Approaching Bloggers (with Details, Details, Details?)

by Greg on March 9, 2012

On one of my email lists, we’re having a great conversation, kicked off by a blog post by Joan Stewart called Find the name of a blogger’s dog, cat, kid in 60 seconds. (I have subscribed to Joan’s free Publicity Hound newsletter for years – highly recommended, by the way.)

The conversation we’ve been having is about whether personal details in a pitch are appropriate, when they’re appropriate, and what level of detail is appropriate. It’s an area full of grays… and authors, illustrators, and anyone who approaches bloggers should give the issues some thought.

To start with, no amount of Googling for detail beats reading a blogger’s policies, if they have them. If a review policy states how to approach a blogger, then knowing the name of their dog isn’t going to help if the approach doesn’t follow the rules.  Everyone is in agreement on that. Details, too, make the most sense when they’re tied into a pitch, not just extraneous.

Beyond that, however, there are areas of murkiness. It is hard to make an approach stand out, and it’s certainly nice if you can do it. I see the instinct to add a personal touch. And when the information is very easily available – the specific information in the article was something that’s in the blogger’s profile – it doesn’t raise a red flag.

Yet with found knowledge comes responsibility.

What if you’ve mentioned, say, your kids in a post or two on your blog. Do references to them in a pitch for a book review come across as a little too personal? What if you’ve mentioned your kids on Google+ but not your blog… yet in Googling you, someone finds the information?

Replace kids with something else. Say you’ve talked about your favorite sport. An approach that says “Hey, I see you love football. Cool. I wrote a football book!” doesn’t seem like a bad thing. But what if in Googling, someone hasn’t gotten the full context – and your love of football is actually sarcastic.

As I noted at the original post, mentioning a pet in a pitch can be great, but what if you don’t read a blogger’s blog enough and you don’t realize that the pet in question died recently (and that death was blogged). In other words, doing your homework involves many steps.

To add to the grays… while my own policy is never to mention things on the net that I’m not okay with the whole world knowing, I also can’t control what others mention about me. So, I don’t know what a thorough Google search could turn up. I do know, however, details that I think of as “private” showing up in pitches to me guarantee a one way ticket to the trash bin.

I think that with common sense, adding details to your pitch can work well. As long as you KNOW the blogger/blog you’re approaching, you’re not likely to put yourself in trouble. But if you’re Googling for those details, make sure you act responsibly with what you find. And I think if you’re in doubt, just follow the blogger’s rules.

These are, as they say, interesting times. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Should you find the name of a blogger’s pet or kid and use that in your approach to them? And when you’ve been approached that way… what’s your reaction?

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheila Ruth March 9, 2012 at 10:05 am

Excellent analysis, Greg!

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Ami March 9, 2012 at 10:30 am

If it’s on the blog where I post my book reviews, go ahead and mention it – but if you found it by other means? Leave it alone.

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Greg Pincus March 9, 2012 at 10:36 am

Oh, sure, Ami – reduce my post to 27 words :-)

I’d add to that, however. Sometimes for me, at least, I’ll have heard someone speak or read an interview with them on another blog or or or, and that information becomes relevant. I mean, if I hear a reviewer say “I love books about math and poetry,” then I am going to approach that reviewer with my math/poetry book. Where I heard that information, assuming it was not meant totally privately, doesn’t matter. How I treat that info, however, does.

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Kelly March 9, 2012 at 1:56 pm

I agree with Ami. Having had my blog for less than 2 months, I don’t much get approached to do reviews. But honestly (and as you know Greg, I’m quite protective of my family’s privacy) I’ll even take it a step further and say that if someone I didn’t personally know were to mention the name of my child, pet, etc in a pitch letter to me, it’s probably one of the few things that would make me inclined *not* to review their book.

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Greg Pincus March 9, 2012 at 2:13 pm

Kelly- I hear you. And again, in the original article I link to and here, we’re talking about “easily found” details, not digging in public record details. I know many people who would be okay with kid names, and others who wouldn’t at all. A lot of that is reflected in how they act publicly, too. I have definitely gotten pitched in ways that turn me off, but I’ve gotten pitched in ways that appealed, too. And sometimes, research has made the difference (in both directions!)

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Kelly March 10, 2012 at 9:50 am

I get what you’re saying. To me, if it’s on my blog/Twitter/public FB page, it’s fair game. In fact, if someone approached me referencing something I’d tweeted about but not blogged about, I might be impressed that they’d put in more than the minimal research time. But if someone pitches me referencing something that only an extensive Google search would turn up (say, my high school or college extracurriculars), I’d be somewhat put off. But, then, I’m a very private, introverted person, which isn’t the norm.

Zoe March 9, 2012 at 10:53 am

Yes, I’m with Sheila. A bit of common sense to the topic is great. Shallow googling will always back fire in my own experience (both having done it on occasion myself, and having received emails from PR folk who have clearly done it)

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Jennie March 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm

In defense of the Publicity Hound post, she doesn’t recommend doing a wide google search, but rather using google to search just the blog, so things on google+ or other sides shouldn’t turn up.

Also, in the listserv conversation, I noticed people getting squemish about using kids names. BUT! A lot of blogs (hello mommy blogging) use their kids names in every other post, so I would think it would be expected in a pitch.

But yes, don’t be creepy with the details, and make them relevant to your pitch. Hopefully, when you find your answer, you read the post to get the context! Be smart about it!

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Greg Pincus March 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Jennie – I completely agree that the conversation, even in my post, has moved beyond what Joan was talking about in her post and in the comments. She was never suggesting a search for hidden information. However, there are things mentioned on my blog once or twice that would NOT help someone in an approach to me, but that they might find out with a simple search strategy. And yes, many folks are totally open with kid names (or made up kid names in many cases), and a read of someone’s blog would show that. (We could then discuss whether the kids matter if the adult is reviewing, but for other approaches… yes).

Relevant details is the key. I get approached all the time by people who say “I see you love poetry. I’ve written a poetry book!” That makes good sense to me. Other connections found through research don’t make sense to me. And, of course, there’s the fact that in 6 years of blogging, I’ve never done a formal review and a regular reader would know that…. Which all comes back to research, then be responsible and sensible with what you find.

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Katie Grant March 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I’m with Ami (and impressed by the precise summary!) I also feel protective of my family and don’t use my children’s names in my blog and reference them vaguely. My husband encourages my to use my dog’s name, Goldie, so if someone calls her they can keep her! Shame on him!

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Deb Lund March 10, 2012 at 6:12 am

I respond to blogs because I want to say something, not because I want something from that person. Outdated, perhaps, but my life’s too full to scrounge around for details. On the receiving end, when someone makes a comment about something from my personal life that I haven’t recently shared or don’t remember sharing, I start thinking Who is this? Where did I meet them? Am I supposed to know them? And while it’s true it’s most-likely my sometimes sieve-like brain, your post helped me realize it might be something else. Wow. You got my head out of the sand again, Greg. Happy writing…

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Madelyn March 10, 2012 at 6:13 am

But aren’t companies like FB and Google and Amazon, with their targeted ads based on your content, doing the same things some publicists are doing? Creating a profile on you so they can target you for children’s clothing and ammo and Botox and a trip to West Virginia? I think I’m more upset by an algorithm snatching up my personal information than by a live person who wants to send a book that might suit my interests.

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Sheila Ruth March 10, 2012 at 7:33 am

Actually, Madelyn, I’d rather a computer use my personal information than a person. A computer won’t stalk me, whereas a person might. And computers don’t care about anything personal in your life, whereas there are things that I would be uncomfortable with strangers knowing. (Although, granted, I don’t generally post those things anywhere). Also, I personally rather like the targeted ads. I often see things that interest me in the Facebook ads, and I like that they are more likely to give me ads for things I’m interested in than for things I don’t care about.

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Uma Krishnaswami March 10, 2012 at 7:39 am

As a writer I’d worry greatly if a blogger’s interest in my book depended on my knowing the name of her/his kids or pets. As a blogger I would be a little leery of writers or publicists who thought so little of a book’s merit that they’d need to resort to digging up irrelevant details of my life in order to pitch a book. That said, moms who blog do often name their kids with careless abandon, which has always seemed to be a bit, well, risky to me, to say the least.

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Ms. Yingling March 12, 2012 at 3:21 am

My pet or child has nothing to do with a book review, so does come across as a little creepy. By all means, however, read over the last few reviews I have posted and tell me that you like those, and that you think your book is a good fit for my blog. And I agree on the review policy, Greg; if the requester can’t get that right, they haven’t done the easy part of their homework.

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Sheila Ruth March 12, 2012 at 6:06 am

Totally agree!

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Laurisa White Reyes March 12, 2012 at 8:58 am

This is a very interesting post. As a new writer, I quickly discovered that there is no guide book on how to find and query bloggers about my book. I’ve had to figure it out on my own and I still know if I did it right or wrong. But as a blogger myself, I think keeping it professional is best. Too many personal details would seem creepy and stalkish to me. I just want to know about the book – unless there is something we connect on naturally, like being in the same church, or having friends in common, or membership in the same organization. But otherwise, I might shy away from someone who seems a little too eager to get to know me. Just my thoughts.

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