When “I’m Disappointed” Works & When It Doesn’t for The New York Times Book Review


Monday, October 30th was a strange day, my friends.

But before I get into that, I need to give you the backstory which involves The New York Times Book Review, its editor, and the late actor/author Spalding Gray.

I also must touch upon my “I’m Disappointed” philosophy because it might have played a role in what took place—I’ll never know for sure.

Finally, dear readers, I’ll strive to try to keep this tale of whine and roses short, although whenever I’ve written that before, my post wound up being 2500 or 3000 words. (You’ve been warned!)  

The New York Times Book Review

Most every author would agree that The New York Times Book Review is the Mt. Everest of book review columns. Many authors have dreamed of having their books selected by Oprah for her book club and her inevitable Midas touch, but the credibility factor of The New York Times Book Review is space-station-high compared to everything else on our planet.

Pamela Paul

Every Friday, Pamela Paul, Editor of The New York Times Book Review, sends out an e-letter announcing the department’s recommended books. In her introduction, she always ends it with:

Please stay in touch and let us know what you think – whether it’s about this newsletter, our reviews, our podcast or what you’re reading. We read and ponder all of it. I even write back, albeit belatedly. You can email me at books@nytimes.com

I decided to go for it and contact Pamela Paul with a pitch featuring my book, of course!

But first I read her latest book, the memoir My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues to give me a sense of who this woman was. I discovered we were the same age, but what really shocked me was that we shared an intense admiration for the late actor/author Spalding Gray. This fascination included something very specific: the fervent wish to have lunch with him.

Pamela Paul never had lunch with Spalding Gray, but I did! 

I thought that might be a good omen! Something so unusual like a lunch with Spalding Gray would have to catch her attention, wouldn’t it? Energized by our Spalding Gray connection, I sat down in front of my laptop to write my pitch.

 

Spalding Gray’s Morning, Noon and Night is such a wonderful book.

Spalding Gray performed his famous monologues behind a simple wooden desk.

A brilliant author and actor. 

I read in The New Yorker that some of his physicians thought he may have had bipolar disorder, but despite researching this, I haven’t found any official confirmation. Ironically, Spalding Gray was handpicked by actress Fran Drescher to play her character’s psychiatrist on her hit television show The Nanny. Tragically, he was in a terrible auto accident and had a severe brain injury. After suffering for years from the trauma, Spalding Gray died by suicide. 

 

My Grand Pitch

Subject:   My lunch with Spalding Gray/Idea for October
From:   “Dyane Harwood” <dyane@baymoon.com>
Date:   Sun, 27 August, 2017 5:20 am
To:   books@nytimes.com

Dear Ms. Paul, 

Hello! My name is Dyane Harwood and I’m a Santa Cruz, California-based author. I read your memoir My Life with Bob and what you wrote about Spalding Gray hit home. He was also a “literary crush” of mine for years. 

I wound up actually having lunch with him, just as you hoped you’d do! In my early 20s, I worked at a special event production company in Silicon Valley. When he was booked to perform at Villa Montalvo, I begged to be his assistant for a day.

Note to readers, Pamela Paul used to see (and sometimes deliberately follow) Spalding Gray often when they lived in the same New York area. He definitely noticed her, even though she didn’t think he did! 

As you can imagine, I got a big kick reading about how Spalding Gray signed your copy of Morning, Noon and Night with: “To Pamela, THE STALKER!”

When he died by suicide, l too was affected profoundly.

Please forgive my digression…

I’m writing is to see if you’d consider assigning Meghan Daum to review a trio of groundbreaking memoirs that focus on mental illness. The first week of October is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) “Awareness Week,” an apropos time for The New York Times Book Review to feature memoirs about mental illness. The books are:

1) My memoir Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder (Post Hill Press, October 10th) Endorsed by Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison et al., this is the first book to address this unusual form of bipolar disorder/perinatal mood and anxiety disorder. 

2) Mental: Life, Love, and Lithium by Jaime Lowe (Blue Rider Press, October 3rd) 

3) The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide by Gayle Brandeis (Beacon Press, November 14th) 

Although I didn’t plan on suggesting memoirs written exclusively by female authors, it happened that these memoirs were all written by women.

I realize you get inundated with pitches. I truly appreciate your consideration. 

Warm regards,

Dyane Harwood

————-

A month before I emailed my pitch, my publisher had sent a copy of my book to The New York Times Book Review per their sguidelines requiring submissions to arrive 3-6 months before publication, or fuggedaboutit!

Oh, how I hoped Pamela Paul would read my email and take me up on my idea!!!!!

Two months passed without hearing a peep from the editor. I grew impatient.

Last Sunday, I tweeted Pamela Paul in a moment of abandon. I can’t remember my exact words, but my 140 characters said something like: “With all due respect, don’t promise your readers you’ll write them back if you don’t stick to your word,” I threw in “I’m Disappointed” plus the cat meme:

After doing that, I emptied the dishwasher and “Tweeter’s Remorse” hit hard.

I deleted the tweet.

I figured that since it was a Sunday afternoon, it was highly unlikely she even saw my tweet. 

The next day I received this email from Pamela Paul:

Thanks for reaching out Dyane, and for your kind words about my book. We generally don’t assign reviews based on pitches, but if you’re interested in having your book considered for review, please ask your publisher to send a review copy 3 to 6 months prior to publication.
Best,
Pamela
—-
I freaked.
I called Devon, my publicist at Post Hill Press and said frantically, “Hi, I just got an email from the editor of The New York Times Book Review! Can you please check if my book was sent to them on time?”
“Wow, Dyane, that’s great. Let me check.”
I tried calming down to no avail.
“Yes, it was sent three months ago, Dyane!” 
I wrote Pamela Paul back immediately and confirmed my book had been sent to her office three months prior to publication. She wrote back within five minutes. My heart rate skyrocketed when I saw her second email had arrived – this was worse than any cardio workout I had ever sweated through!
Dyane,
If they’ve already sent the book, then it’s already gone through our editorial process by this point, I’m afraid. We are currently looking at books for 2018. I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. In any case, many congratulations on the book (and on your long-ago lunch with Spalding Gray!). 
Yours,
Pamela
—-
I couldn’t leave it at that. 
I just couldn’t. Can you blame me? I had to reach out to her one more time. Moreover, my mother’s family is from New York—you could say the New York ethos is in my blood, so maybe that fueled my chutzpah/foolishness.
So I wrote back and pointed out to Pamela Paul that maybe, just maybe, my book didn’t make it there somehow. The office receives ginormous amounts of books on a daily basis—we’re talking hundreds of books. So I wrote this pathetic email because  I had nothing to lose but my pride.

Dear Pamela,

I don’t want to leave my dream-come-true to chance.

Yes, my publisher claimed they sent my book 3 months ago, and I know your office receives an astronomical amount of books.

However, is there any way you could make an exception?

This is a truly unique memoir—no one has ever written about this form of bipolar before. The fact that Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison endorsed the book demonstrates its value to The New York Times Book Review readers.

I’d be glad to send you a copy.

Dyane

—-
I didn’t think she’d write back and I was right.
I had to wonder if “I’m Disappointed” had come into play. For those of you unfamiliar with “I’m Disappointed,” please read my first post and its follow-up. It was just too weird how I tweeted Pamela Paul about my disappointment and  received her email in less than 24 hours.
Go figure!
I can’t deny that when I thought for about 20 seconds that Pamela Paul had written me with good news, it was very exciting!  
And come to think of it, I might email her my unpublished short story about what happened during my lunch with Spalding Gray. I’m proud of the piece and I’d let Pamela Paul know I have no need for her to write me back!
Wishing you a great weekend – please be good to yourselves.

Love,

Dyane

Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder With a foreword by perinatal psychiatrist and author Dr. Carol Henshaw, now available on Amazon!

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37 thoughts on “When “I’m Disappointed” Works & When It Doesn’t for The New York Times Book Review

  1. I love how high you aim in getting your work promoted and I’m so proud of you for shooting for the New York Times review and being so persistent! I could definitely learn some lessons from you!

    I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but your book was so amazingly honest and beautifully written, your accomplishment is enough of a reason by itself to be very proud of yourself!!! You have even earned the right to be cocky if you want to be. (If you decide to go that route I will support you. 😉

    No matter who reviews your memoir, it was a resounding success in itself and that is something to celebrate. 🙂

  2. Oh wow! You got so very close – I can imagine how your heart was racing when you saw you had a reply from your dream reviewer. It was definitely worth a shot. I agree with you, Dyane – when you see an opportunity you simply have to go for it. And it may just work out somehow in the future, you don’t know. It’s all about making connections when you can, and building on them as much as possible at a later date. Your paths might just cross again – and she’s unlikely to forget that lunch she was desperate for and you got!
    Have a great week xxx

  3. Aw man, MY chest got all clenchy reading your experience, oh High Empress of Percolatia! On the one hand, it’s amazing she did contact you, but it’s also a bummer it took that long. I also agree that in terms of “belatedly,” two months is really pressing the limit. I can shrug one month, but two? And you know, sending her that short story might be a nice gesture. You never know what will bring you two back together, and promise some new space-station-high launches… 🙂 xxxxxxxxxxxx Java Jeany-Beany-Not-So-Teeny

  4. Lady: 1)Bravo you rock keep it up and I mean seriously, maybe a tweet storm by your tribe could help or not really?; 2) to be candid, in her place I’ll admit to envy you had the ‘once in a life time opportunity I with all my title could only drool and stalk for’. Go figure, I will advice to exercise more humility for you (feed her ego who cares) and try say 3 more times? 3) I think we have to be true to our own selves and our heritage. I read and see a lot of damage caused to the natives in that country because among others their ways were sorta not norm. You gotta be proud of your Jewish ways whether you practise Judaism or not. So if ‘fighting to get respectable attention or explanation’ is an attribute of your lineage-go on make your dad smile where he is. You got all my moral support and that of many others. You are also a voice of the voiceless so whoop whoop whoop

  5. Dyane,
    No matter what happened with the NYT book review, your achievement speaks for itself– congratulations on your book. (I will be ordering it off of Amazon.) You once encouraged me with very kind words on my previous blog, The Outrageous HFB (high-functioning bipolar), and it came at an opportune time. I enjoy your blog, especially the way you so honestly describe the struggles and victories during the progress of publishing your book. I am so excited that Kay Redfield Jamison endorsed your work! Wonderful. Anyway, thank you for once helping me when I struggled, and keep on at it!!!!

  6. Let it go!!!! I think that you are feeding into this lady’s ego control personality. So take it from a NY Jew.Enough is enough. Onward!

    1. It all comes down to “What would The Nanny do?” — she would send it.
      I don’t think this editor even sees 99.9% of what they receive, so there’s no harm in doing it, especially since I’ll send the book & story without expecting the sun, moon, and stars this time.

      ❤️

  7. Sorry for the disappointment, but you get many gold stars for chutzpah! It’s tough to embrace disappointments, although around here everyone says you should. Anyway, loved your book (finally read it–I’m probably the slowest reader in the world), and will get a review up soon!

    1. Thank you for my gold stars, my friend! There have been many high-end chocolate bars consumed by yours truly (White Raven sells a yummy kind, and God knows so does Ben Lomond Market and “Gold Leaf” as Craig calls it!) ever since this went down, but I’m doing much better. I also admit I’m getting a kick out of launching my Spalding Gray Lunch Project. She might consider me a bit of a stalker in the same good-natured, 100% harmless way that Spalding Gray considered her a stalker, but it’s obvious I mean her no harm whatsoever. All I’m doing is sending a book and a story. No chocolate bribes.

    1. Thanks, Kitt! I’ll report on what happens with this new side project, and yes, please send me some authentic Irish luck 🍀 because I’ll need a TON of it when I contact this powerful mover & shaker!

    1. You just gave me an idea, Merry (and thank you!!!) I could send her my book (which–and I don’t mean to brag here—-but you know from first-hand experience it’s pretty, LOL!) ;)AND
      a print-out of the Spalding Gray story! Not an email, which is easy to ignore.

      The hitch is how the $&^%* I could make sure she gets it and not an intern or someone else.

      Any ideas?

      Do I splurge on fancy, $$$ registered mail requiring her signature? I have no problem with that.

      XOXO,

      Honey Pot

      1. The 2018 books rule is also something that makes me wonder…I mean, how strict are they with that? Is it just a party line she tells the bazillions of people who email her? I just spoke to Craig about this and he’s the, ahem, far more conservative published author in this house, but he actually thinks I should do it. On the envelope I’d write in big, bold letters “SPALDING GRAY LUNCH STORY INSIDE” so she opens it. I don’t care how that may sound; my gut tells me she might just open it:) Worth a try.

      2. The registered mail would be impressive. Also mark the package ‘PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL.’ Including the copy of the Gray Spalding story is a grand idea. I think the investment would be well worth it! xoxo

      3. I actually have another idea because upon reflection, I don’t think she would get it if I mailed it to her, even with the personal & confidential on the package! They get 700-1000 books a week! Even if I mailed it with the USPS service I found out about called Restricted Delivery which requires a signature *and* proof of identity, I still honestly don’t think she would get it. So, I’m brainstorming other possibilties & I’ll keep you posted on this, much love –Honey Pot

    1. That’s so funny you wrote that – check out the comment below by Star Dancing (my neighbor) – let me know if you come up with something, honey!!!!!! And enjoy the weekend!!!!! you made it!!!!!!

  8. Dyane, I’m so impressed with you and your zest for recognition (well deserved)! I like many authors can learn from your marketing moves. I wish I had done half of what you are doing when my book was published. BTW, I need to apologize that I am just now digging into your book (and enjoying it immensely). I had to finish another book and loose ends first. Also, I’m participating in NaNoWriMo this month, trying to create a novel so it’s kind of a crazy time for me. I will write a review as soon as I can (I may even do it once I reach the middle because I am so familiar with your story) but at any rate, please rest assured that it’s coming and it’s gonna be good! Keep up with all your amazing efforts! Best wishes!

    1. Dearest Martha, you have been simply WONDERFUL and you never, ever need to apologize! I mean, you showed up at my book talk! That was HUGE and meant so much to me, especially because the fires were raging so close to us, right? I had 10 or 12 people who I knew and who had rsvp’d to me not show up due to the fires and for other (good) reasons: i.e. a death in the family, a baby’s birth, stomach illness. So I couldn’t be upset with any of them! 😉 Still, seeing you walk in, hugging you for the first time, and looking into your beautful eyes was one of the highlights of the evening for me.

      So……I knew The New York Times Book Review was a super-longshot – don’t get me wrong. But the thing that sent me over the edge was that weird Spalding Gray lunch thing. It was too much of a “sign” for me to ignore it – that sounds so hippie dippy; can you tell I live in the Santa Cruz area, ha ha!

      Anyway, I love to write about what has gone wrong with my book in this blog. I really do. I only hope others will learn from all the mistakes I’ve made.

      I was born Jewish and while I don’t practice Judaism, there’s the cultural impact I cannot ignore. Part of that influence is my predilection to kvetch, which is the Yiddish word for “a person who complains a great deal.” Maybe I should have called this blog “The Kvetcher”!

      (If you ever watch “The Nanny,” it’s a great, entertaining show for learning about New York Jewish people who love to kvetch! I especially get a kick out of the performance of Daniel Davis. He plays the caustic butler Niles with a perfect British accent, but he’s actually from Texas!)

      Enough about me. I am SO SO SO proud of you for doing NaNoWriMo. I noticed there are “Write In” events all the libraries, which looks kind of fun. You are amazing to do it!

      Whenever you get time to write a review, I’ll be deeply grateful and yes, you know my story & my writing more than most people, so I don’t expect you to read the whole book in order to write a review.

      I hope you get lots of writing done on this rainy weekend – it seems like the perfect time to make a lot of progress on your novel. Sending you lots of love and thanks again for everything you’ve done for me!

    1. Hi Mihrank! You are so kind! Hey – if you send me your email (email me at dyane@baymoon.com) I’d be happy to email you a review copy of my book. Perhaps you could write about it on your blog….and even write an Amazon review?

      I have no shame anymore asking for these things! (Well, I cringe a little bit, but I have to do it!)

      And I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your offering to help me – that is seriously mega-awesome-groovy-licious.

      Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart, you amazing soul.
      Dyane

  9. Oh, Dyane! That must have been such a disappointment. I’m glad you’re still putting yourself out there, and I wish you all the luck in the world for your next endeavor! Keep on trucking!

    1. Thanks so much for your steadfast support – I love it! The whole thing was truly so bizarre that I had to laugh about it, you know? And the bottom line is that I’m grateful for all the good things that have happened.

      Honestly, sometimes (who am I kidding, Cass? A lot of times!) it’s far more fun for me to write about what doesn’t work out, and why! I like reading about others’ struggles and how they get through them, so I hope this post might even help someone in some way. Thanks again for your support & I look forward to reading your latest post this weekend!

  10. Wow Dyane, you truly are a dynamo!!! How much effort you’ve put into publicizing and pitching your book! Amazing! I’m sorry The NYT People didn’t review your book, but it is doing well all on its own merit. Way to go Lady Dy! If I ever need a publicist, I choose you! Love and millions of hugs.

    1. The only saga makes for an entertaining story, doesn’t it, my beautiful Lady S? And I’ve been so lucky in other ways, i.e. Dr. Jamison (need I say more? 😉 that I knew this was a super-long shot. I must use the tired cliche “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and move on, right? Thanks again for writing such a lovely Amazon review – I’m extremely grateful for that — you know I am!

      And if you write a book, you can count on my glowing endorsement AND my P.R. assistance–I’ll be there for you!

      You’ve been such an amazing bright light in my life and I send you all my love!, Samina!!!!!

      1. I’m so upset that they didn’t get your book, I am 2000% sure they would have loved it and given it an excellent review. But you’re absolutely right, please move on. I know I obsess over things, maybe/probably it’s a bipolar symptom, but be upset and move on. So many good things are happening for you, that you are making happen! So my dearest Lady Dy, move on and be happy! As for me doing anything for you, my dearest girl, no one who reads my blogposts has supported me as much as you have! I don’t have the words to thank you! Love love love and millions of hugs.

  11. I think you’re entitled to whine. You were being so brave and bold. Life can be so unfair. But don’t despair. Maybe next time your boldness will be rewarded. And we all think you’re just great! The word ballsy comes to mind. What’s the female equivalent ? Anyway you did your part and those who need to read it will find it.

    1. Oh Star Dancing, you got a good laugh out of me about the “ballsy” question. I just revised this post because every time I write something, I always find things to correct or improve the next day! So before I saw your comment, I added the word “chutzpah” to a paragraph & that word seems “ballsy-ish” but it’s not feminine-specific, is it? Now I want to think of a word, LOL!

      Please let me know if you come up with one! And *thank you* for being such a delight at my talk, and please thank your husband too. You looked so beautiful that night and you’re also a handsome couple!!!!!!

      Re: “Life can be so unfair, but don’t despair” could be a song chorus couldn’t it? Maybe a country song? 😉

      Lots of love,
      Dyan

    1. It’s easy to send out emails (but thanks for thinking I’m brave!!!) – the hard part is to read the replies (harder still: not get replies!!!) and the hardest part, at least for me, are the face-to-face interactions. Alas, I selected the cat meme in haste; there were other ones (not animal-related) out there & I wish I had taken more time to explore…anyway, thanks again and take care. Have a great weekend, Jan!

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