There are many tasks in a writer’s life which go against the grain of their very nature, which often is introverted, self-effacing, and loath to call attention to itself. (This does not take into account those sunny, extroverted writers who bask in being the center of attention; much as I envy them, I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that writing is a private act that I feel compelled to make public.) For the shy and retiring writer who is at the early stage in her career, asking other writers for blurbs carries the shame and humiliation of those elementary school days when she was forced to shill magazine subscriptions door to door in order to raise money for upgrading the school gym. In my own case, those door to door excursions were nothing short of excruciating. I would slouch in the doorway, mumbling ‘Would you like to buy a magazine subscription?’ with the defeatist air that sealed my fate: a firm, quick, unrepentant No, and a closed door in my face.
Maybe I’ve honed my sales pitch since then, or maybe my fellow writers are nicer people than many people may realize. (The stereotype of the drunken, miserly writer holds true in a few cases, but for the most part, I’m finding, even the most successful writers are kind people who remember how dismal it was to ask for favors when they were still a relative unknown.) In the process of seeking out blurbs for What Has Become of You, I have had a largely warm reception from people who owe me absolutely nothing– and I find that humbling, and heartening. After all, most writers have a lot on their plate. Most have tight deadlines, and many teach full-time or offer editorial services that absorb a good many of their hours when they are not writing. Some of them might even have actual lives. So why would they offer a blurb to Joe Schmoe (or in this case, Jan Schmoe) at no personal gain to them? I don’t know the answer, but if and when the time comes for people to ask me for blurbs, I hope I will be as gracious.
For the reader who might be asking himself, “What the hell is a blurb and why does it matter?”, I will tell you, Grasshopper, exactly what and why. A blurb is one of those nifty quotes and endorsements you see on the back covers of books– a seal of approval that gives the book credibility, piques interest, and even tells the potential reader what they might expect from the book they hold in their hands (or are contemplating adding to their Kindle). Some people, I’m told, don’t even bother to look at blurbs. To me, this is a little shocking– like buying a house without having it inspected first– but maybe that’s just me. I like to read endorsements, and from my own writer’s perspective, I enjoy seeing who blurbs what and what these blurbing writers have to say for themselves.
With my first novel, Asta in the Wings, I was not personally engaged in the blurbing process; it all happened behind closed doors, as it were. Taking a more active role in this process has taught me a lot about other writers and has restored my faith in the profession in ways that I hadn’t expected. Even the “No’s” which I’ve received thus far have been kind and supportive. And as for the silences– those writers who don’t respond at all to the blurb request– I respect that, too, because (A) the writer might not even have time to respond, and (B) a non-response is easier for some people than saying ‘No,’ and a person who dislikes saying ‘No’ directly must be a softhearted sort. I have yet to receive a response from any writer saying, “Who do you think you are, bothering me? Go away, you filthy peon.” (Which some of these esteemed writers certainly could say, if they wanted to.) I think this says a lot about the industry and the people who comprise it. We might be a flaky lot, but we aren’t bad people. Take it from me– arguably, as flaky and as nice a person as you could ever meet.