Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Agony . . . and the agony: A meditation on Blurbs.

You know what's hard? Asking famous and semi-famous writers to stop whatever they're doing in order to read your book and say something nice about it. This is essentially what one must do in the battle for blurbs-- an aspect of writing and publishing a book I never considered until very recently. Blurbing. Asking people for compliments. Asking busy, talented, important people to compliment your unknown, cuss-filled, flawed little creation even though they've never met you and probably have dozens of people they have met asking them for the exact same favor. Oh, and they've also got their own careers and stuff keeping them busy. Their own books and blurbs to worry about.

I gotta say, it's mortifying. And harrowing. I woke up at four-thirty this morning squriming with self-loathing. I imagined every single person on my blurb list looking at the title of my book and thinking, Yoga Bitch? That doesn't sound like Good Literature. To the recycling bin-- or, no! Don't recycle it! We don't want a title like that coming around again. Burn it! Burn it! Aiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!

I even imagined one or two of them meeting some other writers for drinks after receiving my book, just so they could commiserate about it. Those other writers? Tolstoy. Marquez. Isherwood. All of them having a good laugh about the little girl from Seattle with the idea that she's a writer. Lifting their glasses to toast the great hilarious truth:  Everyone, but everyone, thinks they can write a book.

And then I did this meditation where I imagined myself pointing my index and middle fingers just beneath my chin, like a gun, and making a sound like the gun was going off. And I started to feel a little better.

I got out of bed and got online. Which was dumb. I brought Colette's Collected Claudine with me, which would have made me feel better if I'd bothered to crack its spine. But instead I hunted around online for other young writers, to see what kind of blurbs they got. And then I lamented not having pursued an MFA. At least then you have professors you can guilt into blurbing you, right? I took one creative writing class in college, from David Shields, author of many books including the kickass Reality Hunger, but he's kind of post-narrative, and I'm pretty much narrative-narrative. Like, narrative is my religion. I only believe in narrative. And the prefix post- gives me the sweats; makes me think of death.

Anyway, I don't think he'd even remember me. The guy who wrote the hilarious and charming stories about men working in a mannequin factory? Memorable. My story about a woman whose elderly husband dresses up like Raggedy Ann and marches along the beach playing an invisible piccolo? Um, forget I mentioned it, please. I'm still trying to.

Anyway, everything was just awful, my prospects, my past. And then I remembered I had saved an article another writer had posted on Facebook earlier that day. An article from the Awl about the importance of blurbs and cover art.  Bennett Madison says this:

A lot of times I think blurbs are just for the writer's ego, 'cause like, you get to ask people you admire to blurb your stuff and then if they do it you can feel all pleased with yourself, which is nice when it happens.

And yeah, that's pretty much it. This process is ego-crushing. Excruciating. But it comes with the potential for a major ego trip, should you get the good blurbs. I am totally available for that kind of ego trip, yoga practice aside. I would love to go to yoga in order to become detached from some good blurbs.

And I love Matthew Gallaway for this, which has pretty much made me decide to read his book:

Try saying “blurb” a few times without feeling humiliated and embarrassed: there, you see what I mean? Unfortunately, I think blurbs are important, less from a consumer-perspective than in terms of building “buzz” within a publisher, specifically helping to get the marketing and sales “on board.” That said, getting the blurbs almost gave me a nervous breakdown, because I didn’t know any “real writers.”

I did what Gallaway suggested at five this morning. Just lay there saying "Blurblurblurblurblurblurb" until the word became such a burbling absurdity that it meant nothing. My chest felt a bit less constricted, I stopped the shotgun-to-chin meditation. And I just loved these six writers for doing what good writers do. I felt less alone in my weird world. Still crazy, sure, forever crazy. But in good company.