Dear Publicists: Don’t Solicit To My Book Club

Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

Michelle Anne Schingler, a former librarian and Hebrew school teacher, is the managing editor at Foreword Reviews. Her days are books, books, books; she knows how lucky that makes her.  Twitter: @mschingler

To the Good People Who Promote Books:

I’m sure it’s not always easy to be a book publicist, particularly now. Self-publishing booms have to make it even harder to achieve recognition for your authors. So many books! So little time! What to choose, what to choose? I feel for you, I really do.

But don’t make your difficulties my book club’s problem.

I lead my library’s book club. I organize meetings, I find relevant supplementary material, I schedule our selections, and I seek out excursions that coincide with our readings (public showings of movies based on the book, author signings, etc.). I can get a little boastful about how neatly it all runs.

And I feel real affection toward the people I read with. I think we’re a great group. In a moment of magnanimity, I even publicized our club, first on Goodreads, then on Reader’s Circle. I thought: surely there are other readers who’d love to get in on this fun.

Those moves, particularly the Reader’s Circle sign-up, appear to have been a mistake. Our club grows via word of mouth. We haven’t gotten one new reader from those platforms. But I attached my library e-mail address to the Circle posting in case.

I have since have received a bevy of e-mails from publicists just SURE that my book club would love to read the newest book from blank, an exciting work that addresses hot topic! They can offer me a free copy, even!

No. Emphatic no. That surety is misplaced.

My annoyance at these solicitations wells up from the same place that I’m sure people have always tapped into when pressed to buy, or take, items for which they have no real use. You don’t know anything about my book club. You don’t know how we operate. Please don’t thrust your book into our midst and presume that it’ll fit right in.

Here are the several problems with your offers, as they relate to my book club specifically:

1. What am I supposed to do with one copy? I have 6-8 attendees every month. The benefit of a library book club is that they never have to buy the book; we always have copies to borrow. We are always free. What do I do, then, with the one copy you’re offering? Should I ask them to share? Buy their own? This cramps our style. If we were to write down our mission statement, this would be an affront to it. An offered e-book is even less useful.

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful–a free book is always nice–but what you’re offering is not useful to my readers.

2. Should we drop everything to read your book? Even if you were offering us the eight copies that I need to make your book gel with our style, I can’t give you a place in our reading schedule until next December. My club, you see, already has a method for selecting books. Book clubs tend to.

In our case: each member chooses a title that they’ve TBRed (something they’ve been meaning to read, but have not yet), and we read them month by month. We break once in the summer to vote on a title that ties into our adult summer reading theme. Members have months reserved and titles selected through next October. So even if I could drum up interest for your book: I’m not pushing anyone off schedule to read it, and you’ve got a long wait ahead of you.

3. You want what in return? Y’all want feedback in exchange for your free books. I get that. Here’s the thing, though: book club feedback comes in the form of the discussion we have about the book when we meet once a month. That’s what members have committed to. They read our selected titles for fun, they come to meetings for leisure, they discuss for their own enjoyment. This is a time out from work; I’m really not comfortable asking them to do additional work after. And your “quick reviews”? They are work.

In short, the whole concept of soliciting a book club to read the books you’re promoting is presumptuous. You’re assuming that we have the space, the time, and the inclination to read and review books that we’ve never heard of before. We really do not.

There are platforms for getting ARCs out to readerships; please make use of those, and leave my book club alone.

Thanks much,

Book Club Maven