Five Publicists

Here are five publicists I’ve dealt with recently:

Publicist A: Always sends you to the appropriate publicist, even though it’s not in department. Recognizes that all publicity is good publicity. Sometimes asks me what’s out there on the Web, which I’m happy to answer.

Publicist B: Sends not only latest book, but nearly all the backlist titles. Responds to all emails within two hours. Makes interview suggestions months in advance to secure comprehensive interviews with authors.

Publicist C: After brief disagreement, calls me to figure out where I’m coming from. Asks where I’m coming from, and we have a pleasant conversation that clears a lot of air.

Publicist D: Can’t be bothered to return emails. Publicist D’s office claims author is available and then, months later, after not returning calls or emails, changes mind without explanation.

Publicist E: Refuses to book guest based on what I’ve written about the author on the blog (which did not involve the author’s fiction, the subject of the interview), but fails to cite specifics. Strange, because this same publisher booked another guest who was very aware of what I had written about him on this blog. We had a pleasant and quite funny conversation anyway. Insinuates that author will be reduced to a bundle of tears if author appears on program. To date, only one guest has cried and when this guest did, I stopped the interview.

Now if you’re a journalist, which of these publicists would you want to work with? Publicist A’s willingness to track down other publicists has saved me considerable time and helped to secure many interviews on the program. Publicist B’s efforts ensure that my conversation is strongly informed by the text and this improves the interviews. Thus, I’m quite happy to inform Publicist B precisely when the show will go up, however it ends up, so that Publicist B can coordinate his efforts. Publicist C’s willingness to call me, to give me the benefit of the doubt and find out where I’m coming from has resulted in four interviews being booked on the show in the past two months.

And then there’s Publicists D and E. Do I really want to work with Publicist D when the publicist won’t level with me or wishes to string me along, knowing very well how much I prepare for each interview? When Publicists A, B, and C, by contrast, remain transparent, get me the book in a timely manner, and exceed my very minimal requirements (enough time to read the book)? In her defense, Publicist E did clarify the author’s temperament to me and offered what I thought was a reasonable explanation. Nevertheless, if I approach Publicist E for future interviews, will I get the same response that Lee Siegel’s publicist once offered Portfolio‘s Jeff Bercovici? Meanwhile, Publicists A, B, and C impose no such conditions.

I could mention Publicist F, who can’t even be bothered to respond to numerous emails and phone calls or even send a copy of the book to get the word out. After all, if the book’s good, it may be written about. But I won’t. We’re dealing with gradients here. And most publicists are damn good at what they do. Again, I have very few complaints and don’t take any of this for granted.

Now let’s say you’re an author. Perhaps there’s some questions you may want to think about. Is your publicist denying you interviews to specific outlets or stringing a journalist along? Is the publicist doing this with your consent? Has your publicist had a history of doing this? Are you aware that journalists often swap names of publicists with each other?

But, most importantly, are you aware that a good publicist knows how to get repeat interviews? And is your publicist one of the good ones?

The State of American Literacy As Represented by Talk Show Hosts

From The Leonard Lopate Show, September 22, 2004, at the 14:04 mark on the RealAudio file, from a conversation with Terry Gross:

LOPATE: The question that people ask me the most is, “Do you read all of those books?” And I don’t know what to say. I do get help. And I usually say, “I get help.” But they don’t want to hear that. They want to believe that all I do, day and night, even on the air, is read books for tomorrow’s show.

GROSS: Well, what I say is that I read all the books. But I put — use my fingers to put quotation marks around the word “read.” ‘Cause what I do when I read the book is probably a closer approximation to skimming. ‘Cause I’m reading really fast and then slowing down for parts that I think will be relevant to the interview. And then taking notes on what I read.

LOPATE: Have you discovered that it’s ruined your personal reading? It’s hard for me to read a novel today or anything else just for pleasure. Because questions are always from it. I want to ask, “Well, Mr. Dostoevsky, why did you have Raskolnikov do that in Chapter 6?”

GROSS: That’s a really good question. You know, often, on vacations, I read — I intentionally read — a dead author. So that I’m not doing what you just said. So that I’m off the hook. So I can just read it. But this summer was one of the first vacations in a long time I did not read a whole novel. I read part of a novel. And then I found myself reading newspapers. It’s so hard not to read the newspaper right now. The newspaper itself is so interesting. And I feel like I can’t go a day without reading the newspaper. There are magazines that I wanted to catch up on. And I had to — I had to not read. I went to see one or two movies, or a movie and a concert, every day that I was on vacation. And I really felt I needed to spend a little bit of time not reading. Because I read so much.

LOPATE: When you’re putting together the questions you’re to ask, do you ever rely on those press kits? Their favorite question, which is, “Why did you write this book?”

GROSS: The part that I usually — I usually read the press releases because it’s a nice kind of frame before you start the book. When you’re reading at my pace, it’s nice to have a kind of brief overview of the book. So I’ll read reviews also. But I will intentionally not read the questions that the publisher gives. Because some of those questions are going to be good. Some of those questions are going to be questions that I would have asked anyways. But if I see those questions, it will make me think, “Well, I can’t ask that question.” Because that question has been put before me by a publicist and I’ll feel like I’m asking it because they told me to. So I feel like I can’t afford to look at it. So I’ll just, you know, do you know what I mean?

LOPATE: I know perfectly well. It’s almost a perversity, their pride that I have to do it all by myself. If I don’t want to rely on the publicity machine to tell me what to do —

GROSS: Well, you want to expect that your questions are independent of that. And yet a lot of the publicists are really smart. And they’re coming out with really good questions. So…

LOPATE: Well, they try to intrigue you into having the guest.

GROSS: Yes. So my technique is don’t read it.

Borderline Irresponsible Publicists

Paul Constant: “One publicist in the Macmillan booth spots my name tag and yells at me for a negative review of a memoir by Mike Edison—the former editor in chief of High Times and publisher of Swank —called I Have Fun Everywhere I Go, that Ari Spool posted on The Stranger‘s music blog, Line Out. ‘You really hurt Mike’s feelings,’ she exclaims, and continues, ‘And I think it’s borderline irresponsible journalism for you to be running things like that.’ A couple other publicists step in and try to defuse the situation with humor—’Oh, imagine that, someone didn’t like Mike Edison, ha ha!’ Ignoring the fact that Spool’s post was fairly evenhanded, this has never happened to me before, and I’ve written reviews with the express intent of pissing off publicists. The mood of sales reps and publicists in the majors’ booths usually tends to be bored aloofness; this year, they seem aggressive, neurotic, and strung out.”

Funny that. As it so happens, this same publicist has tried to pull similar shit with me. She even unfurled one of those predictable “You don’t exist in my universe” routines last Friday night. Meanwhile, publicists who are friendly, inquire politely without pestering, return phone calls and emails promptly, exhibit a sense of humor, pay attention to the kinds of books I like, and who go out of my way to understand the website and my scheduling requirements often get their authors onto The Bat Segundo Show. Imagine that!

Incidentally, the Ari Spool review is hardly that harsh.

[UPDATE: I’ve spoken with the publicist in question and it appears that there was a misunderstanding on Friday. I should note that the party’s atmosphere was considerably cacophonous, which could have easily created the social impression that I divined. My policy with all publicists is that, no matter where things stand, I am always open to communication. Even those who loathe what I do.]

Bad Publicity Ideas, #425

Publishers Weekly: “As entrées were being enjoyed, a McCain supporter and an Obama supporter, having exhausted their verbal arguments, lunged at each other with fists flying. Eventually the kitchen staff came to the rescue and separated the two men, but not before some blood was shed and the well-heeled guests were shaken up. After a cooling down period, the rambunctious guests returned to the table (with revised seat assignments) and ate dessert.”

That a publicist actually thought that such a dumb could be carried off with a modicum of civility is truly hilarious. Then again, here I am mentioning this. So perhaps there’s a more interesting question: Will the bourgeoisie of Litchfield, Connecticut embarrass themselves and allow themselves to be used as marketing guinea pigs again? (via Jacket Copy)