The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

An explanation of RSS / feeds / online newsletters

Note: This post has been slightly modified / corrected from the original thanks to a few careful and knowledgeable readers.


I often get email requests asking to subscribe to my “feed” and the other day someone asked about distributing a podcast via RSS.  This represents a somewhat discombobulated understanding of RSS and feeds, so I thought I’d try to explain these terms / concepts.  (I should note that I really don’t know all that much about RSS — just enough to maintain my blog — but on the upside, “just enough” is probably good enough for many.)

What is RSS?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (and something else I can’t remember, but that doesn’t much matter).  Think of it as electronic subscription service — instead of getting your newspaper delivered to your front door, RSS allows you to get your newspaper stories delivered to your RSS reader.

What is an RSS reader?
A reader is a website that allows you to read the stories (or posts) for websites and blogs to which you choose to subscribe.  Readers include Bloglines, Google Reader, NewsGator and others.

What is a feed?
A feed allows an online publication or blog to distribute their stories to readers via RSS.

How does this all differ from an online newsletter?
An online newsletter is simply a message that is emailed to a distribution list.  There is no feed involved.  (In the case of The Book Publicity Blog, I maintain an email distribution list for people who prefer not to check the blog online / in an RSS reader — after I post online, I simply copy and paste the information into an email message and send it out.)  So when you ask if you can subscribe to The Book Publicity Blog, you’re asking if you can subscribe to the email newsletter, not to the blog’s feed (since you woud subscribe to the feed yourself).  Apparently, I could also have Feedburner send out my blog posts via email automatically … although that would mean I wouldn’t have time to correct posts after publishing them!

Why set up an RSS reader?
A reader is an efficient way to consolidate all your websites and blogs.  You can quickly scroll through all headlines and click through only to those stories in which you are interested — instead of visiting many websites a day, you can simply look in your reader and view the content on all of them.

Exactly how efficient is a reader?  I subscribe to almost 300 websites and blogs and I whip through all these headlines every day or every couple days when I’m busy.  Before I had an RSS reader, well, let’s just say I sure wasn’t following almost 300 websites daily.  Sarah Palin obviously doesn’t have an RSS reader.  (Granted, following all these sites is far more important for a publicist making their living working with the media than for someone who following the news for fun.)

Here, the blog Men With Pens weighs in on why they like their readers.

How do I set up an RSS reader?
Click here for instructions about how to set up a reader and here for some publishing websites you may want to put in your reader.

Why is it important for a blog to have a feed?
You know the story of the tree that falls in the woods?  (If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a noise?)  A blog without a feed is like the tree falling with no one around — it doesn’t make a “noise.”  Unless someone is so beholden to you that they will check your website every single day, you can assume that they won’t check your site.  In other words, there’s no way to build a regular audience for your blog without a feed (since most of us have a limited number of blood relatives and best friends).

I initially thought feeds had to be established by the site / blogger using a tool like Feedburner, but as you can see from the Comments, feeds are usually built in to standard blogging platforms like Blogger, Typepad, WordPress.  (I have occasionally encountered blogs without feeds, though, so if you are blogging, it’s worthwhile testing out your feed.)

If you do use Feedburner, there are other cool things you can do (again, see Comments).

I think that covers the basics …

October 6, 2008 Posted by | Blogs, RSS | , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How I cheat

A number of readers have expressed surprise about how I manage to blog in addition to holding down a full-time book publicity job.  So I thought it might be interesting to post about how I “cheat.”  And now you can too!

Set up an RSS reader: anyone in public relations / publicity needs to know what’s going on not just in the industry, but in the world.  While it’s useful reading one’s daily hometown paper, there’s so much else out there, that you really miss a lot simply by reading just The New York Timesor just (or just Gawker).  So I use Bloglines to keep track of headlines from numerous newspapers, websites, radio stations and blogs — others use readers like Google Reader or NewsGator or the RSS button on their browser — and that allows me to skim thousands of headlines daily fairly quickly.  Plus, I hate getting newsprint on my hands.

Check here for instructions about how to set up an RSS reader.

Send email blasts: Not the best option all the time, but, let’s face it, inescapable, not to mention useful, every now and then.

Learn your publicity database: Backwards and forwards.  When you’ve quit complaining about it (I know, I do it too) take some time to really figure it out.  Ask people for their tips and shortcuts.  I’ve used several programs in my time — Media Map, Publicity Assistant, Bacon’s Online — and none were easy to pick up immediately, although, ultimately, they all proved immensely helpful.  I’ve seen people spend hours using Bacon’s Online, for example, which is unfortunate, because the majority of searches take about a minute to execute (particularly when you’ve saved your search parameters).  And I’ve seen publicists create media lists that already exist.  Or painstakingly update records individually because they didn’t know about the “Update” function.  Or use a program solely to look up names because they didn’t realize they could also be using it to pull media lists.  It’s impossible to list every shortcut for every program, but use this rule of thumb: if you ever feel like something is taking a long time, like you’re really slogging through something, ask someone who’s been around for a while if there is a shortcut — sometimes there is an “easy button.”

Use Microsoft Excel: Just because we work in creative industry and have a way with words doesn’t mean we don’t need to know our way around a database.  In publicity, we often send out copies of books to reviewers.  Often, we send out many books at a time.  Some of these contacts come from our publicity databases; sometimes the names may come from an editor or author or agent.  I always ask for names in Excel so that the information can quickly be imported into our publicity database and turned into labels; otherwise, I’m stuck retyping or copying and pasting all the information.  FYI, contacts stored in Outlook can easily be exported to Excel.  (Check the Help function if you don’t know how this works.)  And fon’t forget that contact information stored in Excel can also be used to personalize letters using that handy dandy Mail Merge function.

Lose the paper: Whenever possible, I work on the computer, not on a printout.  Rather than printing out a schedule, writing notes on it, and then typing those notes into the schedule, I type them into the schedule from the get go.  If I’m looking over someone’s media list, again, rather than scribbling notes on the list, I make the changes to the list in the database (and then I verbally walk through the changes with the person so they know what’s going on).  And if I’m looking over press material and need to make edits, you know where this is going — yes, say, it with me, track changes.  My goal is always to have the fewest number of people spending the least amount of time doing (redoing) the same work.

Guess: I check the general publicity email addresses for my department and somehow, reviewers manage to find their way to our media page, ignore all the instructions / suggestions posted there, and email the wrong department (although, in their defense, a lot of publishing house websites are pretty hard to navigate).  So I field a couple dozen requests daily meant for other departments.  Since I don’t always have time / get really tired of looking up the book or author, and since I know the imprints at my publishing house very well and know what each is likely to publish, I often play guess the imprint.  Usually I’m right.  Sometimes, not.  Oh well.

September 24, 2008 Posted by | Blogs, Media Monitoring, Miscellaneous, Press Material, RSS | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why you need an RSS reader (and how to set it up)

For those of you who have not yet set up RSS readers because you think it’s too complicated / don’t have time to set one up / have no idea what I’m talking about, check out ReadWriteWeb‘s “Ode to RSS.”  This RSS 101 explains why you would want an RSS reader (it’s easier to follow blogs and podcasts), allows you to click through directly to Google Reader in the post so you can open up an account immediately (Bloglines and Newsgator are other RSS readers) and includes links to other RWW posts that explain how to get the most out of RSS.

May 2, 2008 Posted by | Blogs, Media Monitoring | , , , | 1 Comment