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How to Sell Your Book and Get Blurbed by Movie Stars…

by Richard Sutton on February 19, 2011

This is an approved, re-publishing of a daily email from Stephen Elliot, author of The Adderall Diaries and the blog site/online cultural magazine, The Rumpus...

I was reading this piece on The Millions about blurbing books and how it really does become incestuous and kind of awful. I’ve asked for blurbs for books before, and it’s humiliating, and I’ve blurbed books without reading them knowing that my friend would never forgive me if I didn’t. I didn’t ask for any of the blurbs on The Adderall Diaries but they were still mostly provided by people I’ve met, or my editor knew. And I was having dinner not long ago with someone who blurbed my book and in the course of the conversation I realized this person had never read it and I felt slightly aggrieved.
Writing requires integrity but there’s so much about publishing that lacks it. I saw a friend talk up another friend’s book as the best book of the year without mentioning anywhere in the article that they knew each other well. In small matters I’ve always tried to choose loyalty over integrity but I ultimately had to stop blurbing books. When I see blurbs on books I only think about how well that author must be connected, or how they aren’t connected at all, the blurbs coming from people I’ve never heard of.
And I was talking to someone, or reading somewhere, about the difficulty of getting a book out in the world. The elephant in the room is that they were talking about distinguishing one book over another book and they were wondering how to do that through personal connections, a catchy slogan, a well designed cover. Everything except the writing. It was implicit that we were not talking about the writing. Stripped down we were talking about tricking people and justifying that because “everybody does it.”
And there I was yesterday with a good friend with a forthcoming book and he was saying shouldn’t the quality of the book be enough? I told him my neighbor’s phone was placed against our adjoining wall so it was as if it were ringing in my apartment. I said this is the same woman who bangs on the wall when I have company and shouts, “I can hear you!” I said, the first problem is that while your book is very good, it’s not the only very good book coming out that month. And we talked about that. It wasn’t just that you didn’t have money or resources or a “platform.” It was that there were almost certainly other books just as good, even if your book was very good, even if it was perfect.
Of course integrity, like honesty, is not something you (I) arrive at, it’s something you (I) strive toward. It’s not something to be achieved. It’s like if you’re on a diet and one day you have a few strips of bacon and now you’re faced with a choice: continue or binge. Because if you are human you will compromise your integrity from time to time without even noticing it, or even after thinking it through.
Which led to a discussion about cowardice. No, it was actually the discussion about my neighbor that led to the discussion about cowardice and how difficult it always is to do the right thing. Later in the night I would talk about how lost in the discussion of sex work is the benefit of paying for sex. By then I was at the Cake concert and John McCrea was antagonizing the crowd by saying how important freedom was, so important that we sacrificed our humanity for it. He said, They hate us for our freedom and prosperity.
But to get back to books for a moment, or even book related organizations. What happened at Abu Ghraib happened because the people at the top had implicitly sanctioned torture. An organization is responsible for the tenor of discussion they promote. There’s that joke about poets fighting so fiercely because the stakes are so small and I’d never realized just how true that was. You can’t win a fight with someone who likes fighting. And I want the work to speak for itself, for the work to do the work. And when I was talking with that class I kept asking myself, How do I not sound like a blowhard? I missed my chance. There were thirty students in that room and I walked away past the museum down Palm Drive before realizing I didn’t really know a thing about any of them.
Unrelated. I met an ex-girlfriend on 16th Street. She said she heard me on the radio talking about honesty. Then she laughed.
Here is my interview with Derek Cianfrance, director of Blue Valentine, on Rumpus Radio.

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