Ever since I was a child, I’ve put writers on pedestals, ascribing to them the status of gods.
Whether it was Joan Walsh Anglund whose books my mother read to me, Carolyn Keene of Nancy Drew fame (I remember railing against the blasphemy that she was merely a pseudonym for anonymous writers) or Pat Conroy, Anita Shreve and Pico Iyer, my favorites as an adult – they’ve been my mythical figures. They walk on water, do no wrong, they are my idols.
But now that I’m an author myself, a mere mortal, I’m dealing with the nitty-gritty my heroes have endured.
Long before a book goes to press, it needs the outside validation of endorsements, or blurbs, as they’re unceremoniously called. Like so many tasks in publishing these days, this one falls to the author. In years past, overextended marketing departments took on this humbling assignment. Not so in today’s parsimonious publishing world. It’s the author who’s overworked. And so for the past month, I’ve been in the uncomfortable, yet obligatory, position of asking writers, publishers and other opinion makers to say they like my book. Their words in my pocket, I can suggest to others, take a chance on me, my book is worth your time.
As a first-time author, I feel beyond awkward shopping for my own praise, cap-in-hand, especially as a to-her-core introvert. I’m self-conscious about the temerity of asking writers to break from their work to consider what I’ve written. But alas, that’s how the game is played and so I’ve forged ahead. And as I’ve so often found when I venture into terra incognita, there are unforeseen rewards.
I continued my pre-dawn, barely awake ritual of grabbing my bedside laptop to check Amazon (to be sure Gap Year Girl hadn’t disappeared) and my email (to see if there were responses to my endorsement pleas) before stumbling into the kitchen for coffee. One morning there was a note from an author based in Rome who promised to be back in touch; the next day a writer said she was delighted I’d read her book on Corsican cuisine and would be happy to read my manuscript; one publisher said he was just too “swamped” to consider my request; and one, from Pico Iyer, told me he didn’t do blurbs. What? I thought. Wait, stop the presses! Pico Iyer? I have an actual email from Pico Iyer in my in-box? In the morning shadows of my bedroom, the screen glare of my Mac in my face, I doubled over with disbelief and could barely breathe. Yes, there was a sweet, gracious email from one of my all-time favorite travel authors apologizing for not being able to help me because he’d publicly sworn off writing blurbs in a New York Times piece years ago.
My “new friend” Pico and I went back and forth a couple times: he told me about his latest book, The Art of Stillness, and that he now lived in Japan, and I told him about my travels and writing. I can still hardly believe it. Despite my hesitation and fears about the process, I’ve enjoyed an email exchange with Pico Iyer – one of my all-time authors-on-a-pedestal – because I dared to ask for approval.