Media Circus: I sold my baby for a blurb!

Published April 3, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Desperate. That's what I am. I sold my baby for a blurb. BUY MY BOOK. I loved him; I did. I loved the way he raced to the door when I came home, a huge grin on his face, that lopsided crawl of his like Quasimodo's. I'm going to miss him. BUY MY BOOK.

What could I do? It was my first novel. You should see the cover, a blue so deep the ocean was jealous. After 15 years I had finally sold a book; I had an agent, and an editor, and a publicist. I loved to roll their jobs in my mouth. I sprinkled them in my conversation like salt. My agent says hello; my publicist says hi.

We were such a happy family my mother stopped calling. But all good things must end. After the sale came the silence. The book was, after all, a first novel, a literary novel, which, in the publishing community, mars it with low expectations. The publicity budget was practically non-existent, raising the philosophical question of whether one could have a publicist without publicity. When I made one or two helpful suggestions about the artwork and the jacket copy, my editor refused to discuss them with me, then refused even to return my phone calls. We were more like a family every day.

The bound galleys revived my hopes. There, for the first time, was that beautiful cover, the typeface based on the Dutch master fontsman Leewhyn Van Rijk's linotype for an 18th century public bath permit, a Library of Congress catalog number and a bar code that whispered sweet nothings to zebras. Looking at the book, it was suddenly, miraculously, a book. My book. VISIT MY WEB SITE.

I received three copies, not even enough for everyone in my family. I sent them to the family members least likely to be offended by their fictional counterparts: my siblings. Galleys, apparently, are expensive. More expensive than the actual book, though you'd never know from the cheap, flimsy paper, the tear-away cover. Something to do with the scale of production. My editor refused to explain it. I gave my mother her number. The phone calls soon followed. A Hollywood studio wanted to know if the rights were available. A New York screenwriter wanted to know if Hollywood had beaten her to the rights. A long-lost acquaintance who worked at People rang to say it would make a great movie. I was not surprised by the inquiries; no, it was only natural now that I was a published novelist. An important, literary, novelist. BUY MY BOOK.

But the New York screenwriter didn't realize how talented, albeit literary, I was. She thought I might give her the rights, free, as if I wrote for the charitable deduction. The Hollywood studio turned out to be the secretary to someone's assistant who not only confused my first name with my last, but thought she was calling my agent and appeared unfazed by the fact that no matter which one of my names followed the other, they did not resemble my agent's.

As for my reacquainted friend at People, he had discovered the book while browsing for bargains in People's discard bin, where books by the hundreds are dumped unread every day by beleaguered editors and the assistants who hate them. It was the cover that first attracted him, he told me, torn from its spine like a hangnail.

Did I mention that this novel was my life's work? Not five minutes of enthusiasm: a lifetime of suffering and five years in front of a word processor. Granted, I'm fairly young. There's plenty of suffering still to come. But I could die tomorrow. I could be hit by a bus, crushed by a plane, trampled by horses while jogging in the park. It would all be over without a chance for the sequel. Immortality is my last best hope. Yet without a reader, I do not exist. Vanished, poof, just like that. Writers disappear every day, the victims of a cruel metaphysics and public neglect. Their families cannot save them. I need some proof of my existence, some "therefore I am." You see, you can judge a book by its cover. It's not simply about color; blue may be deep but it's not profound. It's about gloss, and texture, and testimonials from famous authors, the ones who are too important to return your editor's phone calls if she could get away from your mother for one minute to make them, if you were a celebrated author instead of a literary one. Blurbs are the proof: They mark the book with readers. There are readers because there are blurbs. Thus there are writers. QED: Me.

I hear Meg Wolitzer's a wonderful mother. I hope it's true. I sold my baby for a blurb. I'm going to miss him. BUY MY BOOK.

By Cameron Stracher

Cameron Stracher is the author of "KINGS OF THE ROAD: How Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers and Alberto Salazar Made Running Go Boom," and a former competitive miler

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