Saturday, August 18, 2007

Riding Lessons: Another Step Along the Journey to Publication

A day or two ago, I received an "Author's Questionnaire" from the University of Iowa Press. It's a long document which I'm to complete in order to aid the Press in marketing my memoir.

  • Tentative title: Riding Lessons: Learning by the Seat of My Pants

  • Possible alternate title: Living on Borrowed Air

  • Proposed publication date: Fall 2008


It begins with the mundane. "Your name as you would like it to appear on the title page." Turns to the whimsical. "Phonetic spelling of first and last names."

I was stumped for a moment. Gary Presley seems a simple, four-square American name. I decided GAIR-ree PRESS-lee would best suit phonetheticity, if there is such a word.

The request did remind me pleasantly of my maternal grandmother. She was born and nurtured in the river valleys of east Tennessee. She pronounced my name GAY-ree. Not that there's anything wrong with that, as Mr. Seinfeld noted.

Some of the requests are so colored by my history and attitude that they reek with irony. "Special research conducted for this book (please include any research grant support and names of libraries, museums, etc.):"

My response, "It's a memoir of nearly 50 years as a wheelchair user, from the time of "invalids and shut-ins" to the post-Americans with Disabilities Act integration of people with disabilities into mainstream society. I lived it."

My thought, "Enough research already!"

All that's well and good, but the thing that will take more than scut work -- that is, looking here and there for information and people to contact -- will be the two questions central to the marketing of the book.

  1. Summary of your book: In approximately 250-300 words, please describe your book as if you were writing a promotional piece. Consider that is most significant about your book, what special contributions it makes to your field, and what features make it attractive to potential readers. Without oversimplifying, this should be as accessible to the general reader as possible.

  2. The zinger: In as few words as possible—try to fit this into a single sentence—describe the single most important reason the reader must have your book.


That request reminds me of a piece of uneducated wisdom I've mulled over for several decades -- Anything important about the human condition can best be expressed in a poem. If the truth cannot be conveyed in a poem, the best alternative is a short story. Failing that, a novel remains the final resort.

If I could condense what I know into 250 words -- let alone a single-sentence zinger -- I wouldn't have written the memoir.
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