Since we are all writers and / or work in the publishing industry and word smithing is how we earn our keep, I thought it might make sense to discuss how to communicate more efficiently in email messages, given that we are all swamped (and often checking messages on the fly on a mobile device about half the size of my palm). Here are some of my top Do’s and Don’ts.
- Use a descriptive, specific and accurate subject line. Also, amend / clarify your subject line if the topic of the message changes. When busy people scan subject lines on the hundreds of messages that arrive daily in their inboxes, guess which messages get opened first?
- Make sure your response (and electronic signature) appear at the top — not the bottom — of a message chain. Remember that many people are accessing email on Blackberries and other mobile devices and can only see the first few lines of an email without scrolling.
- Make sure your contact information appears in all messages (new ones as well as replies and forwards) as well as on messages sent from webmail accounts or mobile devices so recipients have your contact information at their finger tips at all times. Many people have been creating increasingly complex signatures, some of which take up a lot of space. If you have a long electronic signature, consider using it for new messages only, and then create a second signature with just your email address and phone number for replies, forwards and mobile devices.
- Include your email address in your esignature. You may think it is redundant since the address appears on your email message. However, depending on if / how the message is forwarded, the email address does not appear.
- Consider creating a discussion group, like Google Groups or Yahoo Groups, if you know you will have a lengthy and ongoing exchange between a number of people. This way, all responses to a particular topic easily stored in one place (and referred back to in the future). You can also set preferences so that you receive a notification email every time someone posts in the group, once a day, once a week or once a certain number of posts have accumulated. Ideally, you want to participate with a Gmail or Yahoo email account, but you can do so from any email account.
- This one is not new, but it continues to be a problem. Do not, not, NOT Reply All when it is not necessary. If you need to respond to more than one person on the distribution list, please show some consideration for busy colleagues and take 30 seconds to remove the people who do not need to receive your response.
- Also not new: do not send unsolicited, large, i.e., 500 KB+ attachments. Most email providers limit the size of the user’s mailbox. Once the limit has been reached, the user can no longer send email messages (although received messages usually are stored. Somewhere). If you need to send a large message, consider uploading it to a document-sharing site like Google Docs or a file-sharing site like You Send It. That way, the recipient can simply click on a link to download the document directly to their hard drive. (Of course, if someone has just asked you to send a JPEG of an author photo or cover, it’s a good bet they’re ready to receive and deal with a massive file landing in their inbox.)
- Do not set a rule requesting a notification when the recipient opens or deletes your message. If you don’t get a bounce back, assume the message has been received. If you don’t get a response, assume the recipient is really swamped. If it’s really important that you do get a response, send a follow-up message with a subject line that indicates the urgency of the message or give the person a call. Being asked to notify someone when I read their message is a bit like telling my manager every time I go to the bathroom — some things just don’t need to be shared.
What are your top email tips / pet peeves? Please feel free to weigh in with your own in the Comments section.
Book publicity has changed a lot in the 10+ years I’ve been doing it. Here are some things I try to stay away from these days:
Blind copying pitches. In an ideal world, all pitches would be personalized. But there are few (if any) book publicists who have the time to personalize every single pitch. (Realistically, most of us do some of both.) Still, nothing screams mass email like a blind carbon copy. With the mail merge options available today, using the Bcc function seems crude (and doesn’t even save that much time).
Being wedded to one application for all author itineraries. For years I used Word for author itineraries (and I still do use it for those authors who prefer it), but about a year ago, an author requested I use Google Calendar for her tour schedule and it turned out to be a life saver (given that she and two co-authors were all traveling at the same time, but not always to the same place). These days, with more and more authors using calendar applications like Outlook or Google Calendar for their appointments, it saves them time if I provide their interview /event information in a format that doesn’t require retyping — and double checking — time that could better be spent networking online, or writing guest blog posts, or just getting some extra shut eye.
“Static” data. Generally speaking, anything stored offline is static (my word — those of you who are more technologically savvy feel free to correct my terminology), while data stored online (on the Web or on a company’s intranet) is live. In book publicity, we need to transmit data frequently — schedules to authors, publicity hits to editorial and sales, etc. — and we need to make sure the information is accurate and up-to-date. Sending this information via email (or a Word attachment in an email) is quick, but it’s not long before this static information “degrades” and we’re no longer sure if it’s accurate.
The solution is to maintain a “live” source of data. Larger publishing houses generally have network applications that allow publicists to input interview / events and other publicity information (that then generate schedules and reports and that can be accessed by others in the company). But even publicists who do not have access to those applications can make use of free (or cheap) file-sharing applications like Google Docs and others that allow multiple concurrent users to view real-time information.
You may be wondering what that means. It means that more than one person can access an author schedule without being locked out of a Word document because someone else is using it. It also means there’s no ambiguity about what information has been added (or taken out of) a tour itinerary. It means you don’t get confused about whether this version of a press release is an early version or a revised one. (The key to file sharing, though, is that you, well, share files. Resist the urge to download information and then save it to your hard drive — you’ve just broken the chain. )
How have your publicity practices changed over the years?
I’ve posted a lot about what drives me crazy (what can I say — I can be a complainer) but I thought it would also be useful to post about a couple life savers from these past few crazy weeks.
Microsoft Outlook’s Calendar Function
When interview requests for authors are flying fast and furious, it can get really tricky figuring out when an author is available and, once an interview has been confirmed, getting him / her the correct booking information. Sometimes, this all must be done in a few hours, so anything that saves time and trouble — sending information directly to a calendar program, for example — can be more efficient than trading information in an email message or in Word, which subsequently must often be entered into a calendar program).
(Downside: I haven’t found a way to share an Outlook calendar I’ve created with colleagues — although I do know how to share my own Outlook calendar. Anyone know how to do this? Do tell.)
If you can’t / don’t want to use a calendar program and need to record the information in Word, Google Docs allows more than one publicist to access (and change) the document at one time. This means you’re not left frantically trading email messages: “Let me know when you’re out of the schedule ASAP so I can change something!”
(Downside: it’s harder to format text in Google Docs than in Word and it’s also a bit slower.)
I know we’re all busy in the fall. What saves you time?
We’re publishing more books today than ever before. But not necessarily with more hands on deck. Long gone are the days when mad men could read newspapers at their desks and drink themselves into oblivion on the clock. Today, we have to get more work done, more quickly. Here are some tips:
* Specialize (yourself): Don’t struggle to do a mediocre job at something that someone else could do really well, really easily.
For example, book publicists shouldn’t be afraid to ask for an author’s help putting together pitch letters or interview alerts. As a publicist, I will never know a book as well as an author no matter how thoroughly I read it, and it’s inefficient for me to be trawling through a manuscript with a red pen attempting to pull out the smoking guns when an author could achieve a better result in a fraction of the time. Likewise, authors should not attempt to pitch their books to writers / producers (unless they’re already acquainted) — publicists, with expertise and information at their fingertips, will do a better job in less time.
* Specialize (your applications): To maximize efficacy and to save time, use applications as they were intended.
For example, write press material (and manuscripts, of course), in Word but maintain contact lists in a database such as Excel.
* Network with colleagues. And no, I’m not just talking about Facebook (although that is a good way to keep in touch with people).
For example, recognize that email can be a cumbersome mode of communication when discussing complicated and / or ongoing issues. Consider setting up a discussion group like Google Groups or Yahoo! Groups in which questions can be segregated by topic and supporting documents (photos or text) can be uploaded to a central location.
* Sync with colleagues.
For example, if managing schedules and meetings (either internally or with authors) gets hectic, consider using Google Calendar or using the meeting invitation function in Outlook. I once used Google Calendar to keep track of an author tour involving three people (and three different and often overlapping schedules). It was a lifesaver.
* Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are very few occasions that require information to be retyped. Not only does that waste time, but it introduces the possibility of errors. Many of them. Large publishing houses often have the luxury of creating / buying databases and systems that store and report information. You can reap some of these benefits with free applications like Google Docs or Basecamp (the latter of which I’m guessing is — or was — used by Crown since they’re mentioned on the home page).
For example, rather than emailing a document — a list of publicity hits, for example — from person to person, you can upload the information to a central location accessible to all approved users (or to everyone, if you so choose).
* Avoid redundancy.
For example, functions such as Word’s “Track Changes” allow you to edit within a document. Although I know editors grumble about having to use Track Changes throughout an entire manuscript, it is a pretty handy function when you’re talking about a page of two of press material. If you’re reviewing a press release, for example, rather than scribbling inelligible notes in the margins which then have to be interpreted and incorporated into the release, consider using Track Changes that will illustrate exactly what was changed, but allows the publicist to accept all the changes with a click of a button.
* Communicate: There’s nothing like not being able to get the ball rolling because you haven’t heard back from one person. A message doesn’t need to be urgent to demand the courtesy of a response before, say, three weeks. Also, be truthful and open — we make books, folks, not nuclear weapons.
How do you save time? What are your shortcuts?
Last month, Blogspotting posted about Google’s poll in Time Square in which pedestrians were asked, “What is a browser?” The vast majority of people surveyed mixed up the term “browser” (the application you use to access the Internet) with “search engine” (a site like Google or Ask.com on which you, well, search for stuff).
The question, of course, is why the heck is the definition of browser important and what does it matter what browser you use? It matters.
Late last week, the social media blog Mashable posted a piece, IE6 Must Die for the Web to Move On, about the sinking ship (browser) that is known as Internet Explorer 6. This browser, ubiquitous for years since its launch in 2001, has fallen out of favor in recent years with the debut of browsers like Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and its own successor, IE7 (and, as of a few months ago, IE8). I am told there are any number of programm-y, tech-y reasons why IE6 no longer passes muster, few (okay, none) of which I understand.
What I do understand is that a lot of applications don’t work in IE6. For book publicists, authors and others in the publishing industry, the list of programs that don’t work / don’t work well with IE6 include Facebook and Pitch Engine and TechCrunch reports that YouTube and Digg have also been making noises about dropping support for IE6. TJ Dietderich sent along this cartoon lampooning IE6.
What I also understand is that IE6 lacks “tabs.” This means that each time you open a page in IE6 — and if you’re a book publicist like me constantly monitoring news sites, you have at least half a dozen sites open at once — you have to open a new window which slows down your computer and increases the chances something will freeze / crash. With tabs, you only open one window and each site appears as a seperate tab within that window. In this day and age, using a browser without tabs simply isn’t an acceptable way to live.
Yesterday, two people who asked for copies of books failed to include mailing addresses in their original requests. In other words, they wanted me to send them books, but I had to chase down their addresses?
For those times when book publicists do not, in fact, desire to jump through hoops to send out free books, here are some suggestions for bloggers and journalists to make the review copy request process more efficient. (Those of you in book publicity — feel free to forward these tips to all and sundry.)
Requesting a Review Copy of a Book / an Author Interview
— An electronic signature containing your snail mail and email addresses as well as a link to your organization or website. You may know a publicist well (and may know they have your contact information, but you never know when they may need to forward your message to someone else who may not know you from Adam).
— Your first and last names. Unless you want to be addressed as “Dude / Dudette,” signing “J. Doe” doesn’t help much. Many writers prefer their esignatures match their professional names — which in some cases may be something along the lines of “J. Doe” — but in that case, make sure to sign off with a first name so you can at least be addressed in some fashion.
— Explain why you are requesting a review copy of a book or an interview with an author.
— Include your deadline (or mention that you don’t have one).
— Provide some information about your media outlet or show and some circulation information. This can be empirical, e.g., “circulation of 72,000” or “30,000 hits a month” or it can be subjective, e.g., “most popular hunting and fishing blog in Montana.” Make a compelling case for yourself. (To make it easy for yourself — set this information as Autotext and simply insert it into each request. If you’d like to provide further details that you think are pertinent but don’t want them to bog down your message, link to the “About” page on a website.)
Here’s a tip regarding author interviews: when I receive interview requests for backlist, i.e., not current, authors, I respond to the journalist thanking them for their interest and letting them know that I will forward their request to the author. This is the key: I do not forward the request. I am blind copying the author on my response. (I guess that makes me less than truthful if you’re prone to splitting hairs, but I can live with myself.) Doing this enables me to kill two birds with one stone — responding to the journalist and getting in touch with the author — which I need to do because time is scarce and I’m concentrating on current and upcoming titles.
This means that I’m not compensating for any shortcomings in the request: the author sees any and all typos and misspellings of the book and / or author name. It also means that if you don’t include a subject line, the author won’t see one. And lastly, the author won’t see details that are not provided. In other words, if you send in a one-line interview request with scant information about your media outlet, that’s all the author sees; while I will “fill in the blanks” for current or upcoming authors, I don’t have time to Google and / or trawl through our database for that information for every request for every author with whom I’ve ever worked.
In publicity, we often get email messages asking for the name of an author’s book publicist. Instead of simply asking for a publicist’s name, ask for the name *and* include the full request — you’re going to have to provide all the details eventually; get your ducks in a row from the beginning and speed up that process.
For (loads) more information about this topic, check my posts about the science of requesting review copies. (Yes — it’s a science, right up there with particle physics and microbiology.)
Book publicists: what else do you like to see in review copy / interview requests? Bloggers and journalists: What do you always make sure to include in your requests?
I’ve checked email on the treadmill, while rollerblading, in the bathroom and at other moments that would generally be considered inappropriate. I check it on my computer and on my phone. I check it at work and in bed, while watching TV and reading magazines, and on the subway. I’m really comfortable with email and I use it a lot, both personally as well as professionally as a book publicist.
But sometimes even I think it can be too much.
With the amount of email messages we all receive today, it’s vital to send a message only when you have something important, informative, useful or at least amusing to say. When I say “important,” I’m using it the loosest sense: “important” could mean everything from, “Oprah wants to interview your author,” to “I liked the book jacket,” to “I saw this article in which you might be interested,” and anything and everything in between. Unsolicited information is useful too, which is why I don’t mind getting (book-related) press releases or news about stores and events — in my line of work in book publicity, that’s important information.
But don’t be the person who automatically contributes to an email conversation without new or vital information. Or the person who sends a thank you message to an entire distribution list. When people repeatedly send worthless email messages (usually with an old and / or unrelated subject lines — you know what I’m talking about), I eventually stop checking their messages — at least until the end of the day when I take some time to clean out my inbox, at which point I delete their messages.
So here are some suggestions for how to not “cry wolf” on email:
— Do not send “You’re welcome” messages. (Thank you messages, however, are useful — not to mention appreciated — particularly when important information has been sent so that the sender knows that you have, in fact, received the information.)
— Do not simply repeat what someone else has said. For example, if one person on a distribution list says it’s raining, responding by saying “Yes, it’s raining hard,” is utterly useless. (On the other hand, saying, “Yes, it’s raining now, but it should clear up by lunchtime,” is useful.)
— For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT USE REPLY ALL UNLESS IT IS NECESSARY. (And yes, it was necessary to use all caps — if you don’t believe me, check the mess that is most peoples’ email inboxes.)
It’s high time we all learned how to use the Internets really good. Unless you’re one of those people who has to hold for the operator because you still have a rotary dial phone.
What are your top “extraneous email” peeves?
The other day I attended my company’s annual results meetings. Not surprisingly, the CEO spoke about the importance of increasing efficiency and about saving money. Now, efficiency is one of my very favorite topics in the whole world! I time my visits to the bathroom to coincide with trips to the mailboxes / printer / bookroom — heaven forbid I leave my chair for only one reason. Although I realize the rest of the world probably does not, in fact, plan their office jaunts with quite so much precision, it certainly is worthwhile in this economy to consider how we can work more effectively. (And passing on an onerous task to an assistant or an intern does not count as being more efficient.)
So how can a book publicist be more efficient?
— Be judicious about the size of your mailing lists. Although it’s true that I cast a wider net with my mailing list than with, say, my call list, I try not to go overboard with the number of books I mail out. Common sense will guide you here. If, for example, you’re trying to nail down some morning radio coverage for an author, you probably don’t need to send a book to every single morning show producer who might consider interviewing said author for all of five minutes. A lot of people can determine “yea” or “nay” based on a couple paragraphs in an email message. (Not to mention, a lot of people don’t like receiving unsolicited books).
— Make sure the addresses in your media database are up to date. UPS and Federal Express charge senders for returned packages. When publicists send out hundreds of books a day, a handful of incorrect addresses per mailing can really add up. Don’t depend on someone else to update a contact record — as a book publicist, it’s your job to keep tabs on the media.
— Learn your systems. Well. I’ve used Bacon’s Online for years now and while I consider it God’s gift to the public relations world, I’ll be the first to admit it isn’t the easiest system to use. I’ve heard about people taking hours to pull a list that could take a minute (using the proper search parameters) — think about how much less list pulling and how much more pitching you could be doing.
— Use the appropriate program for a task. Once upon a time, there was was a word processing program. And then God invented Excel. As book publicists, we maintain a lot of media records and a lot of lists. None of these records should ever, ever, ever be stored in Word, which cannot automatically organize the information. In other words, if you need to alphabetize a list in Word, you need to alphabetize it (rather than in Excel, in which you can click the Easy, I mean Alphabetize, button.) Think about it this way — you wouldn’t you read a manuscript written in Excel, so why would you compile a list of contacts in Word (or in an email)? Remind your authors about this the next time they submit names for complimentary and review copies.
— Use the appropriate mode of communication for a message. If you’re one of those people who hate the phone and never use it, or who hate email and never use it, suck it up and realize that what’s most important is getting your message across in a quick, simple manner. Sometimes this means making a phone call because it’s quicker to hash out details in a conversation rather than typing back and forth. Other times this means sending an email message because it’s easier to see written details rather than having to talk and take notes.
These tips speak more to saving time rather than money (and therein lies the problem), but still, at the end of the day, time is money. Feel free to chime in with your own time (and money) saving book publicity tips.
Given the dire state of the economy (by which I mean publishing), I figured now might be a good time to post about being efficient. Now, if I were truly efficient, I would have organized the following points into categories / groups / sub-groups, but I didn’t get that far, so I’m just lumping them all together.
— The phone is inefficient. There’s just no other way to put it. I know many of you have come to the same conclusion because I get fewer calls / voicemail messages now than ever before. There’s no written record of a phone call, no way to file the contents of a voicemail message, no alarm to set to remind you to follow up on a request. You can’t call more than one person at a time and forwarding a voicemail is more cumbersome than pretty much anything except, well, checking voicemail. (Imagine if you had to log in every time you had to check an email message.) There are exceptions, of course — some issues are more quickly resolved / discussed with a phone call rather than (multiple) email messages or sometimes you have to call when you haven’t heard back via email. Also, when you already know someone and have their contact information, returning a phone call isn’t the chore it is when you have to spend five minutes listening to and writing down a voicemail message.
— I encounter multiple situations a day where I get an email message / phone call and because the request requires a “middle step” — like looking up something — when I’m already pressed for time, it gets bumped to the bottom of my list. If you’re a journalist requesting a book, for example, please don’t make me look up a title / author / pub date (given that I’m already fielding a couple dozen such requests daily). My imprint alone publishes dozens of books a month and if you can take 30 seconds to provide me with more information than just, say, a title, you really increase the chances of your getting the book.
— As much as I rail against using the “Reply All” function, sometimes you *should* use it. If a publicist emails an interview request to an author and copies the producer making the request, for example, then yes, please, utilize the Reply All function. Making publicists simply forward replies delays the request and creates more work.
Feel free to chime in with your time-saving suggestions!