Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On blurbs and publi-therapists

On blurbs: I read a post by Allison Winn Scotch on blurbs, particularly about how she (mostly) tends to ignore them when deciding whether or not to buy a book.  Her response makes sense--too much nepotism, etc.--but two things she wrote really illustrate the dilemma of green novelists:
one, that blurbs may be a necessity according the publishers, but it's the book review that really matters, and
two, that debut novelists who need blurbs may find themselves in the "blurber" seat, with writer-friends sending the same plea: "Will you endorse my book/chap-book/[fill-in-the-blank]?"

I'll tackle #1 first.
I have a blurb on my novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler. Yes, I'm bragging, I'm happy about that. I am not a friend of Butler's.  A short story of mine happened to be published in the same magazine as one of his, and I took a chance and emailed him, asking if he'd read and consider endorsing my book.  He did, and said yes. As Allison says, debut novelists in particular need endorsements from established writers.  But I'm beginning to understand (especially a month before publication) that newspaper and online reviews are the essential keys to convincing readers--and lots of them-- to take a chance on reading your book.

I've been in a tizzy-funk for two weeks because I've been waiting for my arcs (my galleys), which are nowhere in sight.  I was to mail the arcs to two (well-known) people in particular whose reviews I respect and admire, and who sent me their addresses "Yes, mail your arc to me at ...," they wrote.  (I'll not jinx myself by naming them here.)  Because I have no book to mail them to read and possibly review, my head's in that tizzy and my heart's in that funk.  Today I called my outside (online) publicist, Crystal, and she offered me some therapeutic words:  you're not the only one going through this.  (She's now my publi-therapist.) Even authors with big publishers are going through last-minute panics and delayed arc dramas.  The biggest hurdle will be the time crunch for book reviewers: will my book be worth squeezing in their already full book lists, and my story be worthy of a review?

As for #2, well, Allison took me by surprise there.  I've taught creative writing before, have judged writing contests, have belonged to writers' groups.  I know lots of writers.  Of course, I adore all my writer-friends, and luckily I have many talented writer-friends: this is not a post with a subliminal message directed at them.  But one can appreciate the dilemma of #2 if one is mailed a mediocre manuscript from, say, a former student or friend, and one must decide how to maintain her dignity, how to decline.  I can't bear the thought of it. My skin is not thick enough yet.  Yes, for blurbs to matter, they have to be rare, bestowed on works that the writer really believes in. I wonder how (and if) Allison deals with declining blurbs for people she knows.

On a final happy note, I saw the first review of Song of the Orange Moons (someone who received an advanced digital copy) online at, and boy, do nice words set a writer's ego aflutter! It's an amazing and humbling feeling.

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