There is no shortage of reports on how bad book publicists are. The thrust of most of these essays is this: in-house publicists will do a crappy job on your book. They won’t take your call for more than a few weeks, they don’t have the time or inclination to listen to your ideas, and they use the same media lists for every book, over and over. Whenever I read one of these, my dander is up, my feathers ruffled, my other idiom to make it three is roused. Are there bad book publicists out there? I am sure there are. In fact, I hope there are just so the torrent of negativity towards my profession has a basis.
This brings me to the latest hit piece written about in-house publicists: this essay, posted on Publishing Perspectives. Read it for yourself, I’ll wait. I will give the author his due: this is an entirely new and creative angle on the chestnut “your publicist sucks.” In an oversimplified nutshell: a blogger didn’t like how large the press kit was for a lead list title by an author on the brink of enormous literary success. I haven’t seen the kit, but I’ve made a few that sound similar to it: Q&As, praise sheets, a release, some reviews singled out, and all in a pretty folder. Sure, more people are talking about the Auslander book now that this has run and never us mind that it received a smashing New York Times daily and NYTBR, Apparently Janet Maslin and Steve Stern were unaware that they were being “intellectually bullied,” so please do not tell them.
I ask you, dear reader (I assume there is one and her name rhymes with Bay-gin): how do we win? We don’t do enough or we do too much. We are lazy or we are bullying. It feels like we need to cater to what each particular contact prefers or we have failed miserably. Of course, this is unreasonable. We send books and follow-up with hundreds of people and for every person that hates a large press kit and tosses it, I have two asking me for talking points. Reviewers get an absurd amount of mail- have you ever seen those book rooms? I fled from Publishers Weekly’s once; it was overwhelming to see just how much competition there is for space. Let’s not even get in to what we are up against when pitching the morning shows or radio (Santorum, sinking cruise ships, and frakking come to mind). Is it a crime to try to give the media all the information they could possibly need to decide if this particular book is the one they should crack? I don’t think it is. In fact, I’m fairly sure that is exactly my job. And I’m also pretty certain (please, correct me if I’m wrong @lenabitts) that most authors would rather have the publicist who was overly passionate over one who is getting a mani-pedi during the workday (I’ve never actually met that type, but I’ve read enough to know they must exist!).
I would like to take a small moment here, on this cozy soapbox, to mention one other point. We did not go to Publicity University, where you learn diabolical lying, anti-ethics101, and small dog maintenance. We are not people who passed up working in Hollywood for the high-paying and prestigious publishing racket. We are book people who, for one reason or another, are just better suited to talking with strangers about literature than we are talking to the text itself. But we are on your side. We sleep with our phones under our pillows, often give up weekends to travel with authors, have several work night events to attend, and take your call, lovely writer and researching journalist, at 9pm when we should be halfway through a bottle of wine while watching Downton Abbey, like everyone else. It’s not working in a mine and I know that, and these are not complaints. Because I have a truly fantastic job where I get to work with some of the best writers working today. If I get a little zealous about making sure you know it, too, I hope that you’ll forgive me. But it’s hard out here for a pitch.