This is part of the Bittersweet Book Launch case study, where Dan Blank and Miranda Beverly-Whittemore share the yearlong process of launching her novel. You can view all posts here.
by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
It occurred to me the other day, as I sat down to buff my wishlist of blurbers for Bittersweet, that seeking people to say nice things about one’s book is remarkably similar to pumping breastmilk.
The metaphor doesn’t run particularly deep (it’s certainly less resonant than the “publishing a book is like giving birth” metaphor that gets tossed around a lot), but the truth is, both activities have something illicit, and a little sad, and a little desperate-feeling about them, at least in my experience.
I didn’t pump a whole lot with my son, because I was working from home. But those few times I did, I found myself in some dark room somewhere staring at my breasts, trying to think about my son and waiting for let-down. And there is nothing that will make your milk not let down more than really really REALLY wanting it to. Then there was the milk itself, which had to be poured and carried and kept cool, and the people I was dining with, or working with, who studied me, perplexed, when I emerged from whatever dark room I had been in. And then I had to decide, do I tell them, or not? Because people you’re having dinner with really don’t want to hear about how you were just hooked up to a milking machine.
How does this relate to seeking blurbs?
First of all, like pumping, asking for blurbs feels definitely like something you want to keep on the down low. It’s rare to admit, and broadcast (as I guess I am right here), “I really would like someone famous/ well-reviewed/ with a bestseller to say something nice about my book because gee, then maybe a reader who likes their book will pick mine up in the bookstore and say, ‘Hey! X likes this book! I’ll read it!'” I’m not sure many writers want to believe that getting someone in the heartland to buy their novel would be helped by such a stamp of approval. But you know what? It is. My aunt, a religious reader, says she absolutely swears by blurbs. And they are here to stay (although I’ve found most writers dread asking for them as much as they dread being asked to write them), so, like pumping for a breast-fed baby, you just gotta seek them out.
Second (and this is probably why most of us keep this part of the process a secret), there’s a sense of inevitable failure. It’s guaranteed that someone whose work you love and admire, who you’ve just got your heart set on blurbing you, will just give you a flat-out “no.” Us writers are used to rejection, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. Most times when I pumped and stored a lot of milk in anticipation of a date night? The kid wouldn’t take the bottle. All that milk I’d made (all those books I’ve read, those letters I’ve carefully crafted, those FedEx packages I’ve paid for) ended up being for naught.
Finally (and perhaps most importantly), I find myself getting greedy, and I hate feeling greedy. When I was pumping, I was always looking at that line on the plastic bottle– could I get 3 ounces? 4? I was never fully satisfied. Likewise, I found with my last book that I was always hungry for one more blurb, believing that whoever gave me the next stamp of approval would be the one who’d send the book straight to the top.
This time around, I’m trying to be more even-keeled about the whole thing. If I haven’t already, I am reading the most recent book of every writer I’m seeking a quote from, because I’m asking the same from them. I’m doing my best to let each writer know how much I appreciate the work they do, and how it has influenced my own. And I’m celebrating the small victories– the writer friend who has said an enthusiastic yes, and is reading the book on her vacation, for example. Just like looking down at my plump baby and feeling proud of those thighs, I’m believing in my book, in the fact that this process is a necessary step in it finding its way out into the world to shine.