The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

What to expect from online message boards

Message boards and discussion groups (which now include Twitter) are an excellent way to engage with people who have similar interests and for this reason, book publicists often encourage authors to explore and participate in appropriate online venues.  But message board newbies would be wise to note that online companions don’t always play nice.  Let me provide an example.  (And no, this example does not involve a certain South by Southwest panel going, well, south.)

About a year ago, shortly after Katie Holmes finished the New York City marathon in just under five-and-a-half hours (putting her in the bottom 15 percent of women her age), I made an admittedly  rude comment on a running message board about Suri probably being able to crawl that fast.  I also found fault with the commonly-held notion that marathons are somehow the gold standard of fitness (I think being, well, fit is the gold standard of fitness — whatever “fit” means to an individual) and said I thought marathons — a supremely  unnatural 26.2 miles of exertion — should be reserved for faster, fitter runners.  In an all-that-matters-is-you-crossed-the-finish-line age, this did not go down well.

Let me share with you a few gems from the comment thread (but before I do, let me just say, sic, sic and sic):

“Thanks, sweety, for insulting all 5 hour marathoners.” 

And file this one under Bang-Head-Against-Brick-Wall:

“You can attempt to explain yourself as much as you want, but you are still wrong.”

And the crowning glory:

“… you’re basically a d**k … you simply need to STFU!!!!! Anything else will make you look like a bigger idiot than you’re already coming off as.”

For those of you unschooled in the ways of online abbreviations and wondering what “STFU” means, let me just hint that the first and last words are “shut” and “up.”  I think you can fill in the blanks.  Of the 56 other comments, about 55 averaged somewhere between indignant and condescending.

Although message boards do attract people of similar interests, this online interaction provides a shield of anonymity, which some interpret as a license to be rude.  In the most extreme cases, “trolls” incite “flamewars.”  (In this instance, I’m not sure I’d classify the commenters as trolls — who deliberately seek to be contrary or cruel — or simply as semi-literate.)

Another feature of message boards you should keep in mind is that only a fraction of people who read them ever comment.  (Readers who never comment are known as “lurkers.”)  So there might have been 59 comments to my Rude Comment About Katie Holmes, but the message thread garnered more than 17,000 views.  Yes.  17.  Thousand.  Keep this in mind if you’re a blogging author who fears no one reads your posts.  And if you’re someone who reads message boards but doesn’t comment, give it a whirl.  You’re interested enough in the topic to visit the site — why not interact with others who share your views (or who don’t share your views)?  Make yourself heard (preferably once you know the style and tone of the group).

For every wacky person out there, there are many who participate in ideological rather than personal debates, whose arguments  are measured and sound and professional.  Whose views are enlightening and from whom you can learn.  These are the people with whom you should engage for informative and productive discourse.  As for the others, ignore them.  Then wait and make fun of them on your blog.

Have you had any particularly good (or atrocious) experiences with message boards?  Do share.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | Discussion Groups, Miscellaneous | , | 8 Comments

Books in the land of tea and crumpets

I’ve come to the conclusion that the Brits make us look bad.  I’m talking about book publicity / promotion in the UK versus the US of A.

Many a time have I heard extolled the virtues of British book publicity campaigns — the ads plastering the Underground, the front-page features and reviews — the implication being that American promotional efforts are somehow remiss.  (On behalf of all of us book publicists who work extremely hard to build relationships with journalists and to generate coverage for the books on which we work — and on behalf of the companies that pay us — I’d like to say this is extremely offensive.)

It’s also simplistic.

First, we’re talking about two different countries and two different markets with different tastes and sensibilities.  Marmite is really popular in the UK; here, anyone who’s ever seen it generally thinks it looks like something you should be picking up after your dog.  Or take peanut butter, the staple of all American children and athletes; in the UK, it’s never achieved much beyond, well, existence.  Bringing it back to books, let’s not forget these are the people who sent a CEO zipping down the Thames.  In a speed boat.  To deliver a copy of the new James Bond book to Waterstones.  Which is akin to someone from Scholastic hopping on a broomstick and flying a copy of Harry Potter to Barnes & Noble.  You see the problem here.

Second, the dozen or so major British print and broadcast media outlets are all national and centered in one city (London).  Imagine only ever pitching New York City media.  I found this site that apparently lists all British media published online.  Check the list — and then note that it includes all print (daily, weekly, monthly) as well as broadcast media.  Now, as any Economics 101 student knows — including those called into their deans’ offices in danger of flunking out like your truly — with an oligopoly, everyone does what everyone else does for fear of losing sales.  This means that an author featured in the Times has a pretty good chance of being featured in the Guardian and the Telegraph and the Mail and the Independent and … you get my point.  Here, meanwhile, The Los Angeles Times couldn’t care less what The New York Times reviewed.

I don’t begrudge my British compatriots their successes — and I find it inspiring that books should play so prominent role in their society — but let’s not forget that (to paraphrase the popular quote), we’re a common language divided by two cultures.

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous | , | 4 Comments

NPR Books Watch — 3/20-3/26

Good news this week: FishBowlNY reports that NPR’s listener numbers up.


Here are the NPR interviews for this week.  Anyone who emails me the imprints of all the books listed (or houses if no imprint is available) will win the NPR Books Grid for the prior week that includes, in addition to the information below, interviewer, pub date, imprint, post-interview Amazon ranking, pre-interview ranking (if the book was mentioned on Shelf Awareness and I was able to look up the number before the interview), and interview hyperlink.


TOTAL book stories for the week: 18

All Things Considered: 6

Diane Rehm: 4

Fresh Air: 1

Morning Edition: 1 4

Weekend Edition Saturday: 1

Weekend Edition Sunday: 1

All Things Considered Experimental Man David Ewing Duncan Health
All Things Considered Kneadlessly Simple Nancy  Baggett Cooking
All Things Considered Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth Frances Wilson Biography
All Things Considered Age of the Unthinkable, The Joshua Ramo Politics
All Things Considered Cheever Blake Bailey Biography
All Things Considered You Must Read This / Hope in the Unseen, A Ron  Suskind Biography
Diane Rehm Engaging the Muslim World Juan Cole History
Diane Rehm Soloist, The* Steve Lopez Biography
Diane Rehm No Sense of Decency Robert Shogan History
Diane Rehm Oh, Johnny Jim Lehrer Literary Fiction
Fresh Air Fiasco Frank  Partnoy Business
Morning Edition Engaging the Muslim World Juan Cole History Books We Like / Notes from No Man’s Land Eula Bliss Short Stories Book Tour / Sowing Crisis Rashid  Khalidi History Books We Like / Saga Of The Swamp  Alan Moore Graphic Novel Books We Like / Birthday Present, The Barbara Vine Mystery
Weekend Edition Saturday Baseball Great Tim  Green Children’s
Weekend Edition Sunday Live Through This Debra  Gwartney Memoir

March 27, 2009 Posted by | NPR Books Watch | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The golden age of the newspaper this is not

I was having lunch with a colleague yesterday and she mentioned she had admonished her brother for not subscribing to his daily newspaper.  He protested that he read the paper online, to which she responded that was not “enough.”  While everyone should be well informed about important issues, as book publicists and authors and others in the publishing industry, I think we also have a duty to support the institutions that are so integral to promoting our products.

Online news sites — many of which I frequent — are marvelous inventions and marvelous ways to promote our books.  At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that free online news content is draining the lifeblood of newspapers and magazines.  These past few weeks have witnessed the shuttering of two large city dailies — the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post Intelligencer — and Yahoo predicted that more large newspapers will fold or go digital.  Soon.

Granted, a daily newspaper subscription isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.  It certainly isn’t mine — when you get up with just enough time to brush your teeth, you’re not going to pore through a newspaper over a steaming cup of coffee (as nice as that looks on TV).  Fortunately, there often exist “in between” options — weekend subscriptions, for example. Also, Amazon’s Kindle Store offers subscriptions to newspapers across the country (and the world) and magazines.

On the (print) magazine end, virtually all consumer magazines offer subscribers ridiculous discounts off newstand prices.  Many popular monthly magazines end up costing less than $20 annually, although weeklies are obviously pricier (and if you absolutely must have your Us Weekly like, um, yours truly, that will run you a bit more).  For book publicists who itemize tax deductions, don’t forget that newspaper and magazine subscriptions are absolutely legitimate deductions.

Of course, as we all know, people who work in publishing are just rolling in money.  Especially now.  Still, there are ways to cut corners — that don’t involve Spam and Easy Mac — that can leave you with a chunk of change you can use for a newspaper or magazine subscription (or a donation to your local public radio or television station, but that’s a whole other matter).

We could say this isn’t our problem, that publications are simply responding to market forces and that the strong will survive.  But we’re all knowledge mongerers and this is a symbiotic relationship we have with magazine and newspaper publishers.  Ultimately, their financial health will depend upon far more than a few subscriptions, but it’s one place to start.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous | | 2 Comments

Rant Against Voicemail Day

I was scrolling through the lunch-time HARO email the other day being a good book publicist looking for stories that might be applicable for my authors, when one query, about people who hate voice mail, caught my eye.  (Yes — an article is being written about people who hate voice mail.)

Once upon a time, around the time Attila the Hun was laying waste to the Urals, voicemail was indeed a handy tool.  Then came email.  And text messaging.  And call logs.  And Twitter.  And the carrier pigeon.  Perhaps not quite in that order.

Chronology aside, I’ve noticed people who leave me voice mail messages tend to fall into one of three groups:

1) People I know / have worked with.  Which is fine, because not having to painstakingly listen to a message (sometimes multiple times) to catch a phone number and / or address really sweetens the pot.

2) People who can’t be bothered to write an email message.  I’m not surprised when I call someone and they pick up the phone sounding like they’re in a rush.  I do feel a bit put out, though, when someone calls me and theysound like they’re in a rush — you’re making me take time out of my day to talk to you and all you want to do is …  not talk to me?  These people tend to leave voice mail messages along the lines of, “My name is John Doe.  I’d like to interview your author Jane Smith.  Call me back at 555-1212.”  And so commences a highly inefficient and even more annoying game of phone tag in which you have to figure out, in the most time-consuming manner possible, availability, interview details, contact information, etc.  (Hint: this information can all be transmitted in one email message, although it would take, say, more than 10 seconds to write.)

3) Interns and assistants who’ve probably never used a land line until their current position, but who’ve been told by their superiors to “call the publicist” for a copy of a book / to request an author interview or other information.  Sometimes, those of us born before 1980 prefer email too, especially when you have a lot of detailed information to impart.

Although I may be particularly outspoken about voicemail, you know there are others out there who agree — like some of the journalists we pitch, for example (or literary agents receiving hundreds of queries from writers).  So for those of us working in book publicity (and those of us not), we should think before leaving voicemail messages: does it make sense?  Sometimes the answer is “yes,” but don’t assume that because it’s easy for you to leave the message that it’s easy for your recipient to get it.

March 25, 2009 Posted by | Papyrus Files | | 8 Comments

The shoe’s on the other foot — what journos need to know about pubs

Journalists are always advising publicists to be familiar with their publications / shows / websites before pitching books.  And rightly so.  Our job as book publicists is to know who we’re pitching and how best to approach them.

But I think it’s only fair to ask that in return, journalists learn a little something about publishing houses.  I’ve earned the right to complain about this — every day, I forward dozens of book and authors requests meant for other departments that were incorrectly sent to mine by journalists who don’t realize there’s a difference between a publishing house and an imprint.  That Random House the imprint is different from Random House the company that consists of dozens of imprints (departments).  That Vantage is different from Vintage which is different from Viking.  That children’s and YA titles are handled by different departments than those that publish adult books.  That Penguin Books, which only publishes paperbacks, is different from The Penguin Press, which only publishes hardcovers, both of which are different from (but part of) the company The Penguin Group, which is itself a separate entity in all but name from Penguin UK.  Well that was a mouthful.

The most thorough way to learn about publishing houses and imprints is by searching individual websites.  However, since this will likely take more time than anyone has, we can, happily, check Sarah Weinman‘s six-part post about publishing house imprints (Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, The Penguin Group and Random House) on her blog Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.


Book reviewers: To make it easier to get your review copies, I encourage you to check my posts Why Haven’t I Received My Review Copies Yet? and Why Haven’t I Received My Review Copies Yet? Part II.

Book publicists: If you find yourself on the receiving end of numerous requests for books not your department’s, consider creating “Autotext” so you can quickly send journalists on their way while hopefully making them aware of the difference between imprints.  For example, I have two lines of Autotext (there’s a character limit) that say the following:
This is a [department] title / author (different department).  I am forwarding your message to [email address] and they can help you out with your request.

For future reference, you can check our site, [URL], and our Media Contact page, [URL], to find the correct departmental address for your request.  Thanks.

Everyone: Please share this information with all and sundry.  The better informed journalists are, the easier it is for them to get their requested review copies (and the more time it saves book publicists)!

March 24, 2009 Posted by | review copies | | 1 Comment

The future is (maybe) now

Yesterday, after a 15K race, a hair cut (apparently my cut hair weighs 0.6 pounds, thank you very much) and an unfulfilled trip to Best Buy’s Geek Squad (Apple is looking better and better), I was lazing about on the couch, catching up on old episodes of Gossip Girl and 24 (yes — I watch both shows, which I realize is only slightly less bizarre than admitting I was riveted by both the series finale of Battlestar Galactica and the world premiere of Nora Robert’s Northern Lights).  I was, at the same time, attempting to sort through the stories in my RSS reader (which numbered 11,000+ a couple days ago.  Apparently it might not be such a good idea to try to follow more than 300 blogs when you’re holding a full-time job that does not consist of following blogs.)

Over the past month, Teleread, my favorite ebook blog, has posted numerous pieces about the new Kindle, Amazon’s iPhone Kindle application, the Sony / Google partnership and more.  It hit me, as I read one of their stories about digital newspapers, that this is something we fantasized about years ago.  When Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban opened in 2004, we oohed and ahed over The Daily Prophet, delivered to magicians (in real time and with “flash,” i.e., animation, to boot) on a piece of parchment.  Experts predicted we’d have that soon too — news delivered daily on a tablet screen.  Welcome to the Kindle.  Or the New York Times application for the iPhone.  How fast time flies.

Speaking of flying, for those of you new to the Twitter scene, some fellow by the name of James Bridle is at least a year ahead of you: he’s published My Life in Tweets.  Then there’s the Twitter story begun a week ago, featuring dragons (as best I can tell).

We’re at a crossroads in book publishing — ereaders are gaining popularity, yet digital publishing is bogged down by pricing, format and DRM (Digital Rights Management) issues.  On the publicity end, reviewers are beginning to ask for electronic review copies and publishing houses are starting to work with companies like NetGalley, yet the process of getting ebooks to reviewers remains cumbersome and plagued with fears that electronic material can easily be pirated.  (Providing reviewers with ebooks does not simply save time, money and space — ebooks can also facilitate the review process since they are searchable.)  Faced with both improved and increasingly accepted technology on the one hand, as well as thorny distribution issues on the other, now is the time for authors, publishing houses and journalists to collaborate — to share ideas and suggestions so we all can continue to promote reading and literature.

March 23, 2009 Posted by | ebooks, review copies | , | 9 Comments

NPR Books Watch — 3/13-3/19

Here are the NPR interviews for this week.  Anyone who emails me the imprints of all the books listed (or houses if no imprint is available) will win the NPR Books Grid for the prior week that includes, in addition to the information below, interviewer, pub date, imprint, post-interview Amazon ranking, pre-interview ranking (if the book was mentioned on Shelf Awareness and I was able to look up the number before the interview), and interview hyperlink.


TOTAL book stories for the week: 27

All Things Considered: 5

Day to Day: 1

Diane Rehm: 4

Fresh Air: 3

Morning Edition: 2

News & Notes: 1 3

Talk of the Nation: 2

Tell Me More: 2

Weekend Edition Saturday: 3

Weekend Edition Sunday: 1

All Things Considered Frankly, My Dear Molly  Haskell  Literary Fiction
All Things Considered American Rust Philipp  Meyer Mystery
All Things Considered Torture and Truth Mark  Danner Current Events
All Things Considered You Must Read This / Long Long Way Sebastian Barry Literary Fiction
All Things Considered You Must Read This / Delirious New York Rem Koolhas Architecture
Day to Day It’s Not Necessarily the Truth Jaime  Pressly Memoir
Diane Rehm Soloist, The Steve Lopez Biography
Diane Rehm Life You Can Save, The* Peter  Singer Current Events
Diane Rehm House of Cards William Cohan Business
Diane Rehm Power Rules Leslie Gelb HIstory
Fresh Air Happens Every Day Isabel Gillies Memoir
Fresh Air Extreme Ice Now James Balog Photography
Fresh Air Speaking For Spot Nancy Kay Pets
Morning Edition Believers, The Zoe Heller Literary Fiction
Morning Edition When March Went Mad Seth Davis Sports
News & Notes Obamas, The Patrik Henry Bass Biography Book Tour / Captain Freedom G. Xavier  Robillard Graphic Novel Books We Like / In Other Rooms, Other Wonders Daniyal  Mueenuddin Short Stories Books We Like / Sum David  Eagleman Literary Fiction
Talk of the Nation Pint of Plain Bill Barich History
Talk of the Nation Relentless Pursuit Donna Foote Current Events
Tell Me More Saint on Death Row Thomas Cahill Current Events
Tell Me More Africa Richard  Dowden History
Weekend Edition Saturday Grand New Party Reihan  Salam Politics
Weekend Edition Saturday My Booky Wook Russell Brand Memoir
Weekend Edition Saturday Blood and Rage Michael Burleigh Politics
Weekend Edition Sunday Victory at Risk Michael W.  Davidson Politics

March 20, 2009 Posted by | NPR Books Watch | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talking and tweeting

Yesterday evening I attended the Women’s National Book Association’s Book Marketing on the Web panel.  (Recap here.)  It was an informative discussion, with the panelists highlighting the importance of authenticity and knowledge.  Panelist Fauzia Burke of FSB Associates pointed out that online  publicity / marketing is incredibly time consuming because pitches must be personalized for blogs and websites, which is one of the reasons why author Abby Stokes advised authors to take on (at least some) of the responsibility of promoting their books.

Content aside, the panel was interesting for couple reasons.  At the start of the discussion, the moderator had announced a Twitter hash tag for those people who might be live tweeting the event.  I whipped out my phone, but felt a little awkward since most of the audience seemed to be, well, just listening.  I sure was tickled, though, when it became apparent that not one, but two of the panelists were themselves tweeting!  Now that’s what I call multi-tasking.  Both Ron Hogan of and Kelly Leonard who heads up the Online Marketing department at the Hachette Book Group, monitored — and contributed to — the Twitter stream, but never missed a beat in the offline conversation.  (I’d definitely need practice to do this.)  They were able to get real-time feedback from both audience members who were tweeting, as well as from people not in the audience who were “listening in.”  Who needs a live feed when you can just follow the Twitter stream?

A second issue of note came mid-way through the panel, when the talk turned to ereaders and Peter Costanzo from the Perseus Books Group took out his second-generation Kindle and passed it around.  So despite the hype, despite Oprah, despite this being a room full of hardcore readers and writers, the Kindle is still an uncommon enough device  (due in no small part to its outrageous price, I’m sure) that it merited a show-and-tell.  Still, the march of the ereaders continues: today Sony is expected to announce a deal with Google that gives Reader users access to a half million books in the public domain.

March 19, 2009 Posted by | ebooks, Online Marketing, Social Networking | , | Leave a comment

South by Southwest a la Twitter

I’ve written about Twitter, a lot, because I’m personally interested in social networking, but without concrete examples, it’s difficult to show how useful anything is.  Enter this weekend’s New Think for Old Publishers panel at South By Southwest, in which an offline panel discussion was accompanied by an online discussion on Twitter.  In the wake of that panel, a number of people have asked me about Twitter, since that experience highlighted how important it is to know what Twitter is and how it works, even if you choose not to use it.  Here are the basics.

What is Twitter?

Twitter, known as a “micro-blogging” site, allows you to post 140-character updates about what you’re doing (or thinking).  It’s basically the Facebook “Status” function — “face” without the “book.”

How does Twitter work?

You select people to follow in order to see their updates.  Others do the same with you.  For those of you familiar with RSS feeds, it’s much the same principle, only instead of selecting blogs to add to your feed, you’re choosing people.  (In fact, many people — including myself — find that Twitter in many ways replaces an RSS reader.)

You can change your settings so that you can approve your followers (prior to their being able to view your updates) and you can also block followers.  Most people don’t do either, but it can be done.

Why use Twitter — why would I even want to see other peoples’ updates?

I thought Twitter was a pretty inane concept when I first heard about it in a marketing meeting several years ago.  But I don’t follow people who only ever talk about what they had for lunch or what party they’re going to.  Virtually all of the 150 or so people I follow are bloggers, writers, literary agents, social marketing experts and people in the publishing and public relations industries, which allows me to keep up on issues affecting my job in book publicity.  Do people sometimes talk about what they had for lunch?  Sure.  Most people mix it up a bit between personal and professional updates.

How do I get started?

First, sign up for a Twitter account.  You will then need to update your profile (which takes about a minute to do).  Then, you select people to follow.  You can look up people individually or you can have Twitter search through your address books (in Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, etc.) to see which of your contacts are already on Twitter.  You will notice that some of the people who you follow will follow you back.  Another way to find people to follow is to search through someone else’s Follow / Follower lists.  Also, Highspot’s Jennifer Tribe maintains a comprehensive list of publishing folk on Twitter.

How do I interact with people?

You can either reply to a tweet or you can Direct Message someone if you don’t want your message appearing the Twitter stream for everyone to see.

If you come upon an interesting tweet, you can retweet (RT) it — giving the original tweeter credit, of course, by including their Twitter handle — and in doing so, broadcasting the information further.

Can you include photos and links in tweets?

Yes, although I’ve never posted a photo in Twitter.  (And Twitter itself doesn’t allow photos to be viewed, although you can do so in many of the Twitter applications.)

People often include links in tweets.  Since you have a limited amount of characters to work with, you will likely need to shorten the link at a site like TinyUrl or Snurl.

 What do you mean by “other” Twitter applications?

Twitter is a really basic application as far as web apps go these days.  So some smart people decided to juice it up a bit by making it look and work better.  Tweet Deck was the desktop app of choice at South by Southwest (yes — I sneaked peaks at other peoples’ laptops) although many people also use applications like Twhirl.

More people actually tweet from phones than from computers (or so I’ve read), which is where applications like Tweetie, Twitterberry, Twitterific and others come in handy.  (You can also text a tweet, although few people do that because there’s no way to view others’ tweets, which is where all the fun is.)

What is this “hash tag” I’ve been hearing about?

One problem with Twitter in the past was that there wasn’t a way to search for or archive tweets about a certain topic.  On blogs, for example, you can tag and categorize (and therefore look up) posts; not so on Twitter.  The hash tag allows you to do this.

You create a tag (a series of letters) preceded by the “#” sign (which the Brits call a “hash” but we call the “number” or “pound” sign.)  So the tag for the SXSW panel, for example, was #sxswbp.  Other popular publishing hash tags are #plnws (Publishers Lunch news), #digiarc (digital galleys) and #queryfail (what authors should not do when querying literary agents).

Can I see what’s going on on Twitter even if I’m not a member?

Yes.  You can search hash tags without logging in.

Why should I bother learning about Twitter now?  It’s been around for a while for already — won’t something new replace it in about a minute?

Twitter has been around for several years, but it’s also become increasingly popular even over the past year.  Will it be replaced soon?  Quite possibly.  For now, though, it’s how people communicate and it’s likely that whatever comes next will build on its existing features and concepts.


Tweeple: any basic tips that I’ve forgotten?  Comment at will.

March 18, 2009 Posted by | Social Networking | , , , | 7 Comments