98% of the publicists I’ve had the pleasure to work with have been extremely friendly and considerate. I appreciate their efforts to get books to me in time to review them and for interviews. I am respectful of their position and they are respectful of mine. I realize they are under the gun, that they are often underpaid and just barely getting by, and that getting their authors out there in a crowded marketplace can’t be an easy task.
Recently, I called back a publicist who didn’t follow through with me about a possible interview. I had emailed and telephoned her about it, but I hadn’t received a reply in a week. And I figured that if she really wanted to get her author out there, she would have contacted me in a timely manner or responded to my email.
Meanwhile, other publicists, perspicacious enough to understand that I needed to get my interview times nailed down a few weeks in advance so that I could plan out my prep time (The Bat Segundo Show is, after all, something I labor very hard over), set up interviews and got the books to me immediately.
Now when I called this publicist, I had already lined up about seven interviews over the next ten days. That’s a lot of books to read. And my policy is to never talk with an author unless I have read her book(s). Otherwise, what’s the point? This may seem an archaic position for some folks to parse, but the point of all this is to do serious legwork and to give a damn about what you’re doing.
Now I try to be as courteous as possible. And where some journalists might have disregarded the publicist, I called this publicist back to tell her that I was unavailable. I explained to her in very polite terms that I was extremely sorry but that I was overextended. Instead of giving me a chance to launch my goofy “We’ll always have Paris” routine, this publicist took great offense to my courtesy call, claiming that she did call me back and suggested that I was the discourteous one.
“Well, I didn’t hear from you in a week. And I called and emailed you. If you had talked with me last week when my slate wasn’t so full, we might have nailed this down.”
The publicist huffed and puffed at me and then demanded that I reschedule another interview at the last minute — one that she hadn’t been involved in setting up. I told her that this was unlikely, given that I had moved several things around to make this particular interview happen, which I had confirmed twice already.
Now I’m thinking that maybe this publicist was having a bad day. As an interviewer, I’ve often found myself regarded as some intellectual equivalent to a bartender or a cab driver — treated like an invisible man, if regarded at all. I don’t mind this. If anything, I find this amusing and it affords me a great opportunity to observe.
But when there’s an immediate assumption that I am expected to interview an author, when a publicist cannot understand that I am juggling about six thousand things and cannot devote all of my attentions to her author and that I have a life I’m managing on top of this, what kind of message does this send to me? Or another journalist? For an author wanting to build word of mouth, how can this be good for them? If you’re an author, do you really know your publicist?
I’ve been turned down by many authors and I certainly don’t take it personally. The least one can expect from a publicist is the same kind of professional courtesy. And maybe a few more Casablanca references.