May 24, 2006



Thanks for your post, Mark. To be fair to everyone, I should say: I did receive an official apology from Crown a couple days after I posted that item. I need to append that to my post.


Well said. I couldn't agree more. I'm very grateful for the extremely nice, generous publicists I've encountered and who send me books asked or unasked for.

The only time I ever bother being irritated for even half a sec it's almost always an author with a self-published book being demanding and jerky or rude people affiliated with Christian books of some sort. And sometimes those are good for a few laughs.

I'm willing to give just about anything else a chance...

p.s. Sorry I didn't get to catch up to you and chat at BEA. Too little time.

Shauna McKenna

Bravo, Mark. I can't add anything but to say that it's every bit as honorable to promote, market, edit & distribute wonderful books as it is to write them. Sanctimoniousness about the commerce of literature might be right on at some times, but simply cannot be universalized.


Where specifically did any of the litbloggers who griped claim publicists to be "craven, money grubbing automatons?"

I think what most of the litbloggers posting objected to was the pushy attitude attributed to A FEW of the publicists, but by no means all. There are plenty of amicable, considerate professionals out there that I have been pleased and delighted to correspond with and who have succeeded in targeting my tastes.

But when a publicist repeatedly sends emails with the expectation that we should review a particular title (immediately assuming that they are entitled to a review), when we are sent multiple copies of the book in question, this not only infringes upon the limited time we have at our disposal, but forms a negative impression of a book that may indeed HAVE merits or a specific audience. It's bad for the publishing houses; it's bad for litblogs.

I recognize the fact that publicists are overworked and underpaid. But the great hue and cry likely arose because, unlike a newspaper editor, who has the luxury to write back, most of us have full-time jobs in addition to the work that we do online.

As a constructive and positive solution that bridges the divide, I contend, as I suggested at Sarah's panel, that it would be extremely fruitful to both publicists and litbloggers alike to set up some kind of contact network, something along the lines of a Writer's Market for publicists, where a publicist can determine which blogs are interested in particular books and not have to wade through thousands of words to figure out what the litblogger likes. The litblogger reaps the merits of books fitting her criteria; the publicist saves considerable time on cold-emailing and targets specifically. And someone grabs a guitar and sings "Kumbaya" shortly before being set on fire by a ULA member who declares all parties involved a threat to the integrity of literature.


Sorry Edward my chum, disagree with you on nearly every front this time. Herewith, my take - opinions only, obviously:

1) "the litbloggers posting objected to was the pushy attitude attributed to A FEW of the publicists, but by no means all" Well if that's really the case, I can only take the posts as going after anthills with Howitzers. I've been doing this for a while now and have NEVER had a publicist who didn't take the hint after a single email back from me. This breed of pushy people must be passing this site by ...

2) "But when a publicist repeatedly sends emails with the expectation that we should review a particular title (immediately assuming that they are entitled to a review), when we are sent multiple copies of the book in question, this not only infringes upon the limited time we have at our disposal ... " C'mon. Really? How? Ignore the emails, toss the book. You've waste a total of perhaps five seconds. Sorry, this just feels a bit overdramatic to me. It's just not that much of an infringement and the mistake I think bloggers are making is taking it personally.

3. "but forms a negative impression of a book that may indeed HAVE merits or a specific audience. It's bad for the publishing houses; it's bad for litblogs. " Well, my friend, then shame on YOU. Really - you'd blame an innocent book/author for the sins of a publicist? That's not the author's fault, and I would venture to say that's a personal stance you've taken, as I have NEVER thought ill of a book or writer due to a publicist. I'd go farther still to say that this reaction - which you're absolutely entitled to - is a pretty rare one that I haven't really encountered elsewhere.

4. "where a publicist can determine which blogs are interested in particular books and not have to wade through thousands of words to figure out what the litblogger likes." You presume a publicist reads us solely to target books and might not actually be reading as a bonafide book lover themselves. I've had plenty of fine email exchanges with publicists over books they were not even publishing.

5. "The litblogger reaps the merits of books fitting her criteria; " Again, this assumes that a blogger only ever wants to receive exactly what they say they're interested in. Personally - this is just me - I like leaving something open to serendipity where I might get something I'm unexpectedly interested in.

I am, however, all for the round of Kumbaya.

And like I said, and please know I do recognize this Ed, every blogger can absolutely state his own rules of the house. I completely respect that right to do that. But I think in the long run it risks backfiring. Just my two cents, obvs.


Mark, as one of the aforementioned "tipsters," I'd like to make a couple of points. First, I think the word "publicist" got bandied about for lack of a better term. What Dan and Ed and several people, I think, were referring to was anyone and everyone who has decided to make blogs the center of their scattershot marketing campaign, and in reality, very few of these folks are affiliated in any way with major or even minor publishing houses.

My second point is that, at the heart of this controversy (or whatever), I perceive a slight unease at what litblogging has come to be associated with, rather than annoyance at being the target of promotion. Initially I think a lot of us started blogging about books because we were passionate about them, and it never occurred to us that we might be courted by anyone, but suddenly here we are. As I alluded to in a recent post on the topic (sorry for the self link, but it's relevant), going to BEA made me think could I (or would I) still do this if people stopped sending me books? It's worth thinking about.


Hey Max. Your points are taken but it is worth noting that lots of legitimate publicists felt swept up in this net, so perhaps the distinction could have been clearer. But I'd also add that those kinds of calls - and I get them, too - are the easiest to delete and ignore.

Your closing question is a good one - speaking for myself, I was buying books for quite a while after launching TEV, and I'm confident I'd go on doing same. But it's undeniable that the opportunity to see these books early and for free is a perk - perhaps the only one we get!


--but it's relevant), going to BEA made me think could I (or would I) still do this if people stopped sending me books?--

This is a good question, Max, and one I've thought about too. I can honestly say yes. I blogged before I ever got free books in the mail and I'd keep doing it, because I do it to have a place to spout off about books and other things I like. (Well, to be honest, initially it was to cut down on email time, but once people I didn't know started reading then the scope broadened.) The vast majority of books I write about on my blog are _not_ ones I got for free in the mail from publishers. Many of them are books I check out of the library after seeing recommendations elsewhere, but don't have enough commitment to buy or request a copy. Others are books given to me by friends who know my taste well and think I'll like them. Many others, I, gasp, buy. (I try to cut down on the latter.)

But I'm very grateful for the ones that come in the mail and when one hits the target, man, does it brighten up the world. When it doesn't, man, does it brighten up the library bookstore we donate to, or the used bookstore that gives us store credit. Or the people I stick a copy of something in the mail to. Anyway. I think Mark's right that there's lots of good homes for books that many of us would _never_ be interested in.

I agree with Mark that it seems like the time it takes to deal with pushy publicists or authors is being overstated. I've always found that being ignored or hitting the spam button seems to make messages miraculously stop, after not that long.

Dan Wickett

As quite possibly the tool that began this brouhaha, I must admit Mark, that I quickly realized that my original post may not have been clear enough as to whom it was intended for - and that was not mainstream publicists, but instead, POD authors, self-help wings of publishers, and the like.

In fact, the particular email that triggered my post was one that ended the first paragraph to me with the line "while I know you are extremely busy, I believe this title would be perfect for your audience." None of the publicists I know and deal with on even a semi-regular basis would have put that in a letter without truly knowing if it was true or not.

While nowhere do I recall declaring publicists greedy, nor bottom feeders, I still felt it necessary to write a second post either later that night, or early the next day just To Be Clear - there I proclaimed my admiration for publicists - at least those that I was aware of.

Beyond that, I followed up on an idea Scott had and actually emailed every publicist I know and asked them if they'd like to have their views expressed on a blog - though I did let them know in that email, in case they'd only read one of my posts, that the original post was not intended to be read as a diatribe against them. Possibly because of that fact in the email, or possibly due to time constraints (in at least two cases I know this was the case), only one publicist replied.

Re-reading my first post, while I still obviously felt it had enough attitude behind it to write that second post, I also still see that there was less venom in terms of name calling, and more suggestion aspects in the post.

I still think that publicists, who are strapped for time and funds, would do themselves a bit of a favor learning who they are sending books to. In conversations with many, I know some have gone to the trouble of learning what books some paper reviewers might be interested in - and I think part of the reason they've done so is that lack of time and funds.

Why not spend a bit of time beforehand and save many wasted hours, galleys, review copies, envelopes, postage, etc.?

But, while I made some effort at my own site to apologize for any hard feelings I may have caused with my original post - your site Mark gets much more traffic, and for those great publicists that I did offend, and possibly didn't reconcile with my further posting, I apologize here to them. I realize their love of books and the authors they are promoting is even beyond mine and their pay only slightly more than my non-existent pay.

I've said it before, and it remains true - I don't blog or review or interview or whatever for free books. They are an incredible perk - and seeing things early is as well. I did this stuff for over a year without ever getting anything free and still spend well beyond what I should on books and journals weekly. That said, I appreciate greatly those that I receive.


Ad nauseam

Colleen Lindsay

Wow. Speaking as one of the people who used to be on the publishing end of things, let me set a few things straight.

First, publicists get paid crap. Seriously. They don't get paid enough to simply shill books. Most publicists befriend their authors, and even if they don't care for the book they're working on, they care enough about the author to try to do their best at getting it whatever attention they can.

Second, sometimes you're getting books from an assistant. They're learning to be publicists. They are told to take chances. So sometimes they make mistakes, and send books to a venue that isn't appropriate. Hey, big whoop. It's a free book. Throw it out if you don't want it. Or do as Mark suggests: send a simple email "thanks but no thanks."

Offended that they publicist in question isn't thoroughly versed in the minutiae of your particular blog? Get over it. Publicists work from a pre-made list that someone else put together. They don't have time in their day-to-day jobs to surf the net all day and read blogs. At Random House, all publicists work from the same publicity database. The database is pretty accurate for the most part, as it is scrubbed regularly. But sometimes mistakes slip through. And if you choose to simply bitch about "stupid publicists" rather than sending an email to correct the mistake, ensuring that the database gets changed and nobody else sends books to you, well you sort of deserve what you get.

And yes, the publicists are pushy. They are paid to be agressive in promoting their books. it's a job requirement. They are going to email and call you to folow up on a mailing until they get a yea or nay. It's part of being good at what they do.

And here's the last thing to note: Big trade publishing is archaic. They are just discovering blogs and the internet. Most publicity directors - including the one I worked for the last year I worked at Ballantine - don't believe that the Internet is even worthwhile persuing as a promotional venue. It's really kind of sad. So anytime you as a blogger receive any kind of attention from a publicist at a large trade publishing house, it's because someone in the publicity department - probably someone young who isn;t being apid very much - is being forward thinking and trying to break out of the stale mold of print reviews that so many of their colleagues are overly dependent upon.

My two cents.

Colleen Lindsay

PS: Apologies for all the typos. I am a terrible typist!!! :-)

Kate S.


I agree with you. I'm always pleased to be offered books that interest me, and I have no trouble politely refusing those that don't. I've worked for print publications in the past and although some of the books that were sent unsolicited made us scratch our heads, no one ever regarded those mismatches as an insult to the publication. I think it's a happy thing that publishers and publicists are beginning to recognize the power of blogs to spread the word about good books and I'm inclined to encourage them.



I agree with most of what you said here. Yes, it's easy to just type "not interested" in response to an unwanted email. Yes, I can give books I don't want to the library.

Maybe the tone of my post wasn't exactly right in expressing this, but what I wanted to do was open up a dialog with publicists and try to set up some communicty norms. First of all, I started off my post by thanking all the good publicists I've worked with and expressly saying that there's a lot of them out there. My post wasn't meant as a blanket comdemnation at all.

Second, I ended my post by expressly asking publicists to give me their side of things. Yes, I had my say, but I genuinely wanted to hear the other side of things. If they really think of me as someone they're working with to promote good books, then I wish some of them would have told me that, either as a comment or as an email. I would have appreciated hearing it, and it would hve changed the way I looked at the situation. But in fact I didn't hear from anyone.

Nancy Hendrickson

As both a publicist and a reviewer, I can see both sides of this issue.

When I'm wearing my publicist hat, I do my absolute best to track down sites I feel are relevant to my author's books. I'm not working from a canned list that someone handed me, but instead compile lists myself.

Does that mean I never slip up? Heck no! But my mistakes are truly mistakes, and not generated by dollar signs in my eyes. After all, I WANT you to request a copy of my author's book, so why in the world would I do something that might offend you?

On this issue. all I ask for is the same level of politeness that I afford those I approach. If you'd like a copy, great. If not, a "no thank you" works fine too.

I'm much more interested in establishing relationships with litbloggers than pushing books on people who don't want them; in fact,it's my goal to work with a small group of bloggers who are open to receiving my books, and who know that I have no expectations from them other than a fair assessment of the book.

I wish there were a community where those who wish to receive books in specific genres would sign up, and those of us WITH books could contact them. Hmmm . . . not a bad idea . . . do I have time to build yet one more site? ;)

On the flip side of that coin, when I'm wearing my reviewer hat, I appreciate being offered books in genres about which I write; AND, I shake my head in amazement when I get books so far off the target I know no one actually looked at my site. However, I do try and respond with a polite "no thanks".

I appreciate this discussion and hope my thoughts add a little to it.

The comments to this entry are closed.


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