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Plumage from Pegasus
by Paul Di Filippo

WHEN YOU MIDLIST UPON A STAR

"Oprah Winfrey may have her reading club, but other celebrities are joining efforts to persuade more Americans to pick up a book. In a campaign designed to make reading cool to young people- --and by extension, to sell more books---the actress Whoopi Goldberg and the talk show host Rosie O'Donnell are being featured in ads promoting reading as hip." ---Dana Canedy, The New York Times, April 20, 1999

My books weren't selling well, not well at all. So my publisher called me into his office, handed me a business card, and said, "These people are your last hope. Go see them right now."

Out on the cold street, I consulted the card:

CELEBRIBLURBS
"You hack 'em, we flack 'em!"
Ogilvy Hozzana, President

I reached the address given on the card and was ushered into the office of Hozzana himself. A fat, buoyant fellow with a greasy comb-over, an expensive suit that had certainly originated in Hong Kong but had apparently traveled to these shores on the back of a stowaway in a dirty cargo hold, and an unlit cigar clenched between his tombstone teeth, the genius behind Celebriblurbs kindly bade me sit.

"Your publisher has already called me, kid. You sound like just the kind of client whose career we can turn around. Apparently, you write swell stuff---for them what likes it---but you come off as a little highbrow, and your books don't move out of the stores any faster than a salted slug."

"Well, I suppose---"

Hozzana leaned forward confidentially and poked his cigar at me. "The only thing you're lacking is some star-power behind your bullshit. Endorsement by the rich and famous, that's what moves units these days. And that's precisely what we offer. Now, why don't you tell me a little bit about your last book?"

"It's, um, kind of gonzo speculation---"

"Bingo! Right away you've helped me narrow down the list of possible blurbers."

"But I had some notion that I'd be able to select the personality whom I wanted to appear on the jacket."

"No way, kid! All our celebrities have patented consistent images that have to be guarded and nurtured. That's the whole product they're selling. If we let the authors pick and choose, it'd be chaos! What if we had the same star endorsing multiple books with radically different viewpoints? Charlton Heston boosting Jerry Pournelle and Lew Shiner! Fugheddiboutit! Or what about the case where the totally wrong guy appears on a book---say, Arnold Schwarzenegger's moniker sprawling across the latest Joyce Carol Oates? The consumer wouldn't know what the hell the celebrity stood for anymore! No, there's a science to this racket, and that's what you're buying from me, my expertise. Each star has a certain profile that we carefully match to the author."

"But I pictured Whoopi or Rosie---"

"Not in this lifetime, pal! Absolutely not! In your field, Whoopi only does Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany and Owl Goingback. Rosie handles Connie Willis and Jonathan Lethem. Now, for your kind of Rudy-Rucker-style craziness---have I pegged you right or not?---we want maybe Johnny Depp or Sean Penn, Sandra Bernhard or Janeane Garofolo. Maybe somebody like Jack Nicholson if we're pitching it to an older audience."

"Wow, Jack Nicholson---"

"Whoa, boy---I didn't promise Jack, I said somebody like Jack. How's Dennis Hopper sound to you?"

"Dennis Hopper? Is he even mentally stable enough to write a whole sentence?"

Hozzana burst out laughing like merry old King Cole. "You thought the stars would actually read your book and write their own blurbs? Man, it's a miracle you haven't been eaten alive by this business before now! There's no way these A-list people have time for that kind of nonsense. They just lease their names to us. We have an extensive staff here who compose the actual celebriblurbs. They're the schmucks who do the actual reading---sometimes, if the deadline isn't too tight."

"Gee, I don't know, Mr. Hozzana, this seems awfully false and unethical---"

"What's unethical about it? The celebrities have entrusted their names to me, and I apply them in a manner that safeguards them and you. Celebrity endorsements have always been like this. You think Lorne Greene ate Alpo?"

"If you're going to make everything up, could I have some input into the blurbs then?"

"Sorry, kid, no way. If you were capable of pitching your own books effectively, you'd be rubbing shoulders with King, Grisham and Crichton by now. Like I told you, this is a science. Hey, don't look so down at the mouth. The most I can let you do is pick out a few generic blurbs that we can use as as a starting point. Take a gander at these."

Hozzana passed me a sheet of paper, and I read the first few entries:

"So shocking it made me spit out what I was chewing!"
---Anthony Hopkins

"More different styles here than in my whole back catalog."
---Madonna

"I read it all greedily in one sitting and it really moved me."
---Terry Jones

"This is the kind of space opera that makes Star Wars look like Battlestar Galactica!"
---Mark Hamill

"Kept my hard-drive spinning!"
---Bill Gates

"I pictured Mira Sorvino as the lead all the time I was reading!"
---Uma Thurman

"I pictured Uma Thurman as the lead all the time I was reading!"
---Mira Sorvino

"Number One on my list of 'Top Ten Reasons to Shut Off the TV'!"
---David Letterman

"As chilling as the words 'NYPD! Freeze!'"
---Rudy Giuliani

"A novel that's sexier than Viagra!"
---Bob Dole

I handed the list back to Hozanna.

"Well, kid, what'll it be?"

"None of these, Mr. Hozanna. I'm afraid I've changed my mind. In fact, I'm thinking of getting out of fiction writing altogether."

Hozanna shrugged unconcernedly. "Your call, kid. Mind if I ask what you're gonna do instead?"

"I just got an inspiration for a best-selling book of lists Bedside Reading of the Rich and Famous. I'll compile it from your published blurbs for free under the fair-use laws."

"Slick, kid, slick. Well, when you need a blurb for your new book of blurbs, you know who to come to!"

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