Thursday, April 03, 2008

Let us now praise famous men.

You know what’s nice about catastrophic system failure in your computer? I mean, besides paying the repair guy what you had earmarked for your daughter's wedding? It was all the brooding time I now had. All that time I had been spending on political websites or trying to remember my password for online bill payment or skimming through the J.Crew online catalog could now be spent focusing on the only subject which truly matters: why don’t I know any famous writers?

In my childish innocence of late February I thought I would hand in a manuscript, perhaps a few angels would get their wings, and all would be peace, harmony and promiscuous Nutella abuse until I got my rewrite notes. What I got instead, four days before the manuscript was due, was an email from the marketing department wanting to discuss blurbs, those choice bits of praise written by famous writers that adorn the covers of most books.

From scientific types, I have heard it said that a chicken is nothing more than an egg’s way of making another egg. In this vein, the marketing department of a large publishing house views books as those things writers create on which to place blurbs. The blurb's the thing. Heaven help the writer who doesn’t understand that a successful career will culminate in an obituary which reads: “Famous blurb-getter dies at 98”. I have read blurbs in my life and I am going to assume a favorable word or two from a writer I like has been known to make me pick up a book and flip through a few of its pages, so I read the email in the spirit of someone eager to help in her own modest way, and even more eager to avoid writing her book for a few minutes. Because, after all, how long could this take?

The blurb-questionnaire ran eight pages, single-spaced. Each question was a stomach and ego-shrinking exercise in my finding new ways to say “Uh, no…”

Did I know any famous writers who would like a pre-publishing draft of the book for blurbing?

Uh, no…

Did I know anyone who knew famous writers who would like a pre-publishing draft of the book for blurbing?

Uh, no…

Did I belong to any organizations with name recognition that might have a spokesman who would like a pre-publishing draft of the book for blurbing?


Was I now or had I ever been a member of the Communist Party? If so, would they like a pre-publishing draft of the book for blurbing?

One half of me was toying with just scrawling “NO!” across all the pages in my own blood and the other half of me was dismayed. Wasn’t this supposed to be the marketing department’s job? I mean, they had insurance and desks and when someone from their hometown asked them what they did for a living I’m guessing they said something like “I market books.” So please tell me why I was the point-person on this blurb business?

My agent explained that those people whose names on blurbs actually cause people to pick up the book are a rare breed. They get asked for blurbs daily. I read somewhere that in the world, 3000 books are published every single day. That’s a lot of marketing mavens, sending out pre-publishing drafts. Their attitude is even as tenuous a connection as “Our writer, Quinn Cummings, thinks fondly of the lively conversation she had with your client when they were both waiting for ointment at the pharmacy” might make me stand out from the herd of supplicants. Whatever I could do to help would benefit all of us.

I thrashed. I dithered. I tried to remember the name of that guy at the gym who someone said was a famous writer, then remembered he was famous for writing porn and our audiences rarely overlap, as it were. The marketing people nagged. I had to get this in so they could start doing their jobs which, apparently, had to be done at the same time as I was rewriting -- something about having my blurbers ready if not eager when the manuscript was finally finished. With hours to spare, I banged out my responses. It’s possible I didn’t take the questionnaire in the spirit it was intended. I'll include some of my answers here so you can decide for yourself.

Please list any other books you have written, with publisher, publication date, and type of book.

None. Not a single one. If it helps I have some pithy “To-Do” lists you might like.

Are you a regular contributor to any magazines or newspapers? Has any article/story of yours attracted particular attention?

Newspapers? Magazines? You mean, like someone paid me? Heavens, no.

On a separate sheet, please list any reviewers, columnists or broadcasters that you know to be particularly interested in your work. Check any person that you know personally and please provide addresses where you can.

Not only does this not need a separate sheet, it barely requires an ATM slip. I am a shut-in. None of the above to offer you. My dog groomer has been asking when the book comes out, if that tempts you.

What are your hometown newspapers?

Los Angeles Times. That’s it. We have only one newspaper. That’s okay because no one in Los Angeles actually reads anything but script coverage and InStyle magazine.

Did the book involve any special research?

No. I tried to justify a trip to Italy but a book about how I am a complete idiot didn’t require research at the Villa D'Este. Unless you want a chapter about how happy a complete idiot can be, given enough money.

Principle cities/countries you have lived in (please include dates):

Until I was thirty I never lived further than three miles from the house in which I grew up in Los Angeles. Then three months in San Francisco. And then back to Los Angeles. As you can see, I lack imagination.

Please list any “opinion makers” in your field who should be sent copies of the bound book for word-of-mouth purposes. Please provide addresses where you can.

Well, this is depressing. Not only don’t I know any opinion-makers, I’m not sure I have a field.

I think I’m going to die without a blurb, but at least I entertained myself. Ooh, a blurb!

Quinn Cummings entertains me.- Quinn Cummings


Anonymous bethany actually said...

Marketing is an odd thing, isn't it? I hope you find someone to write you a blurb, but failing that, I think you should just write your own. They'd probably be funnier than anything you'd get from "famous writers" or "broadcasters".

11:31 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

Thank you for entertaining us, along the way!

12:03 AM  
Blogger repsac3 said...

Why not just suggest that your readers here write the blurbs? What we lack in fame & objectivity, we more than make up for in enthusiasm and familiarity with the material... Who needs fame, anyway? 8>)

(Yeah, yeah... I know...)

5:32 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Oh! Oh! Pick me! Pick me!

I'm not a famous writer, but I AM read by TENS each day.

5:35 AM  
Anonymous Michaele said...

Aw, but you are forgetting the throngs of loyal readers to your blog! Who know if someone famous hides behind their posting name!!! Hey, I'm famous for my sugar cookies, so there ya go!!!

6:52 AM  
Blogger His Singer said...

My advice?

Make 'em up.

Then say you can't get a blurb because they're dead.

Then make up what they WOULD have said if they were alive.

"From Leo Tolstoy: Quinn put the 'f' in funny!

Homer: Ms. Cummings ROCKS MY WORLD.

Hillary Clinton: A MUST READ."

Oh wait...Hillary's not dead yet.

7:30 AM  
Blogger CDP said...

Very funny, and I like His Singer's suggestion, too.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Christine said... (Heather Armstrong) loves you. I found your blog through her high praise of how awesome you were and how much she loved your blog. I'd say she's a taste-maker/opinion-leader or some other marketing speak.

8:37 AM  
Blogger miss cavendish said...

Do you know of a famous writer named Neil Simon? But of course I know the marketing department is looking for a more, shall we say, youthful famous writer. Dooce would be terrific!

11:08 AM  
OpenID bkimrey1 said...

singer has a good point. do not forget:
Edgar Allan Poe: Quinn Cummings' sense of humor HAUNTED me for days.
Charles Dickens: Finally, a writer that didn't bore me to tears.
William Shakespeare: Quinn Cummings has MAD SKILLZ, dawg!

personally, i agree with repsac3- let us have a go at it. obviously, we're already RAVING FANS!

11:31 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

Now, come on... I'm right here and am DYING to read your ARC. (Technically, I'm not famous but both of my books have been bestsellers and publishers seem to dig that.)

Also, I've met tons of other writers on MySpace and your publisher will probably make you start one anyway, so why not get a jump start?

11:52 AM  
Blogger leslie said...

Marsha Mason? Richard Dryfus?

1:06 PM  
Blogger Suzanne said...

I'll be happy to write a blurb for you! I'm not famous, though. Could be a tough sell.

(I'm waiting for the book, too)

9:16 PM  
OpenID musingsfromthesofa said...

Go with the self-written blurb, it'll be much funnier and more enticing.
I want to read the book, and I don't care if there are (gasp) no blurbs at all!

5:35 AM  
Anonymous josita said...

"...our audiences rarely overlap, as it were." Heeheeheehe.

Hey, just think of the day when people will be asking YOU for blurbs!

6:46 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

"Quinn Cummings put the "Happy" in "The Happy Homemaker."

Oh, wait. I shouldn't have written that until you sent the advanced copy. Well...just keep it under your hat until my copy arrives, then you can send it in.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your blog via Jen (Bitter is the New Black) Lancaster's blog. Since she linked me to you, I'm sure she'd write you a nifty blurb.

11:27 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

Oh, Quinn! Can I take that back? Egads! I just realized the lesbian overtones to that quote! Oh my, oh my.

I'm really just not that creepy.


Here's my new thought:

Send it out to some of your blogger readers and have them post about the book on their blogs. Then the marketing people can pull out quotes from the blogs and/or they can put a tag line on the book: "Real internet bloggers across America love Quinn Cummings."

Your fan, but not in THAT way,

11:49 AM  
Blogger Chatty said...

My husband wanted to know why I was laughing so hard, so I had him read this post, and he laughed, too. He would be delighted to do a blurb for you. He has a website, so I guess you could say he's "published". Unfortunately, his website is all about computers and stuff. On the bright side, "media wiz" is in the address. Would that help? Because "Media Wiz" sort of SOUNDS like someone who would be blurb-worthy...My hairdresser has been wanting to know when your book will come out, and she's very good with words. However, she's my cousin - does that hurt? We don't want nepotism rearing its ugly head, even though you and I aren't related...I have a blog, and at least 5 people read it. Could we pass lightly over my readership numbers and pretend that because I was once an assistant director in Hollywood that I know the "right" people? I'm willing to lie. Heck, I'm anxious to lie - it could make it seem like I had a more interesting life in LA before I moved to the wilds of Arizona...
Just tell us what you need, Quinn, and we're officially at your beck and call.

5:38 AM  
Blogger berit said...

stephanie bond (body movers series) has this blurb on her books:
“this is the best book i’ve ever read ”- stephanie’s mom.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Robin Raven said...

Hey Quinn,

I am in favor of a blurb from the kitty!

I am so looking forward to your book. I never imagined that they want you to be responsible for your own blurbs.

My mentor coaches Nicole Kidman, and Nicole did hers. It turned out lovely! I never thought of the writer having to ask for that sort of thing, though. haha

I'll bet you have tons of famous writers who read your blog. Maybe they'll volunteer. (-:

Blurb or no blurb, it's gonna be a smash.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Fishy Busyness said...

"Famous" is so very subjective, isn't it? I'm in favor of what "berit" said. Just get Consort and Daughter to do it. And you know that everyone who reads your blog will now have to purchase the book just so they can see who did the blurbs! And to read it, or course. Duh.

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone mentioned Dooce...I think Heather Armstrong is involved in two books that are coming out soon. She may have only edited one, but internet circles, she's well-known!

(And I don't know if you want to hear this, but I think you still have enough name recognition of your own to not need to depend quite so much on blurbs as other aspiring authors. I know that part of your life is in the past, but people do remember you...and a blurb on Quinn by Quinn would be eye-catching. LOL)

2:55 PM  
Anonymous Gina said...

I just wanted to let you know that I thought of your blog yesterday as my almost-six-year-old son Razor scootered down the sidewalk ahead of me with his red Spiderman helmet perched on his head. I relished the beauty of his gaining a new skill and moving (quite literally at that moment) away from me, yet having to fight the urge to tell him to "be careful" or "watch for cars at driveways" for the hundred (or thousanth) time.

9:11 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Not long ago I read a book I liked and wrote the author to say so. Many others did as well. And those marketing people decided that for the paperback edition they wanted to include these quotes from the regular folks.

Being that you're already popular via the blog maybe comments from readers wouldn't be such a crazy idea (probably not for the jacket but maybe for the early inside pages).

10:25 PM  
Blogger Honore said...

Ah, The Blurbing Process...The agony! Miraculously, I was able to acquire five blurbs for my first books. Well, sort of.

1) Famous Person who writes in one of the categories to which my publisher assigned my book. It doesn't sound much like her, though. It was probably penned by an unpaid best. It might have been her housekeeper or someone. Ironically, another Famous Person who writes in both categories under which I'm filed declined quite rudely. One of said fields is etiquette. See me in hell, lady.

2) The founder of one of those Overly Hip magazines for Young Women, which I had never read, and never will. The blurb is somewhat offensive, and makes no sense whatsoever, and is extremely poorly written. Yet, my editor insisted it be left in. Seven years later, I still have no idea who this woman is, much less what she's doing in the front matter of my book. And I'm still embarassed.

3) Not Exactly Famous Broadway Actor, who had absolutely nothing to do with anything, but he seemed to like the ms a whole lot, as he also gave us free tickets to a Tony-Award-Winning Tom Stoppard play in which he was appearing. I'm all for random blurbs which come with presents. Unfornately, BA has since sold out, and is on a hit television show, and has acquired billions of giggly, shallow, teeny-bopper fans who probably couldn't locate Broadway on a street map of Manhattan. Unfortunately, BA's new-found, worldwide, pop-culture fame has utterly failed to boost sales.

4) F. Scott Fitzgerald. Seriously.

5) Dorothy Parker. Yes, THAT Dorothy Parker.

I wish I'd thought of Kay Thompson of Eloise fame. Or better yet, Eloise Herself. Now, she would have been ideal.

So, I really think that it's best to seek blurbs from Not Exactly Famous People who have absolutley no qualifications to blurb your book, famous dead people, and famous fictional people.

3:04 PM  

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