Vanity Fair Writer Mike Sacks' Wildest Dream

How not to ask for what you want.

Posted Apr 08, 2011

Every writer dreads the task of seeking endorsements for their book. Getting rejected by agents and publishers is bad enough, but the possibility of being rejected by the authors we admire and want to admire us is... well, it's the opposite of icing on the cake. "David Sedaris and I went to the same summer camp in North Carolina, called Camp Seagull," reminisces Vanity Fair writer Mike Sacks, who was honored to have one of his personal heroes blurb his newest collection of humor essays. "We used to sit on the dock together and catch crabs... Actually, that's a lie, although we both did vacation on the North Carolina shore."

Mike interviewed David for his first book and they spoke for five hours. "He's an incredibly nice guy and a personal hero-I think he's brilliant," Mike says. "He asked if I wrote, and I told him I did, then I sent off some work and he liked it. I Then I approached asking for a blurb, and he was nice enough to give me a great one. I don't think there are any writers of his caliber who are as good to his readers/fans as David Sedaris. He's the best."

Here's a letter I'm pretty sure Mike didn't use as an model for requesting an endorsement from Mr. Sedaris, excerpted from Mike's new book of comic writing, Your Wildest Dreams Within Reason:

Dear Mister Thomas Pynchon:

Thank you for taking the time to open this envelope and read what is contained herein. I know that you, like me, are a very busy and serious man, so I don't intend to waste our times.

I will have you know that while I am a fan of your work, this is the first instance in which I have attempted to make contact with you. You could say that I was waiting for the exact right moment and, if you did say that, then you would be right.

I am a writer named Rhon Penny (silent h), and I am no longer married. I am writing to you today because I have just finished my latest novel, and it would be my great honor for you to blurb it. If you are unaware, a blurb is one of those glowing remarks you find on the back of a book's cover, written by a highly regarded author or TV chef. For example, if I were blurbing this letter, it would go:

"If you could only read two things this year, make one this letter ... and the other maybe the Magna Carta!"

In today's literary climate, it is essential that a new writer obtain a blurb so that Joe Q. Dumbbell thinks a book is worthy enough of purchase or library checkout. My publisher/mother tells me a top-notch blurb can mean the difference between Harry Potter-type sales and Harry Stottleberg-type sales (a guy who lives in our building). As my primary-care physician says, "Humans are fickle pickles," which, while true, has never really explained why he has me on such a complicated smorgasbord of pharmaceuticals. I am very tired.

Like yourself (no doubt) I find blurbing to be absolutely repulsive. It is crass, pathetic and couldn't be less artistic. Just so you know, I am only doing this because the more I think about it, the more I would like to make a lot of money. Full disclosure: I named my conjoined Siamese cats Tommy and Pinchie. Tommy just died, which has made movement difficult for Pinchie. But she pushes on like a feline boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past (F. Scott Fitzgerald). Like blurbs, an author's choice of title is very important for sales. Take "Gravity's Rainbow." That is a terrific title. Why? Because it tells you exactly what the book is about. I would like to think that my book's title does the same: Cream of America Soup.

OK. By this point, I am going to assume that you have already agreed to blurb me, so let me just say, "Thank you." I truly appreciate it.

Let us now concentrate on the blurb itself. If you would like to construct your own blurb, then, please, by all means, construct it! You're good with words. On the other hand, should you prefer that I create a blurb for you to affix your name and well-deserved reputation to, then I have taken the liberty of coming up with some samples (please note the use of exclamation points).
Here they are:

-- "Fifteen thumbs up!"

-- "If I had a disease that made me retch every time I read a great sentence, I would never stop vomiting while reading Ron Penny's latest novel!" [Note the misspelling of "Rhon." This will get people talking.]

-- "It is not for me to say whether Rhon Penny is a great new young talent, but I will say this: Yes, he is greatly talented, and no, he is not young!"

-- "If I were married to Rhon Penny ... I would never leave him!"

You have to be wondering: What in the world is this novel I've agreed to blurb actually about? And why is Rhon no longer married? Excellent queries both. I will not tell you why I'm no longer married, but my book's subject matter is very much like "Gravity's Rainbow," in a way, and in other ways not at all. It's also very much a post-9/11 book, but not overtly. I'm not saying you need to know a lot about the medieval feudal system, Lady Bird Johnson, bats, my ex-wife's fear of conjoined Siamese cats, democracy or linguine ... but it wouldn't be such a bad thing if you did.

What I am saying, however, is that the book takes place in Connecticut. (Yes, I am aware that a lot of people refuse to write about the Nutmeg State -- for obvious reasons -- but it is a state I know and care deeply about. Furthermore, being afraid of criticism just ain't in Rhon's genetic makeup.)

For reasons I can't get into, I must immediately end this correspondence. But I will not sign off without addressing the giant elephant in this letter. Yes, if you blurb my book I will then blurb your next one. And I can promise you, as sure as I'm writing this letter with my lucky Bic pen, that it will be laudatory ... even if I absolutely hate it! I just have a funny feeling that I'm going to "adore" and "love" and "highly recommend" the thing! Catch my "drift"?

In closing, let me say three things. One, I would certainly take my ex-wife back if she ever leaves Bernard. Two, feel free to keep the enclosed sign that reads "Danger! Writer's Zone!" That is a gift and it will go well in your office. And three, please allow me to express what I have to say in the form of a blurb:

"If you could grow great people in the ground like tomatoes, then I would only plant seeds of you in the garden of my life so that I could have you available to top all of future life-salads. That said, if you could send a really well-thought-out blurb to my return address, I would greatly appreciate it!"

Self-addressed envelope included. Stamps not, but highly recommended.

Yours in the words,
Rhon Penny

Mike Sacks has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, The New Yorker, Time, McSweeney’s, Radar, MAD, New York Observer, Premiere, Believer, Vice, Maxim, Women’s Health, and Salon. He has worked at The Washington Post, and is currently on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair.