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My Role in Ryan Holiday’s Publicity Stunt

Author Ryan Holiday wrote an essay for NY Observer‘s BetaBeat called “A Simple Stunt Reveals How Blogs Will Print Anything for Pageviews” this week, bragging about how he duped GalleyCat with fake book deal news. He wrote:

All it took was writing in my announcement that the book had been acquired in a “major deal.” This was quickly picked up by the publishing industry blog GalleyCat, which immediately interpreted this to mean my advance was $500,000.

His essay did not link to my original story or my response when news of his publicity stunt broke, but I wanted to be perfectly clear what happened. No one writing about this incident, including Holiday himself, has ever contacted me for comment.

On November 17, 2011,  Will Weisser, the VP and associate publisher at Penguin’s Portfolio imprint, emailed me directly saying that Holiday had landed “a major deal” with his imprint. I printed this news, since it came directly from a trusted source at the imprint we had worked with in the past.

I wrote that the deal was “$500,000 and up,” assuming that by writing “a major deal,” Weisser was following industry shorthand. Over at Publishers Marketplace, a website collecting book deal announcements from around the web, “a major deal” has a clear meaning. As you can see the chart embedded above, “a major deal” means “$500,000 and up” as we reported in our original post.

One day later, a proposal excerpt in the NY Observer suggested that the marketing team should seed fake news about Holiday’s book advance to blogs:

That the information is all fake and part of a social experiment will be revealed later in the book itself—as evidence of the gullibility of the web and proof of concept.

The reporter did not ask us for a comment and no one involved with the book contacted us to ask for a correction. I asked Weisser for a comment, and he explained that he had copied a deal announcement from Publishers Marketplace into his email to me. However, his original email did not identify the source of the information.

Weisser added this statement:

Portfolio has acquired a book by Ryan Holiday that we consider a major, important, newsworthy book.  I didn’t tell you the advance because as a policy we never disclose author advances.  We had nothing to do with the speculation that followed the Publishers Lunch announcement. The book will be embargoed and therefore I have no comment on what the Observer’s unverified, anonymous source thinks it’s going to reveal.

Until Holiday wrote his essay today, no one had officially denied my report. I have corrected my original post accordingly. I sincerely regret my role in this unfortunate incident, and I hope you trust my reporting in the future.

Since that incident, Holiday’s publisher has contacted me three more times pitching more stories about his work.

(Link via Choire Sicha; Mobile blog image via 401(K) 2013)

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