The Myth of Sisyphus

March 4th, 2008 · 8 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

While I wait patiently for the kind folks at Hatchette to send me a Sony eReader (surely I am the next logical step in their process), I am thinking about the myth of Sisyphus. You recall it, of course: Sisyphus mails tons of ARCs and press releases to a closely guarded mailing list, only to repeat the same process over and over and over again for eternity…cursing the fact that there is no measurable, provable rate of return.

It’s easy to slap a mailing list on a book and hope for the best.

Since time began, this has been the process. Send books to reviewers, hope reviewers read the books, cross fingers and wish for press coverage. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Publishing houses are changing their marketing strategy, to be sure. Shrinking newspaper column inches has pushed efforts online. More books than ever are being released into the market (how long before the industry adopts the newish Disney model of less is more?). And it’s hard, really hard, to find pliable reviewers with massive audiences. You know, the kind that newspapers and magazines once enjoyed?

Readers are heading online, seeking more and more information about books. This is a terrific change as this means the discussion is greatly, wonderfully expanded. Where we were once limited in our book discussion spheres by geography, we are freed by underwater cables and wires. The world has changed.

But publishing continues to practice the Sisyphean mode of working with influencers. Send books, hope for the best. And while there is a trend toward creating “blogger outreach” programs and online coordinators, most publisher-to-me (me being the greater me, not the individual me) communication is alarmingly…clueless.

Two examples.

This book arrives by mail or UPS or some other way. I think I might be interested (in fact, I think I’ll be packing this book for my SXSW trip), but beyond that I have no agenda for this title. When the publicity person contacts me to let me know the author is happily engaged in a book tour, she suggests that I let her know my coverage plans for this book/author.

Uh? My plans? I don’t have any plans. Shouldn’t the publisher’s professional publicity staff have plans? Shouldn’t the publisher’s staff be contacting me with ideas about how we can, oh, I don’t know, create a mutually beneficial plan (I mean, wouldn’t you rather read anything but this rant?)?

Via email comes another ill-conceived web-outreach plan. The publicist starts by noting that she’s checked out my site and thinks I’d be interested in a particular book. Okay. Cool. She knows what I’m doing here (which makes one of us). I’m given a couple of choices: interview with the author or a review. See a lot of either here? Didn’t think so.

The thing is that these pitches might be perfect for other sites. Half the time, I respond these emails with a “Hey, thanks for contacting me, and…[generally, the “and” is something like “if your author is eager to write a cool piece that relates to what I write about here and it’s a broad range, then I’m eager to have him or her”]”. The other half, I just delete.

Reason being that most of the time my response is greeted with dead silence or — worse — a “we’ll think about it”. I hardly ever hear back from these publicists (a shout-out to Caitlin Hamilton Summie from Unbridled Books who not only responds but also pitches me authors and ideas that fit my site). It’s a funny way to sell books, and while I do try to respond to email as much as possible (I get a lot of email), it’s frustrating when the connection is broken.

I think it’s because these publicist don’t want to spend that much time on a book. It’s one thing to slap a mailing label on a book and send it on its merry way. It’s entirely different when you’re coordinating authors and bloggers/reporters/influencers. That changes the publicist’s job — it requires a different skill set.

And it requires putting effort into books that didn’t necessarily get that much love in the old world. But I say it’s time to let Sisyphus rest.

I realize personalized, individualized pitches are next to impossible. I realize you have a whole boatload of books to juggle every season. I get that blogs are like candy. I also know that you’re seeing how important my world is to your world.

Make it easy on yourselves. Create better databases of reviewers, etc. Describe the interests of each. Do the same for your authors. Find good matches. Follow up and make sure your authors execute (honestly, if I don’t get the copy, I don’t worry. There won’t be a blank hole in the middle of my site.).

Teach your team the beauty of RSS and feed management. Learn to cull blogrolls for names and URLs. Read these sites before pitching them.

What you need to know: you’re hitting me and my peers with pitches all the time. All of you. Every day. This means we need to sift through the good, the bad, and the scary (don’t get me started on the scary) of pitches every day. What would you do if you were us?

File Under: Marketing For Introverts

8 responses so far ↓

  • Shannon // Mar 4, 2008 at 11:50 am

    Great piece. Hardly anyone reads my little book blog, and I’m still starting to get these ill-conceived pitches. I’m taking the delete approach for now–since the blog is a hobby/journal for me, I don’t feel obligated to help out publishers/authors for whom I have no personal connection. But I would sit and up pay attention if contacted by someone who had a clue about the way this new world is working.

  • Clive Warner // Mar 4, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Dead Right, Kassia!
    Reviewers are like mushrooms. You go out expecting to find them because it isSeptember and damp. But there are none! After 4 hours you finally spot one. Then another, then you suddenly see they were all around you. It’s a question of being tuned in.

  • David Thayer // Mar 4, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    This is why our Mrs. Frothingmunster resigned as postmistress of Wellington Leg, a tidal flux of titles made the afternoon sort a veritable ordeal. Still she should have read your article or given notice or both if you ask me.

  • Mrs Jones // Mar 4, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    “What you need to know: you’re hitting me and my peers with pitches all the time. All of you. Every day. This means we need to sift through the good, the bad, and the scary (don’t get me started on the scary) of pitches every day. What would you do if you were us?”

    Publishers say this to writers all the time when they’re wailing about their ever-expanding Slush Piles. So the shoe does eventually migrate to the other foot then?

    I like it.

  • ConpicuousChick // Mar 5, 2008 at 9:08 am

    As the content editor of an online music magazine for eight years, I have great empathy for your plight. Record labels and publicists, just like book publishers and their related PR folks, are inundated with projects to promote. In my opinion, this leads to a situation where no artist or author are garnering the attention they truly deserve from their publicist. On the reviewer/media side, we’re forced to sift through identical, nonconcrete requests for coverage that may or (or more likely) may not be read and acted upon. The standard press release sounds like empty campaign promises and barely tells the prospective reviewer/interviewer anything of substance. And let’s face it, none of us have the time or the inclination to wade through it all and find out for ourselves.

    I agree – Reduce the output of books/albums thereby saving money on product costs (which, not coincidentally, will free up a smidgen more of the publicist’s time and energy) then spend that money on intelligent and effective marketing. Publicists themselves should create databases of media outlets/reviews, notating what authors/projects they carry (and if they praised or panned them) and respond accordingly.

    While this approach probably does require more effort, what is the ultimate goal of the publicist? For their clients to actually garner media attention or just the appearance of doing their jobs?

  • What you should know about pitching blogs « The Book Publicity Blog // Mar 6, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    […] — ycheong Kassia Kroszer, who blogs at Booksquare, posted an entertaining and informative piece about pitching bloggers. I encourage you to click through to the post to read her frank but fair […]

  • K.S.R. Kingworth // Mar 7, 2008 at 3:38 am

    Hi Kassia, I read your blog frequently, for the very reason that you provide great information just like this!

    It seems like “influencers” in publishing misunderstand who is in the position of power. They want you to read their book, yet they want to know what your plans are for covering the it. Did I miss something here?

    To answer your question: So what would I do if I were you? Put myself in your shoes for starters, and try to remember who butters my bread for another. And to remember that I bake my own bread, and not feel entitled to getting a hand out AND ask that the hander outer ‘butter it to, while you’re at it.’

    I hope you’ve got that Sony eReader in your lap!

  • Jack // Mar 10, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    But Sisyphus had also taken on the habit of writing before learning how to live. He had already decided to go on with all the ups and downs of his life by tricking his mind.