Interviews / Marketing & Advertising

Balancing the Grind with Peter Knox, Head Of Marketing at Book Highlight

Peter Knox is the Head Of Marketing at Book Highlight, a Brooklyn-based full service agency that specializes in marketing and sales strategy for authors.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

From an early age, I was always reading. Under the desk at school, under the covers at night.

When I arrived at college (Washington College, small liberal arts school on the eastern shore of Maryland, close and far enough from home outside Philadelphia), I jumped  into being an English Major – four courses, four books to read each week.

At the same time, I’d be editing the arts section in the weekly newspaper, editing the entire monthly college magazine, and writing for both. But it was only after running the college literary press for a summer that I thought of a career in books, realizing how much longer a shelf life and impact that a book could have. 

I was awarded a prize for publishing excellence at graduation, then on to the summer Columbia Publishing Course (formerly the Radcliffe Course) where I fell even more in love with the processes within book publishing.

From there I started at the entry level of marketing positions at John Wiley & Sons publishing and climbed to Senior Marketing Manager, handling the marketing for the entire trade business books list.

Those 14 years at Wiley gave me direct experience on over 1000 book launches where I worked with books at the marketing, sales, production, events, publicity, design, and editorial touch points. 

During that time I was working alongside Book Highlight on many big book launches. Mat Miller, the founder and CEO, asked me to join him to build out marketing services for his authors.

Going from 150 books a year to just 30 or so and being able to focus only on marketing was, and is, a dream. I’m living it now as the head of marketing here – taking authors from proposal to publication and beyond, as their publishing industry sherpa that consults and executes on all aspects of a book launch,

2) What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

What I love about my job is that every day is different and I really mean that. It mirrors the way I live in NYC – every single day is always special and unique depending on who I interact with during it.

I’ll talk to a few prospective clients, work on several active projects/campaigns, and be talking constantly to my team over text and calls.

It’s great that video calls have become normalized, as we’re all in front of our computers but suddenly connected across time zones and countries as we’re discussing opportunities related to the book everyone is focused on at any given moment.

I’ll walk to my private office in Industry City, Brooklyn, as I talk to my counterpart on the phone. Then as soon as I sit down at my desk, I’m able to check in on every client. Then I’ll work on whatever project is the priority while I fit in my scheduled calls and emails.

Picking where to eat lunch is hard with so many vendors in the building to choose from, then I’m back at it until I close it up, walk home, and join my family for dinner together. Sometimes, like now, I’m back on after everyone but me goes to bed.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine? 

My first day at Book Highlight coincided with the day that NYC shut down officially because of Covid-19.

So while this was always supposed to be a ‘remote-job’, it felt like the entire world also made the same transition as me. The thing I didn’t plan for was not having childcare while I started a new job.

But after a few months of huddling up and even hiring another principle at Book Highlight, we came out of the early pandemic months with a new logo, website, and expanded range of services to lead and support authors.

Now I’m back in Brooklyn with my family and a full-time nanny, so that I can focus on work during the day and my family nights and weekends as I had hoped for at the beginning of the gig.

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

It’s very different being at a publishing house to jumping over to the agency side. It’s working longer hours, finding time at night in front of the computer, and a lot more phone calls. But work-life balance, which I strive for and our CEO believes in, is having time for work and time for your family. 

It means paying for a nanny at home, so that when I’m at the office I’m with our clients and when I’m in front of my kids I’m with them. It’s not always a balanced scale, but that’s the goal and we start anew each day at balancing it.

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5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life? 

Don’t all habits and routines actually change your life? Certainly on a daily basis, of course. It feels too soon to know what daily changes will affect longer term outcomes.

In my past life I used to commute 2 hours each day on a subway, where I’d read on average 46 books a year for pleasure. While I certainly miss that dedicated time and the satisfaction of adding that many books to my ‘read’ list, I’ve had to get much more selective about what I do spend my free time on now and what books I can fit into that time.

This isn’t new but my mindset has always been: no wasted time. I’m a voracious consumer of content but living in NYC has allowed me countless hours of waiting for trains, riding trains, waiting for people, and being by myself.

I’ve borrowed hundreds of ebooks free from the Brooklyn Library without stepping foot in the building, by just using my Overdrive app and Amazon Kindle. I’ve listened to thousands of hours of podcasts with Overcast app’s ‘Smart Speed’ saving me all of those unintentional pauses in audio conversations (extra 127 hours so far!).

And I’ve saved and read more articles and posts and features with the Instapaper app that I find on Twitter/social and won’t find time to read until I’m laying in bed that night. Never stop learning.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

The best newsletters I read each week: for personal is Will Leitch (parenting, sports, culture) and for professional is Ann Handley (marketing, books, internet, etc.).

How they put out such incredible content weekly blows me away. I tried my own personal newsletter and started weekly then dropped to monthly. It’s so much work, but it’s rewarding to do and to read when it’s good. 

I started listening to podcasts when you had to plug your iPod into your computer to download and transfer Kevin Smith’s latest so you could listen on the train. Since then I’ve listened to years worth of sports, comedy, storytelling, and news podcasts.

Podcasts come and go, depending on my mood and what I need a break from. I can listen to The Daily, well daily, for weeks, then take a break to catch up on WTF with Marc Maron or You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes (depending on the guest, but those guys are always so good).

Obviously This American Life, Radiolab, WTF, Gimlet’s Startup, and Reply All define the format for me. I’m not telling you anything new. 

Books are probably the hardest question for me. I’ve tracked and reviewed over 650 books on my GoodReads account, which I take very seriously, but that’s not made picking a few favorites any easier.

Run Studio Run by Eli Altman was so helpful to read as I leaped over to the agency side this year – it set my priorities and narrowed my focus so well. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is such strong enjoyable fiction that everyone I’ve made read the book has thanked me (Lonesome Dove and Stoner are also amazing novels I’ll suggest).

I’ve also read The Power Broker and Infinite Jest and unable to shut up about those. And I’m drawn to the masters of the creative informative yet personal essay – David Foster Wallace, Tom Bissell, Zadie Smith, Leslie Jamison. Read them all.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I’ve mentioned the Overdrive, Instapaper, and Kindle apps on my iPhone already. I was one of those people in line at the 5th Ave Apple Store in 2007 the day the iPhone released that got one and never looked back.

There has never been a better value for any product I’ve used than those phones. How many times per day do I unlock my phone to get a rush of new information or capture a photo that would’ve been lost forever, that keeps improving with each free update? No brainer.

Beyond that, I really need a dedicated Amazon e-ink Kindle to read a book without the temptation to swipe into another app. That device has improved immeasurably over the first eReader experience. 

I didn’t have AirPod Pros before this new job, but now that I’m on the phone all day switching between my iPhone and Mac computer – it’s something I’ll panic about finding if it leaves my pocket or desk. The noise cancelling effect is magic. They stay in my ear and are very lightweight but the sound is big and the microphone picks up everything. Worth it.

The GoRuck brand of backpacks are unreal. They turned me into a bag snob because they are simply backpacks that cost hundreds of dollars, but you buy one and you’ll use it for the rest of your life – that’s how useful and high quality they are in practice.

For someone living in NYC packing for a trip and walking down many stairs, into a train, onto a plane, into a car – you can pack for a week long business trip in one comfortable backpack that also looks good!

Roller bags will trip you up all day – backpacks are far superior. I own more than enough for each possible use case and four bags were enough for my family to pack for months on the go this year.

And if you’re a bag snob AND a parent, you need the Tom Bihn ‘Parental Unit’ diaper bag because it’s incredible and indispensable. It shows no wear over 4 years and two babies. Get it – if it doesn’t fit, you don’t need to carry it.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?   

I’m going to pick a name in the realm of possibility: Stefan Sagmeister is a designer who does some incredibly compelling work and I loved his documentary, The Happy Film. How does he get it done? I suspect those who we ask that question, truly have no balance to speak of at all.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

We speak of this ‘balance’ as if there were a specific formula or answer. We read productivity, mindset, scheduling, personal development content in the hopes of finding that missing hack that’s keeping us from perfect balance. But there is no standard, no answer.

It’s different for everyone – truly a unique custom solution. Life is unbalanced. And that definition is changing, evolving. My idea of balance a decade ago, even a year ago, is not what I’d look for now. And as soon as you think you have it, everything changes again.

If you even think balance exists, you’ll never be happy thinking you’ve found it. It doesn’t. But we all still try to turn off work and turn on non-work all the same, learning that we’re not robots and this isn’t possible.

If you care about your work, you’ll always have it in the back of your mind, just like you do with your loved ones. They’re all there competing for you. There is no balance. Just do what you can in the moment and then in the next. Good luck.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.