You’ve written a book. That’s great; good for you; way to go! But how the hell are you going to get readers to buy it?
It’s easy, the theory goes: Just have lots of people—hopefully people those readers have heard of—write blurbs for the cover extolling your progeny as God’s greatest gift to fiction at least since James Michener met Joseph Pulitzer.
And then when the reader-to-be is eagerly browsing the local book store, those mellifluous words will leap from the cover and drag hard cash (or its plastic simulacrum) from reader-to-be’s wallet direct to book store’s bank account. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
Of course we’re talking here about, for instance, Maria Semple’s loving view of Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me: “So dazzling, so sure-handed and fearless that at times I had to remind myself to breathe.” Or maybe we have in mind the king of kongratulatory kindness, Gary Shteyngart, when he said about the author of English, August: “Comparing Upamanyu Chatterjee with any other comic novelist is like comparing a big fat cigar with a menthol cigarette.”
Those—without doubt!—are words we writers would give half our keyboard fingers for if only we could be their subject.
(But consider the source.)
Shteyngart, a writer deservedly honored for his craft and creativity, has also been clear about his criteria: “I look for the following: two covers, one spine, at least 40 pages, ISBN number, title, author’s name. Once those conditions are satisfied, I blurb. And I blurb hard.”
Whyever has he set his standards so high, an achievement boggling to aspire to? The reason is clear.
He loves us. He knows the fear, bile, hormones, and substances we have put into our work (blood, sweat, toil, and tears being so last century). And he believes we’ve earned the right to connect with anyone we can find who’s willing to dispense sufficient adoration, and perhaps a few shekels as well.
Although Shteyngart, overwhelmed by the demand, has sadly announced plans to retire his “blurbing pen” (actually to hurl it into the Hudson River), his ethic fills me with inspiration. I stand ready to take up quill and cursor. No writer’s labor should go unrewarded, and though words may be the only reward I’m wealthy enough to offer, my full supply waits pantingly for your call.