The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

Don’t cry wolf on email — make sure recipients pay attention to you

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?


June 9, 2009 Posted by | Email | , | 15 Comments

The Papyrus Files — Earthlink

A long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away, of course), I decided to start a feature on this blog called “The Papyrus Files”  about outdated practices / systems / technology / etc. that are still in use.  Except then it lapsed for lack of inspiration.  Until now.

I had thought Earthlink’s drawbacks as an email provider were limited to the most antiquated spam filter in the post Civil War era.  Apparently, I was wrong.  I’ve been emailing back and forth with a producer, but it’s been difficult actually reading her messages because the Earthlink account she uses places her responses … at the very bottom of the message chain.

Now, anyone who has ever used a Blackberry, iPhone or other PDA knows that only a small amount of information in an email message can be viewed in the absence of an Internet connection.  (And now those of you who never have, do.)  Needless to say, this “small amount of information” does not include responses that appear at the very bottom of message chains.  Which means, then, that anyone viewing messages on the go — including a preponderance of journalists, producers and bookstore event coordinators — are well, not viewing those messages on the go. 

Earthlink also boasts a spam filter that I thought went out around the time the British army decided it actually was not an appropriate badge of honor for their officers to be attired in red (which was, coincidentally, around the time German marksmen were searching for targets for their newly-invented machine guns in the haze of the French countryside).  The way the Earthlink filter works is anyone who is not already in the users’ address book — including a preponderance of well, everyone — must click through to a spam filter page and type in the series of letters they see in order to ensure delivery of their message.  Often, the spam filter link does not actually work.  While this serves as a deterrant to spammers, it also serves as a deterrant to, say, a book publicist trying to respond about a requested review copy of a book or interview.  Also deterred are  literary agents being queried about submissions, as Colleen Lindsay has pointed out.

Devoted Earthlink users who simply can’t bear to part with their accounts should — for the sake of anyone and everyone with whom they do business — set up a Gmail account and then simply activate the forwarding function that allows Gmail to be sent to any other email address.  (This will allow people to bypass the inconvenient and frequently faulty Earthlink spam filter.)  Also, there should be settings options that allow one to change the location of responses so that they appear at the top rather than at the bottom of messages.

This has been a Public Service Announcement from The Book Publicity Blog.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Email, Papyrus Files | | 1 Comment

Old school

A couple days ago I received a call from someone inquiring about joining the Publishers Publicity Association (of which I am the secretary).  He was publishing a big book in the next few months, he said, and wanted to get some information about the organization.  I asked for his email address so I could send him some membership details.  He said … he didn’t have an email address (but would set up one before the publication of the book).  Was I being punked?  I wondered.

Then, yesterday someone called me to invite an author to a lecture series — when contacting a publicist with a request like that, you always want to *email* information that can be easily passed on to the author — and then she gave me the organization’s URL over the phone and asked (and I quote), “if I was near a computer. ”  Did she think I was taking her call from the ladies?

Please someone tell me I am not in the Twilight Zone.

But this got me thinking.  Even someone who loves technology as much as I do has to admit the phone has its uses.  A colleague pointed out that the phone can be the better means of communication for turning a “no” into a “yes.”  Or sometimes you’ve tried email without success and really need an answer.  Other times, you may be looking for an email address to which to send some information, but failing to find it online, need to call to ask for the address.  Of course, some issues are too complicated or too delicate or too urgent to discuss over email.  And it’s always nice having an actual conversation with contacts / colleagues.  What all these situations have in common, though, is an existing discussion and / or relationship that makes it unnecessary to launch into a lengthy explanation of one’s self or situation.  And that, for me, is what distinguishes the canny callers from the clueless.

January 8, 2009 Posted by | Miscellaneous | , , | 4 Comments

10 New Year’s Resolutions

My New Year’s Resolution last year was to get my oven fixed.  Which didn’t get done.  It’s been five years.  So this year, rather than coming up with a resolution for myself — and being of the sometimes bossy persuasion — I thought I’d come up with some resolutions for … other people.  (I can do that, right?)  Here, categorized:


Set up a Google Alert for your book (or all your books if you’re a book publicist).  They’re not fool proof, but free, quick to set up and pretty darn effective more or less makes up for that.  Make sure, though, that there is *one* person assigned to forward press mentions to editor / author / agent / publicity director — you don’t want to duplicate efforts and have everyone forwarding everyone else the same mentions.

Set up an RSS reader like Bloglines, Google Reader, News Gator, or any number of others.  For a publicist, an RSS reader is an invaluable tool for following numerous publications and websites (and broadcast outlets).  For authors and anyone else, it’s a good way to stay on top of the news in general or to keep yourself briefed about a specific topic(s).  For more information about RSS readers, check here.

Make sure an author’s web presence is established early, as in, by the time galleys are sent to the media (typically four-six months before a book goes on sale).  Depending on the author, “web presence” could mean any or all of the following: website, blog, social networking profile, discussion group, wiki, etc.  Whatever it is, get it up there ASAP because while you’re dithering over fonts and flash, readers and journalists are out there Googling the book.  In this day and age when basic sites can be created in a few minutes for free, there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to find accurate information about something.  (I’m not advocating throwing together a shoddy site simply so you can lay claim to having one; I am saying think about this earlier rather than later.)


— Set an email signature.  On your desktop account.  On your PDA.  On your replies and forwards.  You may know someone, but what if they have to forward your message to someone else?  Sending an email message without a signature is akin to calling someone and not identifying yourself.  It’s unprofessional.  Unless you’re emailing Grandma.

— Don’t be sloppy.  Do not pepper your messages with emoticons.  Do not write all in lower-case letters.  Do not write all in upper-case letters.  Don’t use cell-phone abbreviations when you have a full keyboard at your disposal.  Punctuate properly.  Don’t ramble. 

Use Reply All — when appropriate.  We’ve been conditioned to not use Reply All (with good reason).  But sometimes, when I email a producer / writer and copy an author (or vice versa) and the contact only responds to me, I’m left simply forwarding the message.   Not only is that a waste of my time, but when time is of the essence, it could lead to a missed opportunity.


Use a “Follow up” tag / tool / label / folder.  A few years ago I was working with a very busy author who was pretty much impossible to track down by either phone or email.  As a result, interview requests constantly went unanswered and I could barely keep track of who still needed a response.  What I learned (in addition to figuring out how not to tear out my hair) was that segregating interview requests in a “Follow up” folder (or using the Follow Up tag in Outlook) made it that much easier to figure out who still needed an answer.  Sometimes, when I know an author takes a long time to respond, I email them requests with a blind copy to myself so I can file the message in the “Follow up” folder.  Of course, this means you have to follow up on the “Follow up” folder, but at least I can tell the difference between “To Do” and “Done.”

Don’t waste time by asking stupid questions.  What is a stupid question?  The definition of a stupid question is very simple: it’s one you can pretty easily answer yourself.  Kind of like, “Can you tell me who wrote this book?”  If you are asked a stupid question, you can either 1) say you don’t answer stupid questions 2) answer the stupid question or 3) provide the link to the answer to the stupid question.  I suggest option 3. 

Try not to ask someone else to do something when it’s quicker to do it yourself.  There are exceptions, of course — extreme busy-ness, need to delegate, blah, blah, blah — but sometimes it really is more efficient to do something yourself rather than waiting for someone else to do it.  For example, if I want to know whether I can get an author to a city in time to do an event / interview, I could call or email the travel agent asking for possible flight times.  Although my travel agent happens to be the World’s Best Travel Agent, it still is faster to hop on to Travelocity and sift through my options.

Exercise.  Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.  Well, you didn’t think you could get away from that one, now, could you?

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Email, Media Monitoring, Miscellaneous, Online Marketing, RSS | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Managing email

The other day I ran into a colleague who apologized for not answering an email I’d sent a couple weeks back — she’d gotten overwhelmed with 1200 emails in her inbox, she explained, and was slowly working her way through the message.  (“Normal,” for her, she added, was 300-400 messages in her inbox.)  Which might seem like a lot for some of you, but I’ve hit the 300-message mark before.  Possibly more than once.

So I read this post about email management from On the Road to GTD (that’s Getting Things Done from the popular David Allen book of the same name) with some interest.  The post mentions the basics — don’t use Reply All when Reply will suffice, for example — and also lists some tips that you think would be obvious but aren’t always: if an email message can be dealt with quickly (in under two minutes), take care of it rather than let it sit in your inbox.  Don’t forget to read the comments section where readers have posted their top email management tips.  (I would add that I use my sort function all the time — I sort by date, by sender and by subject line which is why it can be problematic when people change subject lines on responses.)

November 12, 2008 Posted by | Email | , , , | 4 Comments

You’ve got too much mail

A friend of mine sent me a link from the Los Angeles Times about the perils of too much email.  Which I didn’t read for several days because I had too much email.  (Not that I’m in the habit of ignoring email messages, but I have a pop-up box that gives me the subject line and first line of each message so I knew this one wasn’t urgent.)

An unnecessary Reply All, is, of course, one of the worst email-generating offenses one can commit.  I thought pretty much everyone knew this.  Alas.  “You’re welcome” emails are also extraneous (even if that is a nice sentiment).  And unless someone asks, don’t copy them on every detail of every move you make — a manager likely wants to know the end result of an action (or periodic updates along the way), not every step taken to get there.

To speed the flow / reading of email messages, I like using as specific a subject line as possible.  I can’t tell you how many review copy requests I get with the subject line “Review copy request.”  Guess what?  I work in publicity.  So that really helps, folks.  That’s like someone who works in a running store being being told by customers, “I’m looking for a pair of running shoes.”

To streamline my inbox, I’m also pondering the merits of online discussion groups.  Although email is still the best way to consult with someone if an issue is urgent, for ongoing discussions — such as general department issues — discussion groups can provide an efficient space to gather comments and questions and also post documents / files that might be of use to the department.  Members of the discussion group can participate by logging in online, or they can participate by emailing the discussion group email address.  (The latter option is particularly useful for those using Blackberries and other PDAs.)

How do you deal with an email overload?  Feel free to post your comment.

August 6, 2008 Posted by | Discussion Groups, Email | , | 1 Comment

The Papyrus Files — Using email like it’s 1999

We’ve all read email tips over the years.  Tons of them.  You’d think we’d all know basic email etiquette.  Most of us do.  And yet.  In an age where we’re all sending and receiving hundreds of email messages a day, make it really really easy for someone to do what you want them to.  For example:

1. Set a signature with your full name, your address, your email address (this doesn’t always come out if a message is forwarded) and your phone number.  Set the signature on your Blackberry or other PDA.  Set the signature to appear on replies and forwarded messages in addition to messages you compose.  Don’t leave someone hunting for your information (or having to send an email solely for the purpose of getting this information).

2. Include a descriptive, specific and meaningful subject line.  I get a lot of requests with the subject line “Review Copy Request.”  Now, this isn’t inaccurate, but when you have one person looking through dozens of messages daily with this subject line and one message with “Review Copy Request from Businessweek for Bad Money by Kevin Phillips,” which message do you think gets read first?

3.  Do not include an attachment unless it has been requested.  Everyone’s been saying this for years, but I still routinely get clips / flyers sent as (unsolicited) attachments.  Since they are clips, they are invariably over 1 MB and sometimes as large as 8 MB — now that’s just downright *rude.*  They are deleted.  Without being opened.  Ever.

4. Do not use all capital letters in a message or in a subject line.  Everyone’s been saying this for years too (and we now all know that all caps is the electronic equivalent of shouting), but I still see messages and subjects all in caps.

5. Include the message trail when you respond so people know what you’re talking about.

6. When you’re emailing in a professional capacity, do us a favor and skip the cutesy spiral binding/ legal pad / winding ivy / tartan backgrounds.  Not that I’m not as big a fan of winding ivy as the next person, but have you noticed that when you respond to these messages your text comes out in a weird color and size?  More importantly, these backgrounds are interpreted as attachments, which means these messages can get trapped by spam filters and even if they make it through the filters, they take longer to open when one is accessing email remotely as so many of us do some (or all) of the time.

It’s easy to ignore an email message.  Don’t make it any easier.

June 2, 2008 Posted by | Email, Papyrus Files | | 1 Comment

The importance of email signatures

Since we’re in the business of sending and receiving a lot of emails as we pitch, I thought I’d bring your attention to an oft-overlooked aspect of the email signature: your email address.  Many people fail to include this in their signature, assuming their email address always accompanies the email.  This is true, but depending on how a message is forwarded, email addresses are not always readable / accessible and even when they are accessible, it’s much easier to copy and paste contact information into an electronic address book or database when everything is in one place and the recipient doesn’t need to go trawling through an entire message for the email address.  To make a long story short, here are a few suggestions to make it easy for reporters, editors and producers to capture your information / respond to you:

1. Include your email address with your signature.

2. Set your message options to include the signature every time, whether it’s a new message, a forwarded one or a response.

3. If you use a Blackberry or other PDA, please create an email signature — it takes five minutes to do once and you’ll never need to do it again.  (Reporters and producers don’t need to know your message was “sent via Blackberry” but they’re going to need your contact information when news breaks and they’re scrambling to find experts who can talk about crane collapses and prostitutes.  I mean crane collapses or prostitutes.)

March 25, 2008 Posted by | Pitching Tips | | Leave a comment