The letter was from a big, big, big, publishing company. Oh, boy! Addressed to me personally, sent through my agent’s offices. Oh, boy. Oh, boy. Oh, boy! Immediately my mind went into ceremonial procedural mode;
You can’t just rip it open: sit down at your desk, calmly take the letter opener and slit the envelope so no evidence of child-like anticipation, like torn edges, will belie my “professionalism.”
Dear Mr. Avitabile, They spelled it right!
We know you get many requests… yeah, but not from a gigantic publisher who obviously has noticed me! …But can you blurb this book! Ah, crap! Another request to read a book and say nice things about someone else’s work.
I quickly karmically adjust my transmission into the universe by hitting the spiritual delete button a few times. Then, I rephrase my reaction, Oh boy, a chance to pay forward what I have been so generously blessed with; a writer’s praise for inclusion on the back (or possibly, front) cover of a book.
But this is not just any book, this is a gigantic publishing company’s book. A major publisher, you know, the one with thousands of employees who stay awake all night endeavoring to get an author’s work into the hands of every reader in America and the free-world. And along with that book, will be my name…and my pithy, succinct and quotable, quote.
Well, that blurb worked out well. Turned out it is a great book with a “novel” approach to voicing that could become a thing, like; Gone Girl’s, unreliable narrator was a thing for a while. Plus, the big editor-at the big house, loved my quote. Good luck, and God bless to the author and the publisher. But…
Many times I find myself in the unenviable position of reviewing a book that has uncorrected or unseen, earlier draft issues. Glaring malpractices, that destroy the read for me. Things like, temporal errors that drag out a beat or make no beat at all, too much filler or not enough minor, unexpected delights in the prose or style. My first reaction is, how can this book have gotten this far? Who didn’t read it but passed it on after skimming through it. Did some intern right out of lit-school recommend the submission and it just got rubber-stamped all the way to my front door mailbox? Or am I unworthy? Not able to pass judgement on a work that has obviously been worked on by professionals including agents, editors, marketing folks and the author — at least four times! Yet, my reaction is “Yeah, but this book is not-so-good.”
So as in five previous cases, I have refused to lend a blurb. Usually in an E-mail with a simple open-ended line, “I am sorry, but I cannot recommend this book at this time.” Three editors got curious enough to ask me what, “This time” meant. I told them it meant, “The book needed more time.” Then I added, “But what the hell do I know.” Yet, in two of those cases they let me give my notes to the author. I am pleased to say that both authors said essentially the same thing; i.e., No one read it that closely.
But here I am talking obvious stuff. Like time warps between POV characters or echoes of 10-dollar words whose value depreciates upon every reverberation within the manuscript. Or, sometimes it’s just too much dependency on the willing suspension of belief: like a passage where a reporter is doing a puff piece with the protagonist, while we know (and presumably the world of the book knows), that a murder of someone close to the hero has been committed and the body is lying in the morgue, yet not a question from the media. In fact, the whole interview goes hunky dory and the next chapter begins.
My cat jumps as I scream out loud, “Then why the hell have the hero interviewed? Why take us there to; no conclusion, no foreshadowing or complication…WHY?”
How could any publisher allow a neutral flat plot line between two already neutral plot lines? So that there’s three, NUTHIN’ HAPPENS, sequences in a row, when only one was needed. — You see why I think it’s me? That I fear I don’t have the tools to do this?
By the way, that book got released with glowing, effervescent blurbs by some of the biggest authors in the publishing universe. So, WTF do I know?
P.S. Don’t send me your book.