The Curious Case of the Flippant Release Letter, Part Two

April 9th, 2009

Even Publishers Weekly can't keep up with the bloggers, hehehe. They're writing about this hit for Quirk, while we're busy hitting back!

Just kidding, Quirk Books. We bloggers love all publishers, even if you don't love us back the way we deserve to be loved. But let me continue the story I began in my previous post. QuirkBooksPR (henceforth known as QBPR) said that Flavorwire's Victoria O'Toole had omitted part of the original letter addressed to "Hey Blogger Friends." I asked her to send me the Letter in Full, which she did. I am going to scan the letter in and show it to you, but the omitted material is rather brief, so I can share it with you by typing it in. Here's what QBPR wrote that was not published on Flavorwire:

"Okay, enough of the serious stuff.  If you have any questions, my contact
information is below.

Thanks again, and thanks for your support!"

You got it. Her "serious stuff" is our discontent. That was the "second half" of the letter. Hmmm. My fractions and hers do not match.

Yes, QBPR does thank the "blogger friends." That's not really enough, but it's also not the real story here. PRs make gaffes all the time (and I made many during my achingly brief tenure as a publicist, so I am a tad more sympathetic than some other bloggers might be towards Stupid PR Tricks. There are plenty of Stupid Blogger Tricks, too). QBPR whipped off a letter a little too quickly and sent it out without further thought. It probably (as O'Toole notes) won't and hasn't hurt the book at all. In fact, QBPR said, with a sigh: "I didn't mean to create a stir, but there's no such thing as too much publicity, I guess." You might groan back and say "Oh, puhleez." I just note all of this For The Record.

To me, the real story is about how bloggers are going to choose to be treated. I don't believe that QBPR's intentions were evil, but that doesn't mean the letter should be given a free ride. Simply tacking on a "Thanks" to a letter isn't enough to stop book bloggers from saying Wait. Hold on there a minute. Why are we being treated this way?

QBPR says that several bloggers sent nasty emails when they were asked to take down material due to the embargo. I can understand those nasty emails; perhaps those bloggers received the FIRST LETTER and had never been made aware of the embargo! 

Therein lies the rub, to me: Bloggers are not mindreaders. "Several" bloggers who unwittingly wrote to complain about having to take down content are a) not wrong and b) should not make a publicist talk down to all other bloggers. 

I'll say again: I don't consider this to be all QBPR's fatal flaw. 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. Yes, I'm biased. Yes, I could go on. 

But I prefer to hear from the wider community, first. I wish that QBPR had felt the same way before The Flippant Letter found its way into anyone's mailbox. I look forward to your comments, tweets, emails, feedback, and flames.



25 Responses to “The Curious Case of the Flippant Release Letter, Part Two”

  1. Thank you Bethanne for two wonderful posts! My thoughts are all over the place on this one and I certainly couldn’t post it all but I will say this: that second half of the letter doesn’t erase the first half for me. I didn’t receive the letter but wow, what a awful letter. It doesn’t have a single bit of professionalism about it. And people wonder why book bloggers act out from time to time? Give a good reason and of course, we’ll speak up! Book bloggers were talked down too. It was rude and condensing. Give me a letter written by someone who respects me and my time and I’d be happy to work with them and their needs.
    Yes, this book probably doesn’t need the book bloggers. It’s hit the big lists, it’s doing great in sales. What perhaps some publishers don’t understand is that for book bloggers, this is a effort for which there is no monetary award. This is not our jobs. We have other jobs. We don’t need to do this. We do this because we love books and we want to share them. Plain and simple. Yes, one bad blogger can give all the other bloggers a bad name. But in this case, this is one bad publicist that certainly makes me appreciate the publicists who know how to do their jobs.

  2. There are better ways to phrase the requests of the publisher than what was written in that letter. The differences in the two letters is very telling.

  3. MavenLady says:

    Thanks, Natasha, for the great response. Full disclosure: While this blog is not a paid blog, most of my book blogging has been done for pay — which makes it even more infuriating when people condescend. Actually, the biggest problem I’ve encountered from publishers is not so much condescension (that comes from the book review community in droves, although that is changing, thank goodness), but sheer ignorance. I hope that this BEA’s NBCC Digital Media panel (I’m on it) will help educate publishing professionals about the power and changing landscape of book blogging.

  4. S. Krishna says:

    I agree with both Natasha and Chris. The differences between the two letters sends an unmistakable message.

  5. Word Lily says:

    Agreed, Natasha. So many things to say.
    This whole situation reminds me of a newsroom, in a way. Perhaps book bloggers need to remind themselves that they don’t need to act out. They have power, inherent in the position of being able to hit publish. (Not to mention the power of a group.) This should allow book bloggers to take the high road.
    Another thought: My husband and I keep telling ourselves we’d gladly take jobs as internet consultants — help people (small businesses and entrepreneurs in particular) use the internet and social media to their advantage. Amazingly, some people still need to learn that the internet is powerful and can’t be ignored (and probably shouldn’t be talked down to, either).

  6. Thank you for your posts, and for stepping up and contacting QBPR.
    I’m astounding at the letter. It doesn’t have the level of professionalism that one would expect. It angers me that book bloggers still aren’t taken seriously. As Natasha stated above, we are all doing this for free. Our payment is the ability to share something we are all passionate about: books and reading.
    Every day we hear about another newspaper that is shutting down. Book Bloggers are the present…and the future.

  7. Not only is this a huge PR gaffe, but the premise of an embargo date is ridiculous, especially for a book that was not only NOT designated by the publisher as strict on sale (meaning bookstores would not be allowed to sell it prior to the designated release date) but that was, in fact, sent out to bookstores early in response to buzz. If Quirk really didn’t want people to publish spoilers, they could have asked so kindly without trying to bully bloggers with an invented embargo date. If you’re going to sell the book early, you are knowingly taking the risk that someone who is unaware of your so-called embargo will purchase it and blog about it. Why prevent bloggers who are excited to read it from doing the same thing?
    Additionally, I’ve had publishers ask me not to post reviews until X days before a release date, but I’ve never had them threaten me. Probably because most people understand the old you-catch-more-flies-with-honey concept. Ask me nicely, and I’ll happily consider your preferences.
    And as Trish points out, Fair Use allows us to quote from any book we like. And we know it.

  8. Rebecca’s right. What’s going to stop someone from blogging about it the day they bought it? I’m sure I saw some on the release date.

  9. I respectfully disagree that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, at least in this case. I highly doubt that this is the kind of publicity that will have more bloggers lining up to work with Quirk Books in the future, and that’s unfortunate.

  10. Jeanne says:

    It’s not clear to me why this publisher objects to excerpts, unless the book is no good and Quirk is relying on curiosity to make sales. This controversy offers yet another opportunity for book bloggers to think about how beholden they are to publishers who send them free books. Sure, we don’t get paid for blogging. But Mailbox Monday reveals how many free books are coming in each week.

  11. JLS Hall says:

    There is most definitely such a thing as bad publicity, at least as far as I’m concerned. No way would I ever read another book from a publisher or author who sent me such insulting and demeaning correspondence. And with newspapers and magazines shutting down right and left, and print-based book review outlets becoming a rare commodity, the professional critics and reviewers will eventually have to wake up and start paying serious (and courteous) attention to the book blogging community. We’re really not their enemies.

  12. Thank you for both of these posts — I read Trish’s initial post about the letter this afternoon and have been poking around to find out more ever since.
    Like Natasha and others have said, the last two lines in no way make up for the condescension in the first part of the letter. Perhaps the publicist was trying to recognize that she was speaking to a different audience, one potentially unfamiliar with embargo dates, etc., because bloggers might not be familiar with those ideas (I didn’t know about embargo dates, since I don’t do ARCs often). However, there’s a difference between being clear and being threatening, and the letter clearly missing the boat on that.
    I guess it’s just disappointing that people who should be savvy with the book blogging community (and clearly expected to interact with book bloggers), were so totally off. And not even just a little off, way, way, off. I have so else that bugs me about this, but I can’t quite get it worded right so I’ll just end here :)
    Thanks again for the great posts!
    Kim

  13. Wendy says:

    Thanks for covering this issue. I have several thoughts:
    1. After reading the letter (even with the omitted material) I would probably be very reluctant to accept a book for review from Quirk.
    2. Just because there is an embargo doesn’t mean that a blogger has to (legally) comply with it. Yes, for good working relationships it is wise to comply, but this whole thing sounds like an insult to book bloggers and had I been one of the ones asked to remove my content I would have been tempted to say “no.”
    3. Quoting from a book (excerpts) in reviews is not illegal or infringement of copyright. I may be a dumb blogger, but I know that.
    4. I think maybe it is time that print reviewers get off their high horses. The Internet or book bloggers are not going away. Anyone with half a brain can see that bloggers are making an impact on the marketing of books – otherwise why are they getting so many free books to review? Just because one works for a newspaper doesn’t mean they are the only ones smart enough, or clever enough to post a well-written review. Give me a break. I for one am just sick of reading the negative columns that trash the book bloggers.
    Finally, I want to say that I work with wonderful, friendly, respectful publicists all the time. There really is no excuse for the letter which was sent out by Quirk. Book bloggers are not getting rich reading and reviewing books – we do it because we love it.

  14. trish says:

    I’m saddened to see that the person you talked to, when asked about this letter, said “I didn’t mean to create a stir, but there’s no such thing as too much publicity, I guess.” After re-reading a letter such as the one that Quirk sent to some bloggers who received P&P&Z, I would have seen my gaffe and apologized profusely. I’m no stranger to sticking my foot in my mouth and offending other people, but I like to think that when pointed out that I’ve gone too far or weren’t as polite as I originally thought I was being, that I make sure and apologize and correct my error in whatever manner I deem appropriate (private apology, public apology, etc).
    And it’s not just the actual words used. It’s the feeling that book bloggers are expendable, saying “If you don’t abide by the above terms, we will never work together again.” I know that book bloggers aren’t generally seen as having any clout or being very important, but even if I believed that, I WOULD NEVER CONVEY THAT ATTITUDE. I doubt a letter like this would have been sent to a reviewer whose reviews are published in a newspaper.
    While I ranted about the demand that no quotes be taken from the book, the whole letter bothers me, and I’m even more bothered that after you called and talked to the PR person at Quirk Books, she said three sentences had been cut off, as if those sentences made the letter okay, and she didn’t even apologize (that you’ve conveyed).
    Paula, you said, “A true and full discussion of book blogging as a professional activity with professional boundaries has yet to be made.” I think there’s been some good conversation in the book blogging community about our professionalism, even if that hasn’t been discussed by other professionals. While there are some bloggers who write reviews that embarass me, I think 95% of the bloggers conduct themselves honorably. I’m guessing you mean the discussion needs to happen in the publishing arena?

  15. Jennie says:

    ARGH!
    Most of my reviews are on my blog, but I do print reviews as well. And I also used to work in marketing/PR.
    I want to say that the letter was going for funny/irreverent and just completely failed. I’m going to hope that’s the case.
    I also don’t understand the April 1st embargo– I bought the book at Barnes and Noble on March 24th. There are also ways to ask nicely for an embargo– I get asked all the time! Here’s one I just got from Scholastic– “Since XXX won’t be released until May 5, 2009, it would be so great if you could hold any reviews until then.” Guess when my review is posting? May 5th or later, because they asked nicely, gave me a reason why, and didn’t threaten me like a small child!
    And the really sad thing is that this book was really awesome. I loved it. But I’ve already had 1 person tell me they won’t read it now because of this letter. Seth Grahame-Smith deserves better.

  16. I know the folks at Quirk books and I know this is not what they meant – which is likely why they haven’t responded well to your criticism. Below is the same comment I made on this topic over at http://heylady.net but I thought it deserved repeating here:
    I understand the way the letter reads, but think about it from a slightly different perspective. The letter is asking you to not print from a book the majority of which, the Pride and Prejudice bit, is freely available online in the public domain. That is a large part of the meta point of the book. To take something in the public domain, that is free and out there, and add to it to make something new. So they know parts can, will, and should show up online in reviews and such.
    At the same time they are going to do what most everyone does when they make something, try to release it on their own terms. So, in an overly hyperbolic way, in light of the nature of the product itself, they wrote what they did in the letter.
    Now I agree it didn’t work, but I can see the intention and take that as the ethical position rather than the consequences.

  17. MavenLady says:

    Hi Rational Moderate,
    I hope that I made it clear I understand that intentions at QBPR were good. In fact, my next blog post is going to be something along the lines of (as I said) there are Stupid PR Tricks, Stupid Blogger Tricks, Stupid EVERYONE Tricks. The point of examining Flavorwire’s call-out is to start a dialogue about book bloggers and professional standards.
    Unfortunately, the letter’s tone was just…off. But no one at Quirk was trying to make all bloggers mad.

  18. Quirk PR says:

    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. Quirk PR

  19. Pam says:

    So by going around all the blogs and adding a comment saying you meant it to be humor that you aren’t even typing each time but just copy pasting is supposed to make it okay?
    Whether it is a joke or not is not relevant. The fact that you spoke to blogger’s in a way that shows the true colors and beliefs of Quirk is the issue. You assume because we blog we are not intelligent. That point is proven in the way you talk down to blogger’s in the letter assuming we as a people couldn’t possibly know what the word embargo means.
    If Quirk ever wanted to reach out to my readers, that now is an impossibility. Especially with the type of book you are pushing here. You assume we are not intelligent, but ripping off Jane Austen and turning it into a zombie book is okay? I think its not literary genius.

  20. Pam,
    What a bunch of self-righteous nonsense. “Oh you disrespect us so with your original letter. Oh you have enough guts to offer a real and genuine apology, well I’m going to take that as disrespectful to. Imagine treating me, a blogger, as a real individual who can be offended (intentional or not) and then actually offer a sincere apology as if I were a real person which is what I was complaining about to begin with.”
    And what’s worse is that it does matter very much whether it was meant in humor or not since for the humor to work you must actually have an understanding of the issue to see it as funny. Now, I’m not going to mind-read and say you clearly don’t have the intelligence to get it because that would be exactly the mistake you are making here. Again, you are making assumptions about her intentions of belittling you while performing the exact same action against her. In basic moral terms – if you were morally right about her actions, then you are now morally wrong with your reaction.
    And let me cut off your counter that if it was sincere it shouldn’t be a form letter. Are you sure it was, or are you insinuating something about the intention of the person you are writing about?
    And then there is the ad hominen attack. As if at any point there was a claim that this was literary genius. While there was something wrong with the original letter, there is definitely something wrong with your portrayal and reaction to it.

  21. James Heidecker says:

    Pam: You do realize that you just knocked them for cutting and pasting an apology by cutting a pasting YOUR OWN RESPONSE to that apology on 2 different sites?
    http://tinyurl.com/d3b8pt
    At least they apologized. What do you want? a handwritten note sent to every commenter?

  22. Pam,
    Wait a second. You copied and pasted too!
    Well, I supposed being a hypocrite doesn’t make you wrong. I mean, if we are both failing math and I tell you to study harder, that makes me a jerk but I’m still right…

  23. Pam says:

    Copy pasted on purpose dear to show how insensitive and that can be. No not a hand written note that is impossible but at least reading the article and the comments given and add something that is relevant instead of a form letter.

  24. James Heidecker says:

    Pam: oh. I must have misinterpreted your intended point. Good thing thing that’s a common, easily forgivable mistake on this part of the internet. oh..wait..nevermind.

  25. Wow, proving my point again. I should take you on the lecture circuit.
    Since it wasn’t clear that is what you meant by what you did, and since it took the larger context to figure that out, then, once again, your comments about the original letter are vacuous. Once again, you are blaming the Quirk person for doing something wrong that is exactly the same action as what you are doing.

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