In Praise of the Publicist

A Washington Post writer had a tweet this week wherein he said (paraphrasing here) that praise from a copy editor was the highest praise and from a publicist was the lowest. It started me thinking, because I disagree (I do that sometimes.).

get what he means. Publicists are paid the big bucks (!) to hype and promote, by definition. Copy-editors are often obsessive-compulsive (by deifnition, almost!), detail-focused, and have no liaison to the market.

But that pair of truths gets only part of the way and misses an important point. It is because a publicist (or marketing person) spends his or her whole day thinking of ways to promote/sell/extol every book on the list, to one degree or another, that serious personal praise and support from them matters so much.

Think about it. Every morning you psyche yourself up to promote titles that, in your innermost being, you know are forgettable, interchangeable with others, even boring, not your thing, opposed to your own ethics or views. You still have to get on the phone or computer and do it. Find ways to hype. You can’t only do your job when you love a book.

So the flipside is, when you do love a book, when you think it deserves to be read, reviewed, discussed, awarded, that author is a gift to you, and you become a gift to him or her. The job can become a passion again. Your enthusiasm is real, your commitment when you talk to a reviews editor or magazine editor about a profile will be unfeigned and passionate – and that comes through. I have heard it too many times from the media side of the discussion. They can tell when someone means it. Actually, most of us can. Nothing helps a book or a writer as much as the fire of those discussing it. Nothing.

That applies to the publisher’s sales reps too. They are inundated with titles each seaosn that they have to ‘get out there’ to their bookstore accounts. It applies to those accounts, too, the buyers for independent bookstores or chains, or the managers and sales people at those stores. ‘Handselling’ books is still a real part of the process. A customer walks into a store and a salesperson they know says, ‘The new Kay is in! I love it. You have to read it.’

That’s another gift to a writer. And, if all goes well, to the customer who buys that book. Relationships get started that way.

So, with all respect to the view at the top here, that started me thinking, I’m not down with the idea of placing publicity or marketing at the bottom of the ‘value’ scale when they praise or love one of my books. I am moved and very happy when that happens. If the passion for the novel is real, it actually matters more, in the formal scheme of things, than the endorsement from a copy editor.

This doesn’t take into account whether the copy editor is someone whose taste and judgement matters personally to you (as is the case for me with Catherine Marjoribanks), nor does it factor ‘routine’ remarks of praise from the marketing people, the kind where you might feel they are saying what they have to say. If these elements are in the mix, then we are talking about something completely different: the individual judgement of a trusted person or the supportive mumbling that comes with the territory.

But, no, real enthusiasm for a book from publicity and marketing and sales? Priceless.

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