Last week I did our monthly budget, an act which blurs the boundaries between blind faith and creative fiction. (Warning: I’m a professional writer so I make up shit for a living. Do NOT try this at home, boys and girls.) At first I wasn’t too upset because I thought that writers were supposed to live lives of abject poverty—garrets, obscurity, perhaps the odd chemical dependency. But then I remembered reading an article a few years ago about Simon & Schuster’s decision to offer $920,000 for rights to a first novel, Just Killing Time, by Derek V. Goodwin. His novel, submitted with endorsements from novelists John LeCarre and Joseph Wambaugh, made him the E.L. James du jour. Goodwin’s only problem was that Wambaugh and LeCarre denied ever reading his book, so Simon & Schuster canceled the contract. I was curious, and discovered that the book was apparently published under pen name Derek Van Arman by another company. Sales weren’t good, and Mr. Van Arman never published anything else.
Do you know what this story means to me as a writer? Of course you do! It means that Simon & Schuster never paid out that $920K. It’s probably laying around waiting for me to scoop it up if I can just round up some good reviews, or—as we professional writers say—“blurbs”. (From the Latin word blurbus, the sound made by the Latin critic when the Latin writer holds him under the Latin water until he agrees to say something good about the Latin opus.) Of course, I’ve learned a lesson from Mr. Goodwin/Van Arman’s little misstep. There are a few things I’ll look for in my blurb-writers.
- I’ll seek blurbs by writers who are unlikely to change their high opinion after actually reading my opus. John Welles understood this when he wrote: “Here are jeweled insights, lovingly crafted by a veritable Faberge amongst wordsmiths, hand-polished erections in the global village of contemporary sensibility, perceptions snatched from the Outer limits of human experience, great miniatures acid-etched on the tender film noir of the mind’s membrane…” John Welles’ review of “Masterpieces”—a book written by John Welles.
- I’ll find blurbs from writers who couldn’t possibly deny authoring a blurb. Not being, technically, alive helps here. For example, I will use a blurb from my dear friend and fellow writer, Bill Shakespeare. He just sent one which sayeth: “Not marble, nor the gilded monuments of princes, shall out live Barb’s powerful rhyme. But she shall shine more bright in these contents than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.” (I think Will’s last line refers to my housekeeping, so I’ll try to get the publisher to keep it off the book jacket.) Then there are the blurbs which are both literary and literally incomprehensible. Hemingway’s blurb will read: “The afternoon sun shines on the woman who runs with a lot of bull.” And James Joyce will add: “Yes because I give it mindseye form in her novel children are her life running through the mystery world…”
- And finally, there will be blurbs from people who are so famous they don’t need actual opinions. My blurb from Kim Kardashian will be, “Kim! Kim, Kim, Kim!” Or my collected blog posts might contain an actual, not made up, quote from Dan Quayle: “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.”
- If all the above fail, I can always get 5-Star reviews the old-fashioned way: buy them. (On fiver.com, a recent search for “book reviews” came up with 569 hits offering “fantastic” book reviews” to put you up into Amazon’s “Top Sellers” lists.
- And if I’m really desperate, I can always go for a spot of trashing the opposition. With estimates of over 600,000 books to be published this year, clearly some writers are taking the “If you can’t beat them, troll them” approach. I noticed one day that two of my books got one-star ratings from a reviewer on Goodreads. Looking under the writer’s name, I saw that she one-star ‘reviewed’ over fifty other books that day.
Of course, if all else fails, I can do what Eva Hansen did for the hot new erotic Swedish thriller, Red is the Color of Pain. Described by reviewers as Fifty Shades of Grey meets The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Swedish News (Svensk Nyheter) called it “The most impressive Swedish detective novel since Stieg Larsson!” Oppna TV Stockholm went on to say, “This Stockholm is a city of sin, feeling, and furious passions that Swedish literature has never before known.” One reason that Stockholm hasn’t known it is that none of them—Eva Hansen, Swedish News, Oppna TV Stockholm—actually exist and the book has a Russian copyright.
OR we can all listen to Rosie Amber, who is giving away top rated books to readers of her blog this month in her Book Review Challenge. Stop by, pick up a copy of an incredible book, and make your opinions count. So grab some summer reads now. They’re fantastic, free, and fabulous, but they’re going fast.