Friday, July 01, 2011

Why You Want to Hire a Competent PR Service

Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

As some of you may know, I was at one time a SF/fantasy book reviewer--mostly for SF Site, but also for other publications. (Most of my reviews are posted at my website.) However, I got burned out on reviewing after doing it for many years, and took a temporary hiatus that turned into a permanent one. I haven't written any book reviews since 2007.

Nevertheless, I still occasionally get review requests--such as this one, received last week from an outfit called First Page Sage:
Dear Victoria Strauss,

My name is [name redacted]. My firm is helping to publicize [novel name redacted], a new political mystery book by [author name redacted] published this past March by [name of what looks like the author's own self-publishing venture]. I believe that you would be interested in this timely novel since you review literature, and I would like to request that you consider reviewing it for Writer Beware Blogs.

On its face, the writing is compelling, but the book is also a controversial allegory about current political events ripe for debate. As a New York Supreme Court Judge for many years, the author understands the system well and this book is guaranteed to hit home with people who follow politics, as many of your readers do. There is a more detailed description below for your reference.

[book synopsis redacted]

If you are interested in taking a look, please kindly provide me with your mailing address and I will be happy to send you a review copy.

Sincerely,

[name redacted]
PR Director
First Page Sage, LLC
Now, you'd think a competent PR Director would do his research better. I mean, you might not realize that I don't review any more, or assume that someone who reviews one kind of genre fiction might be interested in reviewing another--but it's kind of hard to miss the fact that the Writer Beware blog does not review "literature" (assuming, of course, that you actually bothered to visit the blog). Sending review requests to completely inappropriate people is not exactly the "premium book promotion" promised by First Page Sage's website (scroll down to the bottom), which touts itself as "one of the most effective vehicles for getting the word out about your book."

Still, rather than bite Mr. PR Director's head off, I consigned his email to my Junk file, and figured we were all done. But no. Today I received this (check out the salutation):
Dear Mr. Strauss,

I hope this email finds you well. On June 23, I sent you the below email. I know you are busy, and I hope that you will be able to take a few seconds to reply whether you would consider reviewing this book. We're excited to send you a copy, but we just want to make sure you'll at least consider reviewing it.

Thanks!

[name redacted]
So I took him up on his invitation to reply, though it did take me more than a few seconds:
Dear [name redacted],

I ignored your earlier email because I didn't really want to say what I'm going to say now.

Before approaching people to review a book, you really ought to a) make sure they're actively reviewing; b) determine that they review books in the genre you're pitching, and c) spend a little time researching the venue you're asking them to review in, to be sure it's appropriate (not to mention, that it really is book review venue).

On all three counts, you are batting zero.

Although I did write book reviews in the past, I haven't done any reviewing for at least four years, as a Google search would quickly show. When I was reviewing, I reviewed exclusively science fiction, fantasy, and horror--never mystery (a look at my list of book reviews, readily available on my personal website, would make this clear). Last but certainly not least, Writer Beware Blogs! is not and never has been a book review venue. Its focus is news and views on the publishing industry, with a particular emphasis on literary scams. Merely glancing the blog's masthead would make this clear. Of course, you would actually need to visit the blog to do this.

If this is an example of your PR skills, I can't help feeling that you aren't doing your author any favors.

- Victoria (not now, or planning to be in the future, a Mr.)
Think I'll hear back?

Seriously--this is yet another example of what I wrote about in my recent blog post on book marketing methods that don't work. If you pay for PR, hire a person or company that specializes in book promotion--not one that offers book promo as one of many unrelated services--and avoid bulk mail methods. And ask for references.

I do feel bad for the author, who is probably paying a premium for this inept service--but on the other hand, I suspect he may not have done his homework.

25 comments:

Nancy Beck said...

LOL - that is priceless! :-)

Hopefully the PR firm/service/whatever will take you up on your suggestions.

And I feel sorry for the writer. Probably spent a small fortune on hiring this company; doesn't sound like he or she is getting what he paid for.

Rogue Mutt said...

You'd think "Writer Beware" would be sort of a hint. I always wonder though who spammers think is really going to bother with emails that are random words strung together or gibberish symbols.

The poor sap who hired these losers might have just as well climbed to the top of a tall building and emptied a box of business cards into the wind.

Dani Alexis said...

Meanwhile, I'd be a wholly appropriate reviewer to approach about the book described (I'm a former attorney who actively writes reviews for multiple publications, does review mysteries, has a blog devoted in large part to book reviews, and is not un-used to being mistaken for a "Mr."), yet this (self-)touted PR firm isn't gracing my inbox at all. Whoops!

Beverly Diehl said...

I love your reply! This "PR firm" probably puts together 3-4 form letters and sends them out on a schedule, and then can show their client, "See, I contacted 50 people, followed up with everyone who didn't respond, etc."

Congratulations on your decision not to accept a sex change.

A.R. Williams said...

Oh, common, give the guy a break. The stuff you referred to was on the second page.

Vyrdolak said...

Odds are very high that this "PR service" bought a canned email list that's several years old and contains lots of out-of-date entries, as canned lists always do, and is just spamming the list with mass emails. Of course, authors do this, too--just send out bulk queries (or worse, whole mss.) to an entire email list they've borrowed or grabbed off a writer's market website. I know, because I get those queries.

I have a hand-built database of reviewers and book blogs, check each one for changes before I send out a review request, target titles to the reviewers' style and preferences, follow each one's specific guidelines for requesting a review, and update the database according to the response I get (if any).

And I still have a hard time getting a reviewer to accept a book. Most of them never even acknowledge my request. :-(

Don said...

Why redact the names if you're willing to identify the firm? I think leaving the firm name in there is a good potential warning for people who might hire them but if that's your motivation why deprive this author of the same benefit (since I assume they're competent enough to google their own novel name)?

jongibbs said...

It's a shame that the author of this mystery book is probably paying through the nose for the (I use the term loosely) service the PR firm is giving.

On the other hand, I can't help feeling it serves the author right for not doing his homework before hiring a PR firm in the first place.

On a related note, I saw a Twitter by an author today, proudly recommending the services of a Kindle book promotion service which promises to give authors' books thirty online four-star/five-star reviews.

To me, that's not only cheating (not to mention morally fraudulent), it's not fair on those of us who get honest reviews.

Victoria Strauss said...

Don,

I redacted the author's name because I've no wish to humiliate him publicly by identifying him on a high-traffic blog. I redacted the PR Director's name for a similar reason, though I thought about that longer before deciding to do it. His name doesn't really matter, anyway--the important thing is what his lack of competence says about the company and its services.

Shawn James said...

Sounds like this poor author got ripped off trying to take a shortcut in promoting their book. First lesson I learned a long time ago: There are no shortcuts in the publishing game.

An author can find plenty of places to get reviews. It just takes a lot of research. They could have gone to the Midwest Book review and gotten a book review for free. Or Apex Reviews. Or they could have just typed in Mystery Book clubs on google and found a bunch of places who would review the book for free.

Writers spend too much money on things that don't matter. Reviews don't sell books. In fact many people go by the cover and synopsis above all else when planning to buy a title.

Along with the synopsis and a great cover Long-term It's word-of-mouth among readers that helps a title find an audience.

Frances Grimble said...

I agree with Victoria, but with a few reservations.

Yes, any PR firm you hire to promote your book should be familiar with the book. But--from the Internet postings I've seen by people who do book PR--strike one against many is they do not bother to read the book, or at least not the entire book. They think it takes too much time.

Strike two is yes, they are not necessarily familiar with your audience and if they pull together a custom reviewer list for you, they may not do it well. BUT:

On the other hand, as someone who does my own PR, I find it can be slightly annoying when a reviewer expects you to be familiar with every nuance of what they do all the time. For example, several months before publication, I notice a blogger who has reviewed the kinds of books I publish on their blog. But when I send them a news release, they indignantly say, "I posted last month that I decided to take a few months off blogging, why didn't you know that?"

Strike three against most PR firms is that they blithely send out unsolicited review copies to way too many untargeted reviewers and publications, telling the publisher that it doesn't matter because the more people who hear about the book somehow (even a reviewer who just dumps the book in the trash!), the better. This is because the publisher is the one paying to send out all those copies, not the PR firm.

But again, on the other hand, at least this PS firm ASKED Victoria if she'd be willing to review the book. Some of them just mail the unsolicited book (providing, of course, that they have a physical address).

Frankly, I think authors are the best people to write their own press releases and put together custom lists of reviewers. They are thoroughly familiar with the book and its audience(s) and they are concerned about keeping costs down.

Unlike Shawn, I do think reviews matter. But, the circulation and prestige of the publication matter a lot too. In many cases you are better of just sending a news release, which many smaller publications just reprint (perhaps slightly edited) whether or not you send them a review copy. And the downside of sending to bloggers is that more people are happy to receive a free book than will actually review it.

Nelson Bayne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robin Bayne said...

Also love your reply! I get constant review requests from "pr" firms--and I haven't done reviews for the Examiner for at least 2 years. People, do your homework! They even call me at my day job.

Anonymous said...

Regardless whether the author did their homework or not, I would've made a filter to move everything the PR guy sends me to my junk file and send the author a quick message to let them know to do their homework.

It's not easy for a new author to find a competent PR firm. The PR firm guy on the other hand should know better.

Doug Brunell said...

That's not really a PR firm, is it? More like a mass marketer, similar to those e-mails that show promising larger male anatomy and bigger bank accounts thanks to some dead relative you knew nothing about.

Anonymous said...

We all make mistakes, big or small, and mistakes is part of the learning process...unless it gets you killed. This even applies to science.

I can see that a review is not going to make a book or anything else more marketable or credible. Mostly because, think about this, why would I want someone to choose what to read, watch, or play for me? Sure it can help but someone's opinion(even professional) shouldn't be the dictating aspect of a personal decision. Plus there's the corruption/scam factor as this blog and others regularly points out.

Frances Grimble said...

Anonymous.

Reviews do help readers learn the book exists and something about the book, hopefully enough to decide whether to buy it. It is not necessary for them to agree with the reviewer's opinion, if it is clear they and the reviewer do not like the same kind of books.

And, reviews absolutely help publishers market books to bookstores. The more reviews, and the more prestigious, the better. And yes, bookstores definitely still count in today's market.

Anton Gully said...

And if you'd pointed that out after the first email in a polite manner, the world would be a better place.

Rachel said...

This is a great blog! It puts pr firms in a bad light when they don't do their research. Anything less than targeted emails and requests just don't work when seeking pr for your clients. Shame on them!
And yes, I wouldn't be a book publicist if I didn't pitch my little group- www.gal-fridaypublicity.com - Cheers!

Todd Smith said...

I have a PR degree from a very respected university. I can honestly say that form release was hilarious. I bet some hungover intern wrote it and sent it out before lunch then was told to send a follow up later on.

Trust me, real PR reps aren't that stupid. We create, polish, and utilize excel spread sheets for almost everything.

I know my releases are going to the right people because my sheets are never more then a month old.

Everybody, please don't think all PR professionals just shoot emails in the dark.

btw, I'm also love to write.

Daniel L Carter said...

Dear Ms. Strauss,

I am the author of the fantasy/paranormal series The G-6 Chronicles. I'm looking for book reviews for book 1 of the series The Unwanted which is about...OK I'm messing with you! LOL

I'm not sure whether to laugh or just shake my head at this story. Everyone is trying to make a quick buck off of others ignorance. Thanks for the heads up. =)

Blessings,
Daniel L Carter
Author of The G-6 Chronicles

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling you might be off the mark on this one. First Page Sage is an SEO company. I'm 90% sure they were fishing for links on your blog. I imagine he was casting a wide net and didn't actually care if you looked at the book or not.

Anonymous said...

I am not even an author, I WAS considering them for their SEO services, but I have learned that their SEO is only temporary anyway. I am extremely glad I did my research and came across these articles that let me know I would just be wasting my money just like they were wasting your time!

Anonymous said...

Apparently they rent one way links and then the minute you stop paying them, the links go away, and any rankings you had get dissolved. If you are going to do SEO, make sure that it is permanent link building and equity as actually being built into the site...these guys are scammers when it comes to SEO.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how it's so horrible. They are trying to promote a book, and you have done book reviews. It's difficult work (sales & PR) you should try it sometime. It's easy to criticize but that's why they get paid so well, you have to take a lot of rejection and snarky comments.