One of the unexpected benefits of writing a book has been the opportunity to think and learn about the publishing process. In the past month I’ve reached out to a few people for book cover blurbs. Given how horrifying I found the blurb-requesting process I thought I’d purge my soul by sharing a few thoughts.
I came into this unprepared.
I left the house a few years ago dressed in shorts, a scruffy t-shirt and trainers, with keys, a few banknotes and my mobile phone in one hand, called back to Keiko who was sipping earl grey tea at the kitchen table that I was popping out for stroll.
How wrong I was.
I ended up in the New York marathon.
The initial idea for the book came in 2008, a year later I met a compatible writer, signed with a literary agent, we pulled together the outline in 2010, that went to auction with the publishing houses (a wonderfully Kafkaesque experience), signed a book deal, received an advance (zeros never looked so good), and the little matter of writing it in-between. The manuscript was completed in early 2013, and we launch on April 16th. I’m at that stage where the finishing line is in sight and I have just enough left in the tank to sprint, but probably in a oh-so-awkward, are-my-legs-going-to-buckle-beneath-me kinda way.
I now realise I’ve been in a race since I pulled the front door to: the sponsorship deal has paid for new running gear, coach and physio; someone has pinned an official number to my chest; when its all said and one I get to collapse in the team trailer which has Netflix and ice packs and a masseur. Which brings us just a little closer to the horror.
You see, I love people. I love the energy that comes from listening to someone talk about things they are passionate about. And I love giving people that are not usually asked their point of view, the space to reflect and talk, and to turn what is said and done into something that makes a difference. That this is what I do for commercial clients who have woken up to the power of listening, is what gets me out of a warm bed to train on a bitterly cold winter’s morning.
But I detest networking.
Saying that while working for a consultancy is so cathartic, so I’m going to say it again.
I detest networking.
I detest the premeditated process of scaling up social interaction for (apparently) mutual socioeconomic gain. And the challenge with asking for a book blurb feels far too much like hard-sell, socioeconomic-gain networking to be comfortable. It turns professional respect and personal friendships, no matter how established or nascent, deep or distant, into something that feels more like a transaction.
And so in January this year when I find myself at the HarperCollins’s New York office where my literary agent James, my editor Hollis and her team gather around a table with the other writer Simon dialling in from Los Angeles, with various HarperCollins people from their international sales department coming in shaking hands before being whooshed, no-doubt to another writer in another room. At which the only thing left is the pain of hitting the wall.
We draw up a list of people to ask and whom to do the asking.
It should be no surprise that the HarperCollins team knows everyone. They’ve been here before, thousands of times. They’re received requests and they’ve doled them out. They know the value of the ask, and to whom. They’ve experienced rejection, acceptance. They understand that for the person being asked, the risk is that the book is a dud is offset against continued exposure – their name in embossed bold type. Some expect to be asked.
Blurb etiquette dictates that it’s inappropriate to ask current colleagues for an endorsement – otherwise my list of asks would include Mark, Robert and Doreen amongst others. I’m grateful for Warren Ellis, Bruno Giussani, Rob Soderberry, Don Norman and Tim Brown for taking the time to review and then write a few words. Don does a steller job of articulating what the book is not about as much of what it is. I’ve posted their kind blurbs here.
People always ask me why I don’t tweet. And my answer is that I blurb
I suspect we all have a blurb that we remember from years gone by. For me that would be the negatives writ large on Iain Banks The Wasp Factory – each one slating the depraved mind of the author (spot on for his readership). But with the move to digital it could be that the blurb is a dying form, smothered by tweets and likes and the daily tsunami of digital noise.
I don’t aspire to blurb, but over the past month I’ve come to appreciate its nuances as an art form. In keeping with the spirit of how I like to research, this should be more about you and what you get out of it than it is the feeble mind of an author, send me or point me to your own blurb (or barbs if that’s more your thing) and I’ll publish them here.
It seems fitting to leave you with this quote from Gladwell “People always ask me why I don’t tweet,” he said. “And my answer is that I blurb. They are, after all, conceptually identical: the short, targeted judgment in which the initiator draws attention to himself while seeming to draw attention to something else.”
I’m on Twitter here.
And if books are your thing, you can order mine here.
Where my work schedule supports it, I’m open to giving a talk or two about the research. Ping firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.