Lately I have been getting unsolicited offers to supply posts for my blog. Here's one that came in today from Amy Currie at Phenix Publicity:
Please find pasted below a contributed piece by author and progressive blogger James Protzman, for your consideration. Co-founder of the liberal blog BlueNC.com, Protzman was inspired to overhaul his new book, "Jesus Swept," by combining not only the elements of fiction writing, but also his experience with blogging and freelance business writing. His article shares his experience and this transition.
First off, as a piece of PR, this solicitation sucks. The first line should grab the person you are trying to sway, not numb them into a coma. Please find pasted below a contributed piece…? Ugh. It's as if Ms. Currie, a "Senior Publicist" at Phenix, didn't even make an effort to craft a creative or interesting pitch. Either Ms. Currie was too busy to care or she has a lot to learn about writing press releases and garnering attention for her clients.
With one hand in the blogosphere and the other working for business clients, I started a grand revision of my novel, mixing all three forms – blogging, business writing, fiction – into a spicy soup. I’ve learned these three kinds of writing are as different as earth, wind and fire – except when they’re not.
Uh-huh. I'm enlightened, how about you? There's 500 more words of observations like this available to fill space on your blog if you want it…
15 thoughts on “The Mail I Get – Unsolicited Filler Edition”
Perhaps Amy is trying to get Protzman a “blog book tour” – of which there are many out there. Just not yours. Or mine. Like the author who shoves queries at any agent or publisher on a list, regardless of whether they are appropriate, people are starting to shove books at bloggers, hoping to get lucky.
On the upside for Amy, she did get herself and her client a mention in your post. What’s that phrase, about any publicity being good publicity?
I’ve seen “offer to guest-posting on another blog” popping up recentlys on sites devoted to marketing and building a platform, but it’s entertaining see it so clumsily handled here. It certainly makes me remember not to seek help from “Phenix Publicity.”
And she gave you an idea for a post. Isn’t life grand.
A spicy soup of earth, wind, and fire. Man, can this guy write, or what?
I couldn’t agree more. The solicitation sucked. And I’m not very happy with the publicist in general. She’s trying, bless her heart, but seems unable to promote fiction effectively. Her whole idea of my writing a quick piece about writing seemed almost as ill-conceived as did sending it to a vanity web-site like this one.
Live and learn.
By the way, my blog is a statewide political blog (BlueNC.com) with 6,000 visitors a week. I haven’t used it a lot for promoting my novel, which so far has only sold a thousand copies. Perhaps I should, though. Good suggestion.
James wrote: “”Her whole idea of my writing a quick piece about writing seemed almost as ill-conceived as did sending it to a vanity web-site like this one.”
This is not a vanity website. This is a vanity blog…
….one that, in addition to constantly promoting me and my general wonderfulness, deals with writers and writing…and that, incidentally, draws 6000 visitors on a *bad* week, which is why I think she sent the press release to me.
If you thought her publicity plan was ill conceived, why did you go along with it? And as a professional writer, how could you have let her send out a press release as poorly written as hers was?
You can’t lay all the responsibility for this debacle on her. You hired her, you approved the campaign, and you provided her with the weak essay that she was flogging. None of it reflected well on you or your novel.
I have never hired a personal publicist. However, I have worked with publicists on the many TV shows that I’ve produced…and I’ve always been briefed on, and approved, the publicity strategy before it was implemented…and I always make sure that no press releases are sent out that I don’t read and sign off on first.
A vanity blog… As opposed to the other kind?
Every blog is an exercise in vanity. That’s kinda the point.
Really? 6,000 visitors on a bad week? I need to look into this more closely to see if I can find out what I’m missing. Something’s not adding up.
Your traffic ranking.
My traffic ranking.
Thanks for the lecture though. You’re right. What gets done with the money I spend is 100% my responsibility. I should have been clear on that point.
PS I love David Montgomery’s comment. Vanity blog would indeed appear to be redundancy of the highest order.
Thank you for the links!
I don’t see what’s not adding up, James. I said that I got 6000 hits on a bad week. I based that comment on the stats I get from Typepad, my blog provider…I wasn’t aware of Alexa (but I’ve bookmarked it now).
Even so, if I am reading Alexa right (which is highly doubtful, since I am a math moron), they say I attracted a readership of 489,069 pages views/readers last week with a three month average of 723,436 per week. By comparison, your blog attracted 1,679,271 last week and has a three month average of 564,747.
If there’s a contradiction in there between what I said and their stats, I’m too dumb to see it (which is quite likely!). For what it’s worth, according to Typepad’s stats, as of 11:47 am I have had 1200 hits today and my average for the last seven days is 6474. My biggest days, for reasons I don’t understand, have always been Mondays and Wednesdays.
It seems to me that, considering the readership your blog draws, you would reach more people publicizing your book on BlueNC rather than offering to post on mine (or anybody else’s).
The purpose of this comment is not to stir up additional debate or attack you or your blog (which I enjoy and have followed for some time) but to give you a bit more background on why you received this note from Amy.
When we launch a book we have to create unique strategies for each type of media that we plan to pursue. As we began building a strategy for online buzz for this campaign, we knew that we needed something beyond book reviews, Q&A’s and tip sheets to generate word of mouth. For Mr. Protzman, we wanted to take advantage of his experience going from freelance writer to blogger to published author because we felt it would be inspirational for many in the blogosphere. After all, many of the bloggers that read your blog are hoping to make the same jump from blogosphere to bookstore, as Mr. Protzman did. Having executed this strategy successfully for many clients in the past, we thought it was a good fit for literary bloggers like you.
When Amy started researching blogs to target with this article, she came across “A Writer’s Life,” which is described as a blog about the publishing industry, writing and books. She remembered you from a past campaign and double-checked our records to reveal that the two of you worked together on another of our long-time clients, Mark Levine for his book “The Fine Print of Self-Publishing.” (You requested a review copy from us on October 2, 2006 and then again made mention of the revised edition of said book, September 2008). Based on your prior work together, she thought you might also be interested in seeing Mr. Protzman’s piece.
I know that you were particularly unhappy with the “solicitation” that led into the article itself. However, I am surprised you didn’t appreciate her straight-forward approach. Rather than pasting the entire full-page press release into the body of her email pitch to you, she decided to send a short note presenting the piece (letting the piece speak for itself, and saving you time with a straightforward approach that didn’t sugar coat or create spin), and included it below her message. Many bloggers we work with, including those who write about the craft of writing, welcome guest posts and prefer a straightforward approach.
Amy’s a tremendous publicist—consistently requested by many of the top publishing houses we work with—and it’s just frustrating that she couldn’t get a “no thanks” in this case instead of a public post.
In addition to defending Amy, another reason I am writing is because I want to make a deal with you. If we – speaking on behalf of all publicists here, not just us– get in touch with you with a post idea, and you don’t like it, why not just tell us not to contact you or decline it? Upon receiving such a reply from you, most reputable publicists will delete a contact from their database or mark it with a “do not contact” note. Then you don’t have to worry about hearing from them in the future.
I noticed something poignant in one of your recent posts, “Sales Performance Anxiety,” from Thursday, Jan. 22:
“Seeing all those books gave me a major case of sales performance anxiety. I hope I draw enough people to clear that table!”
That’s exactly how all authors feel when they release a new book. That’s why we publicists do what we do—we take on books, like Mr. Protzman’s, that we are confident in, and we do our best to get the word out. As evidenced by this debacle, every idea a publicist has doesn’t always work out, but since 1994 we have built a great track record for getting quality coverage for our clients. I apologize that you were not the right fit for this particular idea.
As you know all too well, Lee, the world of publishing can be a hostile one. Especially now. You don’t owe anything to publicists or to me personally, but the reality is you’re going to keep getting contacted by publicists in the future.
I know you’re aware of the historic shift we are witnessing in the media, where the boundaries of traditional media have merged with amateur or independent bloggers—whom we respect and treat with the same care we would a traditional journalist. If you believe that a publicist misses the mark in the future—why not just let them know with a quick email saying “no thanks” instead of “here’s my post?”
Thanks for a good discussion, and some valuable lessons.
My profound apologies to Amy for dragging her into this mess. As a first time author, I’ve been frustrated with the Big Bad World of Publishing and that frustration bubbled over here. She’s been doing a great job looking out for my interests. It was unfair (and stupid) of me to post on this blog at all.
Thanks for your note. Let me comment on a couple of the points you raised.
You wrote: “I am surprised you didn’t appreciate her straight-forward approach. Rather than pasting the entire full-page press release into the body of her email pitch to you, she decided to send a short note presenting the piece (letting the piece speak for itself, and saving you time with a straightforward approach that didn’t sugar coat or create spin)”
Forgive me, Rusty. But isn’t spin exactly what a client pays you for? To make their product as attractive and compelling as possible to the media and the public? I don’t see how she could think that a perfunctory email (or, as you put it, a “straight-forward” approach) would benefit her client or his book. If I was paying you to create buzz for me, I’d be outraged at the laziness…and the excuse for it. Anybody could send a “straight forward” solicitation to bloggers…you expect a hired publicist to do more.
As far as “letting the piece speak for itself,” you would have been well-served to inform your client that his essay was flat, lacked substance and style, and was unlikely to generate much interest (I’d be glad, for his sake, to be proved wrong on this point. I hope lots of blogs picked it up). If you were looking out for his interests and his image, you would have urged him to write a more robust and substantial article that truly explores how a blogger could make the transition from blog to print…an article that could generate interest and discussion on its own. Unfortunately, the article did “speak for itself,” and what said was nothing.
You wrote: “Amy’s a tremendous publicist—consistently requested by many of the top publishing houses we work with—and it’s just frustrating that she couldn’t get a “no thanks” in this case instead of a public post.”
If you read my blog, as you say you do, than you know I frequently quote from emails that I receive from publicists. You should know that any solicitation or press release that I get is fair game for a post…particularly when the solicitation or release is as bungled as this one was.
Even if you weren’t familiar with my blog, publicists write releases assuming, and even hoping, that those releases might get quoted. I have dealt with hundreds of publicists — as a TV writer/producer, author, and as a professional journalist — so I know this to be true from personal experience. Not only that, I come from a family of journalists, authors and publicists (My Mom, in fact, worked as both a reporter and publicist during her career).
It’s a publicists job to offer a compelling angle to the reporter (or blogger) for their client, to position what they are hyping in the best possible light. Amy didn’t bother to do that.
You wrote: “If we – speaking on behalf of all publicists here, not just us– get in touch with you with a post idea, and you don’t like it, why not just tell us not to contact you or decline it? […]. If you believe that a publicist misses the mark in the future—why not just let them know with a quick email saying “no thanks” instead of “here’s my post?””
Most of the time, that’s exactly what I do. But in other cases, when I think the email would make an informative or entertaining post (or both), I blog about it. That’s what bloggers do, Rusty. They blog about things that interest them, amuse them, outrage them, provoke them…well, you get the idea. The Mail I Get is a regular feature of this blog…and one of the most popular.
I get emails every day from publicists hyping books, TV shows, writing software, conferences, websites, vanity presses, contests, etc. looking for attention on my blog. I’ve also started getting ARCs. I’m pleased, and a bit mystified, by the interest in my blog…but I certainly don’t mind it. In fact, I welcome it. It’s *all* potential fodder for blog posts…the solicitation itself as well as what’s being hyped. Experienced publicists like yourself know that and I think you are being a wee bit disingenuous to imply otherwise.
I think that publishing Amy’s clumsy solicitation/press release made for an interesting and informative blog post. Sharing examples like this helps authors avoid making the same mistakes, to recognize the pitfalls of an ill-considered web campaign, and to expect more from the publicists that they hire. It might even help publicists to consider more creative and compelling ways to present their clients to bloggers.
For the sake of discussion, here is the guest post by James Protzman that Amy was offering:
The perfect swarm
By James Protzman
Word count: 610
After 20 years of cranking out copy for business clients, I figured I’d written at least one of just about everything. Billboards for a herd of cows. Sales pitches to international tax lawyers. Animated videos. Web sites. Even news stories. If the job involved words, I wrote them.
Truth be told, I’m pretty good. On a good day, I can pull in four Ben Franklins an hour – beyond my craziest dreams back in journalism school.
But no matter how much client work I got, something always seemed to be missing: My very own voice. Before long, I found myself moonlighting on my freelancing. I started writing fiction. And then I became a blogger. It all came together in a swirling swarm.
On the fiction front, 10 years toiling on my first novel, Jesus Swept, transformed my business writing in ways both grand and gritty. It crystallized the value of a clear storyline, something I had always understood, but never really taken to heart. It crushed my clichés, drove adverbs into oblivion. And most exciting, it distinguished my personal style of business writing in a world gone wild with PowerPoint. Business readers can
feel the difference.
Not surprisingly, the influence is bidirectional. The confidence required in briefing for Wall Street analysts finds a natural home in the words of my omniscient narrators. The challenge of squeezing a global brand into a five second web banner breeds a kind of precision that readers of literary fiction seem to appreciate.
From there, the shift into blogging was like hitting warp speed on the starship Enterprise. Talk about needing to buckle up.
My immersion in the blogosphere started four years ago with local politics in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I had just finished the first draft of Jesus Swept and needed a break from editing. Blogging proved seductive. Within a year, I had started my own political blog – BlueNC.com – which now attracts nearly 6,000 unique visitors each week. It also sucks up at least five hours of my time every day.
Writing a popular blog feels like a cross between managing a small newspaper and babysitting, though some journalists claim those are the same job. Not only am I cleaning up the work of other writers, I’m constantly scrambling to deliver a steady stream of content that will keep readers coming back for more. I’ve come to understand the real value of pixels – which is as fleeting as the click of a mouse.
In blogging, every post and every comment is a field experiment. People either respond – or they don’t. And I know it instantly.
At first that kind of feedback about my writing was infuriating. How dare no one comment on my brilliant post? But it didn’t take long until I came to accept the absence of feedback as the most valuable kind of feedback I could possibly get. If my writing isn’t good enough to earn a few seconds of attention from busy readers, how could I ever hope to have a best-selling book?
So Jesus Swept went back to the drawing board. With one hand in the blogosphere and the other working for business clients, I started a grand revision of my novel, mixing all three forms – blogging, business writing, fiction – into a spicy soup.
To my wonderful wife, these different kinds of writing look a lot alike. They all involve me hunched over a keyboard, the blue glow of a twenty-inch Dell monitor ghosting my face to a digital shade of pale.
But no matter how it looks from the outside, I’ve learned these three kinds of writing are as different as earth, wind and fire – except when they’re not.
I read the exerpts of Jesus Swept. It’s very hard to describe so for once I won’t. One thing is certain: no one will get rich from blog-flogging vanity press books.
Christian Bale is to Directors of Photography as Lee Goldberg is to Literary Publicists. Get over yourself, man.