Sunday, April 15, 2012

The disconnections

Hawking my wares

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.

It simply takes Franzen a lot of time—unsurprisingly—to plow through all of his fan mail. He did, however, eventually run into my packet, opened it up, found the stamped, self-addressed postcard that accompanied the sample manuscript pages, and decided it was worth taking a couple of minutes to scrawl me a note and drop it in the mail. He said my novel was “a worthy and entertaining project”! Huzzah! Another useful book blurb! From the bestselling author who garnered the National Book Award for The Corrections!

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!


Jens Knudsen (Sili) said...

If it's any consolation, I've never heard of any of those people.

Youknowwho said...

Here I read your whole damn manuscript, yet you never asked ME for a blurb. Man, do I ever feel like a nobody :-(((

Zeno said...

Precisely my point, G O'P. Only the ridiculously famous need apply! (Of course, you can take comfort in the fact that at least Sili has heard of you.)

Anonymous said...

Isn't PZ famous? Send it to him?

Zeno said...

Come to think of it, I do believe he is. But I think PZ's minions prefer cephalopods to bovines.

Gene O'Pedia said...

Even comments squeezed from the ridiculously famous can still be rejected by the publisher. It's rigged! By the way, this is my first comment on this post. I never show up here under a pseudo pseudonym.

Kathie said...

Sorry, Gene. I assumed Zee would know immediately who the guilty party was, and take it with the intended wry humor -- but I was wrong.

Zeno said...

The wry humor was indeed detected, although the impostor was not. After all, Gene read the whole damned thing and was not solicited for a blurb. I was, naturally, afraid of what he would say!

(One fine point: Can the user of a faux pseudonym even be called an impostor?)

Gene O'Pedia said...

S'okay Kathie, I didn't mind that your comment might have been taken as mine. I do take a bit of umbrage with Zeno's creation of what I assume are supposed to be my initials: G.O'P.

Kathie said...

Zee ponders: "Can the user of a faux pseudonym even be called an impostor?"

Maybe just an "imp-poster" ;-)

Disturbingly Openminded said...

Well, I don't know any famous authors but I did have a fantastic meal recently in Newark, NJ's Portuguese neighborhood, the Ironbound. I would eat there more often if it wasn't a 4 hour drive away.

Looking forward to reading your book, Zeno.

Zeno said...

Thanks, DO. I can hardly wait to see it in print this summer.

Phil said...

I'd like to inquire about doing a sponsored blog post - about 150-300 words that talks a little bit about Immigration Visas and links back to our site We are a immigration visa company and thought we might be a good fit for your readers/visitors on

Here's a list of some blog post titles we've done in the past:
- How to Get Your Marriage Visa
- Things To Know Before Applying For Your Immigration Visa
- How to Get Help With Your Immigration Process

Our budget is around $15 for the post. Is this something you'd be open to?

Also we might be interested in a small banner ad if the price is right.
Our budget is $40/year - something like this:

Let me know if you'd be open to either or both of these.

Also if you have some other sites just send them over and we might be interested in doing a sponsored post on there as well!



Kathie said...

Poor Zeno! I frequently get such spams for one of my websites, asking me if I'd like to partner with the sender (or his client) in selling chocolates. The reasons turns out to be that the website's name, and the novel it supports, happen to contain the word "chocolates" -- although its use in the book title is strictly metaphorical -- but ostensibly these leads are found by stupid computers that spot a key word, then automatically spew an email address to the person who then sends me the message. It's only gonna get worse for you after your novel's published (as one can but imagine at this point the products they'll be shilling).

Daniel said...

I'm surprised your regular blog readers haven't figured out who you are. They clearly have horrible research/googling skills because you've left so many clues on this blog. I read several of the sample chapters online and loved them. I'm looking forward to buying the book.
Best of luck with your summer touring.

Zeno said...

Indeed, Daniel, it's not exactly the deepest and darkest of mysteries. Thanks for the good word.

Kathie said...

Daniel, what on earth makes you think we regular commenters at "Halfway There" haven't known for a long time who Zeno really is? You underestimate us grievously.

Zee, I love "Home is an Island," and am delighted it's finally been reissued -- even if the cover photo is of Fajã dos Cubres, São Jorge (yes, Frank knows), when it ought to be of Fajãzinha das Flores (where, incidentally, not only author Alfred Lewis but also my own paternal Grandpa were born, albeit a generation apart, although both eventually wound up in California).

Saw on tonight's news that a dead BSE-infected dairy cow was found in a livestock yard in Hanford (presumably from a fairly nearby dairy farm). Does Temple Grandin treat that issue in her book? As a longtime vegetarian, I find her "humane" approach to cattle slaughter akin to... (well, never mind, but you can fill in the blanks).

BTW, hubby (a farmboy whose undergrad degree was in Dairy Biochemistry, and who's an expert on infectious diseases) says BSE can be present in the animal for years before it develops to a detectable stage. Meanwhile, many cattle are slaughtered for meat too young for it to be develop to a detectable level in them. Apparently it was diagnosed in this animal because she was a much older dairy cow. So there could be a rather more BSE in the lower Central Valley than the cattle industry would like us to believe.

John Armstrong said...

Or, to go the other way, what makes you think we want to know who Zeno "really is"? I'm sure I could root out his real name without much trouble if I wanted to, but why would I want to? Just to spite our pseudonymous host?

Zeno is Zeno, and that's good enough for me.

Karen said...

I think I know who Zeno "really" is, because of some long-ago shared backstory... but I don't care. This blog entertains me. It enlightens me. I enjoy it, and I enjoy the comments (well, most of them -- there was that nutcase awhile back). Zeno, please continue to publish your blog... but if you don't put the name of your long-awaited novel up for us to run off and buy, I will be very annoyed with you.

Karen said...

Oh, and re: COW: I have a big, fat, black-and-white cat. When someone asks me what breed he is, I answer, Holstein.

Kathie said...

Karen, we always referred to our white-and-black kitties as Holsteins, too! We also had a Black Angus.