Just before BEA, a bunch of my blogging brethren let loose with a number of broadsides and manifestoes on how book publicists should comport themselves when approaching bloggers. I didn't comment at the time, and I wouldn't be commenting now but for some things I heard at BEA and a recent exchange with a publicist I respect mightily.
(I should say at the outset that none of what follows refers to Maud's well-earned fury. The folks behind that particular outrage are really beyond the pale and grossly overstepped. Someone at Crown owes Maud an official apology.)
When I read the list of demands (presented as "tips") that were careening around the blogosphere, I mostly shook my head and thought, "Get over yourself, people." Now most of the bloggers are friends, and so I should be clear that the tone here is good-natured-if-bemused. Nothing I wouldn't have said directly had I been asked.
I'm reasonably confident that I get as much email and as many packages as anyone out there. Do I hear from people with wares I'm not interested in? Sure do. Do I get books that have no bearing to anything I cover on my site? All the time.
Do I get all worked up over it and issue steaming dictates? No. I save that kind of ire for grandstanding short story hacks.
Because here's the thing. The emails? I type in "Not for me, thanks." And hit send. Takes about three seconds and I seldom hear from those folks again. And the books I don't want? I have a box by the door and when it fills it goes to the local Public Library, where surely someone will be interested in them. So everyone gains, and with so little effort. Of all the things that consume my time, unburdening myself of the unwanteds is the tiniest part of it. And you know what - every now and then, I'm lucky enough to find a gem, something I would have never imagined I'd have been interested in. So I'm all for casting the widest net possible and throwing back the runts.
Will it help if someone takes the time to read the site? Tries to target my taste? Include a personal note? Absolutely. And the best and smartest publicists do exactly that. But the notion that some sort of hat-in-hand approach is required strikes me as unnecessarily high-handed. And I predict it will result in publicists with the kind of books bloggers do want becoming more wary about approaching them. Which hurts everyone.
Finally, the notion - promulgated in a number of these posts - that publicists are somehow craven, money grubbing automatons is foolish and naive. Sure, there will be the odd bad apple, and the occasional mercenary. But my experience has been that these are people who care deeply about the books they handle. They're not terribly unlike bloggers in many ways - they work out of passion, they certainly aren't paid well (starting salaries in the low 20s) and it's not as though they get a cut when a book does succeed.
Consider this, from a major publicist at a major house, who sends out precisely the kind of books that bloggers love best:
But what stung for me was the implication—which got repeated in a lot of postings—that as a publicist I’m being pushy for financial gain, that as a rep of a big publisher I see only dollar signs and want to shove my books into every possible outlet for sales, sales, sales, that I am crassly and greedily looking at blogs as the next hot thing that we publishers can take advantage of. ... I love my job, and I feel insanely lucky and privileged and thrilled to get to work so closely for, and be an advocate for, and friend to, writers that I have loved since I was young, writers that I idealized ... I do this job because I am so proud of the books I get to work on, and I love my authors, and I hope others will care.
And Mark the confusing thing for me was that I think this is all exactly true for bloggers too, that they are passionate about certain smart, great, rare, beautiful books and authors and want to do what they can to talk about them, and discuss and debate them, and keep the book conversation going….so why or how there suddenly was this line drawn in the sand between us…it just made me upset and sad.
It makes me sad, too. I encountered a lot of bewildered hurt feelings at BEA, so let me end by saying that, as far as The Elegant Variation is concerned, bring it on - the more the better. The bloggers who posted lists have every right to set their own rules but they don't speak for us all. Chez TEV is always happy to hear from you.