Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Life after being debunked

Remember when James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces was discovered to be a collection of "a million little lies"? The story was everywhere in the summer of 2006. Since then, several other memoirs have been discovered as being not quite factual. Other authors have been accused of plagiarism. Is there literary life after you’ve been caught?

Possibly. But it’s difficult.

A couple years after the Million Little Pieces debacle, James Frey released his first novel, Bright Shiny Morning, last May to reviews that didn’t really pan the novel, but didn’t really call it the next great American masterpiece either. Former Publisher’s Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson wrote in her review: “Yet the guy has something: an energy, a drive, a relentlessness, maybe, that can pull readers along, past the voice, past the stock characters, past the clichés. Bright Shiny Morning is a train wreck of a novel, but it’s un-put-downable, a real page-turner—in what may come to be known as the Frey tradition.” The novel went on to appear on the Times’ best seller list. By all accounts, Frey is currently at work on his next novel.

In March 2008, Margaret B. Jones was caught fabricating a memoir of life as a foster kid in south central Los Angeles. Her sister tattled on her to her publisher, Riverhead, after seeing a feature story in The New York Times. Jones’ book, Love and Consequences, ceased production. Her book tour was canceled.

These cases weren’t enough to deter another author from trying his hand at inventing his autobiography. A couple of months ago, Herman Rosenblat’s tale Angel at the Fence was discovered to be a hoax. The jig was up when reporters at The New Republic asked Holocaust historians to verify Rosenblat’s claims. It didn’t take long for his story to crumble. No telling where he’ll go from here.

Finally, this week’s edition of Newsweek has an update on the new life of Kaavya Viswanathan. In 2007, Viswanathan was accused of plagiarizing pieces of her novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, from various sources including Chick Lit authors Megan McCafferty and Sophie Kinsella. The similarities were tough to blame on happenstance. Viswanathan lost her publishing contract, the book was pulled from shelves and DreamWorks dropped their plans to make a movie based on the book. Two years later, she’s now a law student at Georgetown and seems to have put her literary aspirations to rest for good. Maybe she’s studying copyright law?

Generally, Americans love a come back story. However, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re writing a memoir, it’d be best not to put yourself in a situation where your credibility may be compromised. Members of the media are growing increasingly weary of memoirs, so much so that an author of ours built a website called "A Million Little Proofs" to prove all the claims he made in his memoir of being an orphan were real. The website was a great place for us to direct media members when we were pitching his book.

As publicists, we spend a good deal of time trying to build credibility for our authors with members of the media. Once that credibility is put in jeopardy, it can be difficult to get it back. Even Frey was slammed by various media outlets when Bright Shiny Morning came out. If you’re working on a memoir, tell the truth, check your facts and be honest with your publisher. And remember: you can still write a compelling story, even if it’s not your personal biography. Just make sure you’re writing your own thoughts.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Lois Lane, meet new media

A new study released today by PWR News Media reveals some interesting tidbits (what we've been thinking all along) when it comes to the revolution of the traditional newsroom.

MSBNC reports findings of the study from the Chicago-based e-marketing firm, highlighting that:
  • 60% of journalists now contribute to a blog or other online site.
  • 39% of those just moved to online methods of reporting in the last year, 71% in the past two years
  • Job cuts play a major role in the added online responsibilities of journalists these days, as most papers no longer differentiate between web and print reporters.
  • Traditional press kits are also adapting to the changing landscape as 89% of journalists prefer email as the primary means for receiving pitches and press releases, and almost just as many want images with those releases.
The media relations industry industry blog maintained by Cision commented on the study as well, reminding PR pros to think like journalists, especially in light of the fact that even the old school now works within the parameters of the desktop.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009 posted a fun list today on the Nine SciFi Books That Deserve to be Films, and one of our favorite science fiction scribes we’ve worked with—space expert and Mars Life author Ben Bova—made the #1 spot! (Though he might have a word with the site's editors over the term "sci-fi" vs. "science fiction." But that's another blog post for another day...)

Part of Gawker’s family of sites, is definitely one of my go-to outlets for all–things sci-fi and pop culture (okay—in other words, geek).

Along with other fan favorites like USA Today’s Pop Candy (missed your posts last week, Whitney!) and Ain’t It Cool News, being featured on one of these sites is the ultimate in publicity for a science fiction or fantasy author looking for some cred.

Not only do they feature geek-friendly news roundups and reviews, but they also foster a sense of community through the comment sections below every post. For example, the article I linked to above was posted just this morning and currently has 67 pages of comments below it. That’s a lot of discussion over nine sci-fi books, folks. And they’re just getting started.

Some might think publicizing genre fiction is more difficult than other types of books, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The trick is knowing where your audience is. I’d be willing to bet sci-fi and fantasy readers are searching for cool new books on their most trusted websites, not the printed pages of a book review section.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

San Francisco Writers Conference

I spent the weekend out west at the San Francisco Writers Conference. The conference, in its 5th year, is put on by Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen, two of the best agents in the business. When I received the invitation to give a presentation on the changing face of book publicity at the event, it didn't take me long to confirm.

I flew in Friday afternoon, expecting to arrive at the event in time to attend a couple of the afternoon sessions. After an hour delay in Vegas, my flight arrived in SF. Upon learning that my hotel was a $50 cab ride from the airport, I made a very poor decision to save $30 and jump into a "door-to-door" airport van along with eight other unlucky passengers.

The experience started off normal enough, with the driver passing around a clipboard and asking us to write our destination and address on the sheet.

The list of destinations within the van were not off the beaten path--Hilton, Hyatt, Intercontinental--places you would think most airport drivers have been to hundreds of times. Not our guy, who thankfully spoke very little english. He was downright puzzled by the task before him.

What is this Hilton of yours?

So puzzled was he with our list of unknown hotels that he pulled out the trusty GPS. The GPS accepted the address for the first hotel and we were off. Whispers and concerns among the passengers as we pulled away from the airport were quickly halted by the Russian national anthem rattling through the speakers of the driver's cell phone. We hit the freeway knowing that we had a long ride ahead of us.

To get an accurate picture of the situation, imagine if you were asked to fly to Moscow this afternoon--sight of the city unseen--and navigate a shuttle service for Russian tourists. We were those tourists.

He proceeded to pull out his GPS after dropping off each passenger. No one knew who would be next and we couldn't question his plan because we didn't have one Russian major on board. We sat back and waited as the passenger van powerball continued. Fittingly, my hotel hit the GPS tracker 9th and I found my way to the Intercontential on Nob Hill two long hours later.

Speaking of pictures, here is the view from the front of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins Hotel where the conference was held. Just gorgeous.

I attended several presentations on Saturday, the first of which was a very good talk from Eric Liebetrau, Managing Editor of always honest Kirkus Reviews. About Kirkus Reviews:

- Kirkus Reviews is a pre-publication book review journal that is widely respected
- Eric reported that Kirkus receives 3-400 books a day (of those at least 50% are books they don't review--cookbooks, self-pubbed, self-help, etc.--read their submission guidelines)
- Kirkus is known to be tough on books, so a starred or even positive review carries significant weight
- Kirkus does not accept electronic copies of books for review
- Kirkus does not review self-pubbed books but does offer reviews for such books at a fee through their Kirkus Discoveries program.

Responding to a question about tips for book reviewers, Eric said that reviewers "should never sugarcoat" and reminded the audience member that authors benefit most from honesty in reviews.

The highlight of the presentation served as a reminder about the realities of being a book reviewer. It occurred when a woman wearing a bright print sweater seated near the front raised her hand about halfway into Liebetrau's presentation and offered this treat:

Pink Sweater: "Is it ethical to take a word out of a Kirkus Review and print it on your website? One of your reviewers used the word "splintered" when talking about my book and I just won't stand for it."

Liebetrau: "Did you use an ellipses?"

Pink Sweater: "A what?"

Liebetrau: "An ellipses--to evidence the fact that a word is missing"

Pink Sweater: "I don't like it (perhaps again referencing the word "splintered") and I'm not putting it up there."

(audience shifting uncomfortably)

Liebetrau: "Ok."

That was the first of 3-5 fairly charged questions from the snarky author in the second row, including one in which she asked if she could buy two Kirkus Discoveries reviews and pick the one that was the best (the answer's no). Liebetrau handled her very well but it was a reminder that good, honest reviewing can lead to uncomfortable moments with authors at conferences and other gatherings.

Those quality, honest reviews are the reason Kirkus is so widely respected. With stand alone book review sections disappearing from newspapers around the country, reviews in trade publications are becoming more and more valuable to authors and publishers and it was great to get additional insight into what Kirkus is up to.

I was paired with Jill Lublin, author of Guerilla Publicity, Networking Magic and Get Noticed...Get Referrals, for my presentation on book publicity. Jill and I each talked for 10-15 minutes before taking questions. The aforementioned Michael Larsen did a great job serving as our moderator once the questions began. I focused much of my presentation on the changing face of book publicity and how authors have to be prepared to work closely with their publicist to get the most promotional mileage for their book.

After the presentation Saturday I headed to the Golden Gate Bridge and caught a view of Alcatraz. Alcatraz is actually closer to the shore than I imagined it might be. I can see those prisoners making that swim.

Did I mentioned it's hilly in San Francisco?

This limo driver high-centered his limo on on the way to pick up some couple celebrating Valentine's Day. It looked like a see-saw. Poor guy.

The final event of the weekend was the presenters-only party on Saturday night. I met Jerry Cimino, who runs "The Beat Museum" on Broadway in San Francisco ( and hosts book signings for beat writers from time to time. Publicists--if you have a beat writer heading through San Francisco, give Jerry a call.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Social Media Mania

If you haven’t gotten the message by now, then let me type it a little bit slower: WE…LOVE…SOCIAL…MEDIA!

Recently, re-released the Top 25 Social Networks and by no surprise to P&P, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter all fell to the top of the list.

It is interesting to see in just a year since released the original ranking of Top 25 Social Networks, how quickly Facebook and Twitter have gained momentum while MySpace growth has been dramatically slowing.

Our guess, as the social networks duke it out for more visitors, is if the sites don’t continue to evolve, they are going to lose their fans just as quickly as Vanilla Ice lost his.

So with that being said, everyone take a little time to update that profile pic, share some intriguing information and start connecting!

BTW, we are on all three and would love for you to be our fan, friend and/or follower.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Quick hits: Kindle 2.0, "How to Publish in a Recession" and farewell to Domino magazine

It’s already shaping up to be a busy week here at Phenix & Phenix and it seems that this is the case with our colleagues elsewhere in the industry! I thought I’d write some brief blurbs on a few headlines that caught my eye this morning:

Kindle 2.0 is here

A couple of years ago the first Kindle "Wireless Reading Device" was released to quite a bit of buzz and mixed opinion. Personally, I’m not sold on it just yet. I love having a real book in my hands and I don’t know that I’d be able to get used to reading a book on a little screen! To date, Amazon has sold over 200,000 Kindles and the features on this new model can only make it more enticing to the gadget lovers among us. The Washington Post has a really nice write up on the new Kindle. Some of the improvements include longer battery life, more memory and “it’s much less ugly.” What do you think? Are you a fan of the Kindle?

"How to Publish in a Recession" series

I’ve been reading this very interesting series on the blog Conversational Reading thanks to a link on GalleyCat. Aptly titled, “How to Publish in a Recession,” Conversational Reading is featuring a series of interviews with publishers at small presses and getting their perspective on what it takes to be successful during an economic downturn. Today’s piece features an interview with Margo Baldwin, publisher and president of Chelsea Green Publishing. Chelsea Green is a small press that focuses on sustainable living and environmental titles. The publisher had a banner year for sales in 2008 (along with several best selling titles in the last few years,) while many of the major publishers have had to restructure. Baldwin has some really interesting thoughts on the future of publishing and the business model of the small press.

Bye-bye Domino

Several of us here at the office were saddened to learn recently that Domino magazine is folding. Another victim of the economic downturn, this Condé Nast publication was a great source of design inspiration and articles on achieving a chic look with pieces from the likes of Target. The New York Times has a lovely story on the magazine and its former editor, Deborah Needleman. The article also provides great insight into the life cycle of a modern magazine.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

"We interrupt this programming..." Wait, what? I was scheduled to go on next!

Who doesn’t love the chance for a good interview? You're jazzed for the opportunity, you've told your friends and family to tune in, but right when the show is supposed to call, they don’t! Hello, what happened here? More than likely: breaking news. So what should you do when the station misses the call?

What about the flip side of that coin? What if you realize you just missed an interview! Yikes! How do you recover? Will this be the end before you even get started? In both situations, keep these things in mind:

• Be flexible:
a. They missed: Keep in mind breaking news always takes priority. If a community is digging out of an ice storm or reporting on local road closures they may not have time to call. In most cases they will be happy to reschedule and appreciate your understanding of the situation.
b. You missed: Hey, things come up and events get missed. While it is important to make every interview, the best way to recover from a missed interview is to be flexible. If the outlet is willing to reschedule, be flexible in your availability to make up for the faux pas.

• Call your publicist:
a. They missed: Your publicist may have additional contact information for the show and can get in touch with them to determine the situation. Notifying your campaign manager will allow for better communication between you and the host or producer.
b. You missed: The publicist will be the first person the show calls in the event an interview is missed. By notifying your publicist of your flub, we can work behind the scenes to protect the relationship we’ve worked to build. Sometimes it may be possible for the show to work you into another segment, and the audience won’t know the wiser.

• Be calm and understanding:
a. They missed: Channel your inner Zen when it comes to a last minute re-schedule from a show. Being patient and understanding will allow you to rock the re-scheduled interview like a rock star – which is what we all want – and leave a good impression with the show.
b. You missed: Be apologetic, but be calm. If they are not interested in a re-schedule, it’s important to know that sometimes they have to move on. In most cases, they too will be understanding and allow another chance. Just make sure you’re ready for that second chance, there probably won’t be a third chance.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shameless plug

We're mid-way through our guest post series for "Book Publicity Week" at Lisa Tener's Writing Blog. Don't forget to hop on over to learn all the ins and outs!

The new school for Wiki

The Fast Company blog reported last week on the new changes happening at Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia "that anyone can edit."

Wiki-lovers may see stricter editorial control including an edit process that may slow updates and freezes to questionable pages, like say a Star Wars character superimposed over The Pope's headshot on his Wiki entry:
"This move stems from founder Jimmy Wales' desire to prevent vandalism of the information on the site. He cites a recent example of a vandal replacing Pope Benedict's photo with the evil emperor from Star Wars on the Wikipedia site. The issue here is who defines undisputed? A "commission" set up to determine "undisputed content" is being discussed as a viable option."
- Fast Company staff blog
Apparently, they've seen it all, including prematurely posted obituaries. The new rules would mean a bit of gate-keeping for click-happy and ill-willed Wikis, and means a real over-haul in the way Wiki operates.

What do you think: are the proposed changes good or bad for Wiki as we know it?

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Book Publicity Week Starts Today

We have been invited to guest post all week long over on Lisa Tener's blog in what is being called "Book Publicity Week."

This is going to be an informative course on the ins and outs of literary publicity and will be a good fit for authors looking to learn more about the role they can play in the publicity process.

Lisa is a former P&P client and a fellow faculty member at the Harvard Publishing Course and she has a great blog on the writing and publishing process.

Our publicity team will be answering questions in the comments section of each post this week, so bring any questions that you may have.

Here is what the week will look like:

Monday: Why Publicity Is Your New Best Friend

- 5 reasons publicity is critical to your career as an author
- Pros and Cons of each media format
- Extra credit: A three part series prepping you for talk shows

Tuesday: The Publicity 411: What to know before getting started

- How to develop a cohesive publicity strategy
- Why it is important to build your platform beyond the book
- Extra credit: Your media relationships: publicity from the media’s perspective

Wednesday: Pitches and press releases: How to get the word out about your book

- The anatomy of a press kit
- How to craft a pitch for various types of media
- Extra credit: Honing your media instincts

Thursday: Avoiding foot-in-mouth moments: How to rock your interviews

- Do’s and Don’ts for each media format
- Examples of media breeding more media thanks to great author interviews
- Extra credit: The art of the pre-interview

Friday: Social Media and Beyond: Why you must join the movement and where to start

- What is social media and where do I start?
- Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and beyond
- Extra credit: Video killed the radio star (and created the book star) and What authors can learn from band promotion (hint: social media!)

We hope to see you over there!

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