I have a long list of summer events in California's Portuguese-American community. It looks like I'll be doing a modicum of traveling this summer to promote my book at some of them. Since the small university press that is publishing the novel is without a generous travel budget or promotional expense account, this is going to be a shoestring operation. Every bit of free publicity is going to be valuable and social media will play its part.
Last year I started to try to drum up endorsements of the type that might play well as cover blurbs or as quotes in promotional materials. While my favorite quote is my sister's prediction that I'm going to get into “a lot of trouble” (but it's fiction—honest!), I also managed to get positive comments from a few real-life professional authors. Just enough to give my work a smidgen of credibility.
Of course, not everyone who I approached was interested in plowing through a 350-page manuscript from an unknown author. (Imagine that!) I did, of course, offer more modest samplers of selected pages, reducing the time commitment substantially. Clever writers, however, figured out that the best way to reduce the time commitment was to politely (or brusquely) decline the privilege entirely.
A couple of my friends were classmates with Joan Didion at UC Berkeley, working with her on student publications at the university. “Go on, write to her!” they said. “What could you lose?” Nothing, certainly. Which is also what I gained. The inquiry via Didion's publisher was absorbed into a black hole of silence.
I got a more substantial reaction from Joyce Carol Oates: a terse note from her assistant explaining that Prof. Oates reads only the papers of the students in her writing class and if only I had inquired before sending a packet of pages, I could have saved myself the trouble. Heck. I knew that! I sent the pages in the long-shot hope that they would be tempted to peek at them (and discover a masterpiece!) before consigning them to the recycle bin. The professor's gatekeeper, however, discharged her responsibilities meticulously. That is, of course, why she has that job.
In October, as I recounted previously, I boldly bothered Jonathan Franzen during his speaking tour of northern California. When he admitted to reading “just about anything,” I naturally thanked him and promptly shipped off a few dozen pages in care of his publisher. As the weeks went by, it seemed that I had run into another Didionesque black hole, but this week I discovered otherwise.
Um. Not really.
Franzen was being polite. A more extensive quote from the postcard makes this clear:
[Your novel] seems like a worthy and entertaining project, but I'm afraid it's too far from the mode of fiction I produce & support for me to be able to help you. I appreciate your thinking of me, though.Shucks! See how much better that is when trimmed down to five words? Or, with a judicious ellipsis, even better: “a worthy and entertaining project ... I appreciate.”
If only I had a conscienceless public relations person (is that redundant?), we could make hay of this. But no.
Speaking of hay, though, reminds me. Jane Smiley isn't returning my messages!