Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Media Relations 101

Twenty-some years ago, when I was first starting to make professional sales, an old pro gave me some advice. He said, "Don't waste your time arguing with fanzine writers. You won't change their minds and you'll just end up looking like a giant asshole."

The years went by far too quickly, the sales came and went, and the fanzines gave way to bulletin boards, chat rooms, and web sites. I paid attention to the old pro's advice and stayed out of the fan commentary -- most of the time -- but once in a while I did succumb to temptation and let fly at some dolt who had failed to appreciate my genius with what I felt was a well-deserved broadside of flaming shot and chain. Then, about ten years ago and on a dare, I did an Altavista search on "Bruce Bethke"+asshole. It returned more than 3,000 hits.

Ruh-roh, Reorge...

There are some things a professional writer simply should not do, unless you either crave abuse or want to establish a reputation as a real jerk. First off, don't read or respond to your reviews on There's something about the anonymous and consequence-free nature of Amazon reviews that brings out the third-rate Roger Ebert on a cranky day in way too many people, and your writer's ego doesn't need to see that. Your agent or publisher should have someone who watches the reviews for you and makes sure you only see the good ones.

Second, don't Google yourself. It's tempting, I know -- oh boy, do I know -- but again, the odds are that you'll mostly find evidence that not everyone out there thinks you're as wonderful as your fans tell you that you are. It's one of those peculiar aspects of human nature: if someone likes your book, they'll tell a few friends, and maybe you, but if they hate it, they'll want to shout it to the world.

Third, and this is the tough one, don't give in to the temptation to look up your own name on Technorati, icerocket, or any other blog search engine. Unless you're the masochistic type, you don't really want to know what people are saying behind your back. And if you ignore this advice and check the blogs anyway, stick to making factual corrections. Don't waste your time trying to argue with bloggers; it just encourages them, empowers them with the belief that you are indeed a worthwhile target, and turns it personal.

And once that happens, it won't matter what you write after that, because the personal animus you've created will remain long after the book that started it has gone out of print and reverted to silverfish chow.