Sympathy for the Publicist

One piece of advice I like to give new authors (should they ask for advice) is that one should always, always be nice to one’s publicist and do what one can to make the publicist’s life easier. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that — duh — that person is promoting your book, and if you’re a jerk to your publicist, that’s going to affect the fervor with which they talk up your book to their various promotional targets. Since in addition to being a writer I am also a critic and exist on the other side of the publicist/artist equation, I know whereof I speak; the publicists I know will never not act professionally, but for all that you can tell who and what a publicist is excited about, and who and what they are not. This is subsumed under the whole “Don’t be an ass” advice given here.

The second is that the life of a publicist has remarkable moments of personal trial. I submit to you this bit of publicity sausage-making, from the floor of the BookExpo America in New York City:

On Friday afternoon, four young publicists from Tor Books were spotted in a corner trying to get one of them, Melissa Broder, into an 8-foot-tall hot-dog costume; it did have an air pump so the wearer could breathe. They were promoting “Invasion of the Road Weenies” (Starscape/Tor Books) by David Lubar.

Finally, they zipped Ms. Broder up. Fiona Lee took her hand, or paw, or whatever, and led her across the convention floor. “Would you like your photo taken with a giant weenie?” Ms. Lee asked, over and over again.

Would you like your photo taken with a giant weenie? Say it. Now. No, say it out loud. Now imagine saying it over and over and over again, to strangers and passersby, while you’re holding the hand of a fellow publicist, who is dressed as a giant weenie. And that’s your job. One does hope that David Lubar (who — as coincidence would have it — used to write for humor articles for me when I was an editor, and good ones, too) appreciates everything these publicists were doing for him, and sends them flowers or something.

Now, as it happens, Fiona Lee is also my publicist at Tor, so I know from personal experience she rocks the publicity game in a magnificent way. And to her, I make the following solemn vow: My dear Fiona, at no point in our hopefully long and fruitful author/publicist relationship will you ever be required on my behalf to ask people to take pictures with a giant weenie, if for no other reason than I am a mere five feet, seven and some-odd inches tall, and am therefore an average-sized weenie at best. I also give massive props to Ms. Broder, who is not my publicist, but by God, being swaddled inside of a frankfurter would send me spiralling into a deep existential crisis, so I can only presume she is a better and mentally stronger person than I.

In any event, authors: Have sympathy for the publicist. It’s not an easy job, in several critical senses of the word “easy.” I’m not saying you need to hug your publicist or anything — depending on the author and/or publicist, this might be a bit much. But a nice “thanks for the work you do” is always in order. In that spirit: Thanks, Fiona. You’re the best.

10 Comments on “Sympathy for the Publicist”

  1. My publicist rocks, even if she does also represent Jayson Blair. (Actually, that was a factor in hiring her. If she can help Blair…)

  2. if for no other reason than I am a mere five feet, seven and some-odd inches tall, and am therefore an average-sized weenie at best

    Now, John, I know you’ve read my ‘size doesn’t always matter’ rant.

    It’s astounding that new authors would have to be told “You should be courteous in general, ESPECIALLY to people whose job it is to sell your book,” but I defer to your greater experience that, indeed, people have to be told this.

  3. Tor Publicity is great. They can have my firstborn anytime.I don’t know who Tor author Elizabeth Haydon really is, but we’re told that she had a significant career in the industry. I absolutely believe that, because she’s always very considerate to the sales, marketing, publicity, and promotion staffs. Just by way of telling the story, and emphatically not because I’m suggesting that any other author should do this, whenever she has a new book published, she splashes out for a thank-you breakfast setup of bagels, muffins, fruit, coffee, and juice for the in-house staff. The usual conversation in front of the buffet goes: (1.) Elizabeth Haydon sure is nice. (2.) Dang, that woman knows the industry.

  4. Thank you so much for such a nice post! I sent it around to publicity and I think you have some new fans. :)

  5. You’re welcome, Fiona!

    Mythago: Yeah, some people have to be told. I think some folks are under the impression the publicist works for them, as opposed to working with them. Of course, even if the publicist were working for the author, the author should still treat him or her with respect. But some people don’t get that.

  6. I’m looking for a publicist. It’s true that I am not, in fact, an author, nor do I have any other specific project to promote. Mostly I think it’d just be nice to have someone out in the world saying nice things about me. Who knows? Maybe some fantastic opportunity would even come of it. Any volunteers? I promise that I would always be nice, occasionally sending flowers, bagels, or singing telegrams of appreciation.

  7. Or, on the other hand, we could try the radical and shocking strategy of being nice to everyone who isn’t actively trying to kill you.

    Unless you’ve ever worked in technical support, of course; then being nice is showing weakness, like slashing your wrist and jumping into shark-populated waters.

  8. I was gonna keep this to myself, but since I read no less than three blogs nepotizing this event I cracked under the pressure…

    I fully appreciate the vein in which this post is meant and I back the be nice to people in general plan, but who hasn’t, on one occasion or another, wanted to dress a co-worker up in a hotdog suit and walk around asking “Would you like your photo taken with a giant weenie?” Or variation thereof.

    I have a list of folks. Tell us Fiona, it wasn’t just a little fun? I would have a barely concealed SEG.

  9. I was sworn to secrecy, but I have read too many false reports to keep my silence. I was at BEA, and in fact, I had dinner with Fiona Lee the day of the Weenie Incident. Under the influence of finely prepared Greek octopus, Ms. Lee admitted that she had really led the weenie around just so she could put “Weenie Handler” on her resume.