The Curious Case of the Flippant Release Letter, Part One
NB: If you'd like to follow some of this controversy on Twitter, the hashtag is #quirkppz
It all began in early 2009 when the ever-quirky Quirk Books folks revealed that they would be publishing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a new novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.
Don't laugh. This book has just hit #3 on The New York Times Bestseller List. Love it or hate it, Grahame-Smith's literary mashup is...COMING TO GET YOU. (See my post about making up litmash titles. Some of these are hilarious!)
Anyirreverentway, lots and lots of people got excited about this book, and those people included lots and lots of litbloggers. So many litbloggers (yours truly included) blogged about the book that Quirk's PR department set up a site/email address so that bloggers could request review copies. On that site, they originally stated that there were 50 copies to give away. Quirk PR told this Maven that they actually wound up sending out 100 that way, to bloggers. (Another NB: Nonblogging reviewers received review copies with a different letter than the one I'm about to mention, a fact which I learned from a Twitter user and which has been confirmed by Quirk. You can see that letter here and here and here and here. Please also note that that last photo displays that the book is available for "excerpt, feature, or review." According to Quirk Books, after that letter went out, an exclusive excerpt deal was made with a particular source (NB: I am waiting to here which publication that was).
Full disclosure (or is it "Full Did Not Get?"): I did not ask Quirk for an early review copy via that site, so I did not receive a copy with the letter I'm about to mention.
WHAT FRICKING LETTER? you now want to scream. Hey, I'm building up tension. Literary mashups do that, and so do blog writers. Only kidding...
This week was release week for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Its content was embargoed until a certain date. Those are two facts you need to know in order to understandthis post from Flavorwire, written by Kristen O'Toole. She calls the scanned letter from Quirk Books "a lesson in how not to treat bloggers." I don't want to reproduce what has already been reproduced, but from the salutation "Hey blogger friends" to the breezy explanation of what "embargo" means and on to the "If you don't abide by these terms, we will never work together again" line, many a litblogger took umbrage at this letter's flippant tone.
Bloggers already work really hard at establishing credibility, and there is a longstanding, ongoing debate about whether or not bloggers are "real" critics and write "real" reviews (More full disclosure: I face these challenges squarely with my fellow book and litbloggers. Even though I am a member of the National Book Critics Circle and have published reviews in respected, editor-vetted publications, my blog reviews remain suspect. Even to Mr. Bethanne.)
When I came to this Twitter discussion today, via my blog reader, fellow Twitterholic, and Northern Virginia colleague @SKrishna (her Twitter handle, or TweetName), I knew I couldn't leave it be. First, what could the publicist have been thinking? Second, I need a copy of this book!
Using all of my journalistic might, I uncovered the Quirk Books phone number. (Read: I Google'd "Quirk Books" and found it under "Contact Us" on their web site.) I had to draw on more mad journo skills to pick up the 'phone and call PR to find out what was going on with this seen-as-disrespectful letter.
Quirk Books PR was genuinely shocked to learn that Quirk Books PR had become a story, instead of generating a story. QBPR had not seen the tweets about the Flavorwire story, let alone the story. I sent her the link and we discussed it after she had a few minutes to read it through.
Her immediate reaction? "Kristen O'Toole cut off the bottom of my letter!"
That, my tweeple and readers, is the first part of the story.