Meryl Moss is entering the 25th year as head of her Westport public relations agency focused on book promotions, and the arrival of a silver anniversary leaves her wondering where the time went.
“It is surreal, in a way,” said Moss, who was a publicist at the New York literary public relations firm Hilsinger-Mendelson for three years before opening her business in 1993. “In a way, it feels like we started yesterday. And yet so much has changed in the marketing and PR field over 25 years.”
Much has also changed at Meryl Moss Media during that period. Beginning as a one-woman company with a single client — author Robert Fulghum — Moss now runs a 12-person company spanning three business operations from her own two-story headquarters at 99 Saugatuck Ave. One thing that has remained consistent has been her love of the printed word.
“Books are a commitment,” she said. “You have to love and be very passionate about them.”
To her satisfaction, traditional book publishing has not evaporated in the face of digital technology. “In the disposable world we live in today, books are having a resurgence,” Moss said. “Indie booksellers are cropping up all over. People want to gather, want to see, want to touch, want to experience the printed book.”
Moss’s agency currently represents 30 clients, most notably Steve Berry and his upcoming novel “The Bishop’s Pawn;” Rick Pullen and his D.C.-focused thriller “The Apprentice;” Charlie Harary’s study of brain functions and self-perceptions, “Unlocking Greatness;” and “On Pluto,” an updated edition of Greg O’Brien’s autobiography of living with Alzheimer’s disease. Previous book projects handled by the agency included Jane Bryant Quinn’s “Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People;” singing legend Darlene Love’s autobiography “My Name is Love;” and “Extreme Fat Smash Diet” by television personality Dr. Ian K. Smith.
For Moss, one of the most rewarding projects she promoted initially seemed to have the most difficult selling potential: journalist Alan Weisman’s 2007 nonfiction book, “The World Without Us,” which offered a scientific speculation on the future of the natural and manmade environment if the human race were to suddenly disappear from the planet. Moss initially feared that the book would be too esoteric for mainstream media interest.
“Nobody expected it to do a lot. That book got into Newsweek, Time, Business Week and U.S. News and World Report all in one week. From there, we got “The Daily Show” and “Good Morning America.” That was the power of the press; everywhere you looked, that book was happening.”
Getting the word out on her clients has required Moss to keep up with the balkanized state of the media, especially with the severe shrinkage of book reviewing in many daily newspapers and weekly magazines. In response, Moss 10 years ago launched BookTrib as an online resource offering original essays, video interviews and reviews of new books.
“At the time, I felt we needed to be part of the solution and help authors by keeping books alive,” she said. “People want to know where to find the next great read.”
“BookTrib gets 80,000 (ad) impressions per month and we have a newsletter list of 20,000,” said Moss.
Her agency’s clients are included on BookTrib in interviews and as authors of new articles, but to avoid a conflict of interest, their books are not reviewed there. BookTrib also offers an internship program for aspiring wordsmiths. “Writing is more important than ever,” said Moss. “And you can’t work for a company if you can’t write.”
Five years ago, Moss began a third business endeavor with a concierge publishing service that enables clients to self-publish. “It’s a very painstaking process to publish a book correctly,” she said. “We make sure the editing and proofreading is done to a very high level. It is a special service for those clients that really want to be handheld through the process.”
The concierge publishing service has only turned out about 20 books. “We do a few because we want to do it very carefully,” Moss said.
Moss declined to discuss her agency’s revenues, but said an improving economy and a better appreciation by authors today of what PR promotion can do for them have helped to build business.
Getting new publicists to join the agency has been a task, said Moss, who has found that many young college graduates lacking telephone skills.
“It takes a while to work that muscle,” she said, holding an imaginary telephone to her ear and simulating a bicep curl. “Not a lot of people are comfortable with it. There is a lot of rejections in this work, too. It’s very difficult and it’s not