Sunday, April 12, 2009

¡Escándalo! or My Take on Quirk's PR Snafu (TSS)

¡Escándalo! There is scandal afoot in the book blogging world. Quirk books, who I've never worked with before, sent out this form letter (click on the picture to see the original post with the letter) with SOME of its review copies of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. If you haven't seen the ensuing posts (and their extensive comments?) here's a breakdown:
A number of complaints have been made about this letter. Some are:
  • The tone is condescending, which is mainly perceived as a slap in the face to a blogger's credibility.
  • The publicist assumes bloggers don't know publishing terminology (i.e. embargo), which, again, questions bloggers' credibility.
  • The not-so-nicely worded demand for embargoes on reviews and excerpts, which disregards fair-use laws and offers no reasonable explanation.
  • The insinuation that the blogger won't give proper credit to the publisher.
  • The threat to cut off the relationship if the publicist's demands aren't met.
My first reaction to this letter was pretty much general shock and disgust. I believe that in the comment I made on Flavorwire I wondered if this publicist had ever heard of "being polite". Because this letter is certainly far from using even the most basic manners. For someone that has worked in customer service and now with attorneys, any communication from a company to a client should be as polite as possible. Even set that aside. Any communication between people (especially those who have never met) should be polite.

This was Quirk's reply to the general outrage:
I just wanted to say that I’m sorry to have offended so many of you with my letter. I realize now that it came off as condescending, but it was actually meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Clearly, that tone was lost. There are good explanations for the other complaints, such as why we had the embargo, and I also understand your concerns with fair use. The way I discussed the embargo and excerpt practices in the letter came off all wrong. I sincerely respect and value what bloggers have done for the book publishing world in general and in particular — with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Without independent blogs and bloggers, our book would not have been such a success. I hope you can all accept my apology. It won’t happen again. And please, know that in no way was Seth involved in any of this.
I just really can't understand this publicist's thought process (or apparently lack thereof) when writing this letter. I could understand a letter written in a conversational tone. If this publicist really meant to be tongue-and-cheek (which, for the record, I do think is a plausible explanation, but not a good excuse), this is really just a piss-poor attempt at it. Agent00Soul, commenting on the Flavorwire post, says: "it's such a transparent attempt to write in "blog lingo," or whatever it's called, that makes it worse". I have to agree. No offense, but leave the creative writing to the creative writers.

Even taking into consideration the cut-off part of letter ("Okay, enough of the serious stuff. If you have any questions, my contact information is below. Thanks again, and thanks for your support!"), there is really no indication within the letter that the tone is meant to be humorous. And it doesn't seem at all appropriate to take a humorous tone in a form letter, especially one that has a number of important requests.

Good intentions gone wildly wrong. So, strike one Quirk. Tighten up your business writing skills and get back to us.

But here's the real ISSUE, quoted from Still Life with Book Maven:
A true and full discussion of book blogging as a professional activity with professional boundaries has yet to be made. I do not say that lightly. A few weeks ago, I attended the annual National Book Critics Circle Annual Meeting and Awards, and I was astonished how little many print-based critics knew about blogs and social media and how hostile many of them were to the idea that book coverage, book reviews, and publishing news could be covered properly in any medium other than a newspaper column or a magazine page. It is my sincere hope that this kerfuffle over one PR's flippant approach to book bloggers will be the catalyst for a debate about how the entire publishing industry -- publicists, editors, marketing managers, salespeople -- treat book bloggers and literary web sites.
Book bloggers, especially those really driving for a wide audience, are generally sensitive about this credibility issue. And rightly so. Bloggers work really hard to write thoughtful reviews, maintain good working relationships with publishers and publicists, and gain a faithful audience. Even those like me, who do this for fun, want to be taken seriously at a certain level.

Ok, so I don't really try all that hard at this blogging thing, but that doesn't mean that I don't have some valid ideas and thoughts about books. Not to mention the fact that I'm a voracious reader--so not only do I read these blogs, and then buy ungodly amounts of books based on their recommendations and promote the good ones to everyone I know, without any incentive from publishers. And as a reader, I really prefer book blog reviews because they aren't 3,000 words long, weighed down by pompous literary references, or boring. (Ok, maybe that's not a fair assessment. Maybe I'm exaggerating. Book blog reviews are different, and their differences are part of what makes them so good, but that doesn't negate traditional reviews.)

I don't read many traditional publishing outlets. Especially from newspapers. I've never read a newspaper in my life. It's called the INTERNET, ever heard of it? There is way way way more information available on the Internet, and guess what I'm actually semi-intelligent and I can tell the difference between a good source and a bad source. (Wait, was that too flippant?)

Really, the point is that something will need to happen in the future to dictate the boundaries in which publishers and publicists (etc.) work with book bloggers. This interaction needs, what Paula points out, mutual respect. "Mutual respect, in which book bloggers are not seen as lackeys who take orders from PR people but book lovers who put a lot of time and effort into reviewing books and creating a dynamic online community that showcases books in a variety of ways."

We ARE book lovers after all. We ARE your audience.


Melissa said...

Great post! I can't remember where I first read about this, but it certainly was appalling! Thanks for sharing your thoughts--very well-put!!!

Paula Krapf said...

Well said! I'll be posting on my blog this week about the emergence of book bloggers online and how the traditional book world is responding - in many cases negatively - to this change. I do think more discussion about book blogging as a professional activity is warranted because this is the direction the industry is going (whether they all realize it or not).

Marie Burton said...

Awesome post. I was disgusted with this letter from QUIRK, then I was even more disgusted with the comments on Kristen's page that some of the guys were posting that went against the original BLOGGER Kristen!
Amazing this world on the WWW can be, and yes, it has taken over certain areas. I do not read any newspapers, why should I when anything I want to know is LIVE right at my fingertips?
Yes, it is sad that some of the traditional magazines/papers have gone under due to WWW, but the world evolves and we can't stop it. We also can't blame the bloggers for the recession & a myriad of other factors for the traditional media's demise; and we certainly can't blame book bloggers for their emergence. It did not occur merely as a threat to the 'print society'. To hear that bloggers are being thought of negatively is sad, but my own book blog is NOT professional and I am NOT purposely trying to encroach on that venue. But I am providing a small service to a miniscule small community and how can that be bad? It is a social networking utility for people who enjoy books. When posting a review on a book (hoping it is positive) it is a fantastic way to get readers from around THE WORLD that any publisher would love to have. And to have one person in a PR department who thinks she is being toungue-in-cheek when in reality she is really very mean-spirited and derogatory, well that Publisher is also going to get bad press. Via the WWW and all their book bloggers.
That's my opinion.. from Marie at The Burton Review a blog about Books.