Monday, August 12, 2002 posted by Jen at 8/12/2002 10:16:00 AM
Ever wake up one morning convinced that, at least for the day, everything was All About You? Here's Elinor Lipman (THE INN AT LAKE DEVINE), in the New York Times, writing about blurbs.
I know I've written about blurbs before -- about giving them and getting them, about how, when it's your first book, you feel like the world's going to end if you don't get a fistful of kind mentions from your soon-to-be-peers, and about how now I'm getting asked to blurb absolutely everything single-girl-ish and weight-related (including a soon-to-be-published memoir in which the author confesses that her food issues were tied in to her mental illness, and spends most of the later chapters institutionalized, making peace with her body via large quantities of lithium. Thanks but no thanks).
Anyhow, here's Ellie.
"Nonfeasance is the norm in blurbing. Publishers expect little. Several galleys per week arrive at my door. I always open the envelope, and I always read the editor's letter. I like the personal, the flattering, the imploring: "In so many ways this book reminds me of yours, Ellie —" (Heartwarming adjectives follow the dash.) Or, "I would be in your debt — more in your debt, that is, than I already am for having your wonderful books to enjoy, if only. . . ." Am I truly this novelist's favorite author? Did her book group really do "The Inn at Lake Devine"? Maybe not, but what gratifying editorial unctuousness.....Will I blurb a book because its editor implores me charmingly? No. Will I take a stab at it? Yes. When do I decide? I read until something stops me: Clunky sentences. No life. No story. Too much story. Too many italics. Too earnest or pretentious or writerly.
I generally give the promising stuff, the big-name stuff, and the friend of a friend's stuff a 50-page trial. That's enough. If a few chapters don't set my matchmaking antennae aquiver, if I'm not thinking, "I can't wait to send this to ———. She'll love it. Maybe she'll blurb it, too," I put it down.
A manila file folder labeled "To blurb or not?" holds the galleys' cover letters, which I always mean to answer. Mostly I do; I e-mail the editor and make my excuse: Thank you, but I'm judging a contest and therefore have cartons of novels to read over the next three months. I'm on deadline. I'm leaving soon for a book tour. And the truest of all, "My name is on so many books this upcoming season that I fear it will render those endorsements meaningless." (My computer stores this document under "blurb moratorium template.") "
So here's my guaranteed-true Elinor Lipman story, which begins with this fact -- I really do like her work, and THE INN AT LAKE DEVINE is a book that I've read and re-read, and really enjoy. So when GOOD IN BED was in galleys, of course her name was near the top of our please-blurb-me list, and because she's published by a different arm of the same company, we figured we had a shot.
Off went the manuscript, with a lovely letter on top. A few days later, back came an email (to my editor, not to me) -- so sorry, but I'm judging a contest, have boxes of books to read, busy busy busy. (In other words, I got insta-excuse number One of Three).
My editor forwarded me the email with an "I'm so sorry" note attached to the top. Of course, I couldn't leave well enough alone. I wrote Ms. Lipman an unctuous, florid, suck-up, kiss-ass email in which I basically proclaimed her one of my favorite authors of all time, confided that I'd bought copies of TIALD for everyone on my Hanukkah gift list, and emphasized that it would mean everything to a young author just starting off in the world if she could glance at GIB. ("Maybe you could just read the first few pages and say 'Jennifer Weiner is off to a great start!' I helpfully suggested). I begged. I pleaded. I flattered and fawned. I abased myself in such a way that it makes me cringe to even remember it.
Ms. Lipman wrote back saying how touched she was, and how glad that I liked her work, and that I was welcome to send my books along for her to personally inscribe, and that she'd try to take a look at the book. I mailed off the books and held my breath. The books came back. No blurb. Time passed. No blurbs were coming. My editor and I would console each other, long-distance, playing the publishing version of WAITING FOR GODOT. "Well, maybe Elinor Lipman will read it." "Maybe Elinor Lipman will read it and love it." "Maybe Elinor Lipman is reading it right now!" Finally, when the deadline approached, I sent her another tentative email, "Hey, it's me, that pain in your ass from Philadelphia, just wondering if you've had a chance to look....."
Nope, the reply came. Sorry. Too busy. Can't do it. NO BLURB FOR YOU!
Of course, in the grand scheme of things, and now that some time has gone by, I can safely say that Elinor Lipman's endorsement probably wouldn't have made much of a difference. We got incredible quotes from Anna Maxted and Suzanne Finnamore, who are both fabulous and whose reader demographics are probably more in line with those of GOOD IN BED than Elinor Lipman's are. Plus, we got a last-minute Valentine's Day quote from Susan Isaacs who is, hands down, one of my all-time without-a-doubt favorite writers. GOOD IN BED found its place in the world, even without the Lipman Love.
After GIB got great early reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, Ms. Lipman did send me a very nice note (which I will admit to reading with my lip curled in a scornful fashion, thinking, "Yeah, where were you when I needed you, babe?") But, even though she didn't blurb me, she got back to me in a timely and personal fashion. She didn't just ignore me, which is more than I can say for a few other big-shot writers I could mention, or send me a categorical "No, I don't do blurbs." (Which I got from an author who then turned around and used a sentence from my very flattering review as a blurb in the paperback edition of her book).
Only now I'm wondering. If she really does read fifty pages of everything she's sent, what was it in the first fifty pages of GIB that made her say (in her very best Dana-Carvey-as-George-Bush fashion, "Nah gah do it?"
Clunky sentences? Jeez, I hope not. No life? Not quite. No story? I don't think so. Too much story? A possibility. Too many italics? Nope, never use 'em. Too earnest or pretentious or writerly? Who, me? Who's counting the minutes to the Crank Yankers marathon?
The bottom line, of course, is that You Can't Please All the People, All the Time. And Not Every Reader Likes Every Book. Which are good things to remember as the pub date for IN HER SHOES draws every closer....
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