03 April 2006

PW does SF

The new issue of Publisher's Weekly has a couple of articles about fantasy and science fiction: "Fantasy Goes Literary" by Gwenda Bond and "Too Geeky for Its Own Good?" by Ron Hogan. (Thanks to Richard Nash for the tip.)

Update 4/4/06: Ron Hogan has posted outtakes from his article, with some interesting stuff from Lou Anders, David Hartwell, and others.

Also, be sure to check out Colleen Lindsay's great comment about publicity in the comments to this post.

11 comments:

  1. Hmmm. Although I disliked the new NYT column intensely, I also wasn't overly fond of Gerald Jonas's reviews. In my opinion, the Washington Post has always done the best genre reviews in mainstream publishing. They match a book to a reviewer and rotate them all the time. It lends a freshness to the reviews and a different perspective every time.

    I also disagree wholeheartedly with the assumption that many of the SF fans seem to have that it is difficult to get SF/F reviewed in the mainstream press. I never had very many problems at all.

    Entertainment Weekly was always responsive, as was Time Magazine and People. They are about as mainstream as you can get.

    I never could have promoted China Mievilee so easily if I hadn't gotten the cooperation of the mainstream press: The Philly Inquirer, Wash Post, Cleveland Plain Dealer, NPR, Seattle Times, Details Magazine...I could go on and on.

    I also wasn't afraid to send to smaller papers that most publicists would turn their noses up at - you'd be surprised at just how many fantastic genre reviewers are out there in the middle of the country at small or weekly papers.

    The one thing I HAVE heard from many book review critics was that I was one of the very few publicists who treated SF/F as though it were just regular fiction, and one of the only ones who would pitch to a place like Time or People.

    I'd say that one reason SF/F doesn't get reviewed more is that most publishers tell their publicity & marketing departments that it isn't worth as much of their time as another book. I know that when my boss was replaced at Big Ass Publishing Company, this exact same thing happened.

    The imprints who push the envelope with marketing & publicity $$$ and give it their all - like RH Kid did with Eragon, and Scholastic did with Harry Potter, well - they are forward thinking.

    Go into any publishing house - even one that specializes in SF/F - and do a random survey of the publicists. See how many of them actually would want to stay in SF/F publicity. Almost none of them., They are told from the moment they start that it is a dead end and there is no career advancement. It's really sad. Brainwashed into not respecting the genre they are working on.

    I worked with one woman who loved SF/F but she was horrified she would get stuck with my titles after I got laid off. She was convinced it would be the end of her career.

    We need to start reeducating people, starting with the publishers.

    My two cents. :-)

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  2. Colleen,
    Thanks for your fascinating (albeit depressing)imput. It's extremely useful to know.
    Ellen

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  3. Colleen is dead right. PR is a particular problem with SF at the big publishers because they sometimes don't have any genre specialists. In such cases if the SF editor(s) want to get their books promoted they have to compete with people wanting PR time/budget for the next Dan Brown or whatever.

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  4. Exactly!

    And the people that do get assigned SF are usually assistants, because it's considered a no brainer. In my own case, the woman who hired me originally at Big Ass Publishing Company wanted to get beyond that. She hired me because I had a lot of PR/marketing/bookselling experience and I was also a fan of the genre. She brought me in to be a specialist, and the pwers that be where she worked thought she was crazy. But it worked. And I really enjoyed changing mainstream reviewer's perceptions of SF/F. (Unfortunately, the new PR guy at BAPC decided that I wasn't doing ENOUGH to promote the books, but that's another story to tell in August...remind me!)

    It isn't just SF/F that gets short shrift. The other outcast genres that get assignd to low level or inexperienced PR folks are romance, military, mystery and fiction by African American writers. It's a shame, really.

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  5. Colleen, great comments from the frontlines. As a reviewer, I found your comments about other publicists to be dispiriting; as a writer, I found them REALLY depressing -- just what I always feared.

    But it does show how much impact a savvy publicist like yourself can have, both in placing books in the hands of reviewers (and then readers), as well as by educating other PR folks at the publishing level. It also demonstrates how hidebound and behind the times a place like the NYTBR really is. The Washington Post has always had editors -- Mike Dirda, David Streitfeld, David Nicholson, Marie Arana, and most recently Ron Charles -- who read widely in various genres and have made a point of reviewing new and emerging authors in those fields. Ditto the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the San Francisco papers. I'd like to think that with the success of numerous genre writers, the Times is now scrambling to catch up. I was never a huge fan of Gerald Jonas, either, but he was widely-read in the field and brought a reviewer's mindset and experience to his job, and not a style writer's.

    Still, one can look at the glass as half-full: I was afraid the Times would discontinue its SF/F coverage completely. Dave Itzkoff is having a bit of a trial by fire: maybe the experience will make a good critic of him, someone who could have the same kind of positive impact on the field that Dirda has had. Stranger things happen.

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  6. Quote:
    "I worked with one woman who loved SF/F but she was horrified she would get stuck with my titles after I got laid off. She was convinced it would be the end of her career."

    Please explain her reasoning. I don't understand what this woman meant:

    A) That simply working with SF books would mark her with the "unclean" stigma?

    B) That it would be impossible to produce above-expected sales for SF books, no matter how hard she tried?

    What a strange person...
    :-S

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  7. Ah, I see.
    In Sweden we'd call such a person "underkvalificerad". (I shouldn't say what it means in English... ;-P)

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  8. Just think about the uphill battle you have to fight if you are a genre author publishing with a non-genre independent press! Talk about getting the time of day from some of these people.

    A good publicist can make a huge difference, particularly because there are so many titles to choose from today coming from well funded imprints. You'll sink without a ripple if you don't have someone advocating for you.

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  10. So that old maxim: good books sell themselves is a load of bollocks, then?

    Hmmm... thought so.


    La Gringa said:
    >I also wasn't afraid to send to smaller papers that most publicists would turn their noses up at - you'd be surprised at just how many fantastic genre reviewers are out there in the middle of the country at small or weekly papers.

    Good point...

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