Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Brush With Svetlana

I rarely answer my cell phone if I don't recognize the number on the display.
But at work a few weeks back, I was waiting for a call from a customer service person, so I violated my own rule when my ringtone sounded.

Me: "Hello?"

Female voice, vaguely Eastern European accent: "Hello, I am talking to reach M.C. Allan?"

Me (immediately on guard. I write fiction and poetry under that name; no one actually calls me that): "Yes?"

Female voice (becoming--is it my imagination--slightly more seductive?): M.C., I am calling because we have read your book, and we would like to help you getting more people to reading it!

Me (racking my brain to try to remember if I've somehow published a book without being aware of it): Um ... I'm sorry ... what book?

Female voice: Your book! We love it, and we want to get it in front of millions of customers!

Me (Wow! Millions of customers! Except ... wait, that's right, I don't have a book): Um ... I'm not sure what book you're referring to.

Female voice: We have read your book, the Delaware Poetry Review, and we want to help bringing your book in front of millions of customers!

Me: Um ... that's not actually my book? That's an online poetry journal.

Female voice: We have read your poetry journal, and we want to help you to getting your book read by millions of customers!

Me: I think there's been some misunderstanding. It's not my journal. It's an online journal that just published some of my poems a while back.

Female voice: Yes! And we want to promote your work. We can reach many many customers and let them know about your journal. Our fees are very small.

(By this time, I must mention, the voice had begun to get a trifle irritated with me. I can only assume that, from her perspective, I was some idiot American whose book, the Delaware Poetry Review, was just waiting for a little marketing push in order to climb the New York Times bestseller list, and here I was, ungratefully hassling her about details.

Meanwhile, in my head, I had a clear picture of a skinny, frosted blonde with long acrylic nails and fur-topped stockings--a little like Ilsa, only no jodhpurs. I had already decided, actually, that her name was "Svetlana" and that she must been making marketing calls out of some tiny basement in Moscow, and that this was her second career--her first foray into true Western capitalism--the first one having been 15 years on the street in the employ of a vicious pimp and petrol smuggler named Ivan.)

Me: I'm not sure you understand ... the Delaware Poetry Journal is not something for sale. Anyone can go and read those poems online for free? I don't think I can really do much with your marketing service. I'm sorry.

Svetlana: But we can getting your poems in front of millions of customers!

(Note: Not once did Svetlana reference "readers." They were always "customers," drooling, money-spending sheep waiting to be fleeced, waiting with baited breath not only for the latest wrinkle reducer, car shammy, dish detergent, erection enchancer, cholesterol medicine, but for my poem about wild dogs on the beach in Karachi, Pakistan.)

Me: Thank you, I appreciate it, but I really have to get back to work.

Svetlana: Do you not think that your journal is good to read?

Me: I just think there is a misunderstanding, and I'm in the middle of editing a--

Svetlana: Fine! So sorry to have bothered you.

(At this point, she hung up in a huff.)

Fellow laborers in this discouraging slog of rejection slips, writer's block, and obscurity: Have any of you heard from Svetlana--or someone of her ilk? How did you handle her?

Are you, even now, slurping down spoonfuls of caviar and enjoying your time on the bestseller list in Kiev? Has someone in the former Soviet bloc discovered that poetry is actually a marketable commodity?


Anonymous said...

I got a letter kind of similar to this pitch. Trying to prmote my book that was not a book but a piece of short fiction. I wish I could remember the name of the company but I threw it out. Hi MCA! -- HJ

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