Friday, January 20, 2006

An Unlikely Response to a Story Pitch

I never know what to expect when I pitch a book to the media, so I'm seldom shocked by any individual's responses. But yesterday I received some static for a story pitch that did, indeed, surprise me.

I'd asked the author of a novel that was published by a mainstream New York house for her reaction to the James Frey controversy. Her book, after all, is semi-autobiographical, and she might have chosen to call it a memoir, too -- but she didn't. The author said that she supported Frey and, indeed, if she'd been braver, she might have chosen to call her novel a memoir as well. I included her quotation in a pitch that went out via email to a couple of thousand major book review editors, feature editors, producers, and so forth.

Well, that will teach me.

Almost as soon as I began the email campaign, I received an email from the book editor at one of the top daily U.S. newspapers. The email reads something like this:

"I think you and [the novelist] should pitch this trash to those people Frey has hurt for his own mercenary reasons. Shame on you."

Which leads me to the conclusion that the book editor at this top daily U.S. newspaper disagreed with my client's position. (By the way, I'm paraphrasing the email. When I emailed the reporter this morning to ask for her permission to quote her in this space, she declined to respond. Oh, well.)

Anyway, the reporter's email also has me pondering two questions.

When did it became a shame for one writer to support the right of another writer? And when did I, as a book publicist, become an advocate for my client's position? Last time I checked, I promoted books and disseminated press materials. I did not necessarily endorse the ideas expressed in those books or press materials.

As it happens, I would choose to not represent a book or an author whose work violated my moral code, but that's just my personal style, and I would never inflict that choice on a fellow book promotion specialist. If a liberally-oriented colleague chose to promote a book written by a conservative author, for example, that wouldn't trouble me.

I get troubled when promoting somebody's work or disseminating somebody's message can cause harm to authors. Otherwise, I'm fine about putting ideas out there, for the media's consideration, because that's what my clients engage me to do. I'm not a partner in any of my clients' business ventures or their legal representative. I'm their liason to the media, and with that, I agree with some of their opinions, and I disagree with others -- but I put them all out there for others to judge which, I think, is what a book publicist is supposed to do.

To that anonymous book review editor, I'd like to say this. Thank you for a thought-provoking email. I'm continually amazed by how comfortable media decisionmakers feel clicking the "reply" button on their email software to provide instant feedback -- both positive and negative.

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