Blogs, Books, and Publicity

There has been a conversation about books and publicity bouncing around the literary blogosphere of late. I am just catching up to it, but it is an interesting one. The general sentiment seems to be don’t spam bloggers with requests that are impersonal and irrelevant. The vast majority of bloggers work full time and blog about books because they love literature and are passionate about books. Sure, they love to get free books and to interact with authors. But that doesn’t mean they want to waste their time sorting through emails that are randomly sent to a massive list of unrelated bloggers. If you want success it makes sense to focus your energies on those who are most likely to be interested in your project. I am sure some of the people involved mean well, but this type of communication just ticks people off. And isn’t that the opposite of good publicity?

So in case any publicists are reading, here is some free advice:

– M.J Rose lays it out in simple terms with Don’t Do This!:

Publicists, please, don’t do this! (Authors don’t hire publicists who do this!)
Don’t write to bloggers without knowing our names.
Don’t send us blanket emails.
Don’t treat us like fools.
Don’t market to us.
Don’t try to hype us.

Use your brains. There are books I’d love to blog about. Clearly. I do it all the time. But it takes time and effort to figure out which ones.

[. . .]

Handpick the blog.
Get to know the host.
Fit your book to the blog.
Write a personal letter.
I know it takes time. Anything valuable does.

– Dan Wickett echoes that theme. I think the title says it all: Please Read the Freaking Blog First.

– Jumping off Dan’s post, C. Max Magee agrees and offers his own tips for publicists:

My tips for pitching to bloggers:

  1. Most importantly, read blogs. Why spend the time and effort pitching a project to bloggers if you don’t read blogs in the first place. If you don’t get blogs and how they work, how can you expect to use them to promote your project?
  2. As Dan suggests, stop pitching projects that aren’t appropriate to the content of the blog. It’s rude and borderline spammy.
  3. Do not pitch any blog that you haven’t been reading for at least a month. Bloggers are used to corresponding with their regular readers both on and off the blog, and, frankly, it’s very unlikely that I’ll mention your project if you just appear, out of the blue, in my inbox.
  4. Do not mass email. First of all, I don’t care what kind of fancy email program you use, it’s pretty obvious when I get a mass email. If you don’t care enough to write me a personal email, then why should I care enough to support your project?
  5. Finally, don’t oversell. If you are trying to let me know about something that you think I’ll be genuinely interested in, then your email and a link ought to be enough. If I say sure send the book (or whatever), then send it along, but don’t try to buy me off with swag, let your project stand on its own.

– Continuing the theme, Ed pens An Open Letter to Demanding Publicists I Don’t Know:

So here’s the deal, publicist. I don’t care who you are, but if you can’t be troubled to address me by name or read my site, if you can’t be troubled to pique my interest, if you can’t be troubled to demonstrate either the reality (or the illusion) that you really believe in this book, then I will immediately shift your book to the absolute bottom of the pile (that would involve shifting you to Book #489 in order of reading priority, which means that I should get around to perusing your book circa 2009), assuming of course that you’re sensible enough to actually send me the book in the first place, which is the best way for me to read something. Asking me if you can send me a book (instead of just sending it to me and then following up by email) is a bit like sheepishly asking a girl if you can kiss her at the end of a date: it’s a bit embarrassing for both parties. You just sorta do it.

All of the above is pretty sound advice. I don’t get a great deal of publicity spam so it isn’t a huge issue with me. The publicists I have dealt with have been kind and professional. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand where these other bloggers are coming from. Getting books free is cool and all, but it does result in a certain pressure. There are more books coming out than a person can get a handle on. Those of us who love to read are always falling further and further behind in a never ending battle with the TBR pile. Quite often you feel guilty because you can’t get to books you want to or hand planned on. When a stranger who doesn’t take the time to even read your site or find out your interests sends a lame email demanding your time it is easy to be offended. Mass email may work for mortgages and Viagra but it is not recommended for book publicity.

In a related post, you can read Collected Miscellany’s Official Review Copy Guidelines here.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).


  1. Nice vent, Kevin. I noticed you visited my blog and I’m hoping that you are not lumping what I do into the category of apparently rude publicists. One of the things that is different with Active Christian Media formerly known as Mind & Media/Blog for books, is that all the bloggers who review with us have joined on their own free will, and they pick and choose what books they review. That’s the beauty, no blogger ever receives a book they do not want to review and the publishers who work with us realize that. Not only that but the publishers who do work with us actually get what they pay for instead of wasting a book sent to someone who may not have the time or desire to review the book they send.

    May I use this post on my site? I can either link back to it, or if you would allow me to cut and paste it then I can use the whole thing with a link back to your site. Thanks!

  2. Stacy,

    I don’t think your situation is the same thing at all. I think the problem these bloggers are complaining about is when publicists send out mass emails about books that they obvious have no interest in. There is no relationship and no connection. It is somewhat insulting to be inundated with requests to read or blog about books and/or you don’t care about. It feels like people are just trying to take advantage of blogs without doing the work to build relationships and get to know people.

    You match up people with books they are interested in. That is exactly what people are looking for. Feel free to quote anything and I always appreciate linkage.

  3. i don’t write a primarily literary blog, so i don’t know if my experiences w/publicists would qualify as the same as yours.

    i do agree w/the ideas of not sending mass emails, but trust me, i get mass emails from political bloggers who (a) don’t bother to read my blog and (b) don’t even know what side of the aisle i’m blogging on. so, i pretty much just delete all mass emails, from bloggers or publicists.

    i like the idea of addressing someone by name in an email, i respond to every message that starts out with the word “skippy” in the salutation.

    whenever i get a free book from someone i always blog about it, usually upon receipt, mentioning the name, author, publisher, and a brief description (usually culled from the book jacket). to be honest, i’m way behind in my reading, so i hardly ever get to review any of the books.

    for me, it’s not that important if the publicist reads my blog for any length of time, usually i’ll be happy to receive and plug their book; tho rabid right wing tomes don’t appeal to me, so if i get an email pushing a book like that, i know for sure the publicist didn’t bother to read my blog, and i dont’ respond.

    i just like to get free stuff, and i’ve got some good books this way. trust me, i’ve got a lot of bad ones too.

    also, kevin, thanks for the link on your blogroll! i gave you a shout out today.

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