Dear Director of Marketing and Public Relations,
I get a lot of pitches from PR companies and publishers. Most emails just get deleted – no, I really don’t want to interview a religious advisor on how to prepare for end-of-life, nor do I want any printable Pajanimals valentines, and I’m not interested in learning “how to cook like a deaf chef”. But sometimes I read the email, and I’m intrigued enough to respond.
Such was the case when you asked if I’d like to read a memoir about sailing around the world. It’s such a romantic notion, putting out to sea like that. And sailing – is there anything more exhilarating? I used to sail a lot as a young person – racing Blue Jays, cruising Long Island Sound on my grandfather’s yawl. Once we spent two weeks on that boat, with a compass and a one-way radio, and I’ll never forget sailing to Block Island through pea soup fog, somehow managing to hit the harbor entrance spot-on. If we hadn't, we’d probably have ended up in Portugal, at least, that’s how we like to tell the story.
So your book arrived, and because of various things going on in my life, I didn’t get to it for a while. When I finally sat down to read it, it turned out to be a slog. Oh, it’s not that it’s not interesting in parts – I mean, sailing around the world with islands and broken stays and a cat and drama is not uninteresting – but it’s dreadfully written.
You sent a follow-up email, asking if I’d “ever received a copy of How the Winds Laughed?”
And I answered:
I did, thanks. I'm finally reading it. I'm not likely to write about it because, frankly, I don't think it's very good. Interesting at times, yes, but rather clumsy and kind of confusing.
You wrote back and offered a few more books from your publishing house.
I wonder if you'd like to try reading a book by one of our seasoned writers? It's also a memoir, about end-of-life circumstances with her parents. It's tragic, funny, and transcendent and has been praised by all who've read it so far. It's called Entering the Blue Stone. I have attached the press kit here.
Apologies for never answering that email, but I was a bit put off after I figured out that Entering the Blue Stone had been written by your mother. I mean, it may well be a lovely book, but I think you should have mentioned up front that your mother had written it. In fact, though, you didn’t even name the author in the email – but when I saw in the press kit that you shared a last name, well, that sent me off on a search. It's not that it's a conflict of interest that you're representing your mother, but it seems to me you should be a little more transparent about the relationship.
By the way, because maybe I was unclear – by “not likely to write about it”, I meant that I probably wouldn’t take the time to write a blog post, because a blog post needs a hook and some passion, for me anyway, and I didn’t really have the energy to review a book that wasn’t worth reading. Also, remember that your initial email to me was addressed "Dear Esteemed Blogger", which leads me to think it's pretty clear that we were talking about my blog. But, because I like to warn my fellow readers, and because I compulsively track the books I read, I did post a few sentences on both Amazon and Goodreads:
After slogging through 40% of this, I decided to put it aside because life is too short to finish lousy books. Sure, it's interesting at times, and doesn't everyone kind of want to run off and circumnavigate the globe in a 28' wooden sailboat? Alas, it's rather clumsy and kind of confusing.
"Dawn rose slowly, pulling up her various window shades, tinting the lagoon gray". Please, who the hell is Dawn? Oh, Dawn's not a person, dawn is when the sun comes up. So why is the lagoon gray, and where are the rosy fingers?
The other day, you found the Amazon review I’d written, and you sent me a fairly unhappy email.
I'm writing because I was a bit stunned to see that you took the time to write a very negative review of How the Winds Laughed on amazon. I understand you didn't like the book--not every reader "gets" every book--and Addie Greene's primary audience may be readers with some knowledge and experience of sailing. But when a reviewer lets us know (as you did), that they don't want to review a book, we'd never dream that he or she would then post a derogatory review on amazon.
Fuze is a small press, running on a shoestring and dedicated to taking chances on new voices. For Addie Greene, Winds is her first book; she would be eager to hear constructive criticism/feedback. Amazon has complicated algorithms that greatly influence whether they totally bury a book or not, and negative reviews play a significant part in that decision. Given all this, I wonder if you would consider removing your review? Of course, if you had bought the book and felt dissatisfied enough to post such a review, I would never take issue with it.
First – I am a reader with some knowledge and experience of sailing. I’ve been on the water, and will be again. No, I’ve never sailed to the Marshall Islands. But I know how to fold a spinnaker, I know why a mast needs stays, I can tie a bowline, and I know what “batten down the hatches” means. Furthermore, I don’t think that a predisposition to the subject matter is what makes a person like a book. I’ve read about geology and long distance trucking and shad fishing with great relish, just because John McPhee can turn a sentence like no one, and makes obscure, idiosyncratic, unfamiliar topics come alive. The writing makes the book. Sadly, that wasn’t the case here.
Second – I didn’t say I didn’t want to review the book. I said I wasn’t likely to write about it, but that’s different. Further, a person is entitled to an opinion, not to mention a change of heart. As a publicist, you take risks every time you send your product out into the world. So do your authors. Someone will love your book, someone will hate it. Last week, a dance review in the New York Times began and ended thusly:
“N’a pas un gramme de charisme” is a worthy title for Claude Wampler’s new show: it translates, roughly, as “Hasn’t an ounce of charisma.” ...[snip]...Why does the title limit the show’s omissions to charisma alone? Everything about this piece is terrible: poorly conceived, poorly executed.
Do you think the publicist, or the choreographer, called the Times and asked them to take down the review? Um, no. It doesn't work that way. And, just so you know, the Times dance critic gets comp tickets. It's not as though buying your tickets lets you write a bad review and getting free tickets means you have to stay quiet.
Third – that you would have the temerity to ask me to remove the Amazon review is flabbergasting. Amazon’s been gamed. The review system is subject to manipulation by people who pay for five star reviews. Your request that I remove the review is just as manipulative as the person who pays $5 for a review.
What it boils down to is this:
If you send me a book, I may or may not write about it. I may or may not write something nice. That's the risk you take.
I think perhaps you’d better take me off of your list.
Disclosure: The publisher sent me a free copy of How the Winds Laughed. My opinion is my own, and I wasn't compensated for anything I said, here or on Amazon or on Goodreads.