Book Pitch Gone Bad: How to Piss Off Those You Most Want to Befriend

Book Pitch Gone Bad: How to Piss Off Those You Most Want to Befriend

Not long ago, I got the following pitch letter from a book publicist:

Awake At The Wheel

Mr. Jonathan Fields Self Help For Immediate Release [full press release for first author follows]

It's really rare I get to announce a new book and offer an special opportunity of such importance, quality and pure enjoyment. [Author's] new book [Title], published this coming month by [Big Publisher #1], is so good that I believe that he can change the attitude that many Americans have towards the challenging lives we presently lead and our whole future - for the better. Please let me know if you'd like to see a copy of [Author #1's] new book. It doesn't matter where you live or who you are, if you haven't yet reviewed [Title of book #2], published by [Publisher #2], which is still number X on the New York Times Best Sellers List (X weeks in a row now), let me know and we'll send you both. Please provide me with your best street address and phone number. If you'd like to arrange an interview with [Author #1], please do let me know as well. [Name of Publicist & Tel #]

I don't reply to generic spam pitches, so I just hit delete. Fast forward one week, the same exact e-mail lands in my inbox. This time I replied:

This is the second time you've spammed me. Take me off your list asap

I figured that'd be the end.

But, annoyed that I expected even a modicum of understanding of how social media works, a hint of respect and wafting of rapport when being asked to do a favor by a perfect stranger, the publicist retorted:

It is the second time I wrote to you Jonathan. I am trying to interest you in perhaps one of the most important self help books ever written. You didn't reply the first time and I thought that you might respond the second time. Sorry if this doesn't appear to meet your needs. I will certainly respect your wishes, but it sure seems an ironic shame that you are choosing this course of action.

I'd have let it go at that, but "ironic shame?" To which I replied:

The "ironic shame" is that as someone who represents the legendary [Big Publisher] and books based on respect and honoring human individuality, you've not taken the time to understand the fundamentals of how to pitch a blogger in a manner that's not insulting and spammy. Show at least a modicum of interest in what I do and what I write about. Show me you've read at least a single post. Build at least a smidge of rapport before you ask me or any other blogger to do you a favor. And, don't address me as "Mr. Jonathan Fields Self Help." That's just piling on. I wish the book only great success. But, I'll pass on it. Not because of the book. Because of your discourtesy.

Much peace,

Then came his closing shot...

I'm really sorry you feel that way. With all due respect I will try to explain my own personal professional opinion why your position is something that's less than desirable for a someone who is practicing in the world of public relations.

I've been pitching media for over 35 years. It's true I use a news release format and yes, it's a one size fits all approach. But I have to tell you it works. By saying that you need to have the pitch a certain way to me is a fairly close minded way to be. Sure you might like to be edified and maintain that there's a proper way to pitch a blogger so that your ideas make the communications fit your ideals, but actually, it's simply unrealistic to those of us who make a living getting people publicity. I think that you might want to try getting publicity for others before you criticize the way in which we who do this for a living practice it. I only wish you could understand that we can't operate the way you are asking.

I use news releases to offer our opportunities and actually, it's very, very effective. Bloggers are only one of over 25 prime media and online technologies. There are 1700 dailies, 6900 weeklies, 12000 magazines, 8500 radio talk shows, 6500 tv stations and talk shows, 450 news services and syndicates, and 800 plus freelance writers, and that's just the prime media. Then there are the online counterparts to all the above and media bloggers are just a part of them. Then there's the Internet. Web pages, blogs, ezines, newsletters, forums, audio, video, and now there's the so-called social media. While it's true that the formats for production are different the way to ask media if they are interested still come down to a meaningful communication that allows you to communicate.

I have to tell you that most media respond favorably to content and quality, and not to the format of the email. The response to this pitch in particular is as it turns out as high as I've ever seen a media response in all my years of doing this. Even your blogger counterparts are responding favorably. Dozens and dozens of them are responding simply by saying, sure,. Send us the books.

BTW, this is how you are listed in the Cision database. You are just one of over three-quarters of a million journalists listed.

If you don't want to receive any more news releases from me, please click on the link at the bottom of one of the news releases. We're CAN SPAM Act compliant....

I've written a few career books in my time and even have a new book out on how to write effective news releases. If you want to see the new book let me know.

You might learn something from an ol' timer yet.

Hmmm, I guess I just don't know how this silly media game works.

Must be because I'm so "closeminded."

Forget the fact that over the last 8 years, I've landed numerous features for my various companies, ventures and clients in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, Newsday, BusinessWeek,, Adweek, Entrepreneur, Vogue, Self, Elle, Fitness, Outside, Fortune, Yoga Journal, CNBC, Today, Fine Living, dozens of other national media outlets and thousands of websites and blogs.

And, I guess getting my own book, Career Renegade, which hit the street earlier this year, featured in USA Today, People Magazine, The Miami Herald, Body + Soul, more than 30 major market drive-time radio shows airing in nearly 3,000 markets, FoxBusiness and a torrent of top blogs and social media exposing it to tens of millions of people online was just a lark.

Man, if I only knew how this PR thing worked...

Getting past the fact that I clearly just don't understand how the "real" PR world works, though, I was filled with with warm fuzzies to discover that I'm just one of 36,950 other people and outlets on the pitch list. Yay me!

This whole exchange is an extraordinary example of what happens when you use decades-old, broadcast-driven tools to try to access the conversation-driven world of social media. The very world that's growing increasingly critical in the quest to drive buzz, go viral and get the explosive coverage and uptake publicists and clients so desperately clamor for.

Broadcasting into social media alienates those you most want to befriend

And, frankly, it doesn't work all that well for mainstream media anymore either. Especially when it comes to books. The old-school publicity-seeking world is wracking its collective brain trying to figure out what works in the world of book promotion these days.

Even if your broadcast campaign lands big print or morning TV (which these days is quite rare), you can't rely on that to DO anything for the book anymore. Four Hour Workweek author and blogger, Tim Ferriss, has said numerous times he sold more books from a single post on the right blog than he did from an appearance on the Today Show. Heck, I sold more books from a single review on a killer blog than I did from a 1/4 page review in USA Today and a mention in People Magazine...together!

Point being, if the environment you're operating in has changed in a fundamental way, the answer isn't to keep applying the old rules and expect the same response. Nor is it to rail against those who stand before you and say, "buddy, it's not working." It may be "less than desirable for someone who is practicing in the world of public relations" to have to change your game after so many years. Deal with it.

Rather than broadcasting to a bigger and bigger media list in the hope that the itty bitty percentage of pick-up will yield some kind of decent results, why not step back and say...

"Damn, this just ain't working. Let's go about this a whole different way."

When my book, Career Renegade, came out earlier this year, my publishing team and I sent a lot of advance copies to editors, reviewers and bloggers. I hand wrote personal notes that were included in nearly every copy that went out. Then, I sent personal e-mails, not anonymous blasts, and DMed most on twitter. And, though I have a lot of relationships with a lot of people across social media who write on a lot of different topics, we only reached out to those I knew would be genuinely interested and who knew me and my work.

Was that hours of extra work? Yup! Was it worth it?

Let's see, the book ended up being written about and reviewed on dozens of top blogs, was plastered all over social media, piled up "real" 5-star reviews on amazon and exposed and endorsing it to millions of readers. That locked down #1 in its category on amazon for weeks and kept its rank in the hundreds and low thousands for months.

So, forgive me if I don't really give a crap about the 36,950 other people who are on the pitch list. I care about me, I care about those who are in the conversation, those who'd benefit from joining in...and I care about YOU, my readers.

If that's not convenient to those doing the pitching...GET OVER IT!

We're in the midst of a massive shift in Book PR power.

The world of buzz is changing in a profound way. If you don't wanna change with it, that's your problem, not mine.

In fact, if you're really smart, you'd realize that far from being "less than desirable," it's an outright gift...if you take the time to understand how the new rules work (and commit to evolving with them daily). Because, now you don't have to blast thousands of people, pester them mercilessly begging for a mention, knowing you're bothering 99% and your efforts will be rebuffed by most.

If you truly get how this newfangled social media neural network is built, you'll realize that:

  • It's easier than ever to find the people Gladwell calls the sneezers,
  • It's easier than ever to befriend and build real relationships with them, and
  • If you do it right, you'll need to cultivate real relationships with far fewer people...

Because, if just a few of the uber-nodes in the social media neural networks like what you're selling...and they like you, they'll pass it on. Not just to one person, but to tens or hundreds of thousands. Then a portion of that next level will do the same. And, truth is, in the world of social media, increasingly, everyone's got a chance to be heard, everyone's the right person...a potential source of ground-zero evangelical luminance.

What took 36,950 blasts and constant prodding to the point of near manipulation in the quest to reach critical mass in old-media can explode all over the world in the blink of an eye in social media...with a fraction of the work.

So, no, what I'm suggesting is not "less than desirable" for book publicists.

Done right, it has the potential to make their jobs vastly easier and a whole lot more enjoyable. If you're willing to get out of your own way and invest in the conversation.

Does that mean I'll never use news releases or old school tactics?

Not at all, but I'll use them in a far more limited and strategic manner, for example, to take my message direct to buyers through keyword driven releases that hit millions of peoples' inboxes in the form of google alerts. And those become that tactical strike element of the campaign, not the heart and soul.

Listen, I help a ton of people all the time.

I start out every morning on twitter asking "who can I help today?" And, I help people I've never met who raise their hands and say, "me, me, me" nearly every single day. But, you've got to have invested in being there when I ask to be positioned to raise your hand.

One of the first rules of pitching anyone on doing a favor, especially in the world of social media, is you've gotta join in the conversation first. You've gotta give a little first. And, at a bare minimum, pretend you know who I am, who my audience is, what I care about and what I write about.

I owe my readers that much...and so do you.

I am very protective of you guys. I've worked hard to show you I'm here for the long haul, I respect your time and energy and if I review or pitch something to you, it's because the person who's pitched it to me has shown me they care too.

Again, if that's perceived as "closeminded" or "inconvenient" for the pitchers...

Not my problem. There's a new world order in arena of buzz and it's called conversation.

Ignore it at your peril.

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