Just say no
Holiday spirit notwithstanding, I’m going to go for the curmudgeonly and say that one of my New Year’s resolutions is to say “no” more. This post was partly inspired by a reader who suggested the topic a while back, so I’m clearly not the only one with the problem. The average person (which includes me and I’m assuming most other people) wants to helpful and courteous and that means it’s hard for us to say no. But the reality is that we can’t do everything for everyone and it’s better to be realistic — and up front — rather than string along people with endless platitudes. So here are some suggestions (and, as always, feel free to add your own in the Comments section).
Authors: if you’re approached by a journalist for an interview and know that you probably won’t / can’t / don’t want to do the interview, do *not* say, “Sure, I’d be happy to do the interview — you can schedule it with my publicist,” and then leave the book publicist to sort out this mess. (Yes — it is a mess. When an author has agreed to do an interview, the journalist assumes the publicist is stonewalling when the interview is not scheduled.) Instead, a polite way for you to respond to an interview query if you’re an author is to ask for more information, but remain noncommittal with, “Thanks for your interest. I’ll have to check my schedule, but I or my publicist will get back to you.” We’re fine with being the ones to say “no.” But we’d prefer not to have to do it after you’ve lied — albeit with good intentions — and expressly said yes.
Publicists: We’ve all heard the saying “all publicity is good publicity.” Somehow, this doesn’t always quite work out. In theory, the best way for a book publicist to turn down an interview request for an author (whether because s/he is incredibly busy, fussy or otherwise unavailable) is to be as honest as possible as quickly as possible (but I realize situations sometimes require a little, shall we say, finesse).
Certainly, an exception to the “all publicity is good publicity” rule is when it comes to doling out review copies — they may be free for the recipient, but the publishing house has to foot the bill. So before sending out books far and wide, we do need to consider whether the cost of the book (and shipping) is worth the potential exposure and let’s face it: sometimes it’s not (whether because the book has been out for months — or years — because the site has virtually no traffic or because reviews are written like my second-grade book reports).
First off, it’s important for both journalists and publicists to understand that publishing houses are never required to provide review copies of books. We do so because we think the potential exposure (“potential” because a reviewer should always have the right to not cover a book they’ve received) could help our books and authors — and ultimately, readers. In other words, we don’t need to provide books for free … if we’re willing to forgo the potential publicity. The reality is that this is a decision that needs to be made.
It helps if the publishing house’s website says something along the lines of “Review copies of books are provided at our discretion” or something like that, but I’ll say much the same thing if I need to turn down a review copy request. If the person is requesting an older title (“old” for us being more than a few months since that’s when books tend to disappear from bookstore shelves), I’ll say review copies are no longer available. With people who constantly ask for a slew of titles they clearly won’t have time to review, I simply don’t respond. A publishing house is not a gift shop — yes, we’re wise to that game.
Media: When book publicists hear back from the media (which, admittedly, is not quite as frequently as we would like), we often are told that the outlet is passing because the schedule is full at this time or because it’s not appropriate for the publication / show. If you’re a journalist, it’s in your best interest to be as honest as possible. For example, if you say, “We’re booked Tuesday,” when you really mean “There’s no way in all heck my host would ever cover that book,” you may get a publicist responding with, “What Monday or Wednesday?” It really is helpful for us to hear why you’re passing on a book / author and all good publicists will file away that information for future reference.
How do you say no? (Or don’t when you need to?)