The Three Rs: Relationships, Review Copies and Recipe Excerpts

The days of big in-house marketing departments are gone. Instead, publishers often fill the gap with professional publicists. As a result, the once common multi-city, cross-country book tours have been replaced by smaller launches supplemented with online reviews. While bloggers are playing a bigger and bigger role in book buzz, they are being asked to share a smaller and smaller pie. Even the publicists have limited resources. Debby de Groot, owner of MDG & Associates, a PR firm specializing in literary, cultural and culinary public relations says, “We don’t have unlimited books. In some cases we get only 10 [review copies]. Therefore, we need to justify to the publisher who we send books to.”

Small is big

While fewer review books means you might not get every review copy you request, the ones that arrive at your door are likely a good fit.  And you don’t necessarily have to be a big name blogger to get noticed. De Groot says, “When it comes to niche marketing, 2,000 devoted readers who are likely to buy the book are more valuable than 100,000 general readers where only 1% will be interested.” To help the publicist determine who’s best suited for each book, build a relationship with them. Tell them who you are, what you like and don’t like. Tell them about your readers. Speak up. Loud and clear.  Leave no room for confusion.

It’s not a waste of time. The good publicists are listening. “The ultimate goal for a publicist is to understand what you like and don’t like, and send you pitches for only books that suit you,” de Groot says. For the blogger, this means a more streamlined inbox. For the publicist, it means the best use of limited resources.

Before accepting a review copy

Not all publishers provide the same marketing material and have the same excerpt policies. Even if you know the publicist, read the bottom of the press release for details on any restrictions and what they can provide. If it’s not spelled out in the press release, ask:

  • What recipe excerpts (and photos) can be provided?
  • Do they require a permission form?
  • Do they require specific wording for the excerpt?
  • Is there a specific link to use?

Recipe Excerpts

Some publishers allow any recipe to be excerpted as long as you give proper attribution, some require signed permission forms, and others provide a short list of recipes available for excerpt. If you want to excerpt a recipe, email the publicist to let them know which recipe you’re interested in. This gives them the opportunity to send you a copy of the recipe, cover art, photos, links, and clarify any restrictions.

Attribution without permission is not enough under copyright law. If the recipe you want to excerpt isn’t on the list, don’t just go ahead and post it thinking they’ll be grateful for the exposure. First, ask for an exception. Some companies will grant permission if they see an advantage. This is especially true if you have established a relationship and they know your work. Other reps have their hands tied and can’t bend the rules no matter how solid your relationship is. If you can’t excerpt the recipe you want here are some options:

  • Post a review without an excerpt.  Will more words, less food might give your readers what they need? If not --
  • Post a review with one of the approved recipes. Keep in mind that many (many) other bloggers will be using this recipe too. If this goes against your business model then --
  • Create an adaptation. Make sure the recipe is a true adaptation and you’re not just swapping pecans for walnuts. Be sure to clearly state that the recipe is an adaptation and give credit as you would with an excerpt. If that won’t work —
  • Decline reviewing the book. Sometimes the recipe excerpt is the tipping point. If a review without a specific recipe won’t serve your readers then sometimes it’s best to politely decline.
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To Review or Not To Review

“You are under no obligation to review a book,” de Groot says. “A book must stand on its own and … A blogger must protect their brand.” If you decide not to review the book, let the publicist know, along with some reasons why. Did the recipes call for eggs and dairy but your readers are predominantly vegan? Were the recipes too complex for your audience?  This feedback will help them send you more accurately targeted pitches. If you do review the book, send a link to the publicist with a quick note of thanks. Not only does the link make their reporting easier, it’s a natural opportunity to foster the relationship.

Relationships beyond the review

If you no longer want the book, resist the urge to make a few bucks by selling your used copy. While it’s legal to sell used copies, it is considered bad etiquette for reviewers. If the book is just hitting the stands and a review copy crops up in the used bookstore (local or online), it can hurt the author’s book sales. Instead, keep your review karma clean and:

  • Host a giveaway to your readers or newsletter subscribers.
  • Donate the book to charity, the local library or a woman's shelter.

Charmian Christie is a food writer, columnist and soon-to-be cookbook author. Her first book, The Messy Baker, is due on bookshelves in Spring 2014 via with HarperCollins Canada. When she's not biting her nails in anticipation, she's blogging at Christie's Cornerupdating her Kitchen Disasters and Fixes app or tweeting in the wind.


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