Pronunciation / Self-publishing / Absolutely Unknown Person
Q: How the hell do you say your last name? Sorry if that’s rude—long-time fan who wants to say it correctly.
Not rude at all, and no surprise that this is the first question!
There’s about five common mispronunciations of my name that I usually hear, and I’ve become very accustomed to all of them:
Most of them make sense to me, except for “toe-MAY,” which I can only guess is the result of Marisa Tomei’s impact on certain people’s consciousness. The last one might be the most common variation I hear, and I attribute that (at least in part) to a strange bit of misinformation. A few years ago, a very well-respected literary journal published a seemingly definitive guide to pronouncing various authors’ names. And without consulting me, they declared that the proper pronunciation of my last name was “TOE-mee-nay.” Given the source, it seemed highly credible. But it was wrong!
In addition to being hard to pronounce, I’ve come to accept that my last name is also hard to remember how to pronounce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been involved in some kind of public event, and right before we go on stage or on air or whatever, the host says, “Okay, tell me how to say your last name.” I’ll usually try to put them at ease and say, “Oh, don’t worry about it. No one gets it right anyway, and I don’t really mind.” And invariably, the host will say, “Well, I want to get it right!” So I’ll say my name for them, and they’ll repeat it correctly—we usually go back and forth a couple times just to be sure—and then as soon as we get on stage or on air or whatever, they mispronounce it. I’m sympathetic to the stress of a situation like that, and I always imagine the person thinking to themself, “Don’t say it wrong…don’t say it wrong…Don’t—OH, SHIT!”
If I sound wounded or indignant, I’m actually not, and this would probably be a good time to make an important confession: I don’t pronounce my last name correctly. If I’m prompted to say my last name, I will reflexively say “toe-MEE-neh.” It’s how my wife and kids have learned to say it, based entirely on my example. But it’s wrong!
When I went to Japan, I noticed that if I introduced myself to someone, they would often ask where my dad was from. At first I thought maybe they recognized the name and were trying to make some personal connection based on geography. But it turns out that, thanks to my own mispronunciation, many of those people thought my dad was European or something, and were just trying to make sense of a very unfamiliar-sounding surname. (“Is this guy half Italian or what?”) When one of these people finally saw my name printed out in Japanese, they would suddenly light up as if a great mystery had been solved and say, “Ah! Toh-mee-neh!”
You might we wondering what the big difference is. I’m obviously not an expert on this, but my understanding is that the first syllable needs to be said quicker and softer, with more of a gentle “h” sound at the end. (I tend to say the first syllable like the English word for the five digits on a foot: “toe.”) The other distinction is the syllabic emphasis. I’ve been told that you’re supposed to say all three syllables with equal weight, which I find, as a life-long English-only speaker, almost impossible. But as far as I can tell, that’s the right way to do it: toh-mee-neh.
But the truth is, I don’t really care how you say my last name. At this point, I actually expect it to be mispronounced, and I never bother correcting people unless they ask. I’ve had my name mangled by enough well-meaning people over the years to know that a mispronunciation is not an intentional slight or insult. I truly believe that most people I meet want to say my name correctly, if they only knew (or could remember) how. And like I said, I’d be quite the hypocrite if I were to get on my high horse about all this. To be honest, I give credit to anyone who at least attempts to say my name.
But if you’re curious, I do have a least favorite mispronunciation, and it’s “TOE-mine.” It just seems like the laziest, most Anglo-centric take, but more to the point, it was for some reason the universally preferred pronunciation among all my childhood tormentors, including one particular asshole gym coach.
Q: With so many other artists and writers out there trying to get noticed, how does one bubble to the surface of the white noise and get their completed book read by agents without self-publishing or marketing?
Unfortunately, I’m probably the worst person to answer this question. (Great start to a newsletter, right?) I’ve never had a literary agent, and I began my working relationship with my publisher more than twenty-five years ago by sending them copies of my self-published comics in the mail. Back then, no cartoonist had an agent. And now it seems like they all do, so maybe it’s become a necessity. I’m sorry I don’t have a lot of insight on this topic, but I do know that the best comics publishers are always hungry for good, new work from diverse voices, and they are still open to the possibility of that work arriving via a cold submission. If there’s a publisher that you feel a kinship with, look around on their website and you’ll most likely find instructions on how to get your work to them. I know there’s a rumor that book publishers won’t even open an envelope if it doesn’t come from an agent, but I don’t think that’s the case in the world of comics.
But also: what’s wrong with self-publishing or marketing? I think that even in the digital era, making a mini-comic is still a great way to show your work to people. I know that when I’m at a book signing or a convention, if someone tells me their Instagram name or hands me a card with their website address on it, I probably won’t remember to follow up. But if someone hands me a ‘zine or mini-comic, I’ll at least flip through it and certainly take notice if something about it grabs my attention. I learned a lot from my days of self-publishing, even when that meant just taking my sketchbook to the local Kinko’s and making 25 copies of a little pamphlet. Something about that process, despite how humble and small-stakes it was, allowed me to view my work with a new level of objectivity and self-criticism, and somehow pushed me to try harder and improve. It also gave me something tangible that I could mail off to my favorite cartoonists—some of whom eventually promoted my work in their own comics and generously recommended me to their publishers.
Of course I’m aware that everything I’ve just written is informed by personal opinions and a publishing model that might seem thoroughly antiquated to some readers. To get back to the original question, I think “self-publishing” and “marketing” can take many forms, and you should consider doing everything you can to make your work accessible and appealing to whatever audience you hope to reach. I could be wrong, but I think that means focusing on things beyond just finding an agent.
Q: I don’t even expect you to answer but I really like the characters you create. I wish I have a question but it would be nice if you look at my Instagram. Even without answering nor leaving any likes nor comments. Just to give an attention for one minute to complete stranger and absolutely unknown person.
Okay, I will.