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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