The Book Gazette is happy to host an excerpt today from contemporary romance novel “Shelf Life”. Enjoy!
Lulu popped her head into Kate’s office. “The New York Times is trying to reach you for a quote, but somehow he got transferred to me. I’m sending the guy to you, Rick somebody. Given how he got bounced around, I think he’s new.”
“Thanks, Lu. Do you know what he wants a quote on?”
“No idea. Want me to ask?”
“No, just put him through.”
Lulu went back to her desk. “Rick, I’m sending you to her now. Hang on.” Lulu had an odd feeling about this guy. Maybe she should have asked him what he wanted instead of just sending this on. She hit the transfer button and hoped for the best.
“Kate Mitchell,” she answered in her best, crisp, ‘I am a publicist’ voice. Regardless of the matter, it was always important to keep the publicity face on for the New York Times.
“Thanks for taking the time, Kate, I appreciate this. My name is Rick Vaughn, and I’m new to the book department. I’ve been assigned a story on fake reviews polluting the Amazon pages of authors.”
Kate knew this topic well. A piece in the Times weeks before had launched a firestorm of discussion about authors who faked their reviews either by populating the page with a slew of fake identities or hiring someone to do it for them. There were companies set up to do just this, and authors hired them in droves, hoping to glam up their Amazon author pages with high praise in the form of five-star reviews. Now, however, an author page with nothing but five star reviews was regarded as suspect. Several weeks before, Edward had brought this touchy subject up in a meeting and had strongly encouraged all publicity people to caution their authors about doing this, reminding them that this could negatively affect the integrity of their book.
“Yes, I am well aware of this problem,” she said.
“We started doing this piece after someone had populated their book with a truckload of negative reviews, then we realized that the issue of fake review placement is still going on.” He was referring to a recent book about Michael Jackson that had triggered an outrage from his fans who went onto Amazon and posted over one hundred one-star reviews, all anonymously.
“I imagine it’s hard to stop this, but MD takes this matter very seriously. We discourage our authors from this type of activity.”
“Then you’ll probably be surprised to learn that we’ve found newly-released books with no less than ninety-five, five-star, raving reviews. When we investigated further, we found that they were all set up from dummy accounts.”
“Wow, terrible; it’s amazing the lengths people will go to. I would hope that Amazon would step in on this kind of a thing. Who was the author?”
“Sasha Meiner.” The name fell on Kate like a ten-ton load of bricks from the sky.
“Excuse me, did you say Sasha?” Kate drummed her fingers on her desk in a nervous rhythm.
Sasha was her author and although she was talented, a negative review by the New York Times for her first book had sent her into a tailspin. The sales had been affected, though it was tough to prove it was the only reason why the book had done less than stellar. MD had reluctantly published her second, and though she had a three-book deal, it was likely that MD would find a way around the third book unless the second one blew the doors off of their expectations.
“We discovered this and went back to Amazon for clarification. They have yet to respond to us.”
“Right, well, it’s tough to get them to respond to anything, isn’t it?” Kate tried to force a lighthearted tone into her voice, but the truth was she couldn’t even fake a smile, unlike Sasha who could, apparently, fake dozens of reviews. It was all Kate could do not to slam the phone down, find Sasha, and slap some sense into her.
“So, would you like to say anything about this, Ms. Mitchell?”
“Please call me Kate,” she said, trying to buy some time. What the hell could she say? My freak of an author didn’t think the rules applied to her? If Kate could rip the reviews down from Amazon herself, she would. But that was out of her control, much like anything this loose cannon did.
Kate took a deep breath, and in her best publicist voice said, “Rick, we discourage our authors, and in fact, we admonish them for doing this. It’s never been an issue before. I suspect Sasha was feeling vulnerable; she has a lot riding on her publishing career. Not to defend her actions at all. We’ll make sure she sets this right.”
“What will you do?” the reporter asked.
Go over there, handcuff her to her computer, and force her to remove every one of her fake-ass love-letter reviews until she’s blue in the face. Then I’ll slap the crap out of her and hopefully knock some sense into this spoiled, rich bitch child. Kate, of course, couldn’t say that. She also wondered if anyone in publishing gave out medals for showing amazing restraint.
“I’m going to call Sasha and demand that she remove these. We don’t tolerate this at MD.”
“Thanks, Kate. If I need anything else, I’ll let you know.”
Kate slammed the phone down. “Damn it!” she said to no one, and dropped her head in her hands. Of course, it had to be one of her authors, and of course, it had to be Sasha. Kate scrolled through her contacts for Sasha’s number. Without taking a minute to calm herself, as she normally would, she punched “call.” It rang once before Sasha picked up.
“Sasha here!” said the chipper voice on the other end of the phone. Kate wished she could reach through the phone and punch her.
“Sasha, you once called me at three a.m. when you got a bad review, and you cried in my ear for twenty minutes. Do you remember that?” Kate was furious, but her voice remained almost frighteningly calm. She gripped the phone so hard, she was pretty sure her knuckles were turning white.
“That incident pales in comparison to what you’ve done now. I just got off the phone with the New York Times. They are doing an article on fake reviews and discovered that your page is polluted with five-star fakers.”
Kate could hear Sasha gasp. “No, Kate, really, I promise. These are all just people who love my work!” Sasha’s insistence sounded as “authentic” as her reviews.
“The Times has been investigating this, and you’ve been caught. Now I don’t care what you have to do, but you need to remove those reviews immediately. Do you hear me?”
“I can’t and I won’t!” Sasha said. Kate could almost see her jutting out her chin. Kate was grateful she wasn’t in the same room with Sasha. She would certainly do something that would get her arrested, and she knew she looked terrible in orange.
“You can and you will. Why on earth did you do this?”
She could hear Sasha start to cry, Kate had flashbacks to the night Sasha called her in hysterics because the Times hated her book. Sasha’s breath came out in sobs. “I had to do something. You weren’t doing anything for me. You got me no reviews—well two—but I needed more, and you weren’t helping me.”
Story of her life, Kate thought. Authors telling her, “You’re not doing enough for me.” While some authors were genuinely grateful, many had serious entitlement issues, expecting their publishers to pull out all the stops and forget every other author except for them and their book launches.
“Sasha, I’m not going to sit here and defend the work I did for you, nor will I let you use that as an excuse to do this. It’s completely unethical, and I won’t tolerate it. Neither will your editor.”
Sasha was still crying on the other end of the phone. “No, you can’t! Please don’t tell Rebecca!”
“I can and I will. Now remove those reviews, and let me know when you’ve taken care of it.”
Kate hung up without waiting for Sasha’s reply. She knew Sasha would call her editor immediately and try to play her case with Rebecca. Kate punched up Rebecca’s extension.
“Becca, it’s Kate. I’m coming by. Promise me you won’t pick up the phone until I get there.”
Kate walked out of her office and right into Pete, who was hovering near her door. Pete was, in a word, the company rodent. He spent most of his time sucking up to everyone and annoying the hell out of Kate. Somehow, he always found a way to insert himself into situations he had no business being in.
“Get out of my way, Pete,” Kate said as she tried to maneuver around him.
Wrinkling his freckled face, Pete broke into a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. “You look upset, Kate. What’s going on? Is this about that Times reporter? He seems to have bounced around a bit. I spoke to him, too, but he was dead set on talking to you.”
“Go back to your desk, Pete, and mind your own business.”
“Is this about one of your authors?”
Kate stared him down and debated shoving him out a window. Instead, she pushed him out of the way. “Go back to your desk.” Her voice was low, almost threatening, and she noticed the spineless one seemed to flinch, if only slightly. Kate left him and marched to Rebecca’s office.
“What’s up, Kate?”
“I’ll be there in a second.”
Kate stopped by Lulu’s desk on her way to see Rebecca. “Lu, the Times is doing a piece on fake reviews and our very own Sasha has packed her book page full of them. I told her to yank them down immediately. I want you to keep checking her Amazon page today, and see if there’s anyone at Amazon we can reach to expedite this.”
“The Times is really running a story on this and mentioning Sasha?” Lulu asked.
Kate nodded and headed to Rebecca’s office.
The editor was waiting for her. “My phone’s been ringing off the hook since you called me, Kate. What’s going on?”
“It’s Sasha. She wrote about a zillion fake reviews on her Amazon page.”
“Fuck.” Rebecca leaned back in her chair.
“It gets worse. I just got off the phone with a reporter at the Times. They discovered this first. Isn’t that great? They’re running a story on this in tomorrow’s paper.”
“Shit, Kate. What did you say?”
“I told them it isn’t MD’s policy to tolerate this and that I would direct our author to remove these immediately. Then I called Sasha and laid into her. I told her to get those reviews off of there. I figured she’d call you to see if she could beg your understanding.”
Rebecca shook her head. “Suddenly staying home with a screaming infant sounds more soothing than this day so far. Porn and Sasha, great combination.”
Kate wrinkled her nose. “Don’t even mention that word in the same sentence as Sasha. God knows that might be the next thing she attempts in order to make sales.”
“Damn it. This will tank her book,” she said with a sigh.
Kate nodded. “I checked their pages; I checked all of my author’s Amazon pages. I swear, I checked Sasha’s not even three days ago. I don’t know how she did this.”
“Kate, this isn’t your fault. You can’t babysit these people.”
“Edward expects me to,” Kate replied, taking a deep breath.
Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well, trying to control what Sasha does is like trying to stop a dam break with your finger. That girl is just out there.”
“Well, I wanted you to hear it from me, first, Becca, and I’m sorry.”
The editor shook her head. “Not your fault, so don’t worry. I’ll send Sasha an email, too, so she knows she shouldn’t waste her time trying to convince me to take her side.”
“Thanks. Let’s hope we can fix this, but candidly, by the time the piece runs, it’ll be too late anyway. I asked Lulu to check on it, too.”
“Listen, Kate, let me take you to dinner tonight. Danny can watch the baby, and I’d love to grab a bite with you.”
Kate smiled. “I’d love to Becca, but let’s do it another night. I already have plans.”
Rebecca returned her smile. “I hope it’s a date, Kate. You deserve a nice man who can take you away from all of this, or at least make you forget it for a while.”
* * *
When Kate left the office, it was already past six. She was going to be late. Mac insisted she come by his apartment before they headed to dinner. He was being pretty mysterious, even for Mac. Kate pulled her jacket tighter around her. The cold, biting air almost cut through her. They were expecting more snow—maybe even later that night. By January, New Yorkers hoped for the end of snow season, but often that’s when it began. Weather reports said up to a foot in some areas, which meant that some trains might not be running tomorrow and the folks who live in Westchester could be delayed for hours getting into Grand Central. Kate kept a few extra sweaters and blouses at Mac’s; a habit that she’d only recently started after Mac had encouraged her. “Too far to go in the morning from my place to your apartment and then to work.” He was right, of course, though if they were a real couple, they might be talking about living together in the near future. Kate walked into Mac’s building, and the doorman waved her on. By now, the staff all knew who she was. Kate wondered if they ever talked about Mac’s “visitor.”
Kate pushed the thought from her mind. Mac didn’t sleep around, he had promised her that. It seemed like an odd promise, but she tried not to think about it. She was already knee-deep into this relationship with Mac, and each day that passed made it harder to get out. As the elevator sped up twenty floors, Kate thought about Nick. She really needed to call him soon. Tomorrow, she promised herself, and the elevator doors slid open.
As Mac had requested, the doorman had alerted him of Kate’s arrival. Mac was waiting for her with a smile on his face. The faint glow that peeked through the door silhouetted Mac’s body. He swung his door open wider, and Kate could see dozens of lit candles and a roaring fire in the fireplace. Mac quietly closed the door behind him,
“Good to see you, Katie. I didn’t get my fill of you at work today.” He reached for her, helping her out of her coat, and then he tipped her face and kissed her lips, which were cold from the wind. Kate noticed an unmistakable glint in his eye.
“Mac, what are you up to?” she asked.
“You had a rough day, Katie. I have something set up for you in the bedroom. Why don’t you go check it out?”
Kate smiled. “Mac, can we at least eat first? I’m starving.”
He laughed. “That’s not what I meant, Kate. Come here, let me show you.” Mac led her to his bedroom and opened the door. A woman dressed in a simple, crisp white shirt and yoga pants was standing over a table.
A massage table, Kate observed. She spun around. “Mac, what’s this about?”
“Rebecca told me what happened; you have had a rough few weeks. I thought you might like a treat, and I know you’d never do this for yourself.”
“Mac, this is so sweet of you. I don’t know what to say.”
Mac wrapped his arms around her. “Say thank you, and get on the table. You deserve this, Kate. I want to do something for you after all you’ve done for me.” His voice was soft, the words caressing her face.
“What have I done for you, Mac?”
He leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Everything, Katie. Absolutely everything.”
As Kate closed the door, his phone buzzed. He walked over to the counter to retrieve it.
“MacDermott,” he said.
“Mac, it’s me.” It was Carolyn. “I’ve left a few messages for you. I know you’re busy, but I really need an answer about the house refi.”
Of course she needed to hear from him, he was her husband and their house needed his attention. He’d been ignoring her calls. He told himself it was because he’d been busy, but the truth was he was becoming too wrapped up in the pretend life that he’d carved out for himself. He wanted a world where it was just him and Kate, but that wasn’t realistic. The awkward truth was that she was in the other room, and later they’d make love, but she was only his lover and his wife was on the phone.
“Mac,” Carolyn sighed. “Are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here. Sorry, it’s been crazy at the office.”
“Look, I don’t ask for a lot, Mac, but this is important.”
“Of course,” he said, keeping his voice low, “What’s going on?”
* * *
Kate emerged from Mac’s bedroom an hour later. The masseuse had quickly packed up her table and left. Kate draped herself in one of Mac’s fluffy robes. She could smell something delicious coming from the kitchen.
“I’m glad you’re cooking,” she smiled, her face as relaxed as he’d seen it in weeks. “I don’t think I could summon up the energy to leave and go somewhere.”
He stirred something and looked over his shoulder at her. “How was it?”
“Amazing. I’ve never had a massage like that.”
A sexy grin consumed his face, “Not even mine?”
Kate slid onto one of the kitchen barstools; she liked sitting there and watching Mac cook. She recalled that last time he’d cooked for her. It had been on a Saturday morning, after only their second night together. Had that really only been a few months ago? It felt like they’d been together forever.
“I have rosemary chicken in the oven, baby red potatoes, and a special sauce my mother used to make.” Mac took a kitchen towel, tossed it over his shoulder, and reached for two glasses.
“I have a great white wine I’ve been wanting to try. You game?”
“I’d love a glass.”
Mac expertly uncorked the bottle and let it breathe for a few minutes. “So, tell me about Sasha.”
Kate shook her head. “It’ll be all over the Internet tomorrow, I’m sure. The desperate author who faked her own reviews.”
Mac poured a small taste of wine, swirled the glass and handed it to Kate. “Sasha is such a train wreck. I’m sorry you have to deal with that. Wine should help. Here, see if you like this.”
Kate sipped it. “Mac, it’s fantastic. What is it?”
“It’s Leoness Viognier from California. I thought it was appropriate since we’re heading out there soon.”
The writers conference, she thought. Next week with Mac, alone in Southern California. The upcoming trip along with the wine, the man, and the massage helped brighten her mood.
“Now, tell me about Sasha.”
“It’s insane, Mac. I’m just so sick of her crap. I bet Edward pulls her third book deal.”
“She’d deserve it. So, how many reviews?”
“I counted ninety-eight; we suspect she wrote all of them herself. She wasn’t even creative enough to get other people to write them for her. Many of them sound alike, and she even cut and pasted some reviews.”
Mac shook his head as he pulled the chicken from the oven. “What a moron. I’m sorry you have to deal with this on top of everything else.”
Kate sighed, “I often wonder what it would be like to go freelance, you know, to be able to take whatever authors I wanted.”
Mac walked out of the kitchen to set the dining room table. “You thinking of leaving?”
Kate slid from the barstool. “No, I mean, it’s security. I just think, you know, sometimes it would be nice to say ‘no.’”
Mac slipped his hands under the collar of his robe, feeling her bare shoulders. She was completely naked underneath, and the thought of her body made him hard.
“Well, let’s hope that whole ‘no’ thing doesn’t start tonight.” He smiled and leaned in to kiss her.
She pulled him closer. “I could no more say no to you than Sasha could write a good review.”
Laughter erupted from Mac’s throat. “Come, Kate, let’s eat before I carry you off to the bedroom and leave this dinner to burn.”
* * *
Kate was sitting on one of Mac’s big, overstuffed leather couches watching the fire. Mac brought the bottle of wine over and refilled her glass. He sat down beside her and Kate nestled into him. He draped his arm around her and she could feel his heart beating under his shirt. She felt safe and cared for and even loved, though neither of them had ever said the “L” word. That, much like living together, was off-limits.
“Kate, I have a question to ask you.” As Mac spoke, Carolyn became an unwelcome intruder in his mind. Carolyn, his wife. He pushed the thought of her to a far corner and smiled at Kate. Mac was an expert at compartmentalizing his life.
“What is it?” She was wondering what else he had in store for her. The evening had been absolutely wonderful, exactly what she needed.
“I want us to go away together, to Whistler for a ski weekend. A long weekend, just the two of us.”
Kate was startled, and turned to face him, “Mac, are you serious? What brought this on?”
Mac took her hand and stroked her fingers. Every time he touched her, it sent thunderbolts of heat ricocheting through her. Her core warmed at his touch, her body eager for release.
“I know this is hard for you, this relationship. I thought we could go away, you know, like a couple. I used to take the boys to Whistler, just them and me. It’s a fantastic place, and you mentioned that you haven’t been skiing in ages, so I thought we could do this…”
“…like a real couple,” she finished.
Mac nodded. “It’s a lot to ask you, to do this thing with me, this relationship that’s only half a life for you. I just want you to know that I get it, and I want to make this relationship as real for you as I can.”
Kate smiled. “Mac, this is all very real to me.” She looked around at the room, candles flickered everywhere, and in the center of this room, and her world, was this man who took her to places sexually that she’d never been.
“Let’s do this, Katie. Say you will.”
Her heart fluttered. “I will, Mac. I’d love to. When?”
Mac dipped his head. “After California, I’ll make the reservations.”
“But won’t it look suspect if we’re out of the office at the same time?”
“Let me worry about that, Kate.” Mac slid the robe off of her shoulders and began kissing her neck. He had never wanted a woman as much as he wanted Kate, and his need to be inside her ached in him more than he cared to admit. Mac’s lips found her breasts and flicked her nipples with his tongue. Kate leaned back and groaned; she was already wet with the anticipation of him.
Mac, hard and long inside her. She needed him right now. Kate tugged at his belt, loosening it. She fumbled with the button on his pants and tugged down the zipper. Her hand reached inside and found him, round, hard and pressed against his thigh. She pulled him out, stroking him softly.
“I need you,” she whispered huskily, filled with a hot, wet desire. Mac pulled his shirt off and pushed his pants to the floor. They were naked on his couch, the heat and sexual tension growing inside them. He nudged her knees apart and pushed himself into her. She was wet and tight and full of need. He kissed her and he pushed into her, again and again, until he felt her release, her hands clawing through his hair. He let himself go, feeling his need for her only heighten as he climaxed.
Afterwards, they lay breathless and he kissed her moist skin. His mouth trailed to her lips. “Katie, you are an amazing woman,” Mac said breathlessly. “Every time I see you walk into a room, I feel like everyone can hear my heart pounding. I don’t lose control, ever. But with you, it’s different and new and sometimes frightening.”
Kate was surprised at Mac’s sudden confession. “Frightening?” she whispered, trailing her fingers along his back.
“In a good way, if that makes sense. No one has ever made me question anything I do. With you, I question everything. This life I lead, the choices I’ve made.”
“Is that bad?” she asked tentatively.
“No, it’s good, just different.” Mac held her eyes. “I never questioned what I did—I just did it. Now I feel like I want more.”
For a moment, Kate couldn’t breathe. “More? What do you mean?”
“I needed to tell you that, Kate, and maybe it wasn’t fair, but I haven’t defined the ‘more’ yet. I just know that it’s something I think about and I need to keep turning it over in my head.”
“Isn’t this a conversation I’m supposed to have, Mac?” she smiled; she could see he was nervous. Maybe he hadn’t meant to tell her and in a moment of post-passion euphoria, it had slipped out.
Mac smiled. “I know, I’m sorry Kate. I should have thought this through more. It didn’t come out right.”
Kate kissed him softly. “It came out fine. Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure this out.”
Mac was amazed. Most women he knew would have jumped on the ‘more’ comment and debated it until every angle had been inspected and perhaps rightfully so. But Kate just dropped it, and her lack of pressure and of expectation made Mac want to give her more than he’d ever given another woman before. Just exactly what that was, he wasn’t sure.
Author: Christina George
Genre: Contemporary Romance
“…this book grabbed my interest from page one. I’m sure Ms. George has more than a few industry insiders chuckling at her stories and cringing at how close to home they hit.”
Scandalicious Book Reviews
The Publicist Book Two
The story only an insider could tell.
Publishing: An industry of out-of-control of egos, unrealistic expectations, and books with the shelf life of milk.
This is Kate’s world, but for how long?
When one of Kate Mitchell’s star authors is carted away in handcuffs, she thinks it’s only the beginning of her troubles. As her world crumbles around her, Kate desperately looks for anyone to hold onto but finds that happy endings are truly works of fiction. When her career and love affair hit their expiration date, Kate sets off on a new adventure….
Starting over in California is easy, but Kate soon learns that leaving her old life behind isn’t. Nicholas Lavigne is eager to help her forget, but two things still own her heart, the dream of discovering the next great American novel, and MacDermott Ellis.
As Kate tries to rebuild her life she finds a surprising gift that reboots her career in a new and unexpected direction. Suddenly her name becomes synonymous with one of the biggest bestsellers publishing has seen in ages and she’s welcomed back with open arms. At the height of her success the ghosts of her past come back to remind her of the world she’d been trying to forget and the man who never let go of her heart.
Behind the book, there’s always more to the story.
Welcome to Publishing, the ego has landed.
“The Publicist is great chick lit!” Elizabeth Barbarick, Stuffed Shelves
“Very well written with a great cast of characters.” Kindles & Wine Book Blog
I’ve worked in publishing for twenty years (give or take). Here’s what this book isn’t. It’s not a slam against publishing (though it is broken) and it’s not a slam against authors (though some of them are crazy). This book is not autobiographical though many of the stories are true. No you won’t know which ones, hell it’s more fun to guess, right? I continue to work in publicity and help authors because at the end of the day I do love books, I love publishing, and I love authors. I hope you’ll enjoy this romp through Kate’s world as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Find our more at: www.thepublicistnovel.com