No one has ever asked me how I celebrated when my agent sold my book, but if someone did, I’d answer, “by eating an ostrich in the Philippines.” In August 2004, I was visiting friends in Manila, and getting the good news was just part of a strange and memorable trip. I took a ferry to Corrigedor and watched nearly a hundred people get seasick, I shopped at one of the big Muslim pearl markets, and I dined at what was, during its brief existence, the world’s only all-Spam restaurant. The landscape was beautiful, the poverty was palpable and sad, and the people were quirky—and I fondly remember it all once a month, when a Filipino telemarketer leaves me an answering-machine message praising my book and offering to help me promote it.
BookWhirl may have a Wisconsin mailing address, but they’ve told as least one blogger that they’re in Iowa, and the small print on their Web site attributes copyright to Yen Chen Support, an outsourcing firm with a call center in the Filipino province of Cebu. From their island stronghold in Southeast Asia, BookWhirl minions have pestered such authors as Piers Anthony, Lee Goldberg, and April Henry, but all in vain. Their questionable services include a press release campaign; the “Online Directory Listing,” which involves posting advertisements “to various sites that have high traffic rates”; and the “Email Marketing Advertisement,” which should settle any remaining concern about the need to secure honest employment for exiled Nigerian princes.
Oddly—or perhaps not—the BookWhirl site lists not a single endorsement, ringing or otherwise, from any of the 130 mostly self-published authors who’ve used their services, and the professional qualifications of the BookWhirl staff are an enigma coated in ube and wrapped in the deep-fried milkfish of mystery. The company touts its “experienced team of online marketing strategists, ad copywriters, graphic artists, and web designers,” but neither their Web site nor any of their tiresome press releases list the name of anyone with publishing or marketing experience. In fact, the Web site lists no employee names at all.
I haven’t the foggiest idea why BookWhirl thinks they can help me. Their unsolicited calls probably violate federal law, and I don’t support their efforts to profit from the gullible. Still, the next time I get that call from Cebu, I’ll enjoy hearing someone who hasn’t read my book tell me how thrilling he found it. He’s just doing his job, and he can’t possibly know how silly he sounds, but aspiring writers can learn from his folly: empty praise is a service you don’t have to pay for.