Gollancz Geeks, or why acting as unpaid publicity is not an OMGWTFBBQ OPPORTUNITY!!!

Update March 8: Gollancz has clarified their position in a blogpost whose content would’ve been helpful in their promo emails. And whose tone seems much more appropriate when speaking to adults than the nicey-nice PR OMG ENTHUSIASM!! of the initial emails…

Welcome to the Team! We are emailing you because you expressed an interest in hearing more about our Fantasy/Dark Fantasy/Horror titles and we think we’ve got the perfect read for you!

We are so excited to be able to share [title redacted] with you.

A few weeks ago, in the interests of SCIENCE, I signed up for the Gollancz Geeks mailing list. (Note: the contact form asks for gender information in a binary configuration. Despite the @Gollancz twitter account responding sympathetically to this concern when I raised it weeks ago, the form remains unchanged.) I view “Let’s start a club!” with a certain suspicion when it comes from profit-making entities – but perhaps Gollancz wouldn’t be entirely tone-deaf and skeevy about it.

Now we want to know what you thought of [title redacted]. Whether you love the book or hate the book we want to hear your opinion. We have 25 copies of [title redacted] to share with you. If you are interested in reviewing [title redacted] please reply to this email. The first 25 people to reply will be sent a copy. We will send t-shirts, bookmarks and badges to everyone who sends back a review by the 6th April 2013. We reserve the right to publish some or all of your reviews on the Gollancz Blog.

I don’t know what they call this in PR. I’ve seen it a bit, though, and I think of it as the forced-enthusiasm cycle. (“Forced” in the sense of “forcing” plants.) It’s irritating because it’s utterly transparent.

Step one: offer a definite but small quantity of a desirable commodity to the fastest and most enthusiastic interested parties. Step two: create minor-but-look-bigger incentives for fast feedback. You’ve pre-selected for positive attitude: even if a half or a quarter respond negatively or indifferently, the rest will be buzzed – in part because they got something for “free,” which always feels like getting away with something.

The forced-enthusiasm cycle works, demonstrably. It’s not even particularly skeevy. What makes this iteration of it skeevy and a wasted opportunity?

We reserve the right to publish some or all of your reviews on the Gollancz Blog

You reserve the right, do you? You’re not asking for the right, but reserving it? Fuck you, pay me. And not with –

We will send t-shirts, bookmarks and badges to everyone who sends back a review

T-shirts? Badges? Presumably with Gollancz’s logo on it, making this an opportunity for this particularly imprint to – ahem – “build its brand.” For free. In the guise of rewarding participation. (Badges? What are we, five now?) Gollancz, me oul’mate me lad – I hope that’s not too familiar, but since you’ve invited me to join your “Team” I think you should be all right with a few liberties – I hate to break it to you, but people tend not have brand investment, so to speak, in publishing houses. Books are not fungible. Your average reader will follow authors and series, not publishing houses.

You’ve wasted an opportunity, me oul’mate me lad – which, since you make a taxable profit and publicity is a business expense, costs you next to nothing – to build investment in other authors and series under contract with you, and get sensible free publicity, by offering tat and not books as swag.

Mind, you’d still have to pay me – or at least ask nicely, I’m not unreasonable – to (re)publish a review of mine. But this reserving rights lark? Come on, me oul’mate. You don’t seriously believe you’re doing anyone a favour here. You’re looking to get publicity for as good as free! And you’re lying to your email list by pretending you’re doing us a good turn. Underneath this nicey-nice PR OMG ENTHUSIASM!!! are all the morals of a hungry shark, and what’s really insulting? You ain’t even bothering to pretend this is an equal exchange wherein we’re doing you a good turn by investing time and energy in being, essentially, Free Publicity, in exchange for Free Shit.

Now, me, I’m a jobbing amateur. Semi-professional, I guess: I writes for some people who pay me in money and some people who don’t pay me at all because I like ’em and sometimes I can use the practice, and on my personal blog I writes just for the hell of it, mostly. It’s not my dayjob. (Although if someone were to hire me to do this sort of thing fulltime I’d probably quit my thesis so fast you wouldn’t even see my supervisor’s head spin.) People send me a review copy, they pays their shot and takes their chances. I’m confident enough to believe it’s an opportunity for them to reach the hundred-odd folks who Stats tells me come to the most popular posts here or however many hundred (thousand? I have to believe there’s more than ten lurkers for every commenter) skim that column I write at Tor.com. It’s not an opportunity for me to make them happy: there’re lots and lots and lots of books in the world, and even if I read more than three a week, reading – and thinking about, and writing about – one person’s instead of another person’s is still a significant investment of my time.

Thank you Team Gollancz Geeks for the incredible reply!

We are so delighted that so many of you are interested in reviewing [title redacted]. We are now in the process of notifying our [title redacted] reviewers. If you have been chosen to review this copy (again this is first come first served) you’ll receive an email by the end of next week.

If you weren’t selected this time to review [title redacted], don’t worry we’ll be contacting you soon about other opportunities.

(May I be snippy here and suggest more attention to punctuation in professional correspondence wouldn’t hurt?)

So, this is March 7th. Gollancz want the book reviewed by April 6th. They’ll notify potential reviewers by the end of next week – say March 15th. Assume the books are put in the post on that date and head out to UK parts only. Allow three to five working days for arrival of books. March 21st, perhaps? You’ve just over two weeks to read and review the book by Gollancz’s imposed deadline if you want their logo’d tat. Anyone else think that’s a little tight?

Gollancz, me oul’mate me lad. You can keep your opportunities. They’re not really opportunities. You’re running a giveaway, be honest. And in return for winning a prize, you want the LUCKY READER!!! to work for you for free.

It’s transparent. And it’s manipulative. And it leaves me feeling pretty cranky and disinclined to pay, y’know, real money for Gollancz books, if they’re going to be this transparently manipulative in their PR endeavours.

Also, nicey-nice PR ENTHUSIASM OMG LOVE TO SHARE!!! gives me hives from the saccharine falsity. So there’s that.

My liver may be fucked but my heart is honest.
And my word is true.

…I’m not nice. I’m not fair.

But, y’know. As the witch said to the bishop. At least I know it.

4 thoughts on “Gollancz Geeks, or why acting as unpaid publicity is not an OMGWTFBBQ OPPORTUNITY!!!

  1. I also signed up to see what it was about. I was rather disgusted by the response as well, though perhaps not as much as you. But, I certainly won’t be participating in this.

  2. I must admit, when I read “We reserve the right to publish some or all of your reviews on the Gollancz Blog” it definitely turned me off. You can’t “reserve the right” to publish something that’s mine. You ask me nicely!

  3. Yeah. I mean. I understand publishers wanting to see a return on their PR initiatives BUT STILL. I am not entitled to your books. You are not entitled to my attention. The exchange between the publisher and the review outlet/reviewer operates on the level of gift exchange (as per Mauss): the reciprocity of the arrangement is implicit. Books are not exchanged for attention, they are offered. Attention is not exchanged for books, it’s a gift. The distinction is both social and semantic, but the reciprocal relationship continues as long as both parties feel they’re getting the better gift.

    Make it an explicit exchange and the element of coercion ineluctably enters.

    (The relationship between a review outlet and a reviewer, where a difference exists, is the relationship of employer to employee. Thus one is obliged to review the book assigned – or give reasons why – because one is paid for the transaction. But the review outlet is not obliged to the publisher either.)

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