Pace University proudly acknowledges the remarkable achievements of its alum and current adjunct faculty member, Professor Jessica Napp, as she concludes her inaugural year serving as the Director of Publicity at Rizzoli. The MS in Publishing department extends heartfelt congratulations to Professor Napp, who, as a member of the class of 2000, has demonstrated an impressive trajectory in the field. 

Professor Napp has garnered valuable experience in publicity departments at renowned publishing houses such as Simon & Schuster, Little Brown, Abrams/Stewart, and Tabori & Chang. Her journey at Rizzoli International Publications began in 2007, where she was first a Publicity Manager. Over the years, her dedication and expertise led to promotions, reaching the positions of Associate Director of Publicity in 2012 and Director of Publicity in 2023. Some of the campaigns she has worked on include Saved, Ann Lowe: American Couturier, and Budmo! among many others. 

In celebration of this significant milestone, Professor Napp graciously agreed to share her insights through an interview for the MS in Publishing blog. The department commends her outstanding contributions and wishes her continued success in shaping the future of publicity within the publishing industry.  

~ Balancing your role as a faculty member and Director of Publicity, how do you integrate real-world experiences into your teaching approach, providing students with valuable insights from your recent experiences in the industry? 

I try my best to use real-world experiences to back up the theoretical whenever possible. There is no textbook that teaches you how to be a publishing professional and that is why the Pace program is so invaluable.   

From the press perspective, I share examples of pitches I have sent to media outlets and back it up by showing clips of the coverage secured. I have shared pitching mistakes I have made over the years. I start each of the in-person classes with stories from my work week so they can appreciate what I have been working on when not doing schoolwork. This semester my class is hearing play-by-play details on the big Barbie book Rizzoli is publishing on March 19th! Last year, I was able to take the class on a field trip to see an event of mine up close and personal, complete with me in action. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is!   

I ask students to profile local bookstores under the lens of class lessons; it is not enough to be a bookstore customer, they need to understand why stores are laid out as they are, why they stock certain inventory, what they do to sell that inventory and connect to the community, how they host events—I ask that they be active participants and not passive consumers. I ask students to do a little bit of everything that I do, so they can fully appreciate the publicity process even if it is not an area they wish to explore professionally. When you have an appreciation for what other members of the publishing community do day-in and day-out, you are a better team member.    

~ What is your take on the importance of networking and industry connections for students within the MS in Publishing program?  

The Pace network was one of the main reasons I enrolled in the program. Networking is everything. Two of my regular guest lecturers are Pace Publishing alums that I did not meet in school, but in the workforce and our shared Pace experience helped strengthen our working relationship. I met one Pace alum at a school event years ago and she has proven to be an invaluable resource to my class as she holds a unique role at one of the big 5; students appreciate her story and how she helped launch a new department, one that didn’t even exist 10 years ago. My other guest, who helps us understand fiction publicity, is a former colleague of a classmate of mine and I could argue that she is an unofficial graduate of the program as she used to hear us talk about schoolwork at great length back in the day. Former teachers of mine had served as my first job references—I could go on and on. Yes, networking can help with job placements, informational interviews, etc. Networking can help you find a way into companies and departments that may seem out of reach. The experience of reading a book can be a solitary endeavor, but the industry is nothing short of collaborative.   

~ Can you share details about a specific publicity campaign or project that you found particularly challenging, and how did you navigate and overcome those challenges? Have you ever used any unconventional strategies in any projects that yielded positive results, showcasing the dynamic nature of publicity in publishing? 

So, you want the good and the ugly here! Challenges are moments for growth and what you learn from them is just as important as what you learn from your successes. Hard lessons: losing coverage because of a typo-filled email (spell-check failed, I now run it twice); thought I was speaking to a media person off-the-record only to find out days later that I was quoted extensively and out of context; needing to have hard conversations with authors when things don’t go according to plan (book deliveries not making it to the event on time, negative media reviews, etc.)—not sure I am getting better at it, but I am getting a bit better about not absorbing these things as personally as I once did. As much as I would like to control UPS/FedEx/DHL/Customs and Ports/Major World Events, there are limitations to the magic I can enact.   

The campaign I remain most proud of was using the launch of Rizzoli’s Ukrainian cookbook, BUDMO!, as a fundraising tool for World Central Kitchen at the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022. I rarely have campaigns that would lend themselves to a charity component and my work at Rizzoli rarely allows me to respond to news cycle events in such a profound manner.   

~ How do you address the balance between traditional and digital media in publicity campaigns?  

The most successful way to do this is to know your audience, who is the end consumer for the book and figure out the right mix. Once you understand what the consumer is interested in, where they like to shop, what media they consume, only then can you think of the most effective ways to reach them and meet them where they are. Not everyone reads the New York Times Book Review and not everyone is following #BookTok and you should noy try to force an audience to go someplace they are not comfortable going. I joke (partially) in class that the #BookToks that show readers crying while actively reading a book is a turn off to me personally, even if the book’s subject matter is something I very well may be interested in otherwise. If you don’t try to reach me through more traditional outlets, you will not secure my book purchase or public review or word of mouth. But have I purchased books promoted on IG by fellow publicists or local influencers? You bet! My mother barely uses a cell phone and types her checks on a typewriter … how do you get her to buy a book? You better have a glowing review in People magazine or a stellar display front and center at her local B&N. My 17-year-old nephew will see a book mentioned on a social platform and text me questions about it (usually if I can get him a signed copy of the book or VIP admission to the signing line—I won the auntie game with John Cena @ BN Union Square years ago).   

~ Can you share any pivotal moments from your first year as Director of Publicity?  

Pivotal can mean so many things, but the moment I am most proud of this last year was having the honor of sending a first annual department recap/highlight reel. I wanted the rest of the company to see how hard my team worked and I wanted their accomplishments celebrated beyond our merry little team. I was thrilled to report that my team had over 50 placements in the New York Times (approx. one book a week across a variety of sections); 12 placements in the Wall Street Journal (one book a month across a variety of sections); 4 national TV placements; successfully oversaw 500+ events nationwide; and had one of our most impressive line-ups of books featured in a variety of holiday gift guides nationwide. Being able to celebrate them and their hard work was important to me. As I have stated in class time and again, publicity is 90% hard work/behind-the-scenes with only 10% of the public glory and I wanted that 90% acknowledged.