The Intrusion Hierarchy: How to Contact People About Your Book

After my first date with my now boyfriend, he called and left me a voice mail asking me out on second date. I told him later that I was a bit impressed by this. “You told me to call you, so I called,” he said. No text, no Facebook message. A phone call: straightforward and old-school. Maybe it’s a sad commentary on modern dating that this impressed me, but it’s also reflective of just how mind-boggling the options for methods of communicating have become. How is a poor dater supposed to know whether a particular means of getting in touch might be too forward or too cowardly?

I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate with people in my ten years as a publicist / social media director. I often explain to clients how and when to contact people using something I call the “Hierarchy of Intrusion.” After all, you don’t want to tweet a gal when she’s expecting a phone call, but the reverse is just as true.

Method: Face to face.

Potential intrusion level: High.

When to use it: Use this method of communication only with your very closest contacts (mom, wife) or those who have opted into face-to-face contact. For example, if an agent is attending a writing conference, it’s perfectly okay to introduce yourself. By being there, they’ve tacitly agreed to talk to other conference attendees. Showing up at their office without an invitation? Obviously not okay. The same goes for booksellers. If they’re working at a store, they’ve agreed to some degree of communication with the folks who come by. This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to barrage them with questions about carrying your book when they’re slammed with customers. Check in with them about a good time to talk or have materials ready to leave for them to read at their leisure. And while you’re there, buy some books.

Bottom line: Meeting people face to face can foster amazing connections, but proceed with caution—people can easily feel cornered or put on the spot, especially if they know you want something from them.

Method: Telephone.

Potential intrusion level: Medium-high.

When to use it: When I used to work in publicity, I was on the phone all day pitching, and it was often my least favorite part of the job. The people I was talking to were all super busy and most likely didn’t want their morning interrupted by a publicist calling to pitch the beautiful, intricate literary novel she wanted them to review. And I don’t blame them. Talk to any person in the media about how much they hear from publicists and the answer will be Too much! Calling was effective in that I could sometimes pique someone’s interest if I got them on the line, and if I left them a voice mail, they’d often answer one of the five emails I’d already sent them (to get me to stop calling). But this was years ago. People’s feelings about talking on the phone have gone in one direction since then.

Much like meeting in person, talking on the phone can foster a high level of connection. Being able to hear a person’s voice and tone can go a long way toward fostering goodwill. But this is definitely another mode of communication where an opt-in is crucial. Try scheduling a phone call via e-mail first, and if you must cold-call, give them an out by offering to e-mail them about it if they don’t have time to talk just then.

Bottom line: The telephone has fallen out of favor as the primary mode of communication. Most people schedule phone calls now, so ask before you dial.

Method: E-mail.

Potential intrusion level: Medium.

“I wish I had more e-mails in my inbox,” said no one ever. E-mail is now the go-to method for most of our work communication. It’s not a bad way to contact someone—they probably won’t be annoyed that you e-mailed them (as long as you’re polite)—but they may very well ignore you, even if they’re potentially interested in what you have to say. Most of us just get so much e-mail. If the relationship is reciprocal, fine, but if you’re asking something of a stranger in an e-mail, it may well get ignored. Lots of folks think it’s a good idea to throw every e-mail address they have into a mailing list and blast out a message about their book. You know what’s the easiest thing in the world to ignore? A mass e-mail.

Bottom line: E-mail is great, but always consider the person on the other end of it. Personalize whenever possible. And for god’s sake, keep it short and snappy.

Method: Social media.

Potential intrusion level: Low.

No one wants more e-mail, but most of us want more Twitter followers, likes on Facebook, and stars on Goodreads. Social media has given us a wonderful way to stay connected with those we meet in real life and to foster connections with strangers whose work we like. This is what makes it such a perfect and powerful tool for building up a community around your work. Twitter in particular is perfect for communicating in a nonintrusive way. Even famous writers are stoked to see a well-crafted complimentary tweet.

Bottom line: Social media is your most powerful tool for communicating with strangers and keeping in touch with people you meet briefly at a conference or event. Use it well and use it often if you’re trying to build a following.

Bonus method: Snail mail.

Potential intrusion method: Low.

You know what I get in the mail? Bills, Victoria’s Secret catalogs, and coupons I will never use. You know what I love getting in the mail? Anything else! I get so excited when I see a card, an invitation, a note. It feels precious and romantic to get something handwritten. Now, there’s always the chance that you might seem a little overly precious, but if you’re thanking someone for something, or asking for something big (like a blurb for your book), consider this as a way to stand out.

Bottom line: Your grandma was right: nothing beats a lovely handwritten note.