A Quick Note to Publicists/Editors/Authors About Pulling Quotes from Big Idea Intros
Posted on May 9, 2013 Posted by John Scalzi 24 Comments
This is inside pool for publishing folks, so those of you who don’t care about that stuff can skip over this to the next post.
In the last several months, I’ve noticed a couple of books coming out with blurbs from me that I didn’t remember giving — and what’s happened there is that someone in the publishing house has taken a quote from an introduction to the author’s Big Idea piece here on Whatever and used that as a blurb.
Here’s my position on that: Please don’t unless you’ve cleared the quote with me first.
1. Generally speaking, Big Idea intros aren’t recommendations or reviews. They’re text I put in to set the scene for the Big Idea piece proper, which sometimes needs context for people who don’t know who the author is. I try to be engaging when I do that, of course, since I want people to read past the first graph to the actual piece. But unless I’m saying something in the intro like “I read this particular book and holy squirrels, it’s great,” there are two things to know: One, I probably haven’t read the book in full (time issues), so there’s not a review component to the intro. Two, I do the Big Idea mostly on a first come, first serve basis, so generally speaking no endorsement of the work from me is implied; I leave it to the author to sell the book themselves. So to position the quote from a Big Idea intro as an endorsement is generally not a correct action.
Because of the above:
2. The pull quotes you’ll get from a Big Idea intro probably aren’t all that great. Because, well, they weren’t designed to be blurbs, or reviews/endorsements. So they end up looking carefully non-specific about the quality of book itself, which again makes sense because I often don’t read the book before posting the Big Idea, nor would I have necessarily chosen that particular book for myself to read. And I suppose that if all you’re looking for is to plaster my name on the cover of your author’s book, then that might not worry you one way or another. But the thing is that most readers are not stupid and they can tell a positive blurb from an indifferent one — the difference between “Holy squirrels this is fantastic buy it now,” and “This is a book with nouns and verbs that I am aware exists in this world.” I certainly know I can tell difference. And why run a blurb that doesn’t do what a blurb’s supposed to do: Get the potential reader to pull the trigger and buy the book?
3. It does neither of us any good to dilute the effectiveness of my blurbs by using bland, non-committal pull quotes from me. First, per point two, you’re not fooling anyone. Second, I do try to limit my blurbage to just a few authors/books, so that my endorsement actually means something. Which means I’m less than 100% happy when my name is associated with something I didn’t go out of my way to endorse. Third, too many bland non-committal pull quotes from me on books means just means people will learn to discount my (apparent) endorsement on books, which will make everyone unhappy, not just me.
Now, to be clear: publicists/editors/authors/whomever are not required to clear a Big Idea into pull quote from me, any more than they are required to get permission from a reviewer to quote a review. I did write those words in those Big Idea intros, and so long as the pull quote isn’t done in a way to misrepresent what I wrote, it’s fair use and fair game, and they have a job to do. Fair enough. That said, I will note that generally quotes from reviews are attributed to the review publication (Publishers Weekly, New York Times, Locus, etc) or if the reviewer is high-profile, to the review and publication both. When Big Idea intro pull quotes are used, they tend to be attributed to me only, and thus look more like a personal endorsement. It’s a small thing but it matters, or at least it matters to me.
That being the case:
4. I’m going to start noting when Big Idea intro pull quotes are being used without clearance. What does that mean? Well, two things. One, I’ll remember which houses are using pull quotes from me without clearance when their publicists and editors come to me for actual blurbs. Two, depending on my mood on the day, I may publicly note on the blog that I haven’t read the book the pull quote is on. Which will be embarrassing to everyone involved, I think. Much better to check with me first, no?
The good news is:
5. If you check with me, sometimes I’ll say yes, and sometimes you’ll even get an upgrade. I don’t necessarily object to Big Idea intro quotes being used, if I feel they accurately express my enthusiasm for the book or author. And sometimes if the quote doesn’t do that, it’ll because it’s not enthusiastic enough. For example, a publicist recently checked with me about a Big Idea intro pull quote for an author. It wasn’t a great quote, to be honest. So I gave her a much better, rather more on point blurb that more fully expressed my enthusiasm for the author and his books. Which made her happy (because it was a much better blurb) and made me happy (because she checked in). See? Everyone wins!
So, please: Ask before you use a Big Idea intro quote. It’ll make me happy! And I remember those people in publishing who make me happy. Thank you.
Rather strongly recalling a joke whose punchline is, “My, my, this IS a baby, isn’t it?”
So really, what you’re saying is that unless the quote has “…holy squirrel(s)…” in it, we should assume that it’s not really an endorsement for the book, or that someone is forging a quote from you?
While it may be a “fair use” under copyright law to lift a quote from a Big Idea Intro (I think it is actually close to the line because the Scalzi-authored intro is not a full-review), it might violate Mr. Scalzi’s right of publicity as it uses his identity for a commercial purpose without his permission. There could be additional liability under the Lanham Act for falsely implying an endorsement where there is none in the context of the Big Ideas on Whatever.
I’m just going to use the phrase “Holy squirrels” and hope that people assume it’s you talking.
Geoff: While it may be a “fair use” under copyright law to lift a quote from a Big Idea Intro (I think it is actually close to the line because the Scalzi-authored intro is not a full-review), it might violate Mr. Scalzi’s right of publicity as it uses his identity for a commercial purpose without his permission.
Hm. I dabble a bit with copyright law. Not sure if this is fair use or not. I have no idea what happens when one starts getting into “famous people” law. But I don’t think either one matters too much. If you pull a blurb without permission, Scalzi responding by saying his blurb was pulled without permission, saying he hasn’t read the entire book, and possibly not doing any more “Big Idea” bits from that publisher, ought to be enough to efect change.
Also, if I ever wrote a book, and managed to get Scalzi to blurb it, I think “holy squirrels!” would be the most awesomest blurb ever.
Seems to be missing a word. “…something I didn’t go out of my to endorse.”
It was inside pool for publishing people, but it was still interesting to read and consider.
Oops should have waited.
“Third, too many bland non-committal pull quotes from me on books means just means people…”
“And sometimes if the quote doesn’t do that, it’ll because it’s not…”
Don’t know if you you want to know about these. I know I would.
Waiting for “Featured in John Scalzi’s Big Idea” to appear in bold across the top of new books. Or has this happened already?
It means little to those who read Whatever, but it has the benefit of your name and “Big Idea” which sounds cool. And you get a little mileage out of “featured.”
What a holy squirrel may look like: http://www.michellewatersart.com/images/holy_squirrel.jpg
You forgot one reason why not to do this: It’s freaking LAZY.
Just so happens that today I saw a holy squirrel bouncing across the pine savannah next to my office. It was black with a white tip on it’s tail. I have named it Scalzi.
>> Seems to be missing a word. “…something I didn’t go out of my to endorse.”>>
House. Car. Mind. Pants. It’s an audience participation moment.
Tomorrow’s next best-seller! http://imgur.com/7BftJiw
I would totally buy a book that John Scalzi went out of his pants to endorse.
I’m waiting for the publicist that just accurately quotes John Scalzi: “holy squirrels, it’s great,” Sure, the antecedent of the “it’s” in that quote isn’t the book they’re promoting (possibly, isn’t any book). But it is an accurate quote of something Scalzi wrote.
I now want to write a book just so I can put ““This is a book with nouns and verbs that I am aware exists in this world.” – John Scalzi on the cover.
Your phrasing is exceptionally tolerant of professional people behaving as amateurs. It’s unlikely to be a problem that I’ll ever have, but I would be pretty quick to put a stop to my name being diluted like that; especially given that a quick public shaming or two would right quick put a stop to most of it.
I can think of one technical tweak for the blog to make it less likely for these pullquotes to be seen as so tempting, too. If you create a new user/author account for the blog and give it the display-name of “Big Ideas Guest Post” or something similar/wittier, then your name won’t have to be anywhere on those particular posts at all, so the authors will just get the benefits you want them to have from featuring on your blog itself and not any further implied/extrapolated endorsement.
You could even go back through the archives and re-assign past Big Ideas to the new Big Idea author account, should you be feeling the need.
Cant wait to see “Oh, christ. THIS dude again” on the back of Abaddon’s Gate. (And I will read it–the first two books were great.)
I wonder if some of the people who troll on here will pull your quotes attacking them and put them on their website.
I am almost certain they do.
I hope some day to have a blurb in the opposite direction–Scalzi’s blurb for Sam Sykes, “I do not wish Sam Sykes dead,” might be my favorite of all time.