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 as a child, Carolyn Keene of Nancy Drew fame (I railed against the revelation 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 and do no wrong; they are my idols.
But now that I, a mere mortal, am an author myself, I’m dealing with the nitty-gritty my heroes have endured.
Long before a book goes to press, it needs the validation of endorsements, or blurbs, as they’re unceremoniously labeled. 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 also the author who’s overworked. And so for the past months, I’ve been in the uncomfortable, yet obligatory, position of inviting writers, publishers and other opinion makers to like my book. Their words in my pocket (and blazoned on my book jacket), suggest: take a chance on me, my book is worth a read.
As a first-time author and to-her-core introvert, I feel beyond awkward shopping for praise, cap-in-hand. I’m self-conscious about asking writers to break from their own work to consider mine. 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.
Since my blurb requests began, I’ve had a pre-dawn, barely awake ritual of opening my bedside laptop to check Amazon (to be sure my book’s listing hasn’t disappeared) and my email (to see if there are responses to my endorsement pleas) even before stumbling into the kitchen for coffee. One morning there’s 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 illuminating my face, I double over in disbelief, barely breathing. Yes, there is 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 few times. He told me about his latest book, The Art of Stillness, and that he now lives in Japan. I told him about my gap year travels and writing. Despite my hesitation and fears about the endorsement-pursuing process, I’ve enjoyed an email exchange with Pico Iyer – one of my authors-on-a-pedestal – because I dared ask for approval.
My soliciting endorsements kismet didn’t end with Pico Iyer. It continued with a wake-up message from Kev Reynolds, British outdoor author and trekker extraordinaire whose words accompanied us on our summer 2012, five-day hike around Mont Blanc. His bound wisdom was in my backpack and his voice in my head every step of our trek from Chamonix, France to Italy, into Switzerland and then back to Chamonix. When I hit “send” after I’d carefully composed my query to him, I sighed, convinced I’d never hear back, picturing my hiking hero scaling Everest with a sherpa or holed up picking at smoke-blackened fish in a Mongolian yurt. But I’m so happy to report I was wrong. Kev answered my email with a kind, thoughtful note that, for the second day in a row, left me breathless. My composure regained, I replied to Kev and we’re now email friends, praising each other’s work, sharing our passion for mountains and hiking.
Writing has many rewards, some of them quite unexpected.