03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

STRIP & REBIND: Why Publicists Love the Word "No"

Recently, I've been pitching a biography of Mario Savio, one of the leaders of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s, to the media. As it turns out, one of the book review editors I sent it to was a student at Berkeley during the sixties. Even though this editor turned down the book for review, I discovered something interesting about him, something that gives me a new angle to pitch him in the future. His "no," and the subsequent discussion, helped us form an actual relationship -- I know a bit about him now, and he's more likely to get back to me in the future, whether it's with a yes or a no, which means I won't waste his time or mine in sending him email after email, phone call after phone call, trying to determine if he is interested in future books. All because he said "no" to a review.

I won't deny that there are few words publicists love to hear more than "Yes, we're planning a review." There are a thousand variations of this phrase, especially now that options have widened and changed, with the rise of blogs and sites like The Huffington Post. Discussion and interaction are important, but the traditional book review remains a staple of the publishing world. There is still an important audience that only book reviews reach, even as more and more newspapers decrease the space they devote to books. Getting a book reviewed in one of these ever-shrinking papers is cause to rejoice for a publicist and an author.

There is, however, a word that publicists love almost as much as "yes." And it's "no."

Seems counterintuitive, right? But it's true. There is little I love more than a solid "no." In the course of a publicity campaign, I will send out hundreds of emails, and the majority will go unanswered.

There's a very good reason for this, of course. Just as book review editors receive up to a thousand books a week from hopeful publishers, they also receive at least as many emails from eager publicists hoping for coverage in that publication. An editor would be hard pressed to read them all, much less answer them.

My job is to be persistent, and to get the best coverage (not the most, but the best) coverage for my authors and their books. It's a job I believe in. So many books are published every year, that many of them might be lost from public view without a publicist to advocate for them. I walk a fine line between persistence and being a pain in the butt; which is where the "no" comes in. If an editor responds with a "no," then I can stop wasting their time and mine. I can move on to other opportunities. And sometimes it opens a discussion -- the editor will talk about why they're turning down the book, or why it didn't personally appeal to them. These exchanges can be invaluable.

Of course, it's more complicated than that. A "no" can change, depending on circumstances. And in the two years I've been in this business -- not really that long -- I still get that fist-pumping sense of excitement when I get a positive reply. But I've also learned to really appreciate the "nos;" especially when that "no" is followed by a polite thank you. Often it's not the end of a conversation, but the beginning of one.