Monday, December 05, 2016

Willard Spiegelman's SENIOR MOMENTS, Guilt Management, and the Magic Wand of an Email

Straight to the meat, two slices worth:

Willard Spiegelman's improbably titled Senior Moments is a delicious read. Viva!

Ye olde email, and of course I mean non-spammy email, can serve a book splendidly. Double viva!


There is a reason a literary magazine marketing expert, whose name now escapes me, dubbed her workshop for litmags "Guilt Management 101." 

Because I founded and used to edit a literary magazine and chapbook press, I used to worry about and overthink and feel guilty about all the woulda coulda shouldas of marketing. And although I no longer edit anyone other than myself, because I write books, I still worry about and overthink and feel guilty about all the woulda coulda shouldas of marketing. (W
hy didn't I write an article for the Washingtonian? Why I didn't I send an op-ed to the New York Times? Why didn't I enter my book in that contest?! etc.) To one degree or another the same could probably be said by every living writer I know. 

(Re: Focus on book PR, see, for example, novelist Leslie Pietrzyk's resource-rich blog post about her recent Associated Writing Programs conference panel "Should I Know Who You Are? Book PR for the Modern Age." So near-universal is this concern among writers that I have yet to see the schedule of a writers conference that does not include at least one panel and/or break-out session on book PR / marketing.)


Back in 2009, when my novel came out, I appreciated working with Unbridled Books' crackerjack marketing staff. I had already published several books, so I knew the drill,
the ever-expanding list of an author's "to dos" for a book launch; thus it was with a sense of duty mixed with relish for adventure that I took up the then-shiny new tools of Facebook and Twitter, aka "social media."

I like to think that my publisher appreciated my little flurries of status updates and tweets-- I'm reading here; I'm signing there; So-and-So reviewed it on her blog. But what a bore! What an unholy bore of a chore! Surely I would be better at starting up a dog grooming business. Or maybe selling vegetable powders. I am not kidding. (Dear Dr. Cowan, I totally heart your vegetable powders.) I mean no disrespect to marketers or anyone else. Marketing can be a noble profession, and if you don't believe me, just follow Seth Godin's blog for a few days. What I mean to say is, I am not cut out for marketing, and that's OK. Neither am I meant to be a nurse or an architect or a candidate for Sheriff in Brewster County, Texas! 
Last I checked, I am, as are we all, living one lifetime at a time. 

And writing books, never mind any attempt to market them, consumes a whopper of a chunk of time.

So I have been reconsidering the utility, for me, of social media. I still post on Twitter on occasion, but because I found it such a distraction, I deactivated my Facebook account-- that was over a year ago, and I breathe a shoulder-melting sigh of relief about it every day. 

(Note to Mr. Quibble: Don't count this blog as social media because I do not publish comments. Nonetheless, dear reader, and that includes you, Mr. Q., your comments are always welcome via email.)

All that said, most of the writers I know-- and to be sure, publishers' marketing staffs and freelance publicists-- remain enthusiastic about social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, and LinkedIn, among many others. Although I've taken said steps back from the social media arena, I remain intensely curious about how and why and optimizing the ways we communicate with one another in this digital age. 
And, dagnabbit, it is important-- an integral part of the arc of writerly action, as I think of it-- to help give one's book the chance to find its readers-- to do, ayyyyiyi, some marketing. 

As I often say to my workshop students who seem terror-struck at the idea of "self-promotion," book promotion is not self-promotion, it's book promotion. Guys, would you open a donut shop, but stash the sign in the back of the mop closet?

Well then, if not via social media, and given that there are not yet 25 hours in a day, how best to communicate to readers that one has a book out?


A pox on spam. I'm not talking about spam. 

What prompts this post is that the other day I received an email from Willard Spiegelman, which I thought both elegant and effective because, although I don't know him well (years ago, as editor of Southwest Review, he published a couple of my works, and I vaguely recall a brief conversation at a Texas Book Festival-- in other words, I was happy to hear his news, but felt no personal obligation to buy his book), and I already have books piling up to dangerously teetery heights, as in open-the-window-and-they-will-thunder-down-and-crush-to-death-any-and-all-squirrels-cats-dogs-stray pumpkins-miniature-donkeys... and I am definitively not a reader who would incline my attention towards a title such as (oyyyy) Senior Moments, Spiegelman's email prompted me to actually buy his book. 

Or, I should say, download the Kindle. I'm already onto chapter four and relishing it.

My! That was some mighty effective book marketing on his part! 

See for yourself. With Willard Spiegelman's kind permission I hereby reprint his magic-wand of an email:

Dear Friends, 
I'm sending this to you because I think you might be interested in, and amused by, my new book, just out -- one month ago -- from Farrar Straus Giroux in NYC. Because we authors are now more or less required to act as supplementary, if not primary, publicity engines for our work, and since I do not have a Facebook or Twitter account, or a blog, or a homepage, I thought an email might be just as good. 
Some of you enjoyed Seven Pleasures. Well, just in time for the holiday season, perfect for everyone on your gift list, comes its sequel. Not Seven Sins, or Seven Pains, but Senior Moments: Looking Back, Looking Ahead. Like its predecessor, the book consists of eight discrete essays that can be read individually but that, taken as a whole, constitute something of a memoir.
I did not intend to write a memoir. Nor did I intend to grow old. But apparently I have done both. The book, I hope, will be good reading for many people, not just those with wrinkled hands and dimming vision. Five weeks ago I had an op-ed piece (my first) in the NYT. The subject: why Manhattan is the best retirement community for a senior citizen. As a result of my fifteen minutes of fame, my Amazon ranking shot, for the better part of week, to #1. In the category of "Gerontology." We take our praise wherever we can.
Below I have copied some blurbs and critical praise that are on the Amazon website. 
Please feel encouraged to buy in bulk, to write glowing reviews, to spread the word, and to keep in touch with
Yours Truly,
Grateful Willard

Editorial Reviews
"Willard Spiegelman’s Senior Moments is a work of deep seriousness and profundity delivered with lightness, moral poise, and a warm, witty, conversational humility. It is dulce et utile both―a balm to the reader thinking (or trying to think) about aging and mortality; and a practical guide to some of the surprising, hardy-perennial pleasures that can unexpectedly survive and deepen, even as one’s hours, days, months, years, dwindle. Spiegelman is cherishable in the same friendly, yet paradoxical, way Montaigne is―robustly sad, joyfully unillusioned, and yet alive to life in a manner that both consoles and delights." ―Terry Castle, author of The Professor: A Sentimental Education
"With Senior Moments, Willard Spiegelman gives us one of the most poignant and amusing accounts of what it's really like to go through that rite of passage that is the twelfth grade. From choosing a college, to finals, to the prom, he . . . wait. What? It's not that? Oh. Um, can I get back to you?" ―Chip Kidd
"Aging is our universal condition: the only question is whether we approach our seniority kicking and screaming or proceed with some degree of style and, let us hope, capacity for happiness. Spiegelman's wise, witty, spirited essays show how we might work our way over to the style-and-happiness route, and are as good a guide for living well―at any age―as any other that I know.” ―Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
"They say we are living in a golden age of the personal essay, and it's true . . . Walk with Willard through New York, Tokyo, Dallas, his personal library, museums―walk with Willard through life.” ―Mark Oppenheimer, author of Knocking on Heaven's Door
“Spiegelman makes a reliable ambassador for the changes that advancing years bring, animated by gratitude and warmly ready for further inquiry: he might be giving, and making more achievable, Pope’s famous advice: “Keep good humor still, whate’er we lose.” ―Stephen Burt, author of The Art of the Sonnet
“Willard Spiegelman is a wise old soul.” ―Raymond Sokolov, author of Why We Eat What We Eat
“A book so vivid and personable that one has the impression of sitting across a dinner table from its author. He talks to us in a tone at once convivial and elegiac as he addresses some of life's biggest questions: What makes us happy? How can we make the best use of our brief lifetimes? To tackle these, Spiegelman brings to bear his vast erudition, humane intelligence, wit, and personal candor. The result is a beautiful and wise book about making daily life a meaningful pleasure.” ―Rhonda Garelick, author of Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History
Senior Moments takes us on a learned, witty meander from “Talk” to “Quiet,” passing through Dallas, Japan, New York City, books, and art along the way. He treads so lightly, it takes a while to notice that this is a guidebook to aging and preparation–with grace and sweetness–for the final silence.” ―Rosanna Warren, author of Ghost in a Red Hat: Poems

"Willard Spiegelman writes essays like Ferran Adria approached “molecular” gastronomy, with conscious, understated artistry." ―Bill Thompson, The Charleston Post and Courier
“He's an agreeable, wise and witty companion -- edifying, fun and fearless as he proffers lessons in happiness and aging learned during his long, distinguished career.”- The Dallas Morning News
“Mr. Spiegelman adopts the discursive, finely crafted voice of a literature professor, revealing a penchant for aphorism and allusion.” -Wall Street Journal
“[Willard Spiegelman is] a master of form . . . connecting the personal to the universal.” "[Senior Moments is] a sophisticated and fun read . . . a comfort, and a joy, to learn that someone with a sharp wit and even sharper mind has considered the questions, blazed a trail, and created a thoughtful record of the journey.” -Ocala Star Banner
“[L]ucid and propulsive, opening portals to heightened enjoyment of the time we have.” - Kirkus Reviews
“Spiegelman writes with a casual, engaging style and frequently punctuates his paragraphs with references to literature that crystallize his ideas. Readers will find this volume rich with relatable insights.” - Publishers Weekly
“Readers of a similar age will savor his delight in language and life as he ponders the past and peers into the future.” - Booklist
“[Spiegelman] takes himself lightly and brings fresh energy to an appreciation of many subjects. . . with conversational whimsy and genuine gratitude for the people, places, ideas, and memories they inspire. . . The author draws on an equal blend of critical rigor and love for his themes." - Library Journal
About the Author
Willard Spiegelman is the Hughes Professor of English at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. From 1984 until 2016, he was also the editor in chief of Southwest Review. He has written many books and essays about English and American poetry. For more than a quarter century he has been a regular contributor to the Leisure & Arts pages of The Wall Street Journal.

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So here, with Willard Spiegelman's email, we have a six point formula for a one-time announcement: 
1. Friendly greeting to people who have at some point given you their email;
2. Brief and charming introduction to the book;
3. Request for action (please buy it!); 
4. Thanks and regards;
5. Batch of blurbs (including a silly one, note that one from Chip Kidd);
6. Nano-bio. 

Good wishes to you, dear Willard. And good wishes to you also, dear reader-- I know that many of you are writers with books in search of readers. May your books easily, quickly, and felicitously find those who would appreciate them. 

And above all, dear reader, may any unwarranted guilt you have been suffering from your book marketing woulda coulda shouldas go like a cartoon unicorn over the rainbow: Poof. 

More about ye olde email anon.

UPDATE: Email Ninjerie in the Theater of Space-Time
UPDATE: Further Noodling About Email