An Open Letter to Demanding Publicists I Don’t Know

Dear [insert name of anonymous publicist who I don’t know and who hasn’t bothered to use my first name]:

Thank you for your email. While I am certainly thankful for many of your colleagues’ packages in the mail (particularly when they pay close attention to my site and seem to grasp that I do, in fact, have a life), your email is yet another in a long line of nuisances, hastily fired off into the ether. Honestly, what were you thinking?

Like my peers, I do not understand why you think I must abdicate fifteen hours of my time to read your book, and only your book, and why you are so forceful about it — particularly when I have never heard of it (apologies on this front, but, for the most part, I steer clear of vanity presses and lunatics) and, by some remarkable antipodean panache on your part, have utterly no interest in reading.

No, I’m not interested in reading a self-help book. No, I’m not interested in a Beyonce biography. It would have helped if you had bothered to read my blog or tracked any of my numerous interests and obsessions. (There’s a handy category list to the right, if you’re interested.) It would have helped if you hadn’t referred to me as “Ms. Champion” (how could you have parsed Edward as an XX name?) or “Dear Dude” or any number of impersonal epithets that lack even a whit of wit or a soupçon of consideration. It would have helped if you had actually learned how to write intelligibly. And by “intelligibly,” I don’t ask for much: basic subject-verb agreement and consistent tense, as befitting a professional, much less a civilized member of the human race. It would have helped if you had offered me something more glaringly specific than “I’ve written an autobiography.” Well, that’s fantastic! I wrote about the slice of potato pizza I had the other night in my private journal, but I’m not out there emailing folks about it, demanding that they read my nonsense. It would have helped if you didn’t feel that you were entitled to have your author interviewed by me or your vanity press extolled by me or your author’s Toyota Corolla hand-washed and waxed by me. And, no, I’m sorry, but I won’t reproduce your press packet verbatim here. And I’m also a bit particular about who I give oral sex to.

Tell me, publicist. Why should I give a damn about your book? What makes you think that I am obligated to read it? Seduce me. I’m an easy lay when it comes to certain subjects and certain types. And I’m not exactly silent when I have an erection. That’s what your job is all about, isn’t it? An “autobiography” or a “novel” or any number of general terms are entirely useless to me. You may as well tell me that you want me to read something bound together in paper. Wow, that’s like every one of the several thousand books I have sitting in my house! That’s like any number of the numerous novels and autobiographies that I am sent on a numerous basis! Are you the kind of person who points to the sky and asks me what color it is? (It’s vermillion, in case you needed to know.) Do you really think I sleep with just anyone?

So here’s the deal, publicist. I don’t care who you are, but if you can’t be troubled to address me by name or read my site, if you can’t be troubled to pique my interest, if you can’t be troubled to demonstrate either the reality (or the illusion) that you really believe in this book, then I will immediately shift your book to the absolute bottom of the pile (that would involve shifting you to Book #489 in order of reading priority, which means that I should get around to perusing your book circa 2009), assuming of course that you’re sensible enough to actually send me the book in the first place, which is the best way for me to read something. Asking me if you can send me a book (instead of just sending it to me and then following up by email) is a bit like sheepishly asking a girl if you can kiss her at the end of a date: it’s a bit embarassing for both parties. You just sorta do it.

I suggest you get in contact with your more successful contemporaries, who understand that a way to a girl’s a lit geek’s heart is through cognizance, creativity, consideration and, most importantly, a far from humorless disposition.

Your sincerely,

Edward Champion

[UPDATE: Maud reports that her site is listed in the Fall 2006 Crown catalog as an “online promotion and advertising” venue for Da Chen’s Brothers. She was listed without permission. (Also listed on Pages 53 and 71 are Bookslut, Beatrice, Authorbuzz, Dear Reader, Book Movement, Bookbrowse and Book Buffet. Did any of these sites lend their permission for “major online ‘teaser excerpt’ promotion?”)]

[UPDATE 2: On the subject of publicists who promote well, what Dan said.]

[UPDATE 3: In an unexpected development, Carla Ippolito has revealed herself to be the author of How I Fricaseed My Dog and Learned to Call It George, which Mr. Birnbaum has thoroughly raved about in the comments thread.]

[UPDATE 4: Scott Esposito offers his five cents on the issue.]

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  1. Eduardo

    While I am, as always, amused by the trenchancy of your rapier wit, you are perhaps shooting a flea with a howizter. That is the sad types who commit those various egregious acts which essentially piss on your sense of order and decorum would hardly comprehend your cries of pain.

    Indeed I must stand up for the many hard working lads and lassies whose beneficence (perhaps largesse would be more accurate but one uses a Francophone word at one’s own hazard) I have been the recipient of over these many years.
    In fact, one such was singled out in my recently published chat with David Mitchell,l mainly because I have taken note of a recent trend by authors to also thank their publicists in the long winded acknowledgements that are currently de riguer.

    I suspect that the way to avoid the fleas of the book and other worlds is to ignore them and perhaps even avoid trade shows like BEA.

  2. Robert: I too stand for the publicists who are sincere and considerate (see the post linked under “more successful contemporaries”). Perhaps on your end, you don’t receive nearly the bombardment of email that we do. But in the past few months, the situation has really grown out of control, where the publicists now feel entitled to reviews and interviews on the blogs and we only have so much time and energy to promote to them. That is specifically what I was addressing. Perhaps other bloggers might want to remark here about their dealings.

  3. To play devil’s advocate, the catalog says “major online ‘teaser excerpt’ promotion TO,” which basically just means that their promotion plans involve sending me a query letter and a galley at some point. Which they haven’t done yet, nor have they approached me about any advertising proposals. But I don’t have a problem with being pitched on either of the novels in question, and in fact it’s flattering to be included among the “core literary web sites.”

  4. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting that anyone should be flattered by what is, essentially, spam. But I think it’s important for litbloggers to realize that marketing, and increasingly online marketing, IS hugely important to books — which, as we all know, fewer and fewer people actually buy and read. Thus, litbloggers have an important role in helping poor beleagured books find their audience, which is why I find it worrisome that so many bloggers are complaining about being emailed about ‘books they’ve never heard of’ by ‘people they don’t know.’ I know there’s a big difference between a well-intentioned long shot pitch and an obnoxious mass-mailed form letter, but there’s a hint of ‘I only want to hear about books like the other ones I like from people who I already know’ going on here that’s the exact opposite of what the industry needs. I wish litbloggers would stay more openminded — after all,’ if you only read what everyone else is reading, you’ll only be able to think what everyone else is thinking.’

  5. Emily: My objection here is to incessant bombardment and the IMMEDIATE ASSUMPTION by publicists that litbloggers should give a particular author a review, a profile, an interview. It’s simply impossible to do this. Further, while I try to maintain an open mind, one must be selective to a fault. I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that “You Always Hurt the One You Love: How to Count to Ten Before Speaking to Someone” or “How I Fricaseed My Hot Dog and Learned to Call it George” is something I won’t be interested in. And it should be evident from my posts. But that doesn’t stop publicists from sending out foolish pitches.

  6. Also, to Emily, as the one who seemingly started this trend yesterday, I think most litbloggers do realize that what we do must have some affect on marketing and sales. There’s really no other reason that explains why our TBR piles are so large and that the amount of money leaving our pockets for such books has drastically reduced in the past few years.

    However, while we may have garnered some sort of importance in this arena, we are not professionals (MediaBistro aside). While some of us are excited to discuss the publishing industry, a great many of us are interested only in spreading the word about books and/or authors we are excited about.

    That said, there is probably more than just a hint of wanting to hear about books that you truly think I’d like. Anybody interested in getting me to read their work has over 300 shoddily written reviews to scan over to see if they really, truly feel I’d be interested. I’d like to think that no matter how poorly I may present myself in these reviews, that I’ve at least done so in a consistent enough manner to allow anyone who takes some time enough information to do just that.

    And, so you’re aware, the email that triggered the bulk of this, that finally got some of talking, had a specific line – “I know that you are very busy, but the book is the idea fit for you and your audience …”

    Ed’s post specifically links to another post where he praised publicists who do a little homework. In case I wasn’t clear enough yesterday, I’ve done the same today. I love finding out about new authors I’ve never heard of – just so long as they’ver written something that I have a prayer of liking.

  7. A) I didn’t mean to imply that Emily was the one that seemingly started the trend yesterday. (Nor did I mean to slight MJ Rose, who also posted on this topic yesterday, possibly even before I did).

    B) The email that triggered the posts – the “book is the ideal fit” not the “idea” fit as I typed above. It was this comment – that the title being spammed about was ideal for my audience – a book more likely to be read by watchers of the reality show Cheaters than (I hope) readers of my blog that was the trigger. The word ideal (which I chose to leave out of the above comment).

  8. See Ed,

    I loved “How I Fricaseed My Hot Dog and Learned to Call it George” —its Kafkaian shadows against the lithe and nimble Pynchonian prose can only be spoken of in the hushed and reverentail tones nornmally reserved for one of the Jonathans.

    Actually, I have found it very easy to distinguish the publcity people who are readers from those who are corporate careerist slime. The latter of which are easily dismissable. And I bet you can too. I think this may just be a tiff about spam and clogged up in boxes. Am I right?

  9. Actually RB, I think for Ed, the bigger issue is the attitude within the spam and clogging emails. Where professional publicists have learned how to write a proper email, or cover letter, many of the type Mr. Champion is writing of tend to be much more demanding in tone. You also tend to find they are the ones sending a second, “Where the hell is my response?” email within an hour or two of the original.

  10. (Vile) Rumors are already adrift that key passages of the new American classic, How I Fricaseed My Hot Dog and Learned to Call it George”( also known as HIFMHDLCG) were lifted from a certain San Francisco literary luminary’s work in progress (purloined from that person’s hard drive. Yet to be highly celebrated author Carla Ipolito has been booked fo the Today show to face yet another barrage of tough questions from the newly emboldened Katherine Couric —whose signature interlocutory, “Right?” will be in full dress gear for yet another shameful episode in American letters. The aggrieved(you know who) author (who has cleverly engineered this publicity stunt for) is currently consulting his attorneys and in addition a Vietnamese hit man.

    Civilization continues to tumble and the Dow was up 35 points.

  11. “To play devil’s advocate, the catalog says ‘major online ‘teaser excerpt’ promotion TO,’ which basically just means that their promotion plans involve sending me a query letter and a galley at some point.”

    Actually, Ron, the page says “Major online ‘teaser excerpt’ promotion to AND ADVERTISING ON core literary web sites, including….”

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