YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG – Thoughts on publicity

I received a letter yesterday, a self-published author who is looking for coverage on his book. It was one of the worst letters I’ve ever seen and that is what prompted this post.

The letter was hand written in all capital letters on lined paper and then Xeroxed. The writer of the letter mentions that he was really hoping to be able to add revenue to his retirement income with this book. He made some real blunders in the letter. First, he asks for a review, “Even a bad review”, but never offers to get us a book. He tells me he doesn’t want to bother setting up a facebook page because no one would go to it. He mentions that in three months he has only had two downloads. He also does not understand that loading it on Amazon for Kindle is not the same as being published.  My retired author friend was also hoping I could spread the word on the internet and “through industry channels”. Apparently I’m supposed to do all this for him without ever having seen the book and to do it for free. He is on a fixed income after all. He would also like ideas on marketing. I have a return address, but no email address for him so it would mean writing and sending a letter.

The kicker to all of this was his synopsis of the book. From the page of hand written and copied writing I saw, I would never read this book.  Sample: “sadistic serial murders performed with lethal hollow point bullets”. I guess that is different than the rubber tipped non-lethal hollow tipped bullets.  Oh, and the killer is a poetry professor, expert marksman and has a violent temper.  The rest of the synopsis is actually worse.

This man must have access to a computer, or how else would he load this document he referred to as a book to Amazon Kindle? My first reaction was to write him and tell him to Google “Book Marketing”, and maybe “ammunition”.  He found our address, so he must know what a search engine is.

Normally I would just toss the letter into the recycling and forget about it but it struck me that he is sincere and actually thinks that this will help him. I started thinking about all the other correspondence we get about covering peoples books and made me realize how many people are doing it wrong.


Over the last eight years I’ve read an awful lot of emails and press letters to promote books. They usually come with a book or arrive via email after a book is sent. And having seen probably at least 1000 of these I have gotten a very good idea of what is working and what isn’t.

Some come with a more broad approach, fit to be read by reviewers, editors looking for content, but also producers looking perhaps for a movie option. Others are sent directly to reviewers and feature editors.   At the end of the day they are all serving one purpose, to get coverage for a book. Before going into the ones that get it wrong I want to mention a few things that are on the ones that get it right.

Somewhere in the first paragraph I’d like the name of the book and the author.

If it’s not on a header or part of the email address I’d also like to know the publisher.

Keep it under 1 page.

Offer a book, asking for coverage on a book only works if we actually have the book

That’s not much but you’d be surprised how hard it is for some folks to do that. I’ve read through an entire page of text and actually never see the name of the book. There have also been times when we get a decent press release and the letter is wrapped up with a link to where we can buy the book.

Writing a book and finishing is no small thing, I admire the work that goes into it and also respect people putting them out there into the world. It takes a certain kind of dedication and patience to do this. The problems start when the ability to finish a book is mistaken for the ability to do publicity. I know a lot of people who do it really well, but for every one of those there are 5 or more doing it wrong.

Some things to consider when sending out a press release or a letter looking for coverage on a book.

Keep it less than 1 page. I don’t want to read 8 pages and actually won’t. The only exception is added pages of maybe an interview from a major source, like an interview from the Boston Globe, something that will enhance the buzz for the book or author.

If the book is self-published, just say so. We won’t review self-published books, a blanket policy here at Crimespree, but if the book is interesting we might be interested in doing some coverage on another level. But if you hide that and then I find out later I’ll just be mad and feel like you were trying to get one over on us.

Look professional.  I’m not saying go out and get letter head made, but at least send something typed and concise. Don’t get fancy with all sorts of graphics. At most all we might want to see is a book cover and maybe an author photo.

Follow up is important, but don’t overdo it. I have had publicists and authors follow up to ask if we got a book, and that’s a smart thing. But don’t email every three days and ask about coverage. Also, I really don’t need updates on the reviews coming in from other sources. In fact if I see a book I was on the fence about getting a lot of big reviews I figure “They don’t need ours” and will give the space to another book.

Don’t take it personal. The line from The Godfather is perfect here. “It’s not personal Sonny, it’s business”. We don’t have room to review or cover all the books being sent to us, our magazine would need to be over 200 pages of reviews to come close. Reasons for covering or not covering a book are vast, but it’s not you. Don’t take it as an attack. It’s not a slight. It’s business. Sometimes an author gets reviewed somewhere for each book, but for whatever reason the latest doesn’t get reviewed. It’s not personal, they obviously like the books, but for some reason this book didn’t get a review.

Don’t nitpick. I sometimes will send reviews to authors before we run them. I’ve had two authors send the reviews back and tell me that they edited them. Not corrections to a pivotal piece of information, but edits that change the review more to their liking. The first time I was concerned I had made an error, turns out the author in question thought they could improve the review. I wasn’t looking for praise or kudos, but wanted to let them know we were in fact covering their book. After getting an edit back, we didn’t.

Don’t start a fight. This seems obvious, but it happens. I’ve had authors argue with me about their book being self-published and why. The reasons don’t matter to me, we just don’t review them. But picking a fight with me and arguing only makes me want to make sure we won’t cover the book in any way shape or form anywhere ever.

Know your audience. When sending out press releases and or books, know who you are sending it to. First, we cover crime fiction and things related or close to it. While I am sure your book on socio economic impact of bumper stickers in third world countries is well researched and brilliant, I don’t really care to be honest. And neither will our readers. If a publicist keeps emailing me about books that have nothing to do with what Crimespree covers after I explain what we do they get the spam folder.

Know your audience some more. Addressing people you haven’t met is tricky. Personally, I like being called Jon. Mr. Jordan is fine though it make me think I’m in trouble. Starting with dear editor or reviewer is cool. But you know what, if you are going to use a name, make sure you use the right one. Addressing a letter to me “Dear Robert” will really not be helpful. Getting it wrong in an email is even worse because my name is in the email address!

Offer a book. Reviewers don’t buy books, they are sent from the publisher, the author and publicists. Once a reviewer gets a reputation they get a lot of books (Crimespree gets over 300 a month). We aren’t going to click a link on an email and buy a book to review it. I get that sending out books costs money, but that is also the same reason we don’t buy review books. Crimespree is doing OK, but if we had to buy all these books we’d need a government grant. If you are sending out books for review it should be noted that you won’t get reviews for each copy sent. From what I’ve heard 15- 20% is considered a good return. Sending a book doesn’t obligate the reviewer, the book is sent “for consideration”.  And even if a book is requested sometimes they don’t get a review.  And while some of our reviewers love e-readers, we like hard copy books. I’m not a fan of net galley, and I don’t want a pdf of the book. Sometimes that’s the fastest and only way to do it, but for us, not the preferred way.

Phone calls are tricky. We do get phone calls from publishers and publicists fairly often. Now, I don’t want to be a jerk, but if you are calling it should be to offer us something or to share something exciting about a book.  You want to send extra books for a contest, you have an idea for an article that you or your author could write, something that will enhance our magazine and or website. I love talking books and do a lot, but I dislike sales calls. I really hate getting phone calls asking if we are reviewing a book. It puts me on the spot and it feels like a sales pitch, which it actually is.  Following up on a book sent should be done by email, and if there isn’t a reply that doesn’t mean you should call. Remember that the volume of books we are getting sent is substantial. To the person calling the book in question is the only thing in their world at the time they call, the person getting the call is in the middle of other things. Don’t just roll right into a pitch, ask if they have time to talk for a few minutes.

Don’t burn bridges. You never know. When I first started reviewing books it was for a couple small websites. Back in 1999 who would have guessed I’d be publishing a magazine with my wife, running conventions and setting up events. I asked an author back in 2000 for an interview and was dismissed being told it wasn’t worth their time and they didn’t think I could do anything to help sales of their book. That author is now scrambling for coverage and reviews but after being so rude to me I really can’t be bothered.

Social Media. Well, there are whole books on this but it’s pretty simple. It’s called SOCIAL media. Be social like you would at a cocktail party or bar. If all you are doing is marketing, telling people to buy your book or look at your book or read about your book, you are doing it wrong. Social media is where you should be interacting with fans and potential fans, not pitching to them. If you can’t be social, fake it or don’t do it. A bad twitter feed or face book presence can actually work against you.

We cover a lot of books and authors in Crimespree and we never have enough time or space to cover all the ones we love. But we try. And we are always looking for new authors and new things to read. Our mission has always been to share our love of books and crime fiction and turn people onto books we love.  Our time and the space for doing this is finite and press releases are often the first thing we see. If done right they get our attention, if done wrong, we can dismiss books without even looking. These aren’t set in stone rules, but they are observations I’ve made over the years and I know are shared by people in our position.  I’ve written this with the intention of helping people with the hope that the effort being made towards publicity isn’t wasted.

I’d love to see some discussion of this so if you have thoughts or comments we’d love to hear them. – Jon