Today’s post is by author Barbara Linn Probst.
Seeking blurbs—that is, quotes and endorsements—is a pre-publication task that most writers absolutely hate.
However, unless yours is a front-list title from a major publishing house (in which case the publisher may get the blurbs for you), securing those important words of praise is up to you, the author. Not your agent or editor or publicist. You.
That means you have to ask established authors—people you may not know, who may have no particular reason for wanting to help you—to spend a significant chunk of time reading your book, write nice things about it, and affix their names to it forever-and-ever.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone would say yes to such an audacious request, yet people do, all the time; hardly a book is issued nowadays that doesn’t include a quote or two. The challenge isn’t how to get authors to provide blurbs; it’s how to get them to blurb your book.
With my third novel gearing up for release, I’ve been through the process three times. In some ways, the process has been similar each time, since behavior is shaped by temperament, and I’m still me. In other ways, it’s been different, since I’ve learned from experience (that is, from my mistakes).
I’ve also been on the receiving end of blurb requests. Experiencing the “blurb-seeking” process from the both sides of the desk has been quite illuminating. As I reflect on my responses and behavior as a potential blurber, I have new insight into the impact of my own actions—and, I suspect, the actions of others like me—as a hopeful blurbee.
First, though, some down-to-earth words on the overall subject of those longed-for endorsements.
Whom to ask?
Unless the blessing of a specific expert is sought, I think it’s fair to say (in general) that who blurbs is more important than their exact words. “An engaging read” from a New York Times bestselling author with instant name recognition is, for most readers, more compelling than “one of the most fantastic books ever written” from someone they’ve never heard of. At the same time, getting that New York Times bestselling author to read and praise your book is hardly a slam-dunk.
For most of us, blurb-seeking is a balancing act between the clout of the potential blurber (aiming high) and the likelihood of obtaining a usable quote (aiming safe). Certainly, there’s nothing to be lost—except time—in writing to every famous author you admire in the hope that one of them will come through. On the other hand, there are so many pre-publication tasks that it’s hard to justify spending so much energy on a pursuit that’s unlikely to yield results—and what kind of results? How many blurbs do we actually need? Is quantity just as good as an A-list quote?
Asking high. If we want blurbs from people whose names will add perceived value to our book, it means we have to ask up. That is, we need to ask people who are more established than we are, better known.
But how far up? The higher we go—unless there’s a strong connection, as discussed later—the more the likelihood of a positive outcome diminishes. That may sound pessimistic, but authors are busy and many are understandably wary of affixing their good names to the work of someone they don’t know.
Not all authors are the same, of course, even the famous ones. Some give endorsements freely and frequently; other endorsements are nearly impossible to secure, although that doesn’t necessarily correlate with their perceived value. (By “perceived value,” I mean the weight the endorsement carries when a potential buyer looks at the cover or Amazon page and decides if the book is worth the cost. No judgment on the book’s “true” merit is implied.)
Asking safe. Some people prefer to ask peers—that is, writers they know, perhaps from a critique group or writing community—who are more likely to agree, whether from a sense of fellowship or the hope of reciprocity.
Asking “laterally” saves time and can spare us what can become an anxiety-ridden and depressing experience of silence and rejection, which may bring back unhappy memories of pitching to agents and publishers. Who wants to go through that again? Yet these peer endorsements might not add much to the book’s perceived value—or is any endorsement better than none?
There’s no universal answer to that question. Again, it’s a balancing act between energy, resources, temperament, and goals.
The big question, regardless of whom you ask: How to get to yes?
When I ponder my own experience as the one being asked, a few things stand out. I’m only one person, and hardly a famous one, yet the things that make me say yes or no might not be that different from the things that make others say yes or no.
Each of my yes experiences has been different. In one instance, I had read the person’s previous book and thought it was excellent, so I was primed to expect her new one to be good too. We’d also established a bit of a relationship: we had common acquaintances; she had given me a lead on a blurb for my second book (though it didn’t pan out); and she’d commented on my social media posts. My agreement was likely from the start.
In another instance, the request came from a stranger who had clearly read—and understood—my first novel; she even included a quote from Georgia O’Keeffe that she planned to use for her own book’s epigram. I couldn’t resist having a look at the opening pages, which she attached. I was pleasantly surprised—and hooked. Here, my agreement was unexpected.
When I’ve said no, on the other hand, I’ve nearly always known I would decline as soon as I read the email. Sometimes, it was for a practical reason: because I don’t read ebooks, it won’t work if the person can’t offer a print version. On occasion, the timing was too tight. And at other times, it was the letter itself.
I’ve received several emails that began like this: “Because of all the awards you’ve received, I think you would be a very good person to endorse my book.”
My response is usually: “Oh? And why is that?” If there is nothing in the email to indicate that the sender had read (or liked) either of my novels and felt a resonance, I’m left with a feeling of being used. And that’s a direct path to no.
The first two examples, resulting in yes, were thoughtful and personalized. The last example, resulting in no, was not. A similar request (another no) even included the sentence: “I hope to read one of your novels someday.” Ouch.
What to remember, throughout the process
You’re asking a huge favor. Be grateful, but express your appreciation in deeds, as well as words. That means promoting the person’s book on social media, not just the fact that she’s blurbed you. Be sure you’ve posted glowing reviews of her books (on Amazon, social media, etc.) long before you ask for an endorsement.
At the same time, don’t apologize for asking. And don’t worry too much about “revealing” that you have, or will seek, additional blurbs and theirs won’t be the only one on the back cover. These authors have been through the blurb-seeking process too; they get it.
Have good manners. Thank the person for her consideration. If she says no, thank her again for her courtesy in letting you know and wish her the best. Don’t argue, bargain, or offer a work-around. It’s a small world, and you might meet each other again.
If she doesn’t reply at all, refrain from nagging unless the person has explicitly asked you to check back. She might be your dream blurber, but after one follow-up (two at most), let it go.
What to do (and avoid doing)
Be concise and professional. The subject line should make it clear what the email is about. Do not be cute or coy.
Give some information about your book, including genre and length so the person will know what she’s committing to, if she agrees. Believe it or not, I’ve received requests that contain absolutely no indication of what the book is about, other than the title!
When I’m the one asking, I usually say that I’m pasting a summary at the end of the email or attaching a one-page summary. Make it easy for the person to get a sense of your work, become intrigued, and want to read more (yup, just like pitching to an agent).
Give her a way to find out more about you. Include a hyperlink to your website and Amazon page (if you have one).
Say when you need the endorsement. Allow enough time (say, a few months).
Be explicit about the fit. When I seek endorsements, I begin by telling the person why I loved her book, with specific examples to show how it’s touched me. Yes, I only ask people whose books I really love; it’s the best way to make a sincere request.
Admiration alone isn’t enough, however. There has to be a clear indication of the fit. You have to tell the person:
- Why you’re asking her, specifically, rather than some other Famous Author
- Why you think she might like your book, specifically, among all the other novels she might endorse. Why do you believe it will resonate with her?
Telling the person how much a quote would mean to you, and how aware you are of how busy she must be, is courteous and appropriate. But it’s rarely enough to get you to yes.
Establish a point of contact. Make it personal. Show that you belong to similar worlds. Without that, it’s hard to get a quote from a busy author who has to make intelligent choices about how she spends her time.
The best kind of contact is a direct one: if you’ve cultivated a relationship over time, talked at a conference, attended one of her events. Shown up for her.
If not, look for a secondary point of contact. Do you have a common friend who can facilitate the introduction? Ask the friend if you can use her name in the email request, and cc her on it. One way to find that “common friend” is to look at the acknowledgement pages of the would-be blurber’s books and see if there is anyone you know on the list.
In a pinch, you can go to a bookstore and look at the new book displays to see whom this person has blurbed recently. “Because you loved X and Y books, I think mine may light a similar spark since it’s also about Z.” At the very least, this shows that you’ve done your homework and makes a case for that crucial fit.
Note: A “point of contact” has to be book-related. The fact that you both grew up in southern New Hampshire or have golden retrievers might be nice, but it’s not sufficient.
Offer choices. To help the person decide, offer to send sample pages and/or a synopsis. Unless the person already knows your work, it’s hard to commit to reading an entire manuscript without a preview.
However, do not attach a Word document of your entire book with your query email; that can appear presumptuous. And do not suggest that the person could “save time” by reading a few sample chapters that you’d be glad to select. If someone asks for that, of course you should agree, but it’s not your place to suggest it.
Offer a print copy/ARC or a digital version/PDF. If you don’t have ARCs yet and time is short, or if you are not going to have ARCs, offer to send a spiral-bound printed version for people who don’t like to read on devices.
If you mail the book, send it first class, not media mail! It’s worth an extra five dollars to make sure it arrives in days, rather than weeks. And always include a cover note that thanks the reader for her time and includes a way to reach you.
What to expect
An immediate yes is rare. Often, the response to your request will be some form of maybe.
There are different kinds of maybe, however. “I can’t get to it until April, will that work?” and “I’ll be glad to have a look” have different implications. In my experience, the former has a decent chance of resulting in a blurb, with flexibility and a bit of persistence; the latter, a slimmer chance.
There’s also the frustrating experience of what I’ll call the prolonged maybe: a series of heartfelt assurances that “I’ll do my best.” Some of the loveliest authors I know have kept me hoping for months with prolonged maybes until, eventually, the deadline passed. It’s possible, of course, that it never was going to become a yes, and the person didn’t want to hurt my feelings or close the relationship. I’ll never know—and it doesn’t matter.
My advice is not to take this kind of neutral placeholder as more encouraging than it really is. Stay in touch and then, when it’s clear that the blurb isn’t happening, thank the person for considering the possibility of a quote and tell her that you’ll ping her on social media when the book is published. That way, you might end up with a social media boost, which is also valuable.
Inevitably, some people will say no—immediately, eventually, or because they never respond.
There are many reasons you might hear no, even if your pitch was great and your book might be great, too.
- The person doesn’t have time right now. This might be a polite excuse, or it might really be true. (This can be awkward if you were hoping for an early blurb to use on an ARC, but would still be thrilled with a blurb, later, for the final book. You can try to be honest and offer additional time, but be aware that it might be perceived as pushy and might not make a difference.)
- She’s working on a book of her own that is similar to yours and doesn’t want to muddy her mind. (Yes, this has happened to me.)
- She’s just gotten a ton of other blurb requests and has to prioritize those that are from people she knows better. Unlucky timing, but so be it.
- She believes that blurbing your book will not be good for her own reputation—though she won’t say that directly. Sad, but it happens. I had one person, whose novels I truly loved, express appreciation and interest in mine, and then ask, “Not that it matters, but who is your agent and publisher?” Obviously, it mattered—to her, although not to others I approached. Once I told her, I never heard from her again.
- The person just didn’t like what she read—although, again, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear this directly. Most often, there will be a radio silence or a last-minute: “So sorry, I just didn’t have time to get to it.” Don’t let it upset you, even as a potential explanation. There’s no book ever written that every single person liked.
- There are things going on in the person’s life that you have no idea of. In the era of COVID, that is a stronger possibility than ever.
And sometimes, of course, the answer will be yes. When that happens, here are a few things to remember while you’re rejoicing:
- Ask her how she would like to be identified on the book cover, Amazon page, press release, etc.
- Don’t change the quote without permission. Sometimes people will tell you to use whatever part of the quote you like, but you should still let them know (in advance) how the final blurb will read.
- Send a copy of the final book, later, with a personal note.
- Pay it forward.
And most important…
While stellar blurbs are great to have, they aren’t the only—or even the main—thing that readers care about. In my own research, 750 readers told me that the reasons they buy a book from an unknown author are: the cover and title, the short book description on the back, and recommendations from friends they trust. Not Kirkus reviews or awards or blurbs, and certainly not the logo of the publisher on the spine.
The purpose of blurbs is to help you attract the people who will read, enjoy, and find meaning in your work. They are just one of the many ways to find those people!
Barbara Linn Probst is an award-winning author of contemporary women’s fiction living on an historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her acclaimed novels Queen of the Owls (2020) and The Sound Between the Notes (2021) were gold and silver medalists for prestigious national awards, including the Sarton and Nautilus Book Awards. The Sound Between the Notes was also selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Indie Books of 2021. Barbara has also published over fifty essays on the craft of writing for sites such as Jane Friedman and Writer Unboxed, along with two nonfiction books. Her third novel The Color of Ice will release in October 2022. Learn more on BarbaraLinnProbst.com