Q&A with Gibson House’s partner in publicity

Gibson House Press works with expert and talented independent contractors. Today, intern Chelsea Ayorinde interviews our publicist extraordinaire Mary Bisbee-Beek.

When did you launch your publishing career in San Francisco?
Late in the summer of 1977, I was finished with college and I realized that the jobs that I had had to date were really fun but decidedly non-growth positions and publishing was always something that I was interested in, so I thought I would investigate the possibilities. I think that people generally think of publishing being a New York-centric industry, but the Bay Area has a very vibrant publishing scene, especially with smaller more independent presses–literary publishers, children’s publishers, travel book publishers, University presses–you can have a full sampling of opportunities in the Bay Area.

As someone who has moved around the country, what has been your favorite place to live and why?
I grew up in New York City; moved to San Francisco in high school and stayed for 22 years. My husband and I moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, for his work and then to Ann Arbor, Michigan, for my work and now we’re in Portland, Oregon. I’m very pleased to consider myself a New Yorker although of all of these locations I lived in, San Francisco the longest and I think San Francisco will also hold a very special place in my heart because it’s so beautiful there and it’s where some of my deepest friendships started. I never really took to the Midwest and although Ann Arbor is in the eastern time zone it still felt more middle than eastern to me. And the middle of the country has some deeply disturbing weather patterns–it’s much too cold in the winter and winter lasts for a very long time but it does allow one to spend an enormous amount of time reading during those very long winters!

Any advantages or disadvantages from going from a team to working independently on publicity projects?
Working as a staff person definitely has some perks–immediate colleagues, paid vacation and sick time, often health insurance and a scheduled paycheck. Working independently isn’t really working alone because I am still partnering with a publishing office or an author and often and hopefully both; and I have the book media and booksellers and librarians to also keep me company! I think that people misunderstand the concept of independent as the work itself is not done in a vacuum. I’m always checking in with the client, whether it’s the publisher or the author, and they both have to be kept in the loop of communication. I still have to keep regular office hours and I suspect that the piece that I can be most independent about is the projects that I take on–if there’s a book that I don’t think is the right fit for me then I can turn it down–that’s the truest form of independence when one works for themselves.

What type of books do you prefer to work with?
Smart fiction, cerebral yet readable nonfiction, poetry, and social documentary photography books. I don’t work with cookbooks or children’s books, and science fiction is rarely the right fit for me.

What’s your favorite thing about your career?
The people. People that work with books are smart, they often have above average senses of humor, and they are generally exceedingly kind and very collaborative and helpful.

Future goals?
I’m happy that I’m able to work independently and I hope that never goes away. I’d like to grow two pieces of my business, selling foreign rights whenever possible and for my consulting business the Publishing Sherpa to continue to grow, as well.