Promote the book, promote the author, and sell the heck out of the book!” is Linda Duggins’s simple description of her responsibilities as senior director of publicity at Grand Central Publishing. Now in her 18th year at Hachette, she reports to Grand Central v-p of publicity Matthew Ballast.
After graduating from Hofstra University with a degree in biology, Duggins landed a job at IBM as a customer support and contracts representative. Fifteen years later, she entered publishing, working with books and authors as advertising and marketing manager of QBR: The Black Book Review, and she was one of several cofounders of the Harlem Book Fair in 1999, where she produced literary events celebrating black writers.
Duggins landed at Warner Books in 2001 as a senior publicist. There, she worked with authors including Michele Andrea Bowen, Joseph Cardillo, Nalo Hopkinson, John Johnson, and Tayari Jones. She recalled that at that time, her job was “focused primarily on multicultural writers.”
Warner Books was purchased by Hachette in 2006, and Duggins became director of multicultural publicity. “Our list at the time was truly multicultural,” she said. “It featured black, white, Jewish, Latin-American, and writers from India—not just black authors.”
Duggins is now senior publicity director at Grand Central. Her roster of authors has changed but still features noted writers and celebrities, among them Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Misty Copeland, Pam Grier, Kimberla Lawson Roby, Joy Thomas Moore, and Terrie Williams.
Duggins has had to adjust to changes in the book review world, including the decline in newspaper book reviews, and also to working alongside independent publicists. “Most of the time, it’s great—it’s all about supporting the author and the project,” she said. Although she also said that she’s had to work with authors who took the attitude of “this is how I want this done,” an approach that often “was not in their best interests.” Duggins added, “That’s when you have to enlist the team—the editor, marketing, the agent—to stay focused on the author and the book.”
Recently, Duggins has been working on lifestyle books, among them cookbooks and diet books, which require different kinds of outreach than fiction or other types of nonfiction. “I’ll use social media at times, but that’s not my focus,” she said. “My focus is to get the word out in any and every way.”
Forthcoming projects that Duggins is working on include When Life Gives You Pears, a memoir by Jeannie Gaffigan coming in September. She’s also promoting new trade paperback editions of Parable of the Sower (Apr.) and Parable of the Talents (Aug.), two classic backlist works of science fiction by the late Octavia Butler, whom Duggins worked with at Warner Books.
Besides informally mentoring some of her younger publishing colleagues, Duggins also works with African American Literature Book Club (AALBC) and the Black Pack on their popular annual social gathering of black book professionals held during BookExpo, which is now organized in conjunction with People of Color in Publishing, a new professional association focused on diversity in the book industry.
Duggins is also the creator and longtime producer of the Annual International Women’s History Month Literary Festival at Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and serves on the boards of directors of the National Book Club Conference, the online literary journal Kweli, and the Queensbridge Scholarship Fund, which benefits residents of the New York City housing project where she grew up.
Duggins says it’s all an extension of her job: “Interacting with and bringing books to every community can make all the difference.”