my energy levels, I’ll be pretty glued to my computer for the day, whether from the bed, sofa or desk. It’s not that glamourous – more admin than champagne parties.
What would you say are the highs and lows of your job? Which aspects do you enjoy the most and which can be particularly stressful?
I absolutely love seeing great coverage for books and projects that I work on, including readers sharing the book love on socials. I also get sent a lot of cat pictures, which is great. I’m very grateful to work with awesome people in the industry and meet fabulous authors. It’s definitely a job where you’re constantly learning new things, so I never get bored.
Not getting the desired coverage for something you really believe in can be challenging – the diminishing review space, attitudes towards genre fiction, not meeting lead times, etc. In terms of stress, I think the entire industry is facing burnout. The expectations are very high.
What made you become an SFF publicist? Was this a job you always wanted to pursue? Have you always loved books?
I was your typical only child with their head stuck in a book. Both my parents worked full-time, so reading was a real comfort. Having grown up on Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy and Point Horror, I was naturally drawn to all things SFF. I had no idea I could make a living from working on it, and sort of fell into it at 24. It has a wonderful community that I’m proud and privileged to be a part of.
Having a disability, do you find that being a publicist makes it easier to accommodate your specific needs? Or are there any parts of the job that you struggle with because of your disability?
I became disabled almost three years ago with ME/CFS, and would not be able to do my job if I hadn’t already made the transition to working from home and freelancing. Thankfully, I have incredible clients who are very understanding, and a team of fabulous freelancers who are able to assist and/or manage events for me, which is the biggest challenge I face in-person. I also find Zoom calls very tiring, so try to space those out as much as possible. Thankfully I’ve always been more of an indoor cat (as Olivie Blake calls it), and I have my wonderful four-legged companions for company.
During the lockdowns, one good thing that came from it was the use of virtual events, which actually made it more inclusive for disabled people who perhaps cannot travel to in-person events or find that the chosen venue is not accessible. How important do you think it is to continue having virtual events? Did you find it challenging to organise them at first or was it relatively easy?
That’s a great question. The way we (PRs) had to navigate lockdown and pivot to changes/demands was…a lot. We shifted more focus to online platforms such as Crowdcast and Instagram, and adapted to what worked and what didn’t (eg virtual book tours). It’s definitely a ‘less is more’ with online events. Becoming disabled myself really opened my eyes to their importance. I think it’s vital to keep having these options, and to host physical events in accessible venues. I would say demand has fallen for virtual options, and they can be costly to set up, but it definitely shouldn’t be an either/or.
Ok two fun questions now!
The world shifts, and you find yourself with the ability to enter any fictional world you want. Which do you choose and why?
Doctor Who. I would give anything to go in the TARDIS and time travel/explore the universe.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
Ohh tricky. Obviously I’d love a dragon, but I think a massive bear would be cool (thanks John Gwynne and Adrian Tchaikovsky). I’d also love a giant cat. Like a domestic cat that’s a champion fighter but also a massive snuggle machine.
Lastly, do you have any advice for anyone wanting to pursue a career as an SFF publicist?
I would start working in jobs that give you people skills, whether it’s working in a bookstore, a café, or shoe shop. And don’t ever think that you won’t have to do admin, so office experience is really handy. I’d network at events (that’s how I got my first ‘in’), and get yourself on social media. Engage with publishers, authors and readers – shout about the books you love! I don’t believe a degree is necessary, but a can-do attitude and willingness to learn is an absolute must. I’m very much a believer in ‘don’t ask, don’t get.’
Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for having me! xx