Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Industry Insider: Bethan Hilliard Mills & Boon Marketing

Bethan Hilliard  who works for Mills & Boon Marketing takes time out of her incredibly busy schedule to visit with PHS and answer a few questions.

What does a marketing person do with respect to the books? And how much of your work is in conjunction with editorial? (ie authors often hear of Marketing referred in an almost Godlike tone so what is your responisiblity?)

Wow – where to start?! We work really closely with editorial and are in a constant dialogue with them, but in terms of responsibilities it goes something like this:
All editorial decisions such as which authors to buy, series scheduling, author development and so on are taken by the editorial team. So, in essence, editorial are in charge of the content of the book. Marketing is responsible for the rest of it – how the books look (so if you don’t like your cover, it’s our fault J ), how we communicate in the books, how we advertise and promote the books, authors and Mills & Boon in general.

How did you get into marketing books? Was that the traditional route?

No – I definitely didn’t have the traditional route! By training I am a lawyer and I worked for a big corporate finance firm before realizing that I’m not motivated by equity finance and quitting my job without a clue what to do! But as luck would have it, a good friend of mine who was an editor at Mills & Boon  suggested that I would love publishing. I originally started in editorial, making the move to marketing after a couple of years and I have to say that that time working with the books and the authors has been invaluable in my current role.

What is a typical day like?

One of the best things about this job is that there is no typical day! There’s a huge variety of work that we do, from formulating PR plans with the folks at Midas PR, to having ‘Vision Meetings’ with editorial so that they can brief us on book covers, to sorting out our latest Clubcard campaign with Tesco! The one thing I do every day though is log on to facebook and twitter as I’m the voice of Romance HQ J I really love getting the gossip!

What is your favourite part of the job?

Am I allowed two?! Firstly, Romance HQ is a lovely place to work and the people I work with are great. I hope it comes across what a brilliant atmosphere there is – incredibly supportive and collegiate. Plus, there is a lot of cake and chocolate in a workplace filled with women! And that’s the other thing I love; working for a company which publishes fiction written by women and for women. I think that’s wonderful and I’m a huge Mills & Boon fan. (Currently reading: ‘The Reluctant Surrender’ by Penny Jordan. Loving it! Next on the list is ‘Accidentally Pregnant’ by Rebecca Winters. I love her writing, so I can’t wait to get stuck in.)

How can marketing support authors who want to raise their profile? How do you find out about these authors (ie should authors tell their editors?)

Yes – first port of call is your editor! We have a list of authors who are happy to be contacted for PR etc, so if you’d like to be involved, just let them know and we’ll pop you on there! We try to go via editors where possible because they know what an author’s schedule is looking like, so if they’re up against deadline etc. We’re also happy to support any activity you are doing such as library talks etc with books and any goodies we have. Just ask your editor to contact us.

Social Media (ie blogs, Facebook, twitter and M&B Community) is now a big part of marketing books and it is something that authors can take part in. However authors also need to spend time writing their books. What three things should authors do to maximize their Social Media experience and not let it become a time suck?

I’m a big fan of social media and I think it’s an incredibly powerful marketing tool, but yes, it can definitely be a ‘time suck’ so you need to be careful. So, what I would recommend is:

1) Be disciplined! Check facebook / twitter only a certain time of the day. Unless something big (such as New Voices) is going on, I only look at our accounts first thing in the morning and mid-afternoon. It’s too tempting to just be on there all the time! If you’re worried about missing something on twitter for example, which is so fast-moving, set up a list of your ‘must-follows’ so you can keep abreast of what it going on.

2) You only get out what you put in. To be truly effective, social media should be regarded as a conversation – so you need to respond to people’s comments and thoughts. That doesn’t mean being a slave to it! But the ultimate aim of social media is to engage your audience so if someone asks a question, you need to answer it, otherwise it really is a waste of time. Actually, I think that this is something our authors really well!

3) Be careful and be clear. Because social media is so fast-paced and things ‘disappear’ from your feed really quickly it’s tempting to be off-hand and flippant in the way that you communicate. But remember, in reality tweets, posts and updates can last forever in the internet super-highway and therefore come back to bite you! There have been some spectacular examples of someone not thinking before they type with dire consequences! It’s also tempting to just chat away with no particular aim, but if you want to use social media as a marketing tool, I think it’s important to think about what you want to say to your audience and how you would like to be perceived. Treat it as carefully as you would a press or TV interview.

What other things besides the internet can authors do to help raise the profile of their books? In particular how can overseas authors help to raise the profile of their books or series in the UK?

I think that having a strong local profile and making friends with your local paper is a really good way to start. So, pop down to your library and let them know you’re a local author and happy to do events. Or accept that invitation to open the school’s fete – it really is a case of every little helps. Local press coverage can really help us to secure broader national coverage for authors, so it’s worth doing and most editors love the idea of a Mills & Boon author in their vicinity!

Outside of the internet,(which can help enormously) it’s pretty tricky for overseas authors but if you are over in the UK and want to see if there are PR opportunities while you are over here, it’s worth letting your editor know.

And Mills & Boon is currently running a really exciting contest called New Voices. Can you explain how people (the general public and authors) can become involved in that?

My life is New Voices at the moment! I’m heading up the team, so I’m just thrilled to see the response we’ve been having and the engagement that we’ve got. It’s brilliant because people have responded in exactly the way we hoped, although even we are surprised (and thrilled!) and the popularity of the competition.

The deadline for submissions (from non-published authors – see Ts & Cs for further details) is 11.59pm GMT on 22nd September, so I guess anyone wanting to enter better get their skates on! You just need to submit your first chapter, and that shouldn’t take too long – right?! But whether you enter or not, please do stop by to tell us what you think, to read the awesome hints and tips from our editors and to help us decide who should win!

Thank you so much for stopping by, Bethan. It is really great to get a better insight into what Marketing does!


  1. Great post Bethan! I get a thrill out of your NV posts as well. I was wondering how the research marketing works for a competition like New Voices. Is it based on site traffic or is there some poor soul in your office who reads all those thousands of comments?

    The M&B authors really are wonderful with it comes to replying to questions on their blogs etc and it’s amazing to be able to virtually talk to someone you've read the books of for years!

  2. Great information, Bethan. Thanks. My editor is in the Toronto office, but this is all helpful.

  3. Terrific post, Bethan and how lovely to get to know the "voice" of RomanceHQ on Twitter!

  4. Great post, Bethan! It's lovely to hear that you're a genuine romance fan, too.

  5. Brilliant stuff, Bethan - and really interesting about social media. (I don't do Twitter because I just *know* I'd spend too much time on it!)

  6. Hi Bethan

    It has been a huge pleasure working with you on the New Voices comp... And would definitely recommend authors getting in touch if they're comfortable doing PR, I've really enjoyed the opportunities I've had to spread the word about how good M&B books are. Plus I think there are still so many misconceptions about what the brand is all about out there in the wider non-romancelandia!

    But gotta say I'm with Kate on the Twitter phenomenon, it scares the pants off me frankly, just know if I got hooked into that I'd never write another book again!

  7. Forgot to add a huge thanks to you and the marketing peeps for the new Modern Heat covers.... I adore them!

  8. I like the new covers, too, Heidi!

    Thanks for being with us today Bethan! As an overseas author it's a little different for me, I have to admit I get a little green with envy at some of the truly cool events that happen "across the pond". It's wonderful to have such great support from marketing!

  9. Hi Bethan,

    Cannot agree with you more about time suck and social media.

    I have an off-topic question. How can I recover my password for New Voices?


  10. Great to hear from you, Bethan! It's always interesting to hear what happens to our books once they leave our screens :-). Thank you for taking such good care of them.

  11. Hi everyone! Thanks for reading this post, I'm glad that you found it interesting and thanks for your lovely comments...Thanks to PHS for asking me to take part!

    Lacey - Umm. The poor soul (me) option! Time-consuming...but illuminating!

    Heidi & Kate - you are right re: Twitter. Very addictive and to be approached with caution ;o) You both do a great job with your blogs though. HQ really appreciates it!

    Donna - what a nice thing to say! We're excited that you're our October book of the month.

    Jean - please email and thanks for being part of it!

  12. Thanks for giving us a peek into what you do, Bethan! It's very exciting the New Voices contest has been such a hit, too!