Written by Panio Gianopoulos on Monday, July 18, 2016
In September 2017, Four Way Books will publish my story collection, How to Get Into Our House and Where We Keep the Money.
While it’s exciting to have a new book come out into the world, the pre-publication process also brings with it three awkward experiences that, I’ve noticed, tend to go unmentioned outside of publishing circles. So I thought I’d share them here for those who might be curious.
The word “blurb” is aptly onomatopoeic: it sounds like the gurgle you make right before you throw up. I’ve never met a writer who doesn’t dread this solicitous element of pre-publication. The one saving detail is that the authors you’re approaching have already been through the process themselves, and they know how weird it is, so they’re usually very nice about the whole thing. But really almost everyone is too busy for this practice; it takes valuable time to read someone’s book and craft words of praise for them. (One outlier, however, is Gary Shytengart, whose prolific blurbing inspired a 15 minute documentary). That some writers still do it with even non-Shytengart-ian regularity is a marvel of generosity.
Do blurbs even sell books? It’s hard to say. On occasion, I’ve bought a book because of a blurb, and yet I’m much more influenced by a title or jacket image or — the biggest seller for me — by reading the first page. My hypothesis is that if the entire publishing industry announced a moratorium on blurbs and we checked the sales data a couple years afterwards, we would see no real difference. But in the meantime, feel free to email me your praise, Mr. Franzen.
2. Jacket design
This is anxiety-inducing in its own way, but a nicer way. After spending years translating feelings and actions and characters into text, how do you then choose a single image that comprehensively represents and illustrates all of that?
Well, you don’t. Instead, you try to find an image that you like, that’s arresting and, in some way, either thematically or literally relevant to the work. Or else you end up with something like these jackets.
I bring up jacket image selection with the awareness that most of the time, writers don’t get much of a say in what that image is. During my years as a book editor, roughly half of the despondent phone calls I got from authors had to do with them hating their book jacket. “Jacket consultation” — for those of you hastily looking over your publishing contracts with the big 5 — means just that. Your publisher consults with you by letting you know what the jacket will look like. That’s like a restaurant “consulting” with you that you’ll be eating tripe tonight. If you’ve got a powerful literary agent, they can push back and force a change. But this is one of those times when it’s preferable to be with a smaller press, as there tends to be more direct involvement in all aspects of publication, including design.
An editorial colleague of mine once compared writing a book to paving a road that no one asked you to and then getting upset if people don’t come and drive on it. Personally, I think it’s more like bringing homemade cupcakes to your office and later spotting them, uneaten, in the trash. But either way, you tend to feel highly vulnerable and isolated leading up to publication. Or at least you did until social media came along. Now you can, in theory, access the entire world to spread the news about your upcoming book. The only problem? You’re going to annoy all your friends and family with your incessant posts about it.
The most elegant solution to this problem — one I’ve noticed many people adopting — is to create a separate professional account on Facebook. Yes, a fan page sounds grossly narcissistic, not to mention wildly presumptive, but in practice, it’s a much better experience for everyone involved. While you’ll still send out an occasional notification email about the book to everyone you went to preschool with, it will save you from increasingly clever narrative contortions where you have to somehow ironically un-say exactly what you’re saying in every post (“Here’s more news about my book!”)