You’ve been alone so long with your book – a memoir about thirty years of your life. Your obsessive and solitary pursuit. At last you call it done. You hand it to your publisher to take it from there. You worry whether your story is engaging enough, your characters believable enough, or your narrator insightful enough to keep readers reading.
But then UPS appears at your door with a box of Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs). Ten books formatted and bound, an ISBN number on the back and a beautifully designed cover on the front.
Your publisher says: We need blurbs for the back cover. (Blurb being the unfortunate term given for “a brief review of a book for promotional purposes.”) You know this is necessary. You know this is what every author must do before her book goes to press, but it feels almost impossible. You do it anyway. You send out your blurb requests to four published authors and five international development experts and hope that at least two of the nine will say yes.
Then you hold your breath.
Over the next three days, you wait to hear if there are any takers. By the end of the third day–to your astonishment–all nine people you’ve asked for a blurb have said yes. Stunned, you rush to the post office, and send off the nine ARCs priority mail. Then you leave for Portugal.
A memoir isn’t like other books. A memoir is your life exposed for all the world to see. It’s impossible not to take people’s reactions to it personally. You may have published one book a few years ago to good reviews but it was a book about somebody else. Not the same thing at all. You wish it didn’t matter so much to you. You wish you could be blasé about it, extract yourself and your feelings from the equation. Instead, you fret all the way to Lisbon. All that’s left now is to wait to hear from the nine. And hold your breath.
Within a week, the first blurb arrives from a former World Bank manager –- a woman you admire enormously. She writes that yours is a story of “guts, setbacks, love, misunderstandings, growth, and adventure.” Yes, you think, she got it. When the second blurb arrives, it’s from a novelist whose work you love. She writes that your memoir “reads like a good novel, a heroine’s journey of the first order.” You are delighted to learn that your story came alive for her. A few days later, you get two more blurbs. One calls your book “a poignant memoir . . . brilliantly written. . . “ The other calls it “a wonderful reminder of how the world changes one small step at a time.“
Over the next two weeks you read that your book is “an inspiring story of how one determined woman can make a difference” and that it is about “a woman who unleashed the power of women in international development. . . full of colorful episodes . . . pertinent to the state of the world today.” A well-known memoirist writes the your prose is “ rich in description and detail” and that he “couldn’t put it down!”
Finally you hear from a woman who you knew decades ago . . . a woman who joined the World Bank after you did, a former Resident Representative for Mali, who writes that your “charm and grit are palpable” and refers to your “unique experience” and “passion.” She thanks you for “enabling those who followed to move one step closer to a world where everyone’s voice counts.” This is the blurb that brings you to tears. You marvel at this excess of riches.
Finally, you begin to breathe.